Texans for Education Reform

Elections have consequences for education


Elections have consequences for public schools, and, if you haven’t already cast an early ballot, you have 5.2 million reasons – the children who attend those schools — to vote tomorrow (March 1) in the party primary of your choice.

Down-ballot from the presidential nominating contests, both Republican and Democratic voters will find local races for the Texas Legislature and the State Board of Education that could make significant differences in school funding, classroom sizes, the future of high-stress testing, the quality of textbooks and curricula standards and the success or failure of vouchers and other privatization efforts.

Most of these races will be decided in the primaries, not in the general election in November.

TSTA is not partisan. It is backing both Republican and Democratic candidates, based strictly on a candidate’s support and advocacy for public schools, students and educators.

Groups trying to undermine public schools for their members’ profits aren’t partisan either, and one in particular, the misnamed Texans for Education Reform (TER), is making significant contributions in selected legislative races.

In two races in particular – one Democratic and one Republican – TER is trying to unseat two of the strongest advocates that public education has in the Texas House. One is Democratic Rep. Mary Gonzalez in House District 75 in El Paso County, about whom I have written before, and the other is Republican Rep. Gary VanDeaver in House District 1 on the other side of the state in Northeast Texas.

Gonzalez has voted to increase education funding and fought excessive standardized testing, and VanDeaver, a respected, former school administrator, also is a strong advocate for giving students and educators the resources they need to succeed. Both are members of the House Public Education Committee, which makes them worrisome to TER, whose primary interest in education is diverting tax dollars to corporate charters and other for-profit schemes for its members.

So far, TER has contributed almost $300,000 in advertising and other services to Gonzalez’s opponent, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, and more than $100,000 to VanDeaver’s challenger, former Rep. George Lavender. As legislators, both Quintanilla and Lavender voted to under-fund education, and Lavender even voted to slash $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011, costing thousands of Texas educators their jobs.

To see all of TSTA’s Republican and Democratic endorsements in races for the Legislature and the State Board of Education, please click on the link below. They all are important for education, but the Republican primary race for the State Board of Education in District 9 in Northeast Texas is worth some extra attention. TSTA is supporting Lufkin ISD school board President Keven Ellis to succeed Thomas Ratliff, a good board member who is not seeking reelection.

One of Ellis’ opponents is Mary Lou Bruner, an extremist ideologue backed by the tea party who has accused President Obama of being a male prostitute, believes there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, dismisses climate change as a hoax dreamed up by Karl Marx and denies slavery was a major issue in the Civil War. Bruner can write all she wants about that on her Facebook page – and she has, and more — but we don’t want her on the State Board of Education trying to write that into our children’s curricula and textbooks.

Yes, elections have consequences for education, folks, big consequences. Tomorrow is your chance to say something about that. Go vote!






School privatization group increases donations in key educaton race


Texans for Education Reform (TER), the Austin-based school privatization group that wants Chente Quintanilla to help it turn public schools into cash cows for well-heeled entrepreneurs, now has invested almost $300,000 – maybe more by the time you read this – into Quintanilla’s effort to unseat state Rep. Mary Gonzalez in the Democratic primary for House District 75 in El Paso.

A victory by TER and Quintanilla would be a serious loss to school children in El Paso and throughout Texas because Gonzalez, as I have written before, is a true advocate for public schools and has the record to prove it.

Gonzalez has voted to increase school funding and reduce standardized testing. And, as a member of the House Public Education Committee, she has opposed private school vouchers and other school privatization schemes. Quintanilla, as a House member a few years ago, voted for a school finance law that created a permanent funding shortage for public education and voted to increase high-stakes testing.

Despite its name, TER is not interested in real education reform. Its goal is to convince the legislature to expand corporate charter schools and experiment with other privatization ventures that offer its business supporters new investment opportunities – with your tax dollars. The more charter schools, for example, the more rental opportunities for TER members, etc., etc.

When he was in the House, Quintanilla also voted against strong regulations for charter schools, which operate with your tax dollars.

TER has contributed almost $200,000 to Quintanilla during the past month alone in the form of in-kind donations for TV advertising, direct mail to voters, social media, consulting and get out the vote efforts. That kind of support will be hard for Quintanilla to ignore back in Austin if it helps him defeat Gonzalez and TER comes calling. And TER will come calling.

School kids, parents and educators can’t afford to lose Gonzalez. With early voting ending on Friday and Election Day next Tuesday, Gonzalez can use every pro-education vote that District 75 has to offer.

Gonzalez isn’t the only strong supporter of public schools that TER is trying to unseat. Among other targets, the group also is trying to defeat state Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston in the Republican primary for House District 1 in Northeast Texas.

VanDeaver is a former public school administrator, but TER has contributed more than $100,000 for advertising and campaign mail to his opponent, George Lavender, a former House member who voted to cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011.

Education reform? Baloney.


Education “reform” group trying to unseat education champion


State Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso is one of the biggest friends and advocates that public schools, educators and students have in the Texas Legislature. She has voted to increase school funding and reduce standardized testing and, as a member of the House Public Education Committee, represents the best interests of neighborhood schools.

So, why would a group calling itself “Texans for Education Reform” (or TER) try to defeat Gonzalez’s re-election bid? According to the El Paso Times, TER so far has contributed $100,500 to Chente Quintanilla, a former legislator who is Gonzalez’s opponent in the March 1 Democratic primary for the House District 75 seat.

As a House member a few years ago, Quintanilla voted for a school finance plan that created a permanent education funding shortage, and he voted to increase high-stakes testing. He also voted for the tuition deregulation law under which college tuition has soared, puncturing the higher education dreams of many young people from middle- and low-income families. And he voted against strong regulations for charter schools, which would have protected against tax dollars being diverted to charter operators more interested in profit than education.

The reason Texans for Education Reform is supporting Quintanilla so heavily against Gonzalez is actually pretty simply. Texans for Education Reform is not about improving public education and never has been. It’s goal, instead, is to take tax dollars from neighborhood public schools in favor of expanding corporate charters and promoting other unproven privatization schemes, the types of things that Rep. Gonzalez recognizes for the scams that they are. So, in TER’s view, she has to go.

TER also supported the new law requiring school campuses to be graded A-F on the state’s accountability system. This law that will do absolutely nothing to improve public education, but it will add stigma to the low-income children whose under-funded campuses will get most of the Ds and Fs.

The president and chair of Texans for Education Reform is Florence Shapiro, a former chair of the state Senate Education Committee, under whom testing flourished while school funding dwindled. One board member is Rod Paige, the former U.S. Education Secretary under President Bush who ushered in No Child Left Behind and the high-stakes testing era.

Another board member is Houston businessman Dick Weekley, founder, chairman and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), a similar, misnamed business group that has succeeded in its campaign to make it very difficult for everyday Texans with legitimate complaints against negligent or abusive business practices to seek justice in the courthouse.

TER is similar to TLR. Both are misnamed because neither has much to do with true reform and both are supported by some of the same business people. In TER’s case, the goal is to divert tax dollars to corporations and entrepreneurs by declaring public schools a failure, under-funding them and then privatizing education services. Rep. Gonzalez stands in their way.

Another potential problem with Quintanilla, which doesn’t seem to bother TER, is a report that he is under investigation by the state attorney general’s office for alleged voter fraud. According to a recent report on KVIA-TV in El Paso, the investigation stems from a civil lawsuit filed against him alleging that he unlawfully delivered ballots for homebound seniors in a justice of the peace election.

TER’s most recent contribution to Quintanilla was in the form of $55,500 worth of in-kind services, routed through the Forma Group, for advertising, direct mail, political consulting and other campaign assistance. Forma recently hired state Rep. Marisa Marquez, who is retiring at the end of this term from House District 77. Interestingly enough, Marquez received large contributions in previous elections from TER’s cousin, Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Now, apparently, Marquez, who is still in office, is helping out TER and Quintanilla against Gonzalez.





Bipartisan legislative trouble looming for public schools


The attack on public schools in Texas is likely to escalate during next year’s legislative session, and it will come from both Republicans and Democrats calling themselves “reformers.” The Texas Observer has a good overview, linked below, about two high-dollar, deliberately misnamed groups that have been preparing for the session by spreading cash in this year’s political races.

One is Texans for Education Reform, about which I have written before. This is an offshoot of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a conservative, business group that has successfully lobbied for laws giving its members protection from lawsuits by aggrieved customers and other consumers. Technically, Texans for Lawsuit Reform hasn’t completely banned consumers from Texas courtrooms, but not for a lack of trying.

The group’s new incarnation, Texans for Education Reform, will be pushing for school privatization schemes, including expansion of corporate-run charter schools and online learning, to further enrich some of its contributors.

Now, another group with a similar agenda, Democrats for Education Reform, is moving into Texas. This comes just as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a Democratic appointee, is putting the squeeze on Texas to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. Research has consistently found that standardized testing is neither a fair nor effective way to educate children or evaluate teacher performances, but it is a sure-fire way to enrich companies with test preparation contracts. And, the so-called education “reform” groups likely will be advocating for this as well.

According to the Observer, a spokeswoman for Texans for Education Reform declined to discuss the group’s specific legislative goals for next year. She did say the group would lobby for “research-proven reforms that empower parents, reinforce local control and provide pathways for intervention in chronically failing schools within a morally responsible timeline.”

But research contradicts the “reformers.” Charter schools are no better or worse, on average, than traditional public schools, and they take money from neighborhood schools, where most children will continue to be educated. And, studies have shown that test scores don’t accurately measure teacher effectiveness.

So, how morally responsible is it to use unproven privatization programs to undermine neighborhood public schools?