Texas Association of Business

Ideologues promote ideology, not education or public service


As a general rule of prudence, it is better to try to avoid a disaster than have to clean up after one.

In theory, that may be what the Texas Association of Business (TAB) thinks it is doing now by drumming up opposition to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s discriminatory bathroom bill. That’s the proposed law to make Patrick the bathroom monitor for 5.2 million school kids and countless other Texans under the hokey guise of “protecting” society.

In reality, there already is a disaster and TAB helped create it by supporting Patrick for lieutenant governor two years ago. Even as a state senator, Patrick was bad news for education, health care and a host of other important state services, but his influence was limited. Now, as the state’s No. 2 officeholder, Patrick is a disaster threatening to spread.

His bill to require the Big Brother of state government to dictate bathroom use is designed to appeal to Patrick’s right-wing political base by humiliating transgender kids. TAB fears such an obvious discriminatory law would cost Texas companies billions of dollars in lost business, as a similar law has done in North Carolina.

Reasonable people don’t want that to happen, but it is interesting to watch the business leaders scramble now after empowering Patrick in the 2014 election. They should have known then that he was first and foremost an ideologue dedicated to self-promotion, not real public service, but they promoted him as a champion of the Texas economy and education.

TAB said Patrick had “tirelessly led efforts to improve public education.” Baloney.

As a senator, Patrick voted to slash $5.4 billion from public schools, and he continues to lead efforts to undermine them with privatization gimmicks, including private school vouchers, which TAB encourages.

Tax cuts, not schools, were Patrick’s and TAB’s top priority during the 2015 session, and TAB was rewarded for endorsing Patrick with a 25 percent reduction in the state franchise tax.

You can argue, of course, that TAB leaders supported Patrick’s 2014 election bid because they were betting on the frontrunner, not because they agreed with all of his policies. To be sure, TAB leaders have opposed earlier discrimination efforts against gays and transgender people and opposed some of Patrick’s anti-immigration proposals, including the lieutenant governor’s effort to repeal in-state college tuition for some immigrant students. All of those measures were viewed as bad for Texas business.

Now, the business group’s leadership is distressed – and justifiably so — over the potential economic losses from Patrick’s bathroom bill. But tax cuts weren’t the only thing the business leaders signed up for when they signed up with Patrick. Patrick is an ideologue, and this is what ideologues do.






Worry about school funding, not test scores


The state’s most prominent business group – which thinks excessive testing is more important to academic success than adequate school funding – is hyperventilating again. This time, it is because the Texas Legislature and some school districts gave a few thousand high school seniors the opportunity to graduate without passing all their end-of-course exams.

The students passed at least three of the five EOC exams, successfully completed all their required coursework and were deemed deserving of their diplomas by their teachers and principals. But in the eyes of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the sky is once again falling on public education in Texas.

In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to public education in Texas is the Texas Association of Business and similar special interest groups that keeping wringing their hands over test scores while doing nothing to convince the legislative majority to adequately fund public schools.

In 2011, TAB did little, if anything, to discourage the legislative majority from slashing $5.4 billion from school budgets and was mostly silent while thousands of school employees lost their jobs and thousands of students were shoved into overcrowded classrooms.

During last spring’s session, even though many school districts haven’t recovered from the 2011 cuts, TAB successfully lobbied for a multi-billion-dollar cut in future business taxes – an important source of education funding – while lawmakers left several billion additional tax dollars unspent in the bank. TAB also supported the new A-F grading system for school campuses, which will do little more than stigmatize low-income students who suffer the most from inadequate school funding.

But whenever students in under-funded classrooms turn in lackluster STAAR scores, you can count on the folks at TAB to wail, professing more concern about the accountability of third-graders than they do about the accountability of legislators.

And, now they are wailing over the initial results of a new law to let some high school seniors graduate if they fail one or two of the five required end-of-course tests, provided that is the only obstacle to their graduation. That have to complete all their other required coursework and be approved by a special graduation committee that includes the student’s principal, the teacher of the course for which the student failed the EOC exam, a curriculum department chair and a parent or guardian.

The law, which went into effect last spring and will expire after the 2016-17 school year, if the Legislature doesn’t renew it, is a good idea. Since last spring’s graduating class was the first required to pass the EOC tests, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was important to protect students from being penalized by “evolving test standards.”

In reality, the Legislature needs to do even more to reduce the state’s punitive regime of over-testing. But the Texas Association of Business wasn’t pleased with the new, limited law and attempted to survey the largest 100 school districts to see how many graduates got a waiver from passing all the EOC tests. Seventy-eight districts responded, and 71 percent of the 5,578 students who sought the waiver received permission to graduate. TAB President Bill Hammond called that a “shockingly high number.”

Hammond predicted that more students will figure out how to “game the system” and graduate unprepared for college or the work force.

But if Hammond and other business leaders really care about the qualifications of high school graduates, they wouldn’t be as alarmed about kids potentially “gaming” the testing system as they are about the legislative majority under-nourishing the entire educational system with inadequate funding. That’s the bottom line.



Patrick outlines plan to gut schools, local governments


I doubt that Dan Patrick has ever had a bad idea that he didn’t try to make worse. First, he was trying to fool voters into thinking that he would lower school property taxes in a “swap” for higher sales taxes, an idea that would have been bad enough for public education. But during last night’s debate of lieutenant governor candidates, he dropped even the pretense of a tax trade.

Now, he has made it clear that he wants to lower school and other local property taxes and abolish or significantly reduce the state’s main business tax (the margins tax) while raising the sales tax only a “penny or two.” In other words, Patrick wants to complete the job of gutting school funding AND cripple budgets for cities, counties and hospital districts, which also rely on the property tax as a major source of revenue. That is what Leticia Van de Putte, Patrick’s opponent, pointed out during the debate, and she was absolutely correct.

A modest increase in the sales tax, which Patrick suggested, wouldn’t come close to closing the huge revenue shortfall that would be left by lowering property taxes and cutting revenue from the margins tax. But it would force Texans to pay more every time they went out to eat or needed to buy new clothes, new furniture, another computer or thousands of other items.

Meanwhile, many teachers would lose their jobs, as would police officers, firefighters and other critical employees we have come to take for granted. Taking Patrick at his word, many neighborhood schools would be forced to close, and thousands of children would be forced into overcrowded classes on unfamiliar campuses farther from home – and with less police and fire protection.

Patrick is an opportunist who would – and does – promise right-wing, anti-government ideologues anything he thinks will help him advance up the public payroll ladder. Wipe out public schools? Sure, no problem, Patrick says, just so we save enough tax dollars to pay for private school vouchers.

Even before entering the lieutenant governor’s race, Patrick was well on the way to torching public education. He voted for the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011 and voted against the entire state budget, including ALL funding for education, in 2013 – and later lied about “leading” an effort for education funding. That whopper was so bad the Austin American-Statesman, in its PolitiFact column, gave Patrick a “Pants on Fire!” rating.

The only thing Patrick wants to lead is the continuing effort to throw Texas over the cliff, aided and abetted not only by Tea Partiers, but also by people who should know better, including some of the state’s insider business organizations.

Most business people understand the importance of a strong public education system to the state’s economy and business prosperity. But some Austin-based groups, notably the Texas Association of Business (TAB), continue to moan and groan about low test scores while supporting Patrick and questioning the need for additional school revenue, even though thousands of grade school classes exceed the state limit on capacity.

TAB and other Austin insider groups have been supporting education budget-cutters for years because, truth be told, they are more interested in currying favors – low taxes, lax government regulations and protections from consumer lawsuits — than they are in promoting quality classrooms. In that regard, they have found a champion in Dan Patrick. But too bad for the rest of us.


Missing the point on school ratings


Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, was at it again the other day, wringing his hands over what he views as the lackluster performance of Texas public schools. This time, his forum was an oped article in the Lufkin News, in which he questioned the most recent school accountability standards announced by the Texas Education Agency.

Clearly, he didn’t believe TEA’s claim that about 85 percent of the state’s public schools are “meeting standards.”

“Schools are certainly not meeting the standards of employers,” he wrote, calling for a stronger accountability system for schools.

What Hammond refuses to acknowledge, though, is that a strong public education system is not built on tougher tests for students. It is built on good teachers (Texas has those) and adequate funding for schools, which is where state government fails, in large part because of groups like his.

For years, the Texas Association of Business and other like-minded business and trade associations in this state have had three main priorities – keeping state regulation of their businesses weak, making it next to impossible for unhappy customers to sue them and keeping state business taxes low. And, they have been very successful at realizing all three.

But what about public education? Don’t businesses need strong schools to keep supplying highly trained workers for the future? They surely do, and many businesspeople realize that. But business leadership in Austin – or at least most of it – has for years been propping up and perpetuating short-sighted state government policy that shortchanges our children’s schools.

Most of the business lobby, including Hammond’s group, stood mostly silent while the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago. Hammond, for one, has seemed much more concerned about keeping the pressure on kids to pass standardized tests than he has been about the $500 per student that was lost in state funding because of those cuts.

And, now the Texas Association of Business has endorsed education budget-cutters for the state’s top two offices and many legislative seats. Dan Patrick, the group’s candidate for lieutenant governor, voted for the school budget cuts in 2011, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom TAB is supporting in the governor’s race, continues to defend the cuts in court.

Of course, Hammond’s complaints about school accountability ratings could be part of a broader campaign to convince Texans that their neighborhood schools – now that they have been starved of financial resources — are a failure. The purpose of that campaign would be to win more public support for transferring tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools to corporate charters and private schools — supported by tax-paid vouchers — all for the benefit of educational profiteers and not necessarily school kids.

Those ideas are exactly what Dan Patrick has been openly promoting for a long time and Abbott has been more quietly suggesting.

Just last week, the Texas Tribune reported that Patrick was still applying “his low-spending mentality to education.”

And, yet all the CEO of the Texas Association of Business can seem to fret about is low test scores.