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Grading Texas lawmakers on education: Q&A with Texas Kids Can’t Wait founders Bonnie Lesley, Linda Ethridge

Interview by Bill Whitaker, Waco Tribune-Herald, March 10, 2014

Q&A cartoon - Kids Can't Wait

Posted: Sunday, March 9, 2014 12:01 am | Updated: 12:18 pm, Mon Mar 10, 2014.

 

Last month Texas Kids Can’t Wait, a group devoted to both equitable and adequate funding of public schools and other education issues, issued its first-ever ranking of state lawmakers after the 2013 legislative session. Lawmakers were ranked under the same categories that schools have been ranked by the state — exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable. Of the three lawmakers representing the Waco area, state Rep. Kyle Kacal and state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson were ranked “acceptable;” state Sen. Brian Birdwell was scored as “unacceptable.”

In this interview with the Trib, Waco-based Texas Kids Can’t Wait co-founders Bonnie Lesley, a former school administrator, and Linda Ethridge, a former school board member, and assistant professor Randy Hendricks of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor discuss why they decided to conduct biennial rankings of lawmakers; how some charter schools want public money but balk at accountability to the public; and how the fight over school finance is hindered by politicians who know neither how it works nor what the state constitution says about it. Visit www.texaskidscantwait.org for more on the rankings of state lawmakers and the criteria used.

Q    What is the purpose for a legislative scorecard on education?

lesley

Lesley

Bonnie Lesley    It’s an accountability system. If voters do not make them accountable for their policies, no one will. We didn’t see any other pro-education group publishing a rating for them so we decided that was something we could do. And then Dr. Hendricks stepped up and said he and his graduate students would do the research. They plowed through thousands of pages of the state legislative journal and pulled down all the votes and then we ordered them in terms of who was most supportive of our bills and assigned descriptions to the ratings. And, yes, we use the same rating system they use to evaluate schools!

Linda Ethridge    They are exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable.

Q    Very clever. Are you trying to make a statement?

Ethridge    Yes. We didn’t mean for it to be subtle.

Q    When you were going through all this, what did you give weight to in terms of bills? I mean, did a vote on one particular bill count more than a vote on another?

Randy Hendricks    We didn’t weight any of it. We had discussion about the possibility of weighting and recognizing that some education bills are more important than others. My concern was that once you put data together and see how people fall out, you don’t change the rules. So we talked about the possibility of weighting it, but the fidelity of the data wasn’t really in favor of post-weighting.

Now next time I think we ought to consider that, but that would be as bills are being developed and are in the process of being advocated one way or the other.

Q    I recall all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in 2011 when the Legislature cut $5.4 billion out of public school funding, yet the following year it never surfaced as an issue in statewide races. I know they put some money back in 2013, but all I hear about during campaigns is guns, immigration, guns, maybe school vouchers and more guns. Why is education not getting traction?

Lesley    I think a lot of people thought the money they put in fixed it, but it didn’t. We’re still billions of dollars behind. The $5.4 billion (cut in the 2011-12 biennium) is gone forever and we didn’t even get that much back, plus we keep adding 85,000 kids (to Texas schools) a year. And if you look at the charter schools, without all the new ones that are coming on board that the Legislature approved, charters altogether cost the state some $1.6 billion this year in resources that otherwise would be public school money.

Q    Some say state per-pupil funding should follow the student, even to private schools.

150-new-board-linda-ethridg

Linda Ethridge

Ethridge    That assumes that education funding is tuition per child. But that’s not what education funding is. It’s an investment that all of the taxpayers make to ensure that we have an educated populace that can continue to manage a democracy well. So you pay school taxes, whether you have children or not, whether you have children of school age or not. Dumbing it down to say the funding should go with the child is a negation of this whole sense of investment in an educated populace and it doesn’t really make sense when you look at how taxes are levied, particularly at the local level. We’re not opposed to private schools, but we are opposed to paying for private schools with public dollars. It’s a sort of Solyndrazation of public education because it’s turning money over to a private entity that may or may not succeed and has little if any accountability. And the vouchers in the bills that have been proposed don’t have any government strings on them. They assume parental accountability is all that is necessary.

Q    That’s exactly what proponents say.

Ethridge    You can have the most involved, engaged parents and they’re focused on their child and their classroom and their individual school. But they can’t be accountable the way a school board has to be accountable. Those public school board members are representatives of those parents. Part of what’s wrong with privatization is the diminishment of local control or of any elected official’s control.

Q    It does seem anti-republic by its very nature, which is why the fact it finds favor with people who consider themselves constitutionalists amazes me.

Ethridge    Parents certainly can gauge how much they like their school and how they feel about their child’s experience, but that’s not the same kind of accountability that Americans usually demand when it comes to the expenditure of taxpayer funds and it is a concept that we surrender at our peril. Part of what bothers me about it is that terrible irony. I mean, states’ rights is a big deal in Texas. People don’t like it when the federal government tramples on a state’s rights. So here we have a Texas Legislature and among them are proponents of (school) choice who have no problem just throwing away the controls that local officials should have over school districts. I think that’s a serious problem.

Lesley    The state has totally removed local districts from having any voice on charters or for any of these privatization schemes. And now the guy who approves charters is the Texas Education Agency commissioner, who is not elected.

Q    Yes, he’s an appointee of the governor.

Ethridge    Although I will say the State Board of Education stepped up and did some good reviews (of proposed charter schools) and overturned some of the commissioner’s recommendations that he had approved.

Lesley    There’s been quite a bit in the news lately about this charter chain called Responsive Education Solutions. Some reporter just kept dogging them for their curriculum and charter schools will not respond to FOIs (Freedom of Information requests); all of a sudden they’re not public anymore, they’re private. So finally he found a parent who gave him copies of the materials that they use for curriculum and he documented all this faith-based curriculum (in the science courses) and a totally revisionist American history curriculum. And this is a charter school chain active all over the country but with a lot of schools in Texas. So here we have tax dollars going to these schools that are going to be turning out kids who cannot have a career in science—

Q    Because the curriculum is anti-science and so off the map.

Ethridge    Which is ironic because the state has placed a lot of emphasis on science, technology and math.

Hendricks    I don’t claim to speak for Texas Kids Can’t Wait. I’m a researcher for them but not a member. But this business of public dollars going to private schools — as a former superintendent, I would say a couple of things. First, the state constitution, Article 7, says the state’s obligation is to support public schools. It doesn’t say that the state’s obligation is to support an education system that includes private schools. That suggests that the public funds should be dedicated to what the state constitution says it’s specifically for — public schools. I don’t know how you can get around that legally. It is a state legislator’s obligation to create a system of free and public schools. The other argument is what Linda and Bonnie echo and it’s what I always told my own state representative back in those days: “I have no problem with competition. But it’s not competition on equal footing. The private schools don’t have the bureaucracy I have to deal with, they don’t have to meet the same state standards, so it’s counter-intuitive to say we can create better schools by having competition by sending public monies to private schools when we don’t require the same thing from them.

Q    A very respected former school superintendent, Charles Hundley, told me one time that a public school system has to educate children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and so on, while the private schools don’t have to assume such challenges. He was making the point that competition isn’t exactly fair when the federal and state governments are placing all sorts of mandates on one set of schools but not the others.

Hendricks    Absolutely.

Q    Some critics make the point that throwing more money at the problem is not necessarily going to solve it.

Lesley    We need money for high-quality teachers, we need money for class-size reduction. My new metaphor for that is that anybody who thinks class size doesn’t matter has never given a birthday party for 7-year-olds.

Q    What do you mean?

Lesley    If you’re one mother and you’ve got 30 7-year-olds at this birthday party, you want to kill yourself in 15 minutes. Class size matters. It matters a lot, particularly with struggling learners. We need money for pre-school. We need a lot of money for pre-school. Even the investment Texas had made before the budget cuts (of 2011) was inadequate. We were reaching less than half of the kids we needed to reach. We need money for interventions with kids who are at risk particularly but also even underachieving gifted and talented kids. Sometimes you need special programs so that every child has an equitable opportunity to learn — and equity means according to your needs, whatever that happens to be. And you need money for curriculum resources so that you have the technology and materials to support whatever it is that you’re teaching. Those are the main ways that research says that money matters.

Q    Gauging what happened in 2011 and even in this past session, are many state legislators anti-public school?

Lesley    About a third of the House and about a fourth of the Senate we rated as unacceptable. These are the folks who are the real hardliners. Particularly in the Senate, there were a number of people who got minus points they were so bad. The very worst of both chambers was state Sen. Dan Patrick.

Q    He’s running for Texas lieutenant governor.

Lesley    And he’s chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Q    What is Patrick’s philosophy?

Ethridge    He’s privatizer in chief. But there are a number of things that weigh on a legislator in how he arrives at his decision on education and there has been a drumbeat of demeaning public schools. The accountability measures have done a lot of damage. Demographic shifts have been threatening to many people over a long period of time, plus concerns about safety. There’s been a demeaning, too, of professional expertise. I think those factors are the context for those political decisions. But when you sit down and talk with an individual legislator, you can kind of cut through some of that. I believe that the legislators — most of them — want to do right for children, but they don’t have a clear notion of what that is. Interestingly enough, while the state defends its school finance system in court, it’s hard to find a legislator who will actually defend it. They acknowledge that this is messed up, they’re shocked at the gaps (in per-pupil funding from one school to another), but the complexity of it is a barrier to any resolution.

Q    One legislator openly acknowledged to me he had no idea how school finance works. And I went to one of the Kids Can’t Wait workshops on school finance and it’s unbelievably complicated. That’s something you can also say of state-mandated tests. Every year these scores come out and parents can’t understand them.

Lesley    Whether your school winds up being acceptable or not is largely dependent on test scores but it’s also dependent on dropouts and attendance and all this other stuff. And you start trying to explain that to parents and they just glaze over because it’s just too hard. And it also makes it difficult for school people to hold the Texas Education Agency accountable because if we don’t understand it, how do we know when they’re fudging — and they do fudge. You know, there was this big stink in Indiana last year where this pro-school choice guy (Tony Bennett) who was state school superintendent in Indiana fudged the ratings for a private school that was owned by one of the governor’s big Republican donors. So he changed the ratings for them. Then he moved to Florida to become education commissioner there. So when they uncovered what had happened in Indiana and it hit the national press big-time — and here he was now education commissioner in Florida — well, he had to resign in Florida because of his disgrace in Indiana.

Ethridge    All across this country sweeping changes to public schools are being proposed and they are enormous changes. And while there is a lot of discussion about it and strategizing about it by a small group of people, there has not been a great deal of public discussion about it. This isn’t something that is being chosen by local communities. It is something that is happening. What I hope this report does is result in better questions being asked of candidates and that it will be a spur to more public discussion about these issues. When I think about these issues and realize the privatizers get everything that they want, what is it going to look like with schools in your community? It’s not a pretty picture if you play that out over a period of time because you will have severely weakened public schools that have students that the private schools don’t want because, remember, in vouchers, they still have all the power to say who gets in and who doesn’t get in and there’s no obligation on their part to support the neediest students, the student who has a discipline history they don’t like, or the student who is behind two or three grade levels, the student who is struggling with fractions or reading or whatever it is. It’s dangerous, I think, to communities to have all of these things happening, being driven by small groups and with little public understanding or discussion about it all. It’s just not the way we do things in America. We would like to elevate the dialogue. This could be one starting point so that people could have specific information at hand when they talk to their legislator.

Q    Texas Kids Can’t Wait is pressing for equitable funding of public schools, so that a student in, say, Waco Independent School District isn’t funded at something like $900 less than a student in nearby Midway Independent School District. That’s something you can quantify. But how do you determine what is adequate funding, which everyone keeps talking about? That seems pretty subjective.

Lesley    That’s what the state struggles with every time we go to court (over school finance). What they’ve come to is this: They have a cost of education index and so they cost out utilities and teacher salaries and all the stuff you have to buy and they calculate regional differences in those costs. And then how much does it cost to meet the state standards of 100 percent graduation and passing grades on the test? So District Judge John Dietz is taking all that into account in whatever his ruling is going to be, which I heard yesterday will be the end of March. So adequacy has come to be a specific number and we think it’s going to be a thousand dollars more than the state average is right now, based on the comments at the last hearing. So we have 5 million school children in Texas, so we’re going to need approximately 5 million times a thousand (dollars) every year just to be adequate. And that doesn’t mean excellent.

Ethridge    But the problem is not just with the amount of money that goes into public education, it’s how it is allocated among districts. If you don’t address both of those things, then you don’t get equity.

Lesley    During the legislative sessions, we were engaged in so many conversations with so many people that we learned a lot. One of the things that really hit me between the eyeballs is another thing that the state is not talking about: We not only have a crisis in funding schools but we have a water problem that is extremely serious and we have a transportation problem that is extremely serious and we have this huge, huge percentage of poverty in this state that we are not addressing. Add all that together and, if you don’t do them all, you are in a world of hurt.

Q    Regarding our legislators — state Reps. Kyle Kacal and Charles “Doc” Anderson and state Sen. Brian Birdwell — do you see hope for them in public education? Do they grasp the issues?

Ethridge    There were some surprises in the rankings. We were so busy during the legislative session that it was very hard to keep track of how all of these different votes were moving. We knew what was being proposed and we were trying hard to get the word out opposing them, but you didn’t have time to follow up on that bill. So I was a little surprised particularly at Sen. Birdwell’s low ranking because we had a lot of conversations with him and I think he has been up-front about not desiring to address equity (in per-pupil funding from one district to the next) until after the trial (on school finance).

Q    And this lawsuit over inequity in school finance could go all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

Lesley    The votes that caused Birdwell to be so low were both fiscal votes. They had nothing to do with privatization. He voted for the charter bill, but then so did Anderson and Kacal. But he voted against the budget. He was one of four (Senate) Republicans who voted against the budget (restoring some public education funding cut in 2011). He also voted against the additional appropriations for the Foundation School Program, and those two votes made the difference in his being unacceptable or acceptable. And he is unacceptable.

Ethridge    But we’re going to continue to talk to our local representatives. We will continue to press our issues.

Lesley    We do need to give some praise to Kacal. We met him in November right after his election and we gave him the information about how the school districts in his House district were performing, and he went and visited with every superintendent and talked to them about that. The reason I know that is because two of the superintendents told me that he had been by their office and that he was seeing every superintendent so he could get a handle on all this. He was always helpful when we called his office. But then so was Birdwell, and Anderson had a staff person who was helpful. Of course, the danger of calling somebody unacceptable and telling the whole world about it is that they may not want to talk to you anymore, so we’re worried about that for Birdwell. But then some of these folks will probably consider it a compliment that we found them unacceptable.

Q    It’s very likely.

Ethridge    Still, our hope is that it elevates the discussion.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.

IT’S REPORT CARD DAY FOR TEXAS LEGISLATORS … AND IT’S UGLY

gradesBy Kim Burkett, PTA Mom

Like many states, Texas loves grading its education system. The state has spent years slapping labels on public schools for standardized test results. We’ve labeled schools everything from “unacceptable” to “exemplary,” and next year we’ll even have a new A-F rating system used to brand our schools. Today, Texas Kids Can’t Wait turned the tables and labeled Texas’ state legislators by grading their support of public education in their first bi-annual legislative report card.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait is a statewide public education advocacy group founded by Democrats and Republicans to encourage equity, excellence, and adequacy for Texas’ students. The grassroots group works to educate citizens about challenges facing their schools and encourages legislative action to strengthen public education in Texas. After generations of school funding lawsuits, more than a decade of over-testing, and subversive attempts to undermine public schools through privatization efforts, Texas Kids Can’t Wait recognizes that Texas’ children don’t have the time to wait for legislators to find the political courage and will to finally do right by their schools. You can find more information about Texas Kids Can’t Wait here.

Using the same labels once used to grade public schools, (exemplary, recognized, acceptable, and unacceptable) the report card examines votes on 22 key bills from the last legislative session to identify each legislator’s support of public education issues. A team of researchers at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor evaluated voting records related to funding, privatization, various school voucher schemes, accountability and assessment, charter school expansion, and other education issues.

And the results? Let’s just say some of your elected representatives need to spend some time in summer school. According to Dr. Bonnie Lesley, co-founder of Texas Kids Can’t Wait, “What we saw in all these bills was a strong attack by about one-third of the legislators in the House and about one-fourth of the Senate on the vast majority of Texas’s five million public school students, on local control, on local school boards and educators, and on the whole concept of the common good.”

Here are some breakdowns of the ratings:

  • Unacceptable ratings were earned by 34% of House Representatives and 23% of Senators.
  • Positive ratings of Exemplary and Recognized were earned by 28% of House Representatives and 32% of Senators.
  • Senator Dan Patrick, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and current candidate for Lieutenant Governor, received the lowest ranking of any legislator in either chamber.
  • The strongest ranking in either chamber was earned by Senator Jose Rodriguez.
  • Representative Jimmie Don Aycock and Speaker Joe Straus received accolades for strong leadership in support of public education in the 83rd session.

How did your elected representative do? See the chart at the end of this blog.

So, what can you do with this data?

  • If you’re unhappy with your representative’s grade, ask them to explain why they didn’t make public education a priority last session. Encourage them to support public education issues in the future. You can find your state representative here.
  • If your representative’s grade doesn’t indicate a strong record for public education, re-consider your support or vote.
  • Seek and support pro-public education legislators. Thank them for their commitment to our schools.
  • Let legislators know that public education issues drive your voting decisions. (Education is one of the top issues facing the state according to polling data of Texans.)
  • Learn and share the names of the legislators who earned Unacceptable ratings. These are the politicians that seek to undermine public schools as demonstrated by their abysmal voting records. Let them know you will fight their attacks on the public education system that serves five million Texas children and employs 400,000 Texas teachers.
  • Be vocal in support of public education issues and legislation.
  • Above all — VOTE! Don’t miss a primary or general election. Texas’ students are counting on you.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was expected that elected officials would support education. It was viewed as an important commitment to our future; vital to economic development. But times have changed, and today many for-profit and special interests have sought to undermine public education through a variety of legislative attacks. The outcome of those efforts is evident in this report card.

That’s why it has never been more critical to carefully evaluate legislators to ensure those who earn your vote will represent the interests of our children, our schools, and our teachers. Legislators without the foresight to see the disastrous impact a struggling public education system will have on Texas’ long-term economic future are not serving Texas’ interests. Legislators who ignore chronic over-testing and under-funding are not worthy of your support. It’s high time they’re sent home with a clear message that Texans demand better.

It’s time to support an education system worthy of a state like Texas. And it’s time to elect legislators committed to delivering it.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait Bi-Annual Legislative Report Card

House of Representatives – 83rd Legislative Session  

Representatives are listed alphabetically. For a listing based on ratings within each category as well as an understanding of the methodology used, please visit here.

Ratings Legislators
Exemplary
(7 of 150 representatives)
Collier, Nicole (District 95)
Farias, Joe (District 118)
Herrero, Abel (District 34)
Martinez Fischer, Trey (District 116)
Munoz, Jr., Sergio (District 36)
Pitts, Jim (District 10)
Reynolds, Ron (District 27)
Recognized
(35 of 150 representatives)
Allen, Alma (District 131)
Alonzo, Roberto (District 104)
Ashby, Trent (District 57)
Aycock, Jimmie Don (District 54)
Burnam, Lon (District 90)
Callegari, Bill (District 132)
Canales, Terry (District 40)
Cortez, Philip (District 117)
Dukes, Dawnna (District 46)
Farrar, Jessica (District 148)
Giddings, Helen (District 109)
Gonzalez, Mary (District 75)
Gutierrez, Roland (District 119)
Howard, Donna (District 48)
Huberty, Dan (District 127)
Longoria, Oscar (District 35)
Martinez, Armando (District 39)
McClendon, Ruth Jones (District 120)
Miles, Borris (District 146)
Moody, Joe (District 78)
Nevarez, Poncho (District 74)
Oliveira, Rene (District 37)
Patrick, Diane (District 94)
Perez, Mary Ann (District 144)
Phillips, Larry (District 62)
Price, Four (District 87)
Rodriguez, Eddie (District 51)
Rodriguez, Justin (District 125)
Rose, Toni (District 110)
Sheffield, J. D.  (District 59)
Straus, Joe (District 121, Speaker)
Thompson, Senfronia (District 141)
Turner, Sylvester (District 129)
Vo, Hubert (District 149)
Walle, Armando (District 140)
Acceptable
(57 of 150 representatives)
Alvarado, Carol (District 145)
Anderson, Charles (District 56)
Bonnen, Dennis (District 25)
Coleman, Garnet (District 147)
Cook, Byron (District 8)
Crownover, Myra (District 64)
Darby, Drew (District 72)
Davis, Sarah (District 124)
Davis, Yvonne (District 111)
Deshotel, Joe (District 22)
Dutton, Jr., Harold (District 142)
Eiland, Craig (District 23)
Farney, Marsha (District 20)
Frullo, John (District 84)
Geren, Charlie (District 99)
Gonzales, Larry (District 52)
Gonzalez, Naomi (District 76)
Guerra, Bobby (District 41)
Guillen, Ryan (District 31)
Harless, Patricia (District 126)
Hernandez, Ana (District 143)
Hunter, Todd (District 32)
Johnson, Eric (District 100)
Kacal, Kyle (District 12)
Keffer, James (District 60)
King, Ken (District 88)
King, Susan (District 71)
King, Tracy (District 80)
Kleinschmidt, Tim (District 17)
Kuempel, John (District 44)
Larson, Lyle (District 122)
Lewis, Tryon (District 81)
Lozano, J. M. (District 43)
Marquez, Marisa (District 77)
Menendez, Jose (District 124)
Miller, Doug (District 73)
Murphy, Jim (District 133)
Naishtat, Elliott (District 49)
Orr, Rob (District 58)
Otto, John (District 18)
Paddie, Chris (District 9)
Perry, Charles (District 83)
Pickett, Joe (District 79)
Raney, John (District 14)
Ratliff, Bennett (District 115)
Raymond, Richard (District 42)
Sheffield, Ralph (District 55)
Smith, Wayne (District 128)
Stephenson, Phil (District 85)
Strama, Mark (District 50)
Turner, Chris (District 101)
Villalba, Jason (District 114)
Villarreal, Mike (District 123)
White, James (District 19)
Workman, Paul (District 47)
Wu, Gene (District 137)
Zerwas, John (District 28)
Unacceptable
(51 of 150 representatives)
Anchia, Rafael (District 103)
Bell, Cecil(District 3)
Bohac, Dwayne (District 138)
Bonnen, Greg (District 24)
Branch, Dan (District 108)
Burkett, Cindy (District 113)
Button, Angie Chen (District 112)
Capriglione, Giovanni (District 98)
Carter, Stefani (District 102)
Clardy, Travis (District 11)
Craddick, Tom (District 82)
Creighton, Brandon (District 16)
Dale, Tony (District 136)
Davis, John E. (District 129)
Elkins, Gary (District 135)
Fallon, Pat (District 106)
Fletcher, Allen (District 130)
Flynn, Dan (District 2)
Frank, James (District 69)
Goldman, Craig (District 97)
Gooden, Lance (District 4)
Harper-Brown, Linda (District 105)
Hilderbran, Harvey (District 53)
Hughes, Bryan (District 5)
Issac, Jason (District 45)
King, Phil (District 61)
Klick, Stephanie (District 91)
Kolkhorst, Lois (District 13)
Krause, Matt (District 93)
Laubenberg, Jodie (District 89)
Lavender, George (District 1)
Leach, Jeff (District 67)
Lucio III, Eddie (District 38)
Miller, Rick (District 26)
Morrison, Geanie W. (District 30)
Parker, Tan (District 63)
Riddle, Debbie (District 150)
Ritter, Allan (District 21)
Sanford, Scott (District 70)
Schaefer, Matt (District 6)
Sheets, Kenneth (District 107)
Simmons, Ron (District 65)
Simpson, David (District 7)
Smithee, John (District 86)
Springer, Drew (District 68)
Stickland, Jonathan (District 92)
Taylor, Van (District 66)
Thompson, Ed (District 29)
Toth, Steve (District 15)
Turner, Scott (District 33)
Zedler, Bill (District 96)

Senate – 83rd Legislative Session

Senators are listed alphabetically. For a listing based on ratings within each category as well as an understanding of the methodology used, please visit here. 

Ratings Legislators
Exemplary
(2 of 31 senators)
Garcia, Sylvia (District 6)
Rodriguez, Jose (District 29)
Recognized
(9 of 31 senators)
Deuell, Bob (District 2)
Davis, Wendy (District 10)
Ellis, Rodney (District 13)
Nichols, Robert (District 3)
Seliger, Kel (District 31)
Uresti, Carlos (District 19)
Watson, Kirk (District 14)
Williams, Tommy (District 4)
Zaffirini, Judith (District 21)
Acceptable
(13 of 31 senators)
Carona, John (District 16)
Duncan, Robert (District 28)
Eltife, Kevin (District 1)
Estes, Craig (District 30)
Fraser, Tony (District 24)
Hancock, Kelly (District 9)
Hinojosa, Juan “Chuy” (District 20)
Huffman, Joan (District 17)
Lucio, Eddie (District 27)
Nelson, Jane (District 12)
Schwertner, Charles (District 5)
Van de Putte, Leticia (District 26)
Whitmire, John (District 15)
Unacceptable
(7of 31 senators)
Birdwell, Brian (District 22)
Campbell, Donna (District 25)
Hegar, Glenn (District 18)
Paxton, Ken (District 8)
Patrick, Dan (District 7)
Taylor, Larry (District 11)
West, Royce (District 23)
Dewhurst, David (Lt. Governor)

Hidalgo and Starr county legislators pass legislative report card on education

Dan Santella | The Monitor  | Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014 8:15 pm

Hidalgo and Starr County state legislators are at least adequately supporting public education in Austin, according to a new report issued Thursday.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait, a new rubric on how to assess state legislators’ voting record on bills and action items dealing with public education, announced its initial ‘Legislator Report Card’ on Thursday. The report aims “to evaluate how well these people support public education,” co-founder Linda Ethridge said.

All Hidalgo and Starr County state legislators profiled in the report received at least an ‘acceptable’ rating.

The records of Starr County legislators state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, were graded as ‘recognized’ and ‘acceptable,’ respectively.

In Hidalgo County, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen and State Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission obtained ‘acceptable’ marks — the second-lowest of four scores.

State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission; and state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, were judged to have ‘recognized’ voting records.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Palmview, was the only legislator in either county to receive an ‘exemplary’ rating. Among state representatives, his point total was tied with two others for the highest.

The organization’s other co-founder, Bonnie Lesley, said that the group’s goals are two-fold: to both “advocate for fair and adequate funding for Texas public schools,” and “argue against the privatization of Texas schools.”

Unaware of any group similarly dedicated to public education, Ethridge and Lesley started their own.

“Using the data in Dr. Hendricks’s report, Texas Kids Can’t Wait established descriptors of legislator performance that mirror the language adopted by the legislature in evaluating schools,” Lesley said in the report. As such, legislators’ voting records on public education were graded as “exemplary,’ ‘recognized,’ ‘acceptable,’ or ‘unacceptable.’

Lesley and Ethridge turned to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Randy Hendricks and affiliated graduate students to conduct the research presented in the Report Card released on Thursday. Within the report, Hendricks’ group said that the study “provides an objective measure of each state legislator’s support for Texas public schools.”

According to the report, the group examined bills last year’s legislative session pertaining to public education, and then credited legislators with a point for casting their ballot in line with the stance of Texas Kids Can’t Wait.

Legislators who wrote or sponsored legislation supported by Texas Kids Can’t Wait were granted an extra point, just as legislators who authored or sponsored legislation opposed by the organization lost a point. Coauthoring or cosponsoring legislation resulted in a half-point addition or deduction. Researchers then tallied every legislator’s total points.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait strives to inspire dialogue about what Ethridge calls “the gap in funding” among different schools across the state.

“It’s a major problem that’s still unresolved,” Ethridge said. “It is our intention to do this report card every session.”

dsantella@themonitor.com

Linda Ethridge’s Op-Ed on Sen. Dan Patrick’s S.B. 2 on Charters

Linda Ethridge, Trib Board of Contributors: State power grab undermines elected school boards, local taxpayers, Waco Tribune-Herald

LINDA ETHRIDGE Trib Board of Contributors

While many in the education community anticipated that a bill to increase the number of public school charters statewide would be filed during the 83rd Legislature, few expected the alarming provisions in the startling piece of legislation known as Senate Bill 2. Among other things, local school districts would lose control of their taxpayer-funded facilities to state whims if this bad bill is passed.

Filed on Feb. 18 by state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, this measure seems far more about disenfranchising local voters, eroding the power of locally elected school boards and seizing control of public properties than allowing for an increase in charter schools.

Public charters involve schools that receive public tax funds but without the oversight of locally elected trustees. These schools generally have appointed governing boards and, while such institutions adhere to some state rules, they’re exempt from most. Yet this bill would allow such schools even more leeway, undermining taxpayers in the process. Consider some provisions in Senate Bill 2:

n Voters could petition their local school board to form a district charter commission. Petitioners would have to get a mere 5 percent of registered voters in a district to support such a petition. Once that is met, the school board is obligated to form the charter commission and forward the district charter school plan to a newly created Charter School Authorizing Authority. This authority, created by the bill, would take the right to approve, disapprove or revoke away from the duly elected State Board of Education and transfer it to a group stocked with political appointees. Sound very democratic to you?

n Local school trustees would have no option to reject petitioners’ requests. No provision in the process would allow voters who do not favor the charter plan to influence the decision.

n As outlined, there are no requirements for hearings and no provisions for appeal. This state-appointed authority does not even have to act in a public meeting. (So much for transparency!) The charter is deemed approved if the state authority does not act within 30 days of submission of the charter plan.

Especially astounding, this bill would seriously impair local school boards’ abilities to be good stewards of the brick-and-mortar facilities owned by school districts and financed by the voters through bond elections. Once a charter has been approved by this state authority, a charter operator may make a written request to the trustees to lease or purchase underutilized or unused facilities. It further states that the district shall enter into an agreement with the charter to sell or lease this property for only $1. That’s right: one dollar.

In short, the property’s status, unused or underutilized, would be determined by the state — not the local property owners (in this case, we the taxpayers and a duly elected school board). State officials could force a sale of our school properties right out from under us.

Think a moment about the economic impact this would have had on the Waco Independent School District during last year’s consolidation of its schools. Aside from the administration’s painful streamlining of district-wide expenses, trustees voted to sell some unused properties to bring in much-needed revenue at a time when the state cut public school funding across Texas by some $5.4 billion. The old University High School property on Bagby Avenue, for instance, was sold for $5 million. Would the district have been forced to accept just $1 if a charter school had wanted it under Sen. Patrick’s plan? As currently worded, the provisions in this bill to force the sale or lease of school properties is a huge overreach of state power.

Yes, Sen. Patrick’s demand that local school districts sell or lease certain buildings to charter schools for a buck has drawn much outcry in recent days and he has discussed changes in his bill requiring a public school district part with its property for a price reflecting fair-market value. Still, what gives the state of Texas the right to determine how local school districts manage or market their properties?

Ironically, some of this legislation’s supporters are the very same folks who embrace and defend states rights. These sorts usually stand for less government, less government intrusion, and stress that government closest to the people is best able to make good decisions for their voters. I only hope they’re willing to apply this principle to locally elected school trustees.

Linda Ethridge is former mayor of Waco, former president of the Waco Independent School District board of trustees and co-founder of the grassroots organization Texas Kids Can’t Wait, which advocates for equitable public school funding. It will host a public forum at 6:30 p.m. Monday in Robinson ISD at the junior high school cafetorium.

from John Kuhn’s Blog, posted Feb. 24, 2013

Many, many thanks to John Kuhn for his great blog about the Saturday Save Texas Schools rally and his praise of Texas Kids Can’t Wait!  It was read by more people on our Facebook page than any other posting!  We are grateful!

Sunburned in February
Posted on February 24, 2013
Back to headlines

If you watch the awesome YouTube video of Dan Pink’s presentation of the motivational theory espoused in his book Drive, you’ll understand something thrilling: that when people are instrinsically motivated, they will do big, even risky, things for no pay.

I understand that because I’ve spent the past two years speaking out and writing about the harms I see in education reform, and I’ve done it at what I perceive to be pretty substantial career risk, and I’ve done it for no pay.

Yesterday, I got sunburned in February, and so did about 10,000 other education supporters. From my perspective up there on the stage, there were fewer than the 13,000 who showed up in 2011 for the Save Texas Schools march, but there were far more than the 5,000 that showed up in 2012. My guess is 10,000. I read one commenter who watched from his balcony and guesstimated 600, but it was evident from his tone that he was no fan of teachers or public schools, so I think he was low-balling it on purpose.

At any rate, it was far more than the reported 24 people (not counting media) who showed up for the Texas Public Policy Foundation pro-vouchers rally on the other side of the building.

As Diane Ravitch often says: they have the money, but we have the people. Now if we can just get our people to call their legislators, vote in a bloc, and write tons of editorials, we’ll see a quick change. (It’s already happening.)

Anyway, so this is the thing that should thrill those of us wanting public education to survive the current onslaught of free market reform (and the thing that should scare those who want to pilfer education funding for their profitable enterprises): the speakers and the marchers and the organizers for this event aren’t in it for the money.

Why are they marching? Our critics say it’s because we belong to a union. I don’t. I was a member of ATPE back when I taught, but I knew I could never strike and we didn’t bargain. I got legal liability insurance and a newsletter for my dues. Today I belong to TASA. If you want to call that a union just because it sounds scary, go ahead. It’s actually more like an industry association, if you ask me.

Anyway, so some want to report that we organize and fight because we’re looking out for the interests of adults. That we hate kids and love ourselves.

I want to note that the people who say this are urging monies to be freed up and sent to…adults who operate educational enterprises. Ben Chavis, for example, is one of the selfless heroes riding in to save the day from these “adult-centered” teachers.

What a crock. The moms with their kids holding signs in yesterday’s February sun–and because of the way I was sitting, only half my face is sunburned, by the way–they aren’t marching because of money. They are marching because they have seen what the testing-and-labeling-and-privatizing movement has done to their children’s education.

All you P.T. Barnum school reform barkers need to remember this–you can fool some of the people some of the time.

So things in Texas didn’t begin to change really massively when people like me were doing the agitating. I have too much self-interest as an employee. But when the non-educators began to speak up, write, and organize, the tide began to turn quickly.

One of the fastest-growing and most impressively action-oriented of the many, many groups now actively defending public education in Texas and pushing back hard against the astroturf movement to steal our schools is Texas Kids Can’t Wait. The membership of Texas Kids Can’t Wait has exploded by over 800% in just the past year.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait was founded by two ladies from Waco, Texas, neither of them practicing educators, one a Republican and one a Democrat, but both sharing an appreciation for their local public schools. One reason for their organizing is the fact that Waco schools are on the low end of Texas’s infamously-inequitable Target Revenue system.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait is the story of a group of people who educated themselves about an issue that was affecting their community–unfair funding–and doing something about it. They began by unleashing the most potent weapon they had: information. Most Texans don’t realize their schools are funded unevenly. Most parents would expect their children would get the same amount of funding as children elsewhere in the state. Texas Kids Can’t Wait made it their mission to inform citizens about the inequity that was in many cases–unless you were lucky enough to live in the right zip codes–short-changing their children.

The founders and membership of Texas Kids Can’t Wait have been tireless advocates for schools. They have reached out to a number of other organizations and have travelled all over the state. They have actively shared information and headlines and updates about school finance and activity in the Texas legislature with their rapidly-expanding membership base. They are active in social media and maintain an up-to-date webpage.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait has been able to work side-by-side with allied organizations. In fact, the number of organizations and the collaboration among them on the pro-public education side in Texas right now is impressive for its variety and the ability of these disparate groups to come together and push for change. I mentioned many of these groups in a prior posting, but I left out some that were out in force at the Save Texas Schools rally yesterday, and I want to mention at least a couple of them: Texas ParentPAC is a political action committee that actively supports pro-public ed candidates for office in Texas, and Teach the Vote is a campaign to get teachers to the polls.

Education activists in other states would do well to learn from groups like Texas Kids Can’t Wait. Their recipe for success, from my perspective:

1. Knowledge, and a willingness to share it all over the state

2. Enthusiasm and tireless sharing of the message

3. Relentless focus on growing the numbers in the group

4. Fearlessness in confronting lies and misinformation

5. Willingness to communicate directly and fearlessly with lawmakers

6. Bipartisanship

That last one is important. Texas is a deep-red state, but many who value education as a public good come from a Democratic background. Public education support, however, runs across party lines. Just as education reform can get Jeb Bush and Barack Obama to smooch at the privatization altar, the defense of a high-quality traditional public education can get rural Republicans to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the front lines with Democrats, and when we are together defending our children and their schools, these lines won’t break.

I often wonder if the Texas GOP understands what the current fascination with vouchers and charters is doing with their religious, rural base. I can’t tell you how many fellow educators I’ve heard say, “Well, I’ve always considered myself a Republican, but…” But that’s a topic for a future post.

Why do the members of Texas Kids Can’t Wait work so hard? Dan Pink knows why: it’s because they are true believers in the virtues of public education. And the fact is, polls show that most Texans and most Americans still believe in the promise of public education. Despite the decades-long effort to demonize teachers and promote the disingenuous notion that American schools are failing (American NAEP scores are at their highest point, ever)–despite a concentrated attack on public education dating back to 1983, and despite billions invested in privatization cheerleading–Americans still support their public schools.

And when those Americans are educated by savvy, tireless groups like Texas Kids Can’t Wait, this battle will be over, and our kids will be the winners.

Thanks, Texas Kids Can’t Wait.

Ouisa Davis, “Education Is Under Attack in Our State,” El Paso Times, Feb. 22, 2013

http://www.elpasotimes.com/cl_22639814/ouisa-d-davis-education-is-under-attack-our 

Public Forum at Mineral Wells ISD

http://www.mwisd.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=1453&ViewID=047E6BE3-6D87-4130-8424-D8E4E9ED6C2A&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=3801&PageID=1

from the Mineral Wells Index, Feb. 7, 2013

Community event parallels recent landmark school funding decision

Mineral Wells Index

By LIBBY CLUETT

In a landmark decision, Judge John Dietz, of the 250th District Court in Austin, declared Monday that state funding for Texas public schools is unconstitutional. On the following day, Mineral Wells residents and school staff heard presenters tell how dire the case is regarding public school funding.

Monday’s comments

In his remarks Monday, Judge Dietz noted that students in Texas and the U.S. will need to meet higher standards because, he said, “We are in competition with 195 other nations and their economies.”

But with this competition, the vast majority of Texans would agree, he said, with the need for higher standards, new curriculum, upgraded technology in schools, increased training for teachers, hiring new teachers in complex content areas, providing more tutoring and remediation, adding evaluation and accountability and public outreach for parents.

But he said if he told them, “I think we can do all of that for an additional $2,000 per student, or, in other words, an additional $10 [billion] to $11 billion. You support this tax increase, don’t you?” He said the previous “vast majority” shrinks to a minority.

“As the economists point out, there is a cost to acting, namely the tax increase, and there is a cost to not acting, namely loss of competitive position,” Dietz said.

He said Texans support free public education for three primary reasons: “why we support education – civic, altruistic and economic.”

To illustrate the civic reason, Dietz read Article VII of the 1876 Texas Constitution, which states, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of 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 free public schools.”

For the economic rationale, Dietz said, “It is a fact that the more educated we are, the greater income will be. The greater our income is as a state, the fewer citizens need public assistance [and] … the lower the crime rate. Likewise, the more educated we are, the more we spend on goods and services of others; the more we spend, the more vibrant is our economy. The more vibrant our economy is, the more we are able to attract desirable business to our state.”

While Dietz’s ruling appears as a big win for public schools and the children of Texas, the case will go to the State Supreme Court.

“Judge Dietz’s decision on the school lawsuit is a welcome first step in trying to achieve equity and adequacy in our school funding system,” Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent Gail Haterius said Tuesday. “We need adequate funding to teach all children well.”

Tuesday’s luncheon

On Tuesday, one day after the ruling, close to 50 Mineral Wells citizens gathered to hear about the state of Texas public education and why it’s important to address adequacy and equality sooner than later.

Linda Ethridge, a former educator and mayor of Waco, and Bonnie Lesley, an educator, school administrator and an educational consultant, together formed “Texas Kids Can’t Wait.” They spoke to Tuesday’s local audience, addressing their concerns for Texas schools and students, by first explaining why kids can’t wait.

“You are only a kid once and kids have dreams and they can’t wait for adults to figure it out,” Lesley said about the situation of public schools in Texas.

“Education is a bipartisan thing,” she said, adding that Texans care about children and want the best for them.

But in the 2011 funding cycle, the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public school funding – which prompted the lawsuit Dietz ruled on, Lesley explained. She said that in the budget-cutting process, the Legislature, for the first time, did not fund new growth in schools, yet the Texas public school system is growing at an average of 80,000 students per year.

“There’s never been a time when public education needed defending [more] than now,” Ethridge told Tuesday’s audience, urging everyone in attendance to call their state legislators and State Board of Education representative, Sue Melton.

In the wake of the 2011 school funding cutbacks, Lesley and Ethridge said Waco ISD shuttered nine campuses.

Lesley said Texas ranks 49th in funding public education, spending one dollar more than 50th ranked Nevada.

“Can you think of anything else Texas is willing to be below average on?” she asked.

Texas funds its public schools, on average, $3,000 below the national per-child average, she added.

In addition, the state froze its target revenue system “in order to shield wealthy districts from having to cut their budgets,” Lesley said, adding that they also froze the tax rates.

To illustrate these points, she showed citizens a slide of maintenance-and-operations revenue for each of Palo Pinto County’s public schools for 2011-12 in comparison to the state average and the weighted average of one of the highest funded Texas districts.

Lesley’s graph showed MWISD at the lowest end, with $5,385 per weighted student, while the state average sat in the middle, with $5,976 per weighted student. The overall county average was $6,391 per student and Palo Pinto ISD, with $8,256 per weighted student, topped the county districts in average per-weighted-student revenue. She added Crane ISD (south of Monahans and Odessa) is funded at $10,142 per weighted student.

“Disparity was the big thing the lawsuit was about,” Lesley pointed out.

This translates to taxpayers, she said of the disparity. For example, she cited that taxpayers in Waco ISD pay $1.04 per $100 taxable property value, while Glen Rose ISD taxes at 82 cents per $100 valuation, because the state allocation for Glen Rose is greater.

The system is set up inequitably, she said, when the state does things like excuse wealthy districts from contributing more, freezes tax rates and cuts off the top the $5.4 billion.

“No other state has ever made that kind of [cut to public education] and Texas certainly can’t sustain it,” she told a few audience members after the forum. “So the pot keeps shrinking and yet we are growing by 80,000 new kids a year. And, sometimes inconveniently, those 80,000 kids end up in districts, like Mineral Wells, [more] than they do in, say, in Dallas, which has more money.”

“The teachers are put in a difficult position and, from what your data shows, it’s getting worse, generationally speaking,” a participant responded.

To this, Lesley said the public education budget has been cut by one-third since 2009 – one of the measures former MWISD Superintendent Ronny Collins referred to as “gutting, not cutting.”

Almost echoing Judge Dietz’s remarks, the participant said, “My main issue is that these kids are going to be the future of our country; and if we don’t give them what they need, then other countries are going to go leaps and bounds over us.

Letter to the Editor by La Nelda Hughes, Feb. 2, 2013, Waco Tribune-Herald, “School vouchers debated”

Video of our presentation on Vouchers in Lewisville ISD, Jan. 23, 2013:

http://lewisvilletexan.com/xoops/modules/news/article.php?storyid=3078&fb_source=message

Waco area schools unite to bring pressing issues to Texas legislature by Wendy Gragg, Jan. 18, 2012, Waco Tribune-Herald.

Superintendents and school board trustees from 10 area school districts will work together to relay their needs to the state Legislature this session.

They met at Baylor University on Thursday to discuss how best to go about that.

Representatives from Waco, Midway, China Spring, Robinson, McGregor, La Vega, Connally, Bosqueville, Crawford and Lorena gathered for lunch at Truett Seminary. John Engelhardt, Baylor University dean of the School of Education, served as host.

“Even if we didn’t have a funding problem, there’s a case to be made for why we ought to all be talking to each other,” Engelhardt said.

He said the event was the first time multiple school boards from the area had met to collaborate.

District officials had a casual conversation, focused largely on sharing ideas for how best to garner support of legislators who ultimately will vote on issues — from funding to testing — that are crucial to public schools.

James Hopper, Bosqueville Independent School District superintendent, said the districts need to get out the message to the public about the need to restore the funding cuts the Legislature made two years ago.

Bonnie Lesley, co-founder of public education advocacy group Texas Kids Can’t Wait and a guest at the luncheon, agreed with Hopper.

“When people know what’s going on, then they tend to be motivated to pick up the phone and call their legislators,” she said. Every school board member in the state also should be calling their legislators, she said.

Kevin Houchin, McGregor ISD superintendent, reminded the trustees in attendance that because they are elected officials, they carry some clout and may have better luck being heard by legislators than superintendents do.

“They seem to think we have an agenda. We do, it’s public education,” he said.

WISD board president Pat Atkins said board members also should be talking to their city governments and the business community to make sure those groups are toting the school boards’ message, as well.

George Kazanas, superintendent of Midway ISD, said the districts need to be more proactive and bring solutions to the Legislature.

Some trustees and superintendents said they don’t feel supported by local legislators.

John Palmer, the China Spring ISD board president, said, in that case, they need not waste time trying to change someone’s mind, but instead, figure out how to get around that person.

Kazanas said maybe they need to consider what connections the districts can make with legislators on the education committee and reach out to them.

District officials seemed pleased with the districts’ alliance and the start that Thursday’s meeting gave it.

“We’ve got to become one voice, together, as a group,” said Marc Faulkner, interim superintendent at China Spring ISD.

Ouisa D. Davis:  Education Become Politicized in Texas, El Paso Times, Jan. 11, 2013

http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_22349817/ouisa-d-davis-education-becomes-politicized-texas?source=most_emailed

Steve Blow: Texas Legislature deserves dunce cap for education funding, Dallas Morning News

Published: 02 January 2013 11:22 PM

We’re always on guard against dangers to our children. And maybe now we should add the Texas Legislature to the list of potential threats.

Of course, that’s only if you think a good education is important for our children. And I don’t just mean our own offspring, but for every child of every background.

I read with dismay a few days ago that when the Legislature convenes next week, Republican leaders will have no plan to restore any of the huge cuts to public education in the last session.

One conservative group leader dismissed the need to restore any of the $5.4 billion, saying that public schools had already “absorbed” the cuts.

Well, yes, I suppose that’s true in the way that an amputee “absorbs” the loss of a limb and goes on living. Our schools are still open, but that’s a mighty low standard to set for an education system.

And I wonder if some don’t secretly harbor a desire to bump off “government schools” anyway. Even as public schools try to make do with the previous cuts, there is talk of draining even more money from them in this legislative session by introducing a voucher system.

“Now is the time to look at total reform in our schools. We have to start doing some things differently,” declares Sen. Dan Patrick, the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

For the Republican from Houston, that means vouchers — allowing students to attend private schools with taxpayers paying the tuition.

Patrick paints this as a matter of giving choice to parents. “It is immoral to say to any parent or student you must go to a poor-performing school because that’s the school in your ZIP code. That is not acceptable,” he told our reporter Terry Stutz.

It’s not acceptable and it’s also not true. State law already gives parents the right to move students from consistently low-performing schools. And on top of that, there are more than 200 tax-funded charter schools with open enrollment.

Bonnie Lesley is just flat angry about the Legislature’s neglect of public education. “Texas legislators have been very eager to hold public schools accountable. Now it’s time for the people of Texas to hold them accountable for their poor policies,” she said.

Lesley is a former teacher and administrator from Waco. She and former Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge founded Texas Kids Can’t Wait to advocate for better funding of Texas public schools.

They started out simply focusing on Waco schools after the last legislative cuts forced nine schools to close there. But their campaign soon spread statewide.

Lesley said legislators have a mandate in the state constitution to create an “equitable and adequate” funding system for public education. But she said what we’ve got is far from either.

“The system is broken in so many ways,” she said. One recent study ranked Texas 49th in per-student funding. And poorer school districts end up with even less although their educational challenges are greatest.

“In Texas, we have a huge percentage of poor kids attending poor schools,” Lesley said. “That’s a double whammy. It’s dooming those students but it’s also dooming the state’s future. I have always been proud to be a Texan, but this makes me so angry.”

School districts across Texas have sued the state, seeking to force a better funding system. And because that litigation is pending, legislators appear content to do nothing this session and let the courts have their final say, which could be more than a year from now.

“It’s like this fiscal cliff nonsense,” Lesley said. “The Legislature is going to wait to the absolute last moment to act. But kids can’t wait. They only get one childhood.”

For more information, go to texaskidscantwait.org.

Follow Steve Blow on Twitter at @DMNSteveBlow.

Setting the record straight:  Attack on public schools displays ignorance of facts by Bonnie Lesley, Waco Tribune-Herald, Dec. 15, 2012

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/183611801.htm

Letter to the Editor by Gail Wright, Dec. 15, 2012

Attracting quality teachers

It is very heartening to see the push by some leaders and grassroots groups to try and improve education in public schools. One major part in improvement of education that has been so lacking is the respect, motivation and incentives needed to retain great teachers. Teachers who are with our children all week teach our children how to wonder, to create, to be thinkers. They instruct on how to build robots and the power of words and math formulas.

Teachers work tirelessly and take work home with them. They often buy their own supplies with little pay.

As a result, our children will go on to become doctors, lawyers, executives and high-paid athletes, while the ones who taught them to read struggle to buy groceries.

We will retain great educators when we see the value of education as we have seen the value of sports in schools. Most people cannot afford to be a teacher. We must change that.

As parents, we can help incentivize a teacher by showing up at conferences, answering email and letters about a child’s progress and telling teachers how much we appreciate them.

I’m not a teacher but I can certainly appreciate the work that goes into teaching my grandchildren.

Gail Wright, Woodway

“Time for Experimenting with School Vouchers Is Past” by Mary Duty, Waco Tribune-Herald, Dec. 11, 2012

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/board/182930551.html

“Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Public Education Funding Failures” by Linda Ethridge.  Waco Tribune-Herald, Dec. 9, 2012  http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/board/182702181.html 

Letter to the Editor by Mary Muhl Mann, Mart, TX, Dec. 9, 2012, Waco Tribune-Herald

The New York Times piece that ran Monday in the Tribune-Herald said under Gov. Rick Perry “Texas gives out more of the (business) incentives than any other state, around $19 billion a year.”

So companies like Samsung are getting tax breaks and “other” incentives from Texas taxpayers?

Under Perry, reportedly $19 billion is given to these and other companies that are rolling in profits. Meanwhile, lawmakers took $5.4 billion away from Texas schools and our children. These same children will need good-paying jobs in the future but likely won’t be able to work at Samsung because they’ll be stuck in low-paying jobs for lack of a quality education.

The governor is stealing from children to curry favor and dine with super-rich CEOs who will pack their carpet bags at a moment’s notice. And we are letting him get away with it. We shouldn’t.

Get involved with Texas Kids Can’t Wait, a grass-roots group advocating for equitable school funding. Visit, write or call your representatives and tell them that when the Legislature convenes next month, adequate funding of our schools must be a priority. We have the money.

If not, we should tap the governor’s economic development fund.

Mary Muhl Mann, Mart

Riling Moms Up in Belton ISD!

On Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, Bonnie Lesley made a presentation to Belton ISD PTA leaders and district staff on the need for adequate/equitable funding for all Texas districts and on the growing threat of school privatization.  The article below reporting on that event is from the Temple Daily Telegram, and the reporter is Jeff Osborne.

Parents updated on concerns in BISD, state

BY JEFF OSBORNE | TELEGRAM STAFF
Saturday, Dec 8, 2012 4:30 AM

BELTON — PTA officers and other parents heard a presentation about concerns facing the Belton school district and the state during a lunchtime meeting Friday in the Belton ISD Administration office.

BISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon gave an update specific to the district, and Bonnie Lesley, a representative of the advocacy group Texas Kids Can’t Wait, spoke on concerns that include the rest of the state.

Lesley, who described herself as a longtime public school employee, said, “I made the mistake of leaving the state for 10 years, and when I got back the Legislature had totally messed (education funding) up.

I’m doing what I can to help save our schools.”

Kincannon said a late notification by Cedar Crest Hospital regarding the children it serves provides a “powerful example” of some problems with the state’s education system.

Belton previously taught students who were patients at the hospital, but for several years a charter school had taken over that role.

This school year, the charter school dropped out of its contract with Cedar Crest, forcing hospital administrators to contact Belton ISD and ask the district to serve its students.

“We did ask for extra funding from the (Texas Education Agency), and we’re working through the process, but those funds can only be used for special education students and not all of students there are special ed students,” Kincannon said.

“It was not very fair to us to find quality teachers at the last minute, but charter schools can just decide to stop serving a group of students if it’s not profitable enough for them.”

She said that was an example of the challenges faced by public schools, and at places like Cedar Crest, the student population changes every day.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Charla Trejo said Belton ISD is ensuring the students at Cedar Crest are being served well and said outstanding and dedicated teachers answered the call, but the district faces a “bookkeeping nightmare” after stepping in to fill the void.

Kincannon said two major concerns in the battle for school finance in the state court system include not only the quest for equitable and adequate funding but concerns over charter schools and the privatization of education.

She said an unreasonable testing system has overburdened students, staff and parents.

“Our kids are subjected to so many tests,” she said. “Freshmen have to take five end-of-course exams, and if they fail, they can retest in the summer. We’ve had some kids out of class all week to test. We’ve had to bring 12 substitute teachers in so our teachers can administer the tests.

“Students shouldn’t have to take 15 assessments in a year and a half. … It’s very concerning to us. I would love for the governor to say ‘this is a crazy system, and we’re not going to do it,’ but that hasn’t happened.”

Several people at the luncheon expressed concerns that students who failed State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness requirements were in danger of dropping out of school.

Lesley said one parent of a student in Robinson ISD was in tears because her dyslexic son couldn’t pass the end of course tests within the required time limit, and he decided he never wanted to go back to school again and instead planned to get his GED.

Lesley explained how two years ago, the Equity Center asked her to write a report about how money matters in education, and she provided a detailed list of the ways it helped by providing highly qualified teachers and access to better technology.

“Since then, things have gotten worse,” Lesley said. “Many people don’t realize what a bargain they’re getting with public education. We have tightened our belts time and again, and we’re still getting great results, but it’s getting tougher and tougher.”

Lesley said the $5.4 million cut from state education funding over the past two years has been detrimental to students, school districts and communities.

She said goals of Texas Kids Can’t Wait are:

n To ensure equitable funding so each student has resources and opportunities to learn that will enable him/her to fulfill his/her potential.

n To make sure there is adequate finances so schools have enough funding to ensure students meet state standards and graduate.

n To ensure that funding takes into account growing student enrollment, inflation and the cost of educating students with different needs.

n To achieve taxpayer equity so that a penny of tax yields the same in every district.

n To oppose all forms of privatization of Texas public schools.

As an example of devastating results of a state education funding system in disarray, Lesley pointed to Waco.

“Waco ISD had to close nine schools. The town was ripped asunder and will never be the same,” she said. “If that district had been funded at the average rate of other Texas school districts, it would have received an extra $11 million, and if it had been funded at the same rate as Glen Rose, there would have been $68 million more. They wouldn’t have had to fire any teachers or close those schools.”

She said that while Belton ISD is the best funded school district in Bell County, its taxpayers have had to pay the highest tax rates state law allows — $1.17 per $100 tax valuation. Other Bell County school districts have a tax rate of $1.04 per $100 valuation.

Lesley said Belton ISD taxpayers pay 10 cents more (per $100) than the state average in taxes, but raise $30 less per weighted daily average for their students because of funding inequities.

She said some districts are getting more funds with lower tax rates, creating a situation where some districts are wealthy, and others are poor.

“That’s intolerable, it’s unacceptable and it’s why lawyers are arguing for change on behalf of school districts,” Lesley said.

She noted that since 2009, things have gotten even worse for Texas school districts with the funding cuts, and at that time Texas was already spending $3,000 less per student than the national average, ahead of only Nevada. Since then, Nevada has passed Texas.

On top of this, more rigorous testing requirements stretched an already overburdened system to the breaking point, she said.

“High expectations are wonderful, but not without providing the resources to get the job done,” Lesley said. “It’s cruel to have higher requirements without the funding to make it happen, and every school district and school board understands that.”

She added that the biggest beneficiary of the increased testing requirements was not the students, teachers and parents, but the companies that provide the testing materials.

Belton school board President Randy Pittenger said it’s important for parents and community members to understand what’s at stake and to get involved in supporting public education.

“We have a large number of people invested in growing our community, and our schools are a vital part of that,” he said.

“Public education is the foundation of democracy, and if that’s lost, there will be terrible repercussions.”

For more on the battle to fund Texas education, visitwww.texaskidscantwait.org.

josborne@tdtnews.com

Kenneth Moerbe, guest columnist: Rick Perry vs. Texas children

KENNETH MOERBE ,Guest columnist, Saturday December 8, 2012

After seeing reports of Gov. Rick Perry’s Nov. 27 visit to Waco, I am left perplexed. For reasons I can’t understand, Perry seems to be engaged in a war on the children of Texas. Just look at what he has done and the legislation he has supported.

First on the list must be his enthusiastic support of the $5.4 billion cut in school funding and grants, combined with his continued refusal to use the ever-growing Rainy Day Fund to bolster public education in Texas. These actions have only exacerbated the deterioration of our public education system because of the gross inequities in how these funds are distributed to school districts, especially among districts where many students live in poverty, including Waco ISD. All of this has forced the closing of schools, the elimination of instructional positions and increased class sizes. It has made the work of Waco ISD’s dedicated school board members, administrators, teachers and staff incredibly difficult.

Secondly, we have Perry’s intransigence when it comes to needed health care reforms for which the Affordable Care Act is a crucial first step. Again, who do you think will be impacted the most? Answer: children now living in thousands of households in our community who can’t afford health insurance and so provide very little preventive health care for their children.

Thirdly, Perry’s continued refusal to accept the federal government’s support for Medicaid expansion is unconscionable. This would provide much-needed health care for a considerable percentage of Texas children living in poverty.

Then there is Perry’s support of drug-testing for “high-risk” welfare and unemployment benefit applicants. Perry says he believes drug-testing will mean less money paid in benefits and ultimately savings of taxpayer money. Yet again, the greatest impact of this action will be a devastating one for Texas’ most vulnerable citizens — children living in poverty through no fault of their own.

It is sad we allow our state officials, led by our governor, to impose such mean-spirited legislative measures on families where innocent children will be the ones who suffer the most.

I could go on, but I’ve made my case that Perry, assisted by his colleagues in the Texas Legislature, is engaged in a war on the children of Texas.

Who, I wonder, will now stand up for our children?

Former executive director of Caritas of Waco, Kenneth Moerbe heads up the McLennan County Hunger Coalition. He has also been deeply involved in anti-poverty initiatives in Waco.

Riling Up Texas Moms, by Sandra Sanchez, Nov. 30, 2012

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/181481301.html

John Kuhn Interview in the Dallas Morning News, Nov. 2, 2012

John Kuhn, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt ISD, northwest of Ft. Worth, is one of the leading Texas spokespeople for improved school finance, against excessive assessments and draconian accountability systems, and against movements toward privatization of public education.  Many people started hearing about him when he was one of the speakers in 2011 when Save Our Schools conducted a rally during March on the Capitol grounds.  He generated so much buzz across the state that he was also a speaker at the national rally later in the year on the National Mall.  He was interviewed in early November 2012 by the Dallas Morning News about all these issues.  We owe him a big THANK YOU for mentioning us as one of the Texas organizations that is shaking things up.  He has also Tweeted about us and Re-Tweeted our Tweets.

The interview is behind a firewall, so if you want to read it you either have to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, use library privileges, or buy access to that one article.

Local Group Wants to Get the Word Out about State Public Education Funding, June 23, 2012, by Wendy Gragg

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/160098095.html

Newly Formed Kids Can’t Wait Group Has Its Work Cut Out for It, June 24, 2012, by Bill Whitaker

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/whitaker/160150655.html

Sounding the Alarm: 2 Area Grandmas Ask Area Parents:  Why Aren’t You Outraged? by Bill Whitaker, Sept. 30, 2012

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/whitaker/171957111.html

 Local Group Wants Fairness in School Funding, Oct. 3, 2012, by Wendy Gragg

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/172403121.html

Battle Against School Funding Inequity Rates Your Attention and Support, Oct. 3, 2012 by Bill Whitaker

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/172400651.html

Joe Smith, TexasISD.com: Children Can’t Wait (10/1/2012)

http://www.texasisd.com/article_130920.shtml

Judge Rules on Evidence in School Finance Case, Nov. 20, 2012

http://www.statesman.com/ap/ap/education/judge-rules-on-errors-in-school-finance-evidence/nS9wX/

Fiscal Cliff Would Hurt Poor Kids the Most!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/fiscal-cliff-education-poorest-districts_n_2132819.html

Sad that State of Texas Is Conspiring Against Texas Kids!

http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/school-finance/financing-texas-schools-defining-adequate/

A Movie about Public Schools Worth Watching:  Brooklyn Castle!

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/11/08/see-brooklyn-castle-an-inspiring-documentary-about-real-kids-in-a-real-school/

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment

An organization which many of us, if not all, support is Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.  I recommend that you “Like” their Facebook page to keep up with their issues and activities.  They are active in requesting that local school boards adopt the resolution that opposes the maniacal focus on testing and accountability, which harms students and teachers.  Their page features this interview with Superintendent John Kuhn of the Perrin-Witte CISD.  Check it out:

http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/sunday-commentary/20121102-point-person-our-qa-with-john-kuhn-on-schools-over-reliance-on-testing.ece?action=reregister

Interview with Kyle Kacal, State Representative, Waco Tribune-Herald, Oct. 28, 2012

http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/176136671.html

Jimmie Don Aycock Wants to Think Positive and Fix These Schools, Texas Observer

http://www.texasobserver.org/snakeoil/jimmie-don-aycock-rethinks-accountability

Meeting the Need for PreK in San Antonio

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/Issue-of-need-has-major-role-in-Pre-K-fight-3985807.php

Richardson ISD Superintendent Testifies in School Funding Trial, Oct. 24, 2012

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20121024-richardson-isd-superintendent-testifies-about-harmful-effects-of-funding-cuts-during-texas-school-finance-trial.ece

School Districts, State Trade Blame at School Finance Trial (Oct. 22, 2012)

The long awaited hearing to determine the legality and constitutionality of Texas’s school finance system began on Monday, October 22, 2012, in Austin.  The following news story summarizes the first day.  http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/public-education/school-districts-argue-texas-funding-system-broken/

Texas AFT asks for help in creating a vision for public education in Texas

http://texasaftblog.com/hotline/?p=2201

Grading Schools or Grading Ourselves

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elaine-weiss/grading-schools-or-gradin_b_1959123.html

Interview with Dr. Diane Ravitch

Dr. Ravitch is a historian, a former Assistant Secretary of Education (George H. W. Bush administration), and now perhaps the country’s leading advocate for public schools.  This interview was aired on Oct. 18, 2012, by KLRU, a public radio station.  Almost all the issues we care about in Texas Kids Can’t Wait are covered by Dr. Ravitch, so everyone is encouraged to watch this video:  http://www.klru.org/overheard/episode/diane-ravitch/

Joe Smith, TexasISD.com: Children Can’t Wait (10/1/2012)

http://www.texasisd.com/article_130920.shtml

The Blah, Blah, Blah of School Finance and the Reality of Texas Trickle-Down

http://educatefortexas.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/the-blah-blah-blah-of-school-finance-and-the-reality-of-texas-trickle-down/

Education for Texas Blog By Dr. Jerry R. Burkett, 09/25/2012