Archives for the month of: May, 2022

Brown University released a study showing that hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved if everyone had gotten vaccinated.

This post by Heather Cox Richardson aims to explain the bizarre transformation of the Republican Party. To those of us old enough to remember Republicans such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Earl Warren, Howard Baker, George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and Jacob Javits, today’s GOP is incomprehensible. Long ago, the GOP was the party of fiscal conservatism. Today it is the party of Trump and the religious right. An odd combination. Please open the link to see the notes at the end of the post.

She writes:

The modern Republican Party rose to power in 1980 promising to slash government intervention in the economy. But that was never a terribly popular stance, and in order to win elections, party leaders wedded themselves to the religious right. For decades, party leaders managed to deliver economic liberties to business leaders by tossing increasingly extreme rhetoric and occasional victories to the religious right. Now, though, that radicalized minority is driving the party. It has thrown overboard the idea of smaller government to drive economic growth and embraced the idea that a strong government must enforce the religious and social beliefs of their base on the rest of the country.

This religiously based government wants to control not just individuals, but also businesses. We are seeing not only the apparent overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but also the criminalization of contraception, attacks on gay and trans rights, laws giving the state the power to design school curricula, fury at immigrants, book banning, and a reordering of the nation around evangelical Christianity.

Today, when the Senate voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill protecting the constitutional right to abortion as originally recognized in Roe v. Wade, all of the Republicans voted against it, along with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin said the bill was too broad, although he did not say in what way.

Modern Republicans are not limiting this strong state to the policing of individuals. They are using it to determine the actions of businesses. Even two years ago, it was unthinkable that Florida governor Ron DeSantis would try to strip its longstanding governing power from the Walt Disney Company to force the company to shut up about gay rights, and yet, just last month, that is precisely what happened.

Similarly, in his quest to weaponize the issue of immigration, Texas governor Greg Abbott drastically slowed the trade routes between Texas and Mexico between April 6 and April 15, costing the country $9 billion in gross national product and prompting Mexico to change the route of a railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to New Mexico. And now Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is proposing to use the government to strip Disney of its copyrights, a plan Professor Paul Goldstein of Stanford Law School, who specializes in intellectual property, calls “blatantly unconstitutional.”

This is no longer your mother’s Republican Party, or your grandfather’s… or his grandfather’s.

Today’s Republican Party is not about equal rights and opportunity, as Lincoln’s party was. It is not about using the government to protect ordinary people, as Theodore Roosevelt’s party was. It is not even about advancing the ability of businesses to do as they deem best, as Ronald Reagan’s party was.

The modern Republican Party is about using the power of the government to enforce the beliefs of a radical minority on the majority of Americans.

After more than a year of emphasizing that he could work with Republicans, President Joe Biden yesterday went on the offensive against what he called “the Ultra-MAGA Agenda.”

He focused on Florida senator Rick Scott’s “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which offers a blueprint for creating the modern Republican vision, beginning with its statement that “[t]he nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated.” To protect that family, Scott not only wants to end abortion rights, but also proposes requiring all Americans, no matter how little money they make, to pay income taxes, and to make all laws—including, presumably, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and so on—expire every five years. Congress can then just repass the ones it likes, he says.

Yesterday, Biden laid out the difference between his economic plan and Scott’s. He pointed out that his policies of using the government to support ordinary Americans have produced 8.3 million jobs in 15 months, the strongest job creation in modern history. Unemployment is at 3.6%, and 5.4 million small businesses have applied to start up this year—20% more than in any other year recorded.

Now, he says, the global inflation that is hurting Americans so badly is his top priority. To combat that inflation by taking on the price of oil, he has released 240 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to boost supplies, and increased domestic oil production. To lower prices, he has untangled supply chains, and now he wants to reduce our dependence on oil by investing in renewables, to restore competition in key industries (like baby formula) now dominated by a few companies, and to take on price gouging. And he has asked the wealthiest Americans “to pay their fair share in taxes,” since “[i]n recent years, the average billionaire has paid about 8% in federal taxes.”

Biden wants to take on household finances quickly by letting Medicare negotiate prices for prescription drugs to lower prices—as other developed nations do—and cap the price of insulin.

In contrast, he said, Republicans are proposing to raise taxes on 75 million American families, more than 95% of whom make less than $100,000 a year. “Their plan would also raise taxes on 82% of small-business owners making less than $50,000 a year,” he said, but would do nothing to hold corporations accountable, even as they are recording record profits. The plan to sunset laws every five years would give Republicans leverage to get anything they want: “Give us another tax cut for billionaires, or Social Security gets it.”

Biden pointed out that while Republicans attack Biden’s plans as irresponsible spending, in fact the deficit rose every year under Trump, while Biden is on track to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion this year. Reducing government borrowing will ease inflationary pressures.

Republicans responded to the president with fury, recognizing just how unpopular Scott’s plan would be if people were aware of it. They suggested that it is a fringe idea; host Dana Perino of the Fox News Channel tried to argue that Scott “is eating alone at the lunch table.” Scott promptly called Biden “unwell,” “unfit for office,” and “incoherent, incapacitated and confused,” and said he should resign.

While Republicans have not championed Scott’s program, they have let it stand alone to represent them. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that Scott’s plan is the only one the Republicans have produced, since Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not release any plans before the 2022 midterm elections, preferring simply to attack Democrats. Until he does, Scott is speaking for the party. And Scott is hardly a fringe character: as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate. Psaki went on to read a list of Republicans who supported Scott’s plan, including the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, who applauded Scott’s “real solutions to put us back on track.”.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also called out Republican far-right extremism yesterday in her defense of abortion rights, hitting again and again on how their stripping away of a right established almost 50 years ago is dangerous and radical. Polls show that a majority of Americans want the court to uphold Roe v. Wade, while a Monmouth poll published today shows that only about 8% of Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases, as new trigger laws are establishing.

The unpopularity of the probable overturning of Roe v. Wade also has Republicans backpedaling, trying to argue that losing the recognition of a constitutional right that has been protected for fifty years will not actually change abortion access. Ignoring both the move toward a national abortion ban and the voting restrictions newly in place in 19 states that cement Republican control, they say that voters in states can simply choose to protect abortion rights if they wish. Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson said, “It might be a little messy for some people,” but Wisconsin women could obtain an abortion by driving to Illinois. “[I]t’s not going to be that big a change,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

If overturning Roe v. Wade is such a nothingburger, why has the radical right fought for it as a key issue since the 1980s? In any case, Republicans are no longer able to argue that their extremists are anything other than the center of the party. As Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third officer in Republican leadership in the House, said after Biden spoke: “I am ultra MAGA. And I’m proud of it.”

We used to have two rational, credible political parties in this country. Politics stopped at the water’s edge. People at the extremes were disappointed, but both parties respected civility, played by the rules, and respected the Constitution.

Dana Milbank warns us that the Republican Party has slipped off the edge into the muck of extremismism. Trump was the pied Piper, but he was preceded by other zealots like Newt Gingrich. And it has only gotten worse.

He writes:

This past weekend’s massacre in Buffalo has put a deserved spotlight on Elise Stefanik, Tucker Carlson, Newt Gingrich, Matt Gaetz, J.D. Vance and others trafficking in the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory.

But the problem goes well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.

A new report shows just how extensively the two groups have intertwined.

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators….

The far-right groups range from new iterations of the tea party and certain antiabortion and Second Amendment groups to white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen entities that claim to be exempt from U.S. law. The IREHR largely excluded from its list membership in historically mainstream conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and in pro-Trump and MAGA groups, focusing instead on more radical groups defined by nationalism or antidemocratic purposes.

I worry for the future of our democracy. I don’t think—as some do—that we are on the verge of a civil war. Only one side would be armed. But January 6 might be a harbinger of worse to come.

Governor Gregg Abbott has endorsed vouchers, which have repeated failed to pass the legislature. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is a voucher fanatic, and Senator Ted Cruz says that school choice is the most important issue in the nation. Pastors for Texas children has worked with a bipartisan coalition of legislators to stop vouchers.

Despite the enthusiasm of the state’s top elected officials, a new independent poll shows that the people of Texas don’t want vouchers.

Prepping for a war over private school vouchers in Texas, public school advocates are out with a new poll that shows the majority of likely voters oppose voucher programs that would hurt funding for public schools, and the opposition is deep in rural Texas.

The poll released Tuesday showed that 53 percent of likely Texas voters are against taxpayer-funded private school vouchers when hearing vouchers mean less money for their local public schools. And 71 percent of voters in rural areas said vouchers wouldn’t do anything to help them…

“These poll results show that Texas parents support their public schools, have confidence in their teachers, and are demanding investment in all of our students’ education,” said Julie Cowan, co-chair of Texas Parent PAC, which opposes private school voucher programs. “They do not support a blank check for private school voucher giveaways and charter school CEOs.”

The results come just over a week after Abbott declared in San Antonio that he was ready to make another run at passing a private school voucher plan that he insists won’t take money from public schools — a claim critics have questioned….

The poll released on Tuesday is from Change Research, a San Francisco-based firm. The poll surveyed 1,083 likely Texas voters. It had a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.

“Texas parents want to be absolutely clear to Governor Greg Abbott and every politician in office — don’t mess with our public schools,” said Dinah Miller, another co-chair of Texas Parent PAC.

Pro-voucher groups counter with a poll of Republican voters after the March 1 primary:

In the March 1 primary, Republican voters were presented a non-binding question previewing the school voucher fight. About 88 percent of GOP voters said yes to: “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”

The wording of the question matters. Voters should be asked how they feel about taking money away from their local public school to pay for private and religious schools.

Here’s a copy of the poll results that should cause Governor Abbott to cut back on his support for vouchers.

Christopher Hooks of the Texas Monthly attended Trump’s latest tour date in Texas and reviewed the show. It seems to be a political revival show, with expensive tickets and opportunities to spend more money, with no explanation of what the money’s for. You really should subscribe to the Texas Monthly. It’s informative and delightful about a politically key state.

On Saturday, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee came to Austin to speak at a day-long conference attended by some six or seven thousand of his most passionate fans and supporters. In Ye Olden Days, that first sentence would be followed by a description of the future candidate’s remarks on politics and policy. But this has never been the way to cover a Donald Trump speech, and yesterday there wasn’t any new material. The only mystery was why his fans would wait for so long to see him, lining up before dawn to secure good seats.

Saturday’s riffs included an extended description of the contracting process for the replacement of Air Force One, and the story of how Trump crushed ISIS with the help of a general he identified only as “Raisin’ Cain.” I have been to a dozen or so Trump rallies, and these are stories I’ve heard several times. As had members of the audience, apparently: when Trump described how nervous he was flying into Iraq to visit troops, a man called out the punch line—“perhaps I should have been given a medal”—before Trump got there. When the former president caught up, the man laughed twice as hard as his neighbors.

Far more interesting were Trump’s supporters and allies. The conference, featuring speakers such as rock musician Ted Nugent and attended by allies such as Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, showed a movement falling deeper into a suffocating circle of televangelist-adjacent scammery—while its adherents grow ever more comfortable with the idea of the need for violence to triumph over their political opponents. Things are going great, in other words.

In late January, Trump held a rally in Conroe at the high point of the Texas’s GOP primary season. That rally, like most of the former president’s, was held by the joint fund-raising committee of Save America, an extension of Trump’s former (and possible future) campaign. Huge billboards hawked Trump’s new book, but the event was relatively civic-minded. He read, from the teleprompter, a careful speech endorsing all the requisite Texas GOP candidates.

By contrast, the event Saturday in Austin, at the city’s convention center, was a project of the American Freedom Tour, a for-profit traveling show that brings speakers to MAGA-heads around the country. The purpose is not to back candidates or even to get out the vote but to sell tickets. Trump was the headliner, while the undercard was filled out with relative heavyweights like former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and lighter weights, such as Kevin Sorbo, the actor who once starred in the nineties shlock show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. While the turnout of seven thousand might not be impressive in another context, it was large given that each attendee had paid quite a bit to be there. The cheapest tickets, for the seats at the very, very back of the warehouse space, sold for between $45 and $95.

Attendees could purchase a seat halfway to the stage with a ticket at the “VIP” or “Delegate” level, at some $800 to $1,000, respectively. Both came with access to a breakfast with Dinesh D’Souza—the conservative filmmaker whose new work, 2000 Mules, makes the case that the 2020 election was stolen—and an invitation to an afterparty with Donald Trump Jr. Only the Delegate level, though, came with a “Full Color American Freedom Tour Program,” which turned out to be a mostly blank booklet in which attendees were encouraged to write notes about speakers’ remarks. The best seats, however, were reserved for the “Presidential” ticket holders, who paid some $4,000. As it turned out, attendees could actually pretty much sit anywhere. I walked in without a wristband and sat in an empty seat that was supposed to cost $3,000.

With this kind of cash exchanging hands, you might think that the American Freedom Tour was a fundraiser for conservative causes. Many folks who shelled out for a ticket doubtless expected this to be the case. But there is no information anywhere on the tour website about how the proceeds will be distributed. It is not a PAC, of course. The money goes to the speakers—including Trump and Trump Jr., presumably—and the folks who put the rally together.

The only stated goal of the American Freedom Tour is to hold more incarnations of the American Freedom Tour. Its website’s FAQ doesn’t explain exactly what the money is used for, but it does helpfully emphasize that no recording of any kind is allowed inside. There is a cursory “our values” page that explains that the four pillars of American Freedom are “faith, family, finance, and freedom,” which each are given a short paragraph. “Men, in particular our fathers and husbands,” it says, “are under attack, being maligned and parodied in popular culture.”

In the past, I’ve written that the marketplace for well-compensated speakers and evangelists for the right—sometimes derided by the left as an ecosystem of “grift”—is an enormous asset for conservatives. If oleaginous liberal would-be demagogues could make a healthy living touring the country, all the while firing up Democrats in tent rallies, the party might be in a better place. But there are limits, man. My jaw dropped a little when Brian Forte, CEO of the American Freedom Tour, got on stage for a fund-raising appeal for his own company. A giant QR code appeared on screen directing attendees to a donation page, and the older folks around me struggled to make it work. Forte, a thirty-year veteran of the motivational speaking industry, was asking for money from attendees who had already paid to be there.

He did it in unbelievable terms. “Freedom is not free! Think about that,” he told the audience, appropriating a phrase typically used to refer to the sacrifice made by dead American soldiers. He urged the audience to donate at least $20 for Trump’s sake, but the donation page offered options of up to $5,000. “You can’t afford to not do this,” he reasoned, “because America is at stake!”

He went on. “If you see someone next to you who does not have their phone out,” he said, give them the hard sell. “Tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Come on, let’s do this together.’ Go ahead and do that now. Everyone should have their phone out.”

He wasn’t done. “This is your chance. We need you now. The president needs you now! America needs you now! It’s now or never! We’re warriors on the front lines to save America,” he said. “This is a battle between good and evil!”

The spiel went on for several more minutes, without Forte ever saying what the donations were for. Anyone who has ever been exposed to an evangelist of the Righteous Gemstones variety recognizes this kind of preaching. “Give me money and you’ll get into heaven” becomes “give me money and the country will be saved,” and it’s a more effective approach when you don’t explain the how.

Lisa Pelling wrote this article, which appeared in the Swedish publication Social Europe. She directs Arena Ide, a progressive think tank in Stockholm, Sweden.

Lisa Pelling explains how ‘freedom of choice’ has wrought a vicious circle of inequality and underperformance.

Think of a caricature of a capitalist couple and you can picture the front page of the leading Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, earlier this year. A man with a tailormade suit and an 80s style attaché portfolio. Next to him, a woman in high heels, silk skirt and large, silver fur coat. Big confident smiles.

Sadly, the portrait of Hans and Barbara Bergström was not a cartoon but an illustration of the current Swedish school system. The photo accompanied an article on what was once a cherished social institution and a source of national pride, which has become a profitable playing field for corporate interests and the creation of immense private wealth.

Barbara Bergström, founder of one of Sweden’s largest school corporations, with 48 schools across Sweden, and her husband, former editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter—and a long-time lobbyist for the privatisation of schools—are two of the people who have made a fortune running publicly funded schools in Sweden. When Barbara sold shares in her school empire to American investors a few years ago, she earned 918 million krona (almost €90 million). Her remaining shares are now worth another €30 million.

Voucher system

This is money made entirely from public funds. Private schools in Sweden are funded not by tuition fees, but by a ‘free choice’ voucher system introduced by a conservative government in 1992.

This year, that radical reform of Sweden’s school system turns 30. Ideologically conceivedby Milton Friedman, the system is under increasing criticism. Not only because no other country in the world has chosen to copy it, but also because the downsides have become so evident. In particular, school boards across the country are increasingly aware that the owners of private schools treat them as profitable businesses—at the expense of the public schools.

A controversial social-democrat governance reform in 1991 abolished the state-run schooling system. Since then, municipalities have been in charge of public schools in Sweden and all municipalities are by law obliged to hand out school vouchers (equivalent to the cost of municipal schools) to private schools for each pupil they accept.

Picking the most profitable

It sounds fair: all pupils get a voucher (‘a backpack full of cash’) and all get to choose. Yet individual pupils’ needs are different and, while the municipal school has to cater for all children’s needs, private schools can pick the most profitable pupils—and still receive the same funding.

Municipalities have a legal responsibility to provide children with access to education close to where they live, be that in a small town or remote village. For-profit schools do not have such an obligation and can establish themselves in the city centre.

Nor can municipalities turn pupils down. For-profit schools do this all the time: they put pupils on a waiting list and accept only a profitable quota. Since the largest costs in schools—teachers and classrooms—are more or less fixed, maximum profits stem from maximising the number of pupils per teacher and per classroom. Waiting lists allow pupils to be queued (while attending the default municipal school) until a full (in other words, profitable) classroom can be opened.

Vicious circle

This creates a vicious circle. While private for-profit schools operate classrooms with 32 pupils (with the funding from 32 vouchers), municipalities have to run schools where classrooms have one, two or maybe five pupils fewer. Less money per teacher and per classroom mathematically increases the average cost per pupil.

If the cost per pupil for the municipality rises in its schools, the private schools are legally entitled to matching support—even if their costs have not risen. Public schools lose pupils, and so funding, to for-profit schools, while their consequently rising cost per pupil delivers a further funding boon to the private schools—which, with the help of this additional support, become even more attractive. All the while public schools are drained of much-needed resources and so the downward spiral continues.

Inevitably, it is mostly privileged kids who are able to exercise their right to attend private schools, so socially-disadvantaged pupils are left in the public schools. This not only favours inequality of performance between schools but also lowers the overall average—high-performing Finland, by contrast, has very low performance gaps between its schools.

Andreas Schleicher, head of the directorate for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, used to ‘look to Sweden as the gold standard for education’. Now, he writes, ‘the Swedish school system seems to have lost its soul’. No other country has experienced such a rapid fall in performance in the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment (PISA) league table as Sweden, paired with increasing knowledge gaps between schools. And all the while school segregation is increasing, not only in big cities, but in mid-sized towns as well.

In her seminal The Death and Life of the great American School System, Diane Ravitch describes how making ‘freedom of choice’ the ‘overarching religion’ benefits few and harms many, destroying the public school system. What should be a public service is abused by parents who seek a (white, non-working class) segregated refuge for their children.

Huge funds to spend

It might seem unlikely that the Swedish school system would be an inspiration to anyone anywhere. But Swedish private schools are highly profitable, their owners have huge funds to spend and they are eager to meet upper- and middle-class demands for social segregation by expanding their corporations abroad.

Academedia, the largest private education provider in Sweden, is established in Norway and has 65 preschools in Germany. It recently reported to investors that it was preparing to launch an apprenticeship programme in the United Kingdom and expand its preschools into the Netherlands. Barbara Bergström’s Internationella Engelska Skolan already owns seven schools in Spain.

The Bergströms’ foundation, meanwhile, has donated SEK60 million to establish a ‘professorship in educational organization and leadership’ at the Stockholm School of Economics. Friedman would have been impressed.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Tucker Carlson attacked Houston Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw for supporting aid to Ukraine.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson took aim at Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw on Monday night for his support of sending aid to Ukraine, calling him “eye patch McCain.”

Crenshaw, 38, is a retired Navy SEAL who nearly died in Afghanistan after a roadside bomb detonated and left him without his right eye. Carlson was comparing him to the late-U.S. Sen. John McCain who was considered a hawkish member of the Republican Party.

Carlson’s beef with Crenshaw was rooted in a $40 billion aid package Congress is considering to help Ukraine against Russia. Carlson has opposed the U.S. supporting Ukraine and has said he is rooting for Russia, which invaded the neighboring country on Feb. 24.

Carlson aired a clip of Crenshaw on a different Fox News program earlier in which the second-term congressman called it “depressing” to listen to some Republicans and conservatives opposing aid to Ukraine, referring to them as “almost pro-Russia.”

Crenshaw also pushed back at critics who have said the money should be used in the U.S. for baby formula during the supply shortage instead of going to Ukraine. In the clip, Crenshaw said those two things are completely different and that the problem with the baby formula situation isn’t about money, but a supply shortage tied to a massive recall.

Crenshaw said the baby formula shortage was caused by manufacturing and barriers to importing European product.

Carlson then absurdly accused Crenshaw of treating moms who are worried about baby food as pro-Russian.

The IDEA charter chain in Texas has gone through some strange ups and downs.

Its founder Tom Torkelson quit in 2020 with a golden parachute of $900,000 after a series of financial embarrassments (like trying to lease a private jet for $2 million a year and $400 box seats at the San Antonio Spurs basketball games for executives); the IDEA chief financial officer Wyatt Truscheit left at the same time.

A year later, the IDEA board fired its co-founder JoAnne Gama and another chief financial operator, Irma Munoz, “after a forensic review found “substantial evidence” that top leaders at the state’s largest charter network misused money and staff for personal gain.” Add to this brew that Betsy DeVos handed over $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program to help IDEA grow faster and replenish its ample resources

Well, with all this turmoil and financial questions, state officials conducted an audit of the flush charter chain.

But lo and behold, three years later, the charter chain hired the state auditor to be its new CEO!

IDEA Public Schools this week named as its lone finalist for superintendent a top Texas Education Agency official who oversaw an office that has been investigating the charter network over allegations former leaders had misused money and staff for personal gain.

The network’s board on Tuesday named Jeff Cottrill, who has served as TEA’s Deputy Commissioner for Governance and Accountability for the last three years, as the finalist, according a statement from IDEA. He is expected to begin serving as superintendent in June following a 21-day waiting period required by the state for superintendent appointments.

“Jeff is an education leader with tremendous gifts, heart and focus,” Collin Sewell, chair of the IDEA Board of Directors, said in the statement. “He is a veteran school administrator with valuable and diverse experience leading, overseeing, and improving school districts and charter schools throughout Texas.”

In response to an inquiry from the Houston Chronicle, the charter network on Thursday issued a statement saying Cottrill had “recused himself from matters involving IDEA at the Texas Education Agency.”


State Board of Education Rep. Georgina Cecilia Pérez, whose district includes 40 counties in West Texas, said the move “just stinks to high heaven.”

She questioned why the agency had not announced Cottrill’s recusal from the probe. Pérez also asked who currently is overseeing the IDEA investigation and whether the same investigators, who technically worked for Cottrill, would continue digging into a charter network that he now will lead.

Georgina Cecilia Perez is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

The Tennessee voucher program is very controversial. It passed by only one vote, the vote of a Knoxville legislator who won the promise that there would be no vouchers in his district. The FBI is investigating whether the legislator was promised anything else, and he has been called before a grand jury to testify about what happened. The voucher plan will be offered only in Nashville and Memphis,whose representatives opposed it.

The plan was held to be unconstitutional by two courts but the state’s highest court just ruled that it was constitutional.

Marta W. Aldrich of Chalkbeat Tennessee reports:

The reversal essentially revives Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program, the signature legislation of his first year in office and the source of a fierce legal battle for more than two years.

The program aims to provide taxpayer money to pay toward private education for eligible students in public school districts in Memphis and Nashville. Lee set aside $29 million in the state’s upcoming budget to pay for starting up the program in the event that the high court ruled in his favor.

Tennessee has been a battleground state in the escalating tug-of-war between those who want to use taxpayer money to give parents more education choices and others who say that approach diverts money from already underfunded public schools.

After a decade of legislative defeats, voucher legislation narrowly passed in 2019 under a GOP supermajority.

But a Nashville judge blocked the controversial program from launching in 2020 in a ruling that was unanimously upheld by the state Court of Appeals. The lower courts said the voucher law violated the state constitution’s “home rule” provision because it applied only to districts in the state’s two largest cities without their consent.

A Republican proposal to revise the embattled law to try to address the home rule issue narrowly failed in a House subcommittee in March.

In April, however, the legislature voted to replace Tennessee’s formula for funding K-12 education with a voucher-friendly one. Developed by Lee’s administration, the plan will require calculations that enable funding to easily follow a student to private schools and public charter schools, which the governor is also working to multiply. But Lee has saidhis funding plan is unrelated to vouchers or charters.

The legislature’s pivotal 2019 voucher vote continues to be the source of controversy and questions. A 49-49 tie in the House appeared to kill the bill, until then-Speaker Glen Casada held the vote open for 38 minutes and persuaded Rep. Jason Zachary, a Knoxville Republican, to flip his position in favor of the governor’s plan…

The voucher law designated about $7,300 annually to each eligible student who moves from public to private schools. The program was to start with up to 5,000 students in its first year, potentially reaching 15,000 students by the fifth year.

Attorneys representing Davidson and Shelby counties argued the change would impose a financial burden to their local school systems by diverting millions of dollars to private education.

But the state’s attorneys contended that the home rule argument didn’t apply in this case.

The state Supreme Court ultimately agreed. “The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Plaintiff counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of the local education agencies and not the counties,” the court said in a statement. “Thus, the Act does not violate the Home Rule Amendment.”

The high court’s ruling came after an unusually long review. The five-judge panel heard oral arguments last summer before Justice Cornelia Clark died in September. It then opted to rehear the case in February with Court of Appeals Judge Thomas R. Frierson sitting in for Clark’s replacement, Justice Sarah Campbell, who was appointed by Lee in January and recused herself from the voucher case because she previously worked for the state attorney general.

We saw an off-Broadway show that we highly recommend. It’s a four-night only show. We saw the first. The others are May 19 and 25 at 7 pm. May 21 @2 pm.

“Margo & Juliette: A Dance on the Volcano in Weimar Berlin”

A two-woman cabaret of songs from the Weimar period. It’s risqué but no nudity.

It was wonderful!

The parallels to today are powerful, sometimes frightening.

It was akin to going to a cabaret during Weimar. Songs in English and in German. A simple production. Two beautiful singers and a piano.

In the end, very moving.

Only three more performances at the Triad Theatre on West 72 and Amsterdam in Manhattan.