Archives for category: Texas

In the Texas governor’s race between the vile Gregg Abbott and challenged Beto O’Rourke, the candidates are fighting for rural votes on the issue of vouchers. Rural Republicans have a strong allegiance to their public schools, which are often the heart of the community and its biggest employer. Many rural communities do not have any other schools.

Yet Governor Abbott has supinely sought the approval of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.

The Texas Tribune summed up the conflict:

A battle over school vouchers is mounting in the race to be Texas governor, set into motion after Republican incumbent Greg Abbott offered his clearest support yet for the idea in May.

His Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, is hammering Abbott over the issue on the campaign trail, especially seeking an advantage in rural Texas, where Democrats badly know they need to do better and where vouchers split Republicans. O’Rourke’s campaign is also running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to “reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund” public schools.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not shying away from the controversy he ignited when he said in May that he supports giving parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.” He met privately last week with Corey DeAngelis, an aggressive national school choice activist who had previously criticized Abbott as insufficiently supportive of the cause.

“School choice” tends to refer to the broad concept of giving parents the option to send their kids to schools beyond their local public school, while vouchers would allow parents to use state tax dollars to subsidize tuition for those other options, including private schools. Opponents of vouchers say they harm public school systems by draining their funding. In the Legislature, vouchers have long encountered resistance from Democrats and rural Republicans whose public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.

O’Rourke is leaning into the bipartisan salience of the issue.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and only one option of public school, he wants to defund that through vouchers, take your tax dollars out of your classroom and send it to a private school in Dallas or Austin or somewhere else at your expense,” O’Rourke told a rural audience recently.

As usual, the voucher vultures are pushing the lie that money taken away from your public school will allow children to attend elite private schools.

It can’t be said often enough: voucher funds are never enough to pay for elite public funds. It is a lie. Voucher funding ranges from $4,000 to $8,000. The tuition at elite private schools ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

Elite private schools don’t have vacancies. When they do, they don’t seek to enroll poor kids.

After 25 years of vouchers, the research is clear: kids who leave community public schools for voucher schools lose academic ground. Large numbers return to their public schools.

Meanwhile public schools are grievously harmed by the withdrawal of funding. They must lay off teachers and cut programs.

If the Devil designed a program to hurt the public schools, he would call it vouchers. And it would be funded by the American Federatuon for Chiildren.

This mother in Texas wanted another child. She was thrilled when she learned she was pregnant. But then the doctor told her that the ultrasound revealed a terrible genetic condition in her fetus. It might die in utero or a few days after birth. What should she do? Should she seek an abortion or let the baby die in utero or die a painful death?

Last year, Farrah Day tried for months to get pregnant with her second child. The 32-year-old San Antonio–area mother hoped to finish building her family in her early 30s, while she was still relatively young. Doing so would allow her to commit fully to attending medical school, building upon her experience working as a medical researcher.

After going through “so many pregnancy tests that I lost count,” Day and her fiancé finally learned in the summer of 2021 that she was expecting. They were thrilled, but hesitantly so. The last time Day had tried to have a child, she’d had a miscarriage; for the first couple of months of this pregnancy, the fear of losing another child lingered.

But by the time she arrived at her doctor’s office for a routine ultrasound at thirteen weeks, Day was feeling healthy and optimistic. She’d announced her pregnancy on Facebook and had begun designing a nursery in the family’s new home. “We were so excited,” Day said. “As someone who reads medical literature, I knew my odds of having complications after twelve weeks were about five percent.”

Her excitement ended during that ultrasound visit. Day recalls the moment when her normally talkative ob-gyn went silent, a look of concern appearing on her face. Within hours, Day was sitting in front of a maternal-fetal specialist trying to wrap her head around devastating news: her unborn baby was suffering from a particularly severe case of hydrops fetalis, a rare condition that causes abnormal amounts of fluid to build up inside a fetus, which can lead to extensive damage of its internal organs.

Should she decide to continue her pregnancy for another six months, the specialist told Day, she would most likely give birth to a stillborn baby. If the baby didn’t die in utero, he said, it was unlikely to live more than a few days outside the womb. She was told that continuing to term could also put Day at risk for developing mirror syndrome (also known as Ballantyne syndrome or triple edema), a condition associated with hydrops in which an expectant mother develops severe swelling and potentially life-threatening hypertension. “I’d never heard of hydrops,” Day said. “When I found out, I couldn’t quite believe that, against all odds, this terrible thing still managed to happen….”

Because she was nearly two months beyond the deadline for accessing legal abortion care in Texas, Day decided her best option was for her and her fiancé to split the driving on the twelve-hour trip from Central Texas to a clinic in Albuquerque. She felt there was no time to spare. The longer she waited, the more expensive, and potentially complicated, the procedure would be. Though abortions conducted after the first trimester are still considered overwhelmingly low-risk, the skill required to perform the procedure increases as pregnancy advances, which partly explainsincreases in cost…

Once arrangements were in place, Day and her fiancé packed into her Jeep and headed west, driving twelve hours overnight, stopping only at convenience stores for food and gas….

After her abortion, the couple planned to race home, but Day began hemorrhaging, a rare and potentially serious complication. Feeling weak, and worried that the bleeding might intensify, the couple lingered at a gas station in Roswell for several hours; otherwise, they risked being caught in the desert without close access to medical care. Looking back, Day fears that her condition was a prelude of tragedies to come. “We were afraid to leave Roswell,” she said. “There’s a real chance that women returning to Texas who experience a medical complication could bleed out in the desert on their way home.”

Nine months later, the grief remains. But Day has no regrets about her decision. She keeps her baby’s ashes and his blanket in a closet at home— one she refers to as the “no-open closet.” It’s still too early, she said. But in the wake of Roe v. Wade having been overturned by the Supreme Court on June 24, she said, some of her grief has turned into rage…

With abortion in Texas now effectively illegal in almost all circumstances, Day knows that even more expectant mothers with unexpected complications during their pregnancies will find themselves in the same position she was in. They’ll be forced to choose between upending their lives to receive a costly abortion somewhere far away and remaining in a state that forces their unborn child to suffer and places their own health—and the family members who rely on them—at risk.

Day is infuriated by the narratives from conservative Texas politicians, in particular, that have long suggested that women approach abortions later in pregnancy casually—a conceit that deliberately strips reproductive choices of the heart-wrenching complexity they so often involve, and which, she believes, made it easier for anti-abortion advocates to demonize the procedure. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 percent of abortions were performed at or later than 21 weeks’ gestation in 2019.) Day’s frustration about how abortion is debated partly explains why she’s decided to allow her story to be made public. “Most people don’t know a woman that has gone through an experience like mine,” she said. “I’m happy to be the person that helps people understand how these laws will affect the women you do know.”

Mimi Swartz writes in Texas Monthly that the Dobbs decision banning abortion has unleashed a broad assault on freedom in Texas. And it will get much, much worse as long as Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton remain in office.

I guess you could say that Texas giveth and Texas taketh away. For those too young to recall, the abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade was won in 1973 by two attorneys from the state, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. But from virtually the moment abortion became legal in all fifty states, some lawmakers here, and their supporters who opposed abortion rights, started chipping away at it. Half a century later, our Legislature had passed some of the most restrictive laws in the nation—and that was before Roe fell. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken Roeaway, with a 6–3 majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, some Texas leaders seem eager to exploit the opportunities that the ruling offers for further rollbacks of reproductive and sexual freedoms. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office released employees from work early on the day of the decision to celebrate, declaring June 24 a new, annual agency holiday “to commemorate the sanctity of life.”

What could come next? Just about everything is on the table. Criminal penalties? They’ll be much stiffer, not just for those who aid Texans in getting abortions, but possibly for abortion-seekers themselves. Abortion pills? They were banned from sale for those more than seven weeks pregnant during last year’s legislative session. Enforcement mechanisms, however, are unclear. Most such medications arrive by mail from other states and countries, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that states “may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” suggesting that court battles lie ahead. Limits on contraception? You betcha. The same privacy rights that the Supreme Court overturned in the Dobbscase underlie what we have for decades considered the right to contraception and private sex acts between consenting adults—and, more recently, same-sex marriage. Indeed, just as the 2022 Texas GOP platform embraces “the humanity of the preborn child,” it also calls homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Paxton told an interviewer he was “willing and able” to defend a Texas law—which was overturned by the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision—that bans gay sex.

Texas statutes that predate Roe but were never overturned by the Legislature are now in effect, prohibiting all abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.” A miscarriage could now be a death sentence for those whose doctors are averse to litigation or, worse—under the “trigger law” that takes effect thirty days after the Court’s ruling—to arrest on felony charges and a possible prison sentence, along with fines starting at $100,000. “It is kind of astounding that we are at a point where Roe will be overturned, but that won’t be enough,” said Democratic state representative Donna Howard, chair of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus. “The concern is that there will be those who will not only want to criminalize those who are seeking abortion but will use this as an opportunity to roll back access to contraceptives and other advancements that were made that the underlying privacy protection of Roe also supports.” While the law does not prohibit someone from ending their own pregnancy, a South Texas woman, Lizelle Herrera, was arrested and jailed earlier this year for ending hers, and the charges were dropped only after the case became a national controversy.

Unless you subscribe to The Texas Monthly as I do, you can’t read any more. Sadly, the rightwing fascists now running state government are flexing their muscles to stamp out the freedom of anyone they don’t like. Maybe everyone should subscribe to the Texas Monthly to see how low our nation can fall when mean-spirited bigots take control. It’s hard to believe that the same state elected the great Ann Richards as its governor. She was a strong, full-bore Texas liberal, who hated racism, sexism, and everything else that Greg Abbott represents.

In the past few years, we have seen the rise of something called the “parental rights” movement. This movement consists of angry white parents, mostly women, like “Moms for Liberty” and “Parents Defending Freedom,” who insist that they as parents have the “right” to decide what their children are taught in school and what books they read. They strenuously object to teaching about race and racism, which they say makes their children “uncomfortable.” They believe that teachers are “grooming” their children to be gay or transgender by teaching them about gender or sexuality. Of course, if the last were true, almost everyone would now be transgender, since most students have taken a sex-ed course at some point, focused mainly on health.

In response to the outcry from these groups, a number of states, led by Florida and Virginia, have passed laws they describe as “parental rights” laws, which ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” because they make students “uncomfortable.” The most “divisive” concept of all is “critical race theory,” which states ban. Since legislators don’t know what critical race theory is, their laws are meant to remove any teaching about race and racism from the curriculum.

Bottom line: only white parents have parental rights.

But what about Black parents? Do they have rights? Apparently not.

What about other parents who do not identify with angry white parents? Don’t their children have the right to learn an accurate history of the state, the U.S., and the world?

Why do Moms for Liberty get to define what all parents want?

Shouldn’t Black children learn about the history of race and racism?

Why shouldn’t all students learn accurate history, even if it makes them “uncomfortable”?

Why should a small subset of far-right fringe white parents get the power to censor what everyone else is taught and is allowed to read?

These “parental rights” laws are a paper-thin veneer for censorship, gag orders, lies and propaganda. They are the product of arrogant racists who can’t be bothered to hide their venomous racism.

They prefer ignorance to knowledge. They should not be allowed to impose their hateful ideology on others.

The Houston Chronicle reports that a participant in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol is likely to be elected to the Texas State Board of Education. She has pledged to fight “critical race theory” (i.e. teaching about racism) and to support charter schools.

Underscoring Texas lawmakers’ rightward lurch on education issues in recent years, the candidate likely to replace a moderate Republican on the State Board of Education in a district outside Houston is a right-wing activist who participated in protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

After winning the primary in March, the front-runner in the District 7 race is Julie Pickren, a former trustee for Alvin Independent School District. Pickren was voted off that board last year after her participation in the protest at the U.S. Capitol was revealed — the basis of a campaign against her by the Brazoria County NAACP.

Pickren is a former delegate to the GOP’s national and state conventions, her LinkedIn says, and on Facebook she blamed antifa, rather than Trump supporters, for violence during the Capitol riot, a claim that other Republicans have made without proof. She declined a request for an interview….

Republicans have moved further to the right on education issues in Texas over the past 18 months. Earlier this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for private school vouchers and endorsed a “Parental Bill of Rights” to give parents more power over what and how their kids are taught in schools. Last year, the Legislature passed and Abbott signed a slew of conservative bills relating to education, including restrictions on how social studies can be taught and on transgender children playing school sports.

At the local level, school board politics have become increasingly heated, with often angry discussions over diversity and equity policies in the schools. Parent groups have organized PACs in opposition to what they view as progressive activism in education, raising substantial amounts of money to reshape local school boards around the state.

Next year’s State Board of Education is set to be more conservative, with Robinson leaving as well as two other Republicans who lost their March primaries to opponents supported by right-wing PACs. There are currently nine Republicans and six Democrats serving on the board.

The board’s core responsibilities include writing Texas’ public school curriculums, managing the permanent fund that backs debt taken out by schools, and deciding whether to allow new charter schools in the state; Pickren has said she supports adding more of them.

Moderate pushed out

The District 7 seat opened up last year, when the Legislature during redistricting moved incumbent Matt Robinson into a different district so he couldn’t run for re-election. Robinson, a doctor from Friendswood, has said he feels Republican political leaders in the state did this intentionally because they did not believe he was sufficiently supportive of charter schools and other conservative policy goals.

In a rare move in today’s increasingly polarized politics, Robinson is endorsing the Democrat in the race, Galveston ISD teacher Dan Hochman, to be his successor.

Why?

“Because he’s running against Julie Pickren. And she will be bad for public education,” Robinson said.

In lists of the most important issues to her campaign, Pickren has named ridding public schools of critical race theory, an academic theory that critics use as a catchall term to describe diversity and equity initiatives as well as discussion of systemic or historical racism. Pickren is also supportive of “parents rights” initiatives such as those espoused by Abbott.

“She is leading a fight, an assault on public education that’s going on right now. It’s not among all Republicans, but it’s among a good number and she’s kind of leading that fight. And the idea that critical race theory is going on in most schools and most districts, which is entirely false. So her overall approach is, in my view, anti-public education,” Robinson said…

Soul of public education

Hochman acknowledged that he’s facing an uphill climb in the race, as the district leans conservative. Pickren’s campaign has spent about $40,000 so far, while Hochman’s has spent about $10,000. Hochman said his campaign bank account currently had less than $100 in it…

“It really, truly is a fight for the soul of public education in the state of Texas, which is failing right now,” Hochman said of the race. Hochman added that he would oppose expansion of charter schools.

“I’m up against a woman who is clearly anti-public education. She’s being funded by the far right, whose agenda has been publicly clear that they want to dismantle public education and replace it with private schools and charter schools so they can push through a far-right Christian agenda in schooling. And that’s not like a conspiracy, that’s been pretty much out in the open.”

edward.mckinley@chron.com

Please watch CNN at 11 PM tonight EST for a rerun of their powerful program about two Texas billionaires who want to replace public schools with religious schools.

The program is: DEEP IN THE POCKETS OF TEXAS.

Please post your comments here.

In case you missed it, asi did, CNN will rerun its special about the two billionaires who are trying to buy control of Texas—this Friday night.

Ed Lavandera, one of the producers, tweeted:

So many of you have asked how to re-watch #DeepInThePocketsofTexas on @CNN, the program will re-air this Friday night July 29th, 11pmET/10pmCT.

Here is the latest ad from Mothers Against Greg Abbott.

It is powerful.

This is a reason to sign up for Twitter.

CNN posted an important article about two billionaires in Texas who are spending heavily to push state politics to the extreme right fringes on social issues. Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks despise gays, love guns, and preach a version of Christianity that is suffused with hate, not love or charity or kindness. Above all, they aim to destroy public education, which they see as the root of America’s cultural decline.

If you read one article today, make it this one. It explains the drive for vouchers for religious schools. What Dunn and Wilks want is not “choice,” but indoctrination into their selfish, bumigored world view.

CNN’s investigative team writes:

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview…

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it…”

Former associates of Dunn and Wilks who spoke to CNN said the billionaires are both especially focused on education issues, and their ultimate goal is to replace public education with private, Christian schooling. Wilks is a pastor at the church his father founded, and Dunn preaches at the church his family attends. In their sermons, they paint a picture of a nation under siege from liberal ideas…

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature…

People who’ve worked with Wilks and Dunn say they share an ultimate goal: replacing much of public education in Texas with private Christian schools. Now, educators and students are feeling the impact of that conservative ideology on the state’s school system.

Dorothy Burton, a former GOP activist and religious scholar, joined Farris Wilks on a 2015 Christian speaking tour organized by his brother-in-law and said she spoke at events he attended. She described the fracking magnate as “very quiet” but approachable: “You would look at him and you would never think that he was a billionaire,” she said.

But Burton said that after a year of hearing Wilks’ ideology on the speaking circuit, she became disillusioned by the single-mindedness of his conservatism.

“The goal is to tear up, tear down public education to nothing and rebuild it,” she said of Wilks. “And rebuild it the way God intended education to be.”

In sermons, Dunn and Wilks have advocated for religious influence in schooling. “When the Bible plainly teaches one thing and our culture teaches another, what do our children need to know what to do?” Wilks asks in one sermon from 2013.

Dunn, Wilks and the groups and politicians they both fund have been raising alarms about liberal ideas in the classroom, targeting teachers and school administrators they see as too progressive. The billionaires have especially focused on critical race theory, in what critics see as an attempt to use it as a scapegoat to break voters’ trust in public schooling.

In the summer of 2020, James Whitfield, the first Black principal of the mostly White Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas suburbs, penned a heartfelt, early-morning email in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, encouraging his school to “not grow weary in the battle against systemic racism.”

The backlash came months later. Stetson Clark, a former school board candidate whose campaign had been backed by a group that received its largest donations from Dunn and organizations he funded, accused Whitfield during a school board meeting last year of “encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries” and “encouraging the destruction and disruption of our district.” The board placed Whitfield on leave, and later voted not to renew his contract. He agreed to resign after coming to a settlement with the district. Clark did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitfield said he saw the rhetoric pushed by Dunn and Wilks as a major cause of his being pushed out.

“They want to disrupt and destroy public schools, because they would much rather have schools that are faith-based,” Whitfield said. “We know what has happened over the course of history in our country, and if we can’t teach that, then what do you want me to do?”

Meanwhile, the legislature has also been taking on the discussion of race in classrooms, passing a bill last year that bans schools from making teachers “discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” The legislation was designed to keep critical race theory out of the classroom, according to Abbott, who signed the bill into law.

Some of the co-authors and sponsors of the bill and previous versions of the legislation received significant funding from Dunn and Wilks.

The billionaires “want to destroy the public school system as we know it and, in its place, see more home-schooling and more private Christian schools,” said Deuell, the former senator.

By the power of their money, these two billionaires are reshaping public policy in Texas to make it as narrow-minded and bigoted as they are. Their reactionary vision will indoctrinate students and crush the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn.

If you live in Texas, vote for Beto O’Rourke for Governor, Mike Collier for Lt. Governor, and for legislators who support public schools.

Georgina Cecilia Perez is an elected member of the Texas State Board of Education. She is a new member of the board of the Network for Public Education. She writes in this post about the damage that charters are doing to public schools.

Charters in Texas do not outperform public schools. Most are far worse than public schools. They keep expanding not because of demand but because the law allows a charter to multiply without getting additional approvals from the state or local districts. and that’s the way the dreadful Governor and Lt. Governor like it.

Perez writes:

Charter school chains serve 7% of Texas students yet take up 15% of Texas’ education budget. The number of charters in Texas has nearly doubled over the past decade, putting a strain on the state budget and wreaking fiscal havoc with education budgets in districts like Houston Independent School District. Most of this vast growth has occurred without the knowledge or consent of Texas voters.null

The Texas Education Agency reviews charter applications, and finalists are presented to the State Board of Education, on which I serve. We are allowed to interview applicants and may either approve or veto each application. Whatever happens after that is out of our hands.

As the only elected representatives in the approval process, we have taken our job as safeguards of taxpayer dollars very seriously. What we’ve found has been troubling.

The TEA and Commissioner Mike Morath have routinely recommended awarding your tax dollars to applicants who lacked even the most basic plans for things like transportation, food service, and providing for students with special needs. Many finalists acknowledged they would offer nothing different from the school district in which they would be placed. Others would have imported unvetted curriculum while exporting our tax dollars to operators in California and New York.

I’m proud that the SBOE has fought to protect Texans’ hard-earned money; at the last board meeting, we vetoed four of the five finalists up for consideration. But that is where our authority ends.

The vast majority of charter growth in Texas has occurred through expansion amendments under which an existing charter chain is allowed to open additional campuses. Expansions fall entirely under the authority of the TEA and Commissioner Morath. That means a charter could expand to your school district and siphon away funding without you finding out until your taxes go up and bus routes and campuses begin to close.

Fortunately, the Biden Administration has issued new federal rules cracking down on fraud and deception within the charter school industry. Any new charter or expansion applicant must now reach out to the community and hold a public hearing before being granted federal funds. Charter schools must also explain their plans to ensure diversity and provide a community impact analysis.

These gains are significant, but the charter school lobby has already engineered a failsafe.

This past election cycle, charter school profiteers led by billionaire Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Walmart heir Jim Walton contributed nearly $2 million to pro-charter candidates in Texas – including candidates for the SBOE. One SBOE candidate received more than $250,000 and several others more than $180,000. Compare that to the $2,000 I spent on my first campaign, and you get the picture – charter tycoons have decided to literally buy the elected body that considers charter applications.

It’s time for an intervention.

The Texas Legislature must expand SBOE authority to include charter expansion amendments and must prohibit SBOE candidates from accepting political contributions from charter schools and organizations that represent them. Texas taxpayers deserve better. Our kids deserve better. Let’s break the addiction before there’s no public school system left to save.