If the Texas Association of Business really wants to rid this state of obstacles to educational quality, it needs to start by looking in the mirror. At almost every opportunity, the business group tries to portray itself as a champion of good public schools, but its political record screams just the opposite.
TAB is not part of the solution. It is a big part of the problem.
Just this week, in Central Texas alone, at least three more school districts were in the news because of continued fallout from the deep damage that Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority inflicted on the public education budget last spring. Waco ISD is considering the closure of several neighborhood schools, Killeen ISD may eliminate 35 teaching positions and Hutto ISD $1.2 million short for the next school year may ax some elementary music and art teachers, increase class sizes or charge students to ride the bus.
But what has TAB President and CEO Bill Hammond been complaining about? He is upset that the state education commissioner may give ninth graders a oneyear reprieve from a requirement that the new STAAR endofcourse exams count toward 15 percent of their final grades. That would be only fair for the students, since they and their teachers – thanks to $5.4 billion in state budget cuts have fewer resources to prepare for the tests and, more importantly, maintain a strong learning environment.
In a letter to legislators this week, Hammond criticized any effort to delay the impact of the unproven new tests.
“Texas is on the road to ruin if we do not raise our standards in public education,” he wrote to lawmakers. Last week, his group took out a newspaper ad to champion the new testing system.
Teachers and parents certainly support higher standards, but achieving those standards requires much more than another standardized test. Despite Hammond’s protests, delaying the full implementation of a dubious “accountability” system for school children is going to have almost no impact on educational quality. Of far greater impact are the $5.4 billion in cuts to education funding imposed by the governor and the legislative majority, whom Hammond’s group refuses to hold accountable.
TAB’s political action committee, in fact, is a longtime supporter of the governor and, during the 2010 election cycle, supported Perry’s reelection and the election of many of the legislators who voted for the education budget cuts, while leaving more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund.
If Texas is “on the road to ruin,” as Hammond claims in his letter to legislators, it isn’t because ninthgraders may get a break on a test. It is because Gov. Perry and the legislative majority continue to slash away at public education (there also were significant cuts in 2006), while continuing to enjoy political support from influential business groups, such as TAB.
If the Texas Association of Business really wants to make a positive difference for the public schools, Hammond and its other leaders can start by joining TSTA and demand that the governor call a special session now to appropriate $2.5 billion of the Rainy Day money to restore cuts for the 201213 school year. Several thousand teachers already have lost their jobs, and more than 8,200 elementary classes are larger than the limit allowed by state law. More classes will become overcrowded, and more schools will be closed if the bleeding isn’t stopped now.
Then, in the nottoodistant future, TAB should demand that the Legislature enact a morepermanent, adequate school finance system with an equitable revenue source that grows with the state’s economy. Texas’ future business workforce, after all, is at stake, and how it turns out will depend on much more than a new standardized test for children.
During last year’s legislative session, Hammond, to his credit, proposed that the Legislature spend $6 billion of the Rainy Day Fund. But Perry and the lawmakers that TAB helped to elect ignored him and spent only about half that much, while slashing the budget. Now, Hammond should repeat that demand.
TSTA’s stopthecutsnow petition can be found at this link: