The child abuse from Austin continues

Whose child or family is Gov. Greg Abbott going to terrorize next?

First, he attacked transgender children and their families by ordering state investigations, which could lead to prosecution, for families that provide gender-affirming treatment for their kids. These are some of the same kids, not so incidentally, whom Abbott and his legislative cronies already had kicked off their school sports teams.

The governor’s order to investigate families over private family health care decisions was based on a non-binding and politically motivated “legal” opinion by Attorney General Ken Paxton that gender-affirming care could be considered a form of child abuse. The real child abuse in this instance, however, was committed by Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton.

Now, Abbott is attacking undocumented migrant children by threatening to cut off their life-changing public educations, the difference for many kids between a lifetime of poverty and real opportunity. This is shameful and is also a form of child abuse.

Forty years ago, in issuing its decision in Plyler vs Doe, a landmark case from Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of giving all our children, regardless of immigration status, access to a free public education. The court decision nullified a state law that had allowed Texas districts to refuse admission to undocumented children or charge them tuition, which their families couldn’t afford to pay.

Last week, Abbott, in an interview with a right-wing radio host, suggested the state of Texas should try to get the current Supreme Court to overturn this decision, just as the high court seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, another longstanding landmark case from Texas that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

After the governor’s radio comments created an uproar, he has since said the federal government should pay for the costs of educating undocumented immigrant children. But he didn’t completely back off his original statement.

Let’s be clear. Migrant families, including undocumented families, pay their fair share of school taxes. They pay sales and gasoline taxes like everyone else, and when they pay their rent, they are helping their landlords pay their school property taxes. They and their children are not getting a free ride.

Instead of blaming migrant kids and President Biden for Texas’ school budgetary problems, the governor should look in the mirror. He and the legislative majority are to blame for under-funded public schools. During the 2020-21 school year, the state of Texas spent, on average, more than $4,000 less per student in average daily attendance than the national average. This was only two years after the Legislature enacted House Bill 3, the 2019 school finance law that had boosted school funding but just shows how far Texas still has to go in making public education a real priority for every child.

It is sad that the governor of Texas thinks he can win votes for reelection by bullying vulnerable children and their families. It is sadder still that he probably will, unless more voters suddenly find their own kids and families under attack from Austin because the governor found another group of kids to pick on for some political reason.

Clay Robison

Why is there a teacher shortage? Let us count the reasons.

As a new state task force prepares to study the teacher shortage, I — as TSTA’s designated spokesperson — am still getting inquiries from reporters about why there is a shortage. It is an important question whose answers extend well beyond the pandemic.

Texas, in fact, has had a shortage of teachers certified for the subjects they teach, especially difficult-to — fill and fast-growing areas such as STEM and bilingual courses, for several years, way before COVID-19 became a household word.

I don’t presume to know the reason that every teacher has for making an early exit from the classroom and trying another career. But based on what TSTA leaders hear from our membership around the state, probably the single biggest reason overall is inadequate pay, and that was true before the pandemic struck.

Even after the pay raises ordered by the Legislature in 2019, average teacher pay in Texas still lags more than $7,000 per year behind the national average. This figure is based on the National Education Association’s ranking of average teacher salaries for each state during the 2020-21 school year. Using data from state education departments, NEA ranks states and the District of Columbia on various school funding issues each year, and the 2020-21 report is the most recent.

Rising health insurance premiums for teachers and other school employees, which the state has done nothing to address in more than a dozen years, is a related issue.

And, of course, the pandemic has made educator turnover worse. Many teachers got burned out by the stress of risking their health and the health of their families every time they went to school. Adding to that burnout was the extra teaching load many teachers had to take on – in the absence of enough substitutes — when colleagues got sick or had to quarantine.

Gov. Abbott added to the teachers’ health risks and their stress when he ignored the advice of health experts and issued his order prohibiting school districts from requiring students and school employees to wear masks. Some districts defied the governor and issued mask mandates anyway, but teachers felt the governor was playing politics with their health and safety and the health and safety of their students, especially during the delta and omicron surges.

Many teachers also were turned off by overt political meddling in the classroom, beginning when the governor promoted and the legislative majority enacted the two so-called critical race theory laws. Critical race theory is not taught in Texas public schools, and teachers recognized the laws for what they were — an effort to whitewash or soft pedal classroom discussions of racism and race relations.

Educators considered the laws an attack on their schools and on them, and they were particularly outraged that the attack came during a health emergency when they needed more support and more respect, not political attacks that drove a wedge between them and many parents.

The problem got worse when the governor attacked them again by suggesting pornography is a problem in Texas schools. It isn’t. Most school districts already had procedures in place to deal with parental complaints about books, but the governor made school books, mainly books about diversity, political as he campaigned for right-wing votes in the weeks leading up to the Republican primary.

After winning the primary, the governor moved quickly to have the Texas Education Agency assemble a task force to investigate the teacher shortage. Maybe Abbott was trying to make nice, but his olive branch — if that is what it was — didn’t erase the disrespect that he had spent months heaping on educators and public schools. And teachers felt another slap when the initial task force membership of 28 included only two teachers. The state now plans to add more teachers, but only after teacher groups made an issue of it.

The attacks and disrespect still sting for many educators. TSTA plans to cooperate with the task force study as long as we are convinced the governor, TEA and the Legislature are serious about finding real solutions and as long as they listen to what teachers have to say.

Many teachers or former teachers may have their own, different explanations for the shortage. Some may have quit because they were weary of STAAR, of having to waste class time year after year prepping students on how to pass a test, instead of teaching them critical learning skills. Inadequate retirement benefits, or excessive paperwork may be issues for others. The task force also needs to take a look at teacher preparation and certification programs.

It is time for the state to address all of these issues — and quit playing politics with educators.

Clay Robison

Student mental health is a major concern in Texas schools, but state leaders don’t care

There are many things Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies should be doing for children instead of attacking their schools and teachers with repeated lies about critical race theory and “pornographic” books.

Near the top of our state’s neglect list is a mental health crisis among public school students, which has worsened during the pandemic. A report (see below) by the Hopeful Futures Campaign, a coalition of national organizations working to improve mental health supports in America’s schools, gives an idea how serious the problem in Texas is.

Among the state’s 5 million-plus public school students, 363,000 suffer from major depression, and 255,000 of those do not receive treatment.

And what is state government doing about it? Not nearly enough.

The ratio of school psychologists to students in Texas schools is one to 4,962. Mental health experts recommend one school psychologist for every 500 students.

The ratio of school social workers to students is one to 13,604, which is not even in the same universe as the recommended ratio of one social worker to 250 kids.

The ratio of school counselors to students in our schools is one to 423, almost double the recommended ratio of one to 250 students. And many of those counselors spend all or most of their time on wasteful STAAR testing.

Overall, Texas’ ranking among the states for youth mental health services has fallen steeply during the pandemic from 28th in 2020 to 41st this year.

About 60 percent of the children enrolled in Texas public schools are low-income, which means the schools are about their only source of help, meager as it is, for mental health services.

Abbott, Patrick et al are neglecting an important part of their responsibilities – the support of public education. Instead, they are trying to destroy it, seeking the reelection support of voters who don’t know any better than to believe their lies. And their attacks keep adding to the stress of these vulnerable students and their teachers.

Lives are at stake, but they don’t care.

Clay Robison

Texas’s School Mental Health Report Card

Being “tethered to reality” is optional in today’s politics; some politicians are trying to make it optional in public schools as well

The Cult of Ignorance marches on, as absurd and dangerous as ever. Now, even butterflies—and their keepers — aren’t safe, and public schools may be next.

You may have heard that the National Butterfly Center, a nature conservatory on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, has become a target of QAnon conspiracy theories falsely claiming the center is tied to human trafficking.

This is part of an old extreme claim, long promoted on social media, that Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats are behind a pedophilia ring. The headquarters were alleged to be a family pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C, prompting an armed man to fire a shot in the establishment a few years ago. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

There was absolutely no truth to the claim about the pizza parlor, and there is absolutely no truth to the claim about the butterfly center. The center hasn’t been under investigation by any law enforcement agency for human trafficking. But it caught the attention of people who would rather believe lies than the truth when it dared to file a lawsuit against the administration of Liar-in-Chief Donald Trump in 2017 over Trump’s proposed border wall. The lawsuit, still pending in federal court, said construction of the wall threatened the center’s butterfly habitat.

The suit prompted tweets falsely accusing the center’s executive director, Marianna Trevino-Wright, of human trafficking. Then some nitwit congressional candidate from Virginia showed up, demanding access through the center to the Rio Grande “to see all the illegals crossing on the raft.”

Trevino-Wright has been the subject of threats by phone, email and Twitter. So, the center was closed indefinitely this week because of safety concerns for its staff and the public. An educational and environmental institution not in any way connected to politics has nevertheless become the latest victim of the increasing insanity of right-wing politics.

“It’s incredibly distressing that the United States has come to the point where a really significant part of the public is just no longer tethered to reality,” Jeffrey Glassberg, the founder of the North American Butterfly Association,” told The Texas Tribune.

It also is incredibly distressing and anger-provoking that the alleged top “leaders” of this state – all of whom know better than to believe the QAnon lies – sit back and refuse to publicly denounce them because they are afraid to offend would-be voters. Pandering is much easier. They wink and nod and encourage the lies, including the Big Lie about the 2020 election being “stolen” from Trump, and use that as an excuse to make it more difficult for their political opponents to vote.

These “leaders,” beginning with the governor, also have spent much of the past year spreading lies about public education – from false allegations of critical race theory to false claims about pornography in schools. It may take years for the public education system to recover, but they don’t care, as long as ignorance continues to help them get elected.

Threats from QAnon conspiracists have forced a butterfly sanctuary in the Rio Grande Valley to close

Clay Robison