Archives for category: Texas

The public schools of Katy, Texas, are overcrowded. The district needs a new elementary school, but it can’t afford to build one.

But the city officials know what really matters in Texas: they are spending $71 million for a new football stadium.

Please, let us not hear any rhetoric from Texas elected officials about how they love the children, how they want the state to attract new businesses by having great schools, how they are planning for the future. The legislature never fully restored the $5 billion in cuts to public schools that they extracted in 2011.

The only investment the politicians are willing to make is in charter schools–and if Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has his way–vouchers. That, of course, is not new money. Charters and vouchers take money from existing public schools and transfer it to entrepreneurs and home schoolers and those who prefer a religious education. There is no new money.

Texans are being scammed. There is no investment in children. There is no investment in public schools.

But there will be a super stadium in Katy.

In the annual fight in Texas over school vouchers, one of the strongest, most consistent defenders of public schools is an influential group known as zpastors for Texas Children. They believe in the importance of public education as a democratic right and they strongly support the separation of church and state.

At recent legislative hearings in Austin, their executive director Charles Foster Johnson testified against a voucher bill that was passed in the State Senate. This battle occurs every year. Thus far, a coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats has managed to defeat vouchers in the House. Pastor Johnson and his colleagues have been a powerful group in staving off privatization.

[If you want to watch Pastor Johnson’s testimony, which was “from the heart,” and diverged from his written statement, watch here:

[Start the video at the 3:50 mark– that’s 3 HOURS and 50 MINUTES– move the cursor just shy of the left side of the middle. http://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=37&clip_id=12360 ]

Testimony Before House Public Education Committee

By Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children

October 17, 2016

Chairman Aycock, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you and your committee today about what we have witnessed in our fine neighborhood and community public schools throughout our great State. My name is Charles Johnson, pastor of Bread Fellowship, Fort Worth. I am also executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a statewide organization mobilizing the faith community for public education support and advocacy. We do two things: we minister to children in our local schools and we advocate for just policy for our children with our legislators. We were birthed out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas three years ago and now have over 1900 faith leaders of all denominations in churches all across Texas.

We are in our schools every day and see children from every ethnicity, every socio-economic background, and all walks of life succeeding beautifully on their path to productive citizenship in our society. We see children discovering their God-given talent and giftedness at the hands of dedicated teachers answering the call of God to pursue careers as educators. We witness daily the sheer moral power of public education as a building block of our society. This is why we are compelled to deliver the message to whoever will listen that universal public education is God’s will for all people—not a “choice” accorded to a few through a school choice voucher. I’d like to share several reasons why:

Public education is a moral duty. Education is a gift of God for all people. Just like the first human did in the Bible story so long ago, every person gets to name God’s world. Just as God brought all the creatures to the human to see what he would name them, so classroom teachers in schools all across our land teach our children to name God’s world. It’s the only way we can fulfill the first commandment of God to “be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it.” Education is a core component of the public interest. It is God’s common good for all God’s children—not just for those who are smart and stable and economically secure enough to pay for it with a school choice voucher.

Public education is a democratic duty. The founders of this nation determined at the outset of our Republic that in order to have a democratic society, we must educate all our children—not just a few children from families affluent enough to pay for it. Public education is a cornerstone of our American way of life. It is what has made America great. Our neighborhood and community schools are the places where our American history is taught, where our children learn basic civics, where the Pledge of Allegiance is said every day, where citizens are made. In America, citizenship is for all people—not just those few fortunate enough to be chosen by a school choice voucher.

Public education is a societal duty. It is incorrect for some of our friends to say that the money should follow the child because it is “my money.” With all due respect, it is not “my money” in a just society. We have a responsibility to participate in the well-being of all people. Do I get to have my own private security guard subsidized by the public through a “safety choice voucher?” Do I get to have my private swimming pool underwritten by the people of Texas because I don’t use the public pool? In a just and equal society, do I get a “transportation voucher” because I walk or ride a bicycle? The love of neighbor has founded our social order in these United States. We practice that love of neighbor through our taxation to support investments in that societal infrastructure.

Public education is a constitutional duty. The Constitution of the State of Texas says this in Article 7, Section 1: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” The members of this legislative body swore a Bible oath to uphold that provision. There is zero authorization for this body to do anything with private schools.

Public education is a spiritual duty. We believe wholeheartedly in religious liberty as a gift of God from all people. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did not make it up. It is the principle upon which our nation is founded. So, we affirm that no overt religious instruction or activity should be advanced or established with tax dollars in our public schools. All faith is voluntary. It belongs in the home and the church—not in our public institutions. This government has no authority to advance religion in our public schools. Nor, on the other hand, does this government have any authority to meddle in our private and home schools through a school choice voucher. Any money that is diverted from the public trust to a private entity will be publically accounted for, thus inserting and intruding government into the voluntary associations of religious schools. God does not need Caesar’s money to do the Lord’s work. Never has. Never will.

But, faithful teachers take the love of God with them into our classrooms each and every day, ministering long hours at low pay while serving the poorest children in our midst. They instill moral character. They teach respect across the wide diversity of our population. They show unconditional love to all kids. They do this because they are called before God. This is why the dynamics that govern our capitalistic system do not operate in an educational environment. Market forces such as competition and cost benefit analysis simply do not apply in the formation of a human being. A classroom is a holy place of learning—not a marketplace of financial gain. To make commodities of our kids and markets of our classrooms is to misunderstand—and profane—the spirituality of education.

PO Box 471155 – Fort Worth, Texas 76147
http://www.pastorsfortexaschildren.com

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, former talk show host, really wants vouchers for the millions of students in Texas. Fortunately, he has been defeated year after year by a coalition of rural Tepublicans and urban Democrats.

The battle is on again this year. Patrick and his fellow ideological zealots are headed for a showdown on the issue. There is no evidence that vouchers “work,” and much evidence that they don’t. In a state like Texas, the voucher proposal is strongly opposed by a brave group called Pastors for Texas Children. (Make a donation if you can to help them.)

Supporters of vouchers insist that the schools that receive public funds should be exempt from state tests or any other accountability measures, which might limit their “freedom.”

“A bipartisan group of state representatives hammered private school choice proponents at a heated legislative hearing on Monday, signaling an enduring uphill battle in the Texas House for proposals that would use taxpayer dollars to help parents send their kids to private or parochial schools, or educate them at home.

“Rural Republicans and Democrats in the lower chamber have long blocked such programs — often referred to in sweeping terms as “private school vouchers,” although there are variations. Passing one has emerged as a top priority in the Texas Senate for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who unsuccessfully pushed a private school choice program when he was a Republican state senator from Houston and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.”

Of course, the proposal for vouchers is a pathetic excuse for failing to restore the $5 billion cut to the public schools in 2011.

Glenn W. Smith, an experienced journalist in Texas, gives his analysis of the politics of school funding and the renewed drive for vouchers.

Smith wonders:

Is it just a coincidence that private school funding schemes are gaining steam as a far more diverse bunch of kids are sitting in our public classrooms? Less than 29 percent of our public school children are white, down more than a third from the year 2000. Hispanics now make up 52 percent of the Texas school population. African-Americans are 13 percent and Asians 4 percent of students.

The advocates, led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, claim they want vouchers so “poor kids can escape failing schools,” but these people have never shown any interest in saving kids or their families.

These same policymakers refused to accept billions in federal Medicaid reform dollars, leaving millions of the less fortunate without adequate health care. Now we discover that the maternal death rate in Texas has skyrocketed, especially among poor African-American women. In addition, as the Houston Chronicle reported last week, the state abandoned hundreds of thousands of special needs children by arbitrary cuts to special education.

Also, we shouldn’t forget the refusal of Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders to entertain statewide increases in the minimum wage. Low-wage workers should be happy to eat the stale cake their superiors deign to give them.

The policymakers responsible for these atrocities are the same ones telling us their school privatization plans are intended to help the very people they are punishing in every other major policy area — from health care to political representation to economic opportunity.

Smith predicts that Patrick’s voucher plans will fail, mainly because of resistance by rural Republicans:

In 2017 Patrick might push some of his schemes through the state Senate that he controls. But this is one issue in which rural lawmakers, many of them conservative Republicans, are allied with moderate or liberal urban representatives.

Public schools remain critical centers of life in many rural communities. Folks there lived through the “Wal-Marting” of their towns as the giant retailer drove the mom and pop stores out of business. They aren’t about to let that happen to their schools. They aren’t going to sit by as the Little Red Schoolhouse is turned into the Great Big Red State Profit Center.

Patrick’s plans appear to call for the creation of two K-12 school systems, one public, and one private. This is also giving many conservatives pause. Texas can’t afford that. Various estimates put the tab in the billions.

Let’s hope that Smith is right, and that the good sense of rural Republicans and urban Democrats will save public education in Texas.

Right-wingers in Texas want vouchers, but they have been stymied again and again by a coalition of rural Republicans who support their community public schools and urban Democrats who don’t want to destroy public education.

So now the right-wingers want “education savings accounts,” so parents can use public money to pay for other options, such as private school.

Advocates of the so-called school choice movement want the state to give each Texas student who no longer wants to attend public school an education savings account. The student would use the account to pay for other education options, such as private schools, tutors, curriculum for home schooling or college credit courses, giving students more choice in their education, according to proponents.

Public school supporters aren’t buying it. They say education savings accounts are masquerading as private school vouchers, diverting money from cash-strapped school districts to private schools without holding them to the same standard of accountability.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can call a voucher something else, but it’s still a voucher,” said Charles Luke of the Coalition for Public Schools, which opposes using public funds to support private and religious schools. “We need to invest in our community schools rather than create a completely separate, parallel system and expand government.”

What the Republican right fringe doesn’t realize is that when everyone has his or her own choice, no one is responsible any more to support all children. Taxpayers won’t pass bond issues. Why should Mr. Brown pay for Ms. Jones’ son to go to private or religious school?

I am reposting this because the earlier version lacked a link and the conclusion of the study.

The study is called “Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes.”

http://kevanharris.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/wdobbie/files/texas_charters.pdf

This is an astonishing study, not just because of its findings but because of its authors. Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer are economists who have frequently studied charters, incentives and their effects on test scores. Fryer’s research institute at Harvard was started with several millions from the Broad Foundation. Fryer is a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.

Here is the abstract of their study of charter schools in Texas and labor market outcomes:

“We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earn- ings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings. In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects throughout the distribution of school quality. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of what might explain our set of facts.”

The paper concludes with this speculation:

“Charter schools, in particular No Excuses charter schools, are considered by many to be the most important education reform of the past quarter century. At the very least, however, this paper cautions that charter schools may not have the large effects on earnings many predicted. It is plausible this is due to the growing pains of an early charter sector that was “building the plane as they flew it.” This will be better known with the fullness of time. Much more troubling, it seems, is the possibility that what it takes to increase achievement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets.”

Apparently, the obedience and conformity taught in No Excuses charter schools do not help people in jobs where initiative and independent thinking are valued.

The charter industry in Texas wants to take part of the capital funding that now goes to public schools. Charter schools in Texas do not perform as well as public schools, but they have a powerful lobby of business elites who are contemptuous of public schools.

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/texas-charter-schools-see-obstacle-to-growth/nr33z/

Currently, public schools are required to give space to charter schools. Public education in Texas have been underfunded since the legislature cut $5.2 Billion from them in 2011.

But charters want their own dedicated funding stream, even though the funding will be taken from public schools.

Here’s a thought: why don’t the billionaires like John Arnold and Tecans for Education pay for charter facilities?

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-3 to strike down restrictions on abortion in Texas that would have caused most clinics to close. If fully implemented, the state law would have reduced the number of places where abortions could be performed to only 10.

The reactionaries who control the Texas legislature will have to think of something new. If they have any spare time left over after wrangling the abortion issue, they might consider restoring the billions of dollars they cut from public schools in 2011.

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer cites all the ways that ETS messed up the STAAR tests in Texas. It is not a pretty picture. Texans almost missed Pearson after encountering the incompetence of ETS. Almost.

Questions with no right answers.

Test booklets sent to the wrong schools.

Students’ answers deleted.

No answers from ETS on testing day.

Boxes of completed tests lost in the mail.

Short answer essays with improbably low scores.

Long waits for test scores, some never delivered.

The upshot?

Somebody should be held accountable!

The Texas Association of School Administrators has asked [State Commissioner Mike] Morath not to use this year’s test scores to rate schools. In an open letter to Morath published in the Houston Chronicle, Ben Becker — part of the parents’ group that sued TEA claiming this year’s test is too long — said that Morath owes “the people of Texas a transparent accounting” of this year’s problems, otherwise, “you must throw out all the scores, order them expunged from student records, and assure they are not used for any decision-making. Anywhere. Period.”

Morath responded to Becker, telling him that while the spring test scores will be late, he believes they’ll still be accurate. Morath’s staff apparently drafted an apology letter to parents in April, according to the emails obtained by the Observer, but is waiting to send it once all of the spring test results are out — which now won’t happen until early July.

State Senator Kel Seliger, who has praised Morath for his leadership so far, has told the Amarillo Globe-News that Texas simply shouldn’t pay ETS for its work on this year’s STAAR. Whatever action Morath takes to hold ETS accountable after this year, lawmakers are certain to have their own ideas for reforming STAAR when they reconvene in January.

Don’t mess with Texas.

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial praising high-stakes testing. The News thinks the tests are necessary and valuable, even though parents don’t.

 

You can tell that no one on the editorial board has children in public schools, because they can’t understand why parents object to the state’s obsession with standardized testing. They congratulate patents got not opting out. They say nothing about the billions of dollars cut from Texas schools in 2011.

 

They just love that data. The kids, not so much.

 

They write:

 

“Dallas Morning News education writer Corbett Smith reports that only about 2,000 Texas families refused the test in 2015-16. That number is tiny compared with New York, where 240,000 opted out of the assessment, or Colorado, where 100,000 didn’t take it.

 

“Opting out of STAAR tests isn’t easy in Texas — but it is possible. So the low number leads us to hope that, despite the massive dislike of accountability exams, parents recognize STAAR’s importance.

 

“This newspaper shares that belief. That’s why our goals for 2016 include advocating for accountability and making a renewed case for the importance of testing, despite the system’s flaws. We have pledged to listen carefully to critics and bone up on best practices so we can urge reform that works.

 

“The first cleanup falls squarely on the state’s new testing vendor. New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services, which won a $280 million contract from the state, has left campuses mired in computer glitches and exam flaws. Just Thursday, it was accused of losing all the elementary and middle school tests in a small Central Texas school district.

 

“Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath assessed the mess this way: Those problems are “unacceptable” and must be fixed.

 

“But the solution isn’t to throw out the whole system, and it’s encouraging to see that most families and school districts get that.

 

“Families deserve to know how their students are progressing against the state standard; without a consistent scorecard, too much is left to chance. That can be a special problem as children move into the later years of elementary school and into middle school, where students most often slip.

 

“Likewise, school districts need to know not only how their students are performing, but how to evaluate teachers and help them grow to be the best possible educators.”