school budget cuts

Spreading lies about teachers and education funding


It was inevitable, about as inevitable as Donald Trump spewing his next lie. Super-wealthy rightwingers who don’t care about public education, except what they can squeeze from it, have organized a campaign of lies against teachers who have been participating in strikes and other demonstrations against the pitiful state of education funding in their states.

The Guardian published a story this week about a “messaging guide” put together to try to turn public sentiment against the teachers and their cause. According to the Guardian, the rightwingers are trying to portray the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and children.

One of the sponsors of this drivel is the Walton Family Foundation, whose benefactors, the family that brought us Walmart, has enriched itself by under-paying thousands of the low-income parents they now purport to care so much about. Other sponsors include the Koch brothers and the billionaire DeVos family, which, like the Walton Foundation, view public schools as privatization opportunities to be harvested, not pathways to success for the children they pretend to champion.

The DeVos family, of course, includes Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education intent on privatizing every school in sight.

All these people are also very anti-union.

The anti-teacher message developers admit that it is “challenging” to deny the fact that schools in many states are in poor financial shape. That’s because the same people who are now attacking the teachers engineered tax cuts that created the funding crises, and that was their intent. Cut funding from public schools, declare them failures and then move in and privatize them.

In the end, all children, including children from low-income families suffer, and profiteers profit.

This is what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his allies have been trying to do in Texas for years. They claim to want to help low-income children with vouchers and corporate charters. But they cut state funding for neighborhood public schools, where the vast majority of these children will continue to be educated in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms. And they force teachers to waste their students’ learning time with preparations for standardized tests.

The privatization people, not coincidentally, are the same people who have been trying to intimidate Texas educators from voting in this year’s elections, and they may be doing the same thing in other states.

Teacher protests are an important step in the fight to save public education from privatization, but the battle ultimately will be won through elections. That is why it is critical that educators turn out in large numbers in this election year and vote for one issue and one issue only – public education.

Vote Education First!



Another failing report card for Texas government


U.S. News recently released its “Best States” rankings, and overall Texas ranked poorly, 38th out of 50, and even worse in education, 41st, even though our economy ranked sixth and our government was 11th. What happened?

The short answer is Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the legislative majority persist in squandering Texas’ resources and opportunities. And the government ranking is misleading.

The quality of Texas government was ranked primarily on process, not results. Texas got high marks for such factors as use of digital technology, balanced budgets, the state credit rating, auditing procedures and public access to information about political fund-raising and lobbyists.

Texas government wasn’t ranked on how poorly it uses the resources generated by the state’s highly-ranked economy (first in GDP growth and fifth in job growth) to improve opportunities for all its citizens. The Legislature always passes a balanced budget because the Texas Constitution requires it. All too often, though, those budgets are balanced by cutting corners.

You may remember that in 2011, during an economic downturn, then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority balanced the budget by slashing billions of dollars from important public services, including $5.4 billion from education alone, rather than raise revenue. Even with a strong economy now, Abbott and Patrick insisted on leaving billions of dollars in the state’s savings account this year rather than adequately funding services such as education and health care.

U.S. News’ researchers may have been impressed with Texas’ flush stash of cash, but they weren’t impressed with our educational or health care systems, our infrastructure or the opportunities afforded our citizens.

Texas ranked 41st in education, including 36th in pre-school enrollment, 43rd in pre-K quality and 29th in college readiness. Those  are indicators negatively impacted by poor education funding. Poor funding means larger classes, fewer opportunities for teachers to provide one-on-one attention to struggling students, inadequate classroom technology, etc.

In a separate study by the National Education Association, Texas ranked 35th in state education spending per student, $2,555 below the national average. In contrast, the four highest rated states for education systems in the U.S. News study – Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Connecticut – also ranked in the top 10 for per-student funding.

In other rankings, Texas was 50th (dead last) in health insurance enrollment, 47th in health care access, 49th in overall infrastructure, 21st in road quality, 50th in power grid reliability, 24th in housing affordability, 43rd in education equality by race and 42nd in gender equality.

Because of these factors and more, Texas ranked 45th in its capacity for providing opportunities for all its citizens. That’s the price of electing government officials who are less interested in promoting opportunity for everyone than they are in trying to dictate how people should live their lives.


A lot of votes, including educators’, are being taken for granted


If you are an educator or just about any other middle-class, working Texan, you can find a lot about government to complain about. Your local property taxes continue to soar. You may be discovering the added irritation and growing expense of toll road bills, even as you continue to spend hours every week trying to crawl through clogged traffic.

You may have lost count of the officeholders, including the Tweeter-in-Chief, who deny proven facts, including the science behind global warming, in favor of embracing political fantasy. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House of Representatives just gave you a big slap in the face by voting to kill that very modest $250 tax deduction you have been getting for buying school supplies for your under-funded classes.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

All problems that negatively affect our daily lives and our children’s futures are the consequences of elections, the consequences of electing officeholders who would rather preach ideology or pander to fear and ignorance than actually try to govern. They also are the consequences of not voting, which thousands of Texans fail to do, because of indifference, frustration or intimidation.

Property taxes are sky high because officials like the governor and the lieutenant governor would rather waste political energy trying to tell a handful of transgender school kids where they can’t use the bathroom than adequately pay for classrooms for everybody’s children. They want to preach their own perverted brand of “morality” and pass the buck on what really counts.

Texas roads and highways are overloaded partly because of our growing population but also because of the refusal for years of most elected officials to raise the taxes necessary to address the problem. Instead, they stole some tax revenue from education and health care, transferred it to highways and suckered the public into thinking that would help speed up your drive home. It hasn’t.

They also embraced tolls and now are wailing crocodile tears because tolls have soared and become so unpopular with toll-payers still stuck in traffic.

These inane government “leaders” who neglect our schools, highways, health care and basic childhood safety – Child Protective Services also is under-funded and many kids still are vulnerable – nevertheless are shameless. To distract from their own deficiencies, they may quote the Bible. Then they bully and spread hate against law-abiding, hard-working immigrants, transgender citizens and low-income women in need of health care. I am not talking about abortion rights. I am talking about basic, life-saving health care that no longer is available to many women because clinics were shut down under the guise of fighting abortion.

Who elected these officials? Lots of people did. Look in the mirror. You may have been one of them.

If so, they have been taking your votes – or your indifference about voting — for granted. They have been doing it for a long time. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House majority just did it again by taking away your $250 tax deduction.

If you are tired of all this, there is something you can do about it. There are elected officials and candidates out there who really do want to meet our education, transportation, health care and other important public needs, but they have been out-numbered by those who take your votes or indifference for granted. Another election is around the corner, beginning with the March party primaries, and it is time for more educators and middle-class Texans to start voting in their own best interests for a change.



An “education evangelist” out to destroy public education


You may not recall this, but Dan Patrick once referred to himself as an “education evangelist.” Yes, that Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor whose educational track record so far this session includes three potential body blows to Texas’ public education system.

First, he proposes a state budget that would continue to underfund public schools. Then, he advocates for a private school voucher bill to take more money from public schools now. And, finally, he trots out a bill to drain even more money from schools for years to come.

Education evangelist? I think not.

The voucher bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, and TSTA President Noel Candelaria joined many other public education advocates presenting common-sense arguments against it. A committee vote was postponed.

But Patrick’s long-term plan to starve public education – and a host of other important state services – was approved the same day by the full Senate, 23-7. This measure, Senate Bill 17 by Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, would gradually reduce the state’s franchise tax, an important source of state revenue for schools and other programs. This tax was enacted by the Legislature in 2006 to partially replace school revenue lost when lawmakers ordered cuts in local property taxes.

The legislative majority already reduced the franchise tax by one-fourth two years ago. Senate Bill 17 would not cut the tax again this year, but it would keep reducing it in the future, whenever state revenue grew beyond a certain rate. Instead of having that extra revenue to play catch up on school funding, the legislation would keep the squeeze on public schools.

Fotunately, Patrick and his Senate allies won’t necessarily have the final say. They have to convince a majority of the House to approve their ideological recipe for disaster, and the House will offer some resistance. Perhaps it will offer a lot of resistance, but only if educators and parents who value their neighborhood schools keep contacting their state representatives and demanding a realistic approach to lawmaking.

Urge your state representatives to spend part of the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to improve school funding now. And ask them to vote against Senate Bill 3, the voucher bill, and against Senate Bill 17, a tax cut that the future of Texas cannot afford. If you don’t know who your state representative is, click on the following link, fill in your home address. Then under district type, click on House. It will tell you who your state representative is and how to contact him or her.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 2013, when he was still a state senator, Patrick said: “You do become a little bit of an education evangelist because you know this works and you know we must do all we can to make sure every student has an opportunity.”

This was two years after Patrick voted to slash $5.4 billion from public schools, and it was the same year he voted against the entire state budget, including all funding for education, border security and every other state program and service. He didn’t know what students need then, and he doesn’t now.