Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Policy over Party, part 2

In June, I wrote a blog about my personal shift in perspective from voting for a candidate because of a particular party affiliation with limited regard for where that candidate stood on the issues to one focused on the platform of that candidate; click here to read my blog.  The actions (perhaps inactions is a better word!) of the Senate in the 85th and special sessions certainly reinforced the need to adopt “policy over party” as a go-forward mindset.

Last week, Ross Ramsey, co-founder and executive editor of the Texas Tribune, published an article titled “Earlyomens of a very conservative GOP primary”.  If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so by either clicking on the title above or by clicking here.  The bottom line from his standpoint is that, since all statewide office holders (all Republican) have announced plans to seek reelection, the cascade impact of this makes it easier for what he termed as “full throated” conservatives to win election in down-ballot races.  He further states that one of the reasons that this is the case is that these individuals are elected by a “reliable” group of conservative voters, individuals who cast a ballot in most elections.

That’s where the opportunity now opens up for educators and others concerned about the future of public education in the State of Texas.  It’s well documented that many in this pro-public education group have not voted on a consistent basis.  But with very low voter turnout in Texas, initiatives that will get public education supporters to the ballot box may very well sway the outcome of races across the state.  And that is good news for the more than 5.3 million public education students who rely on their elected officials to support them.

While certainly not limited to only two such initiatives, the Texas Educators Vote initiative and a renewed push by superintendents to register eligible high school students can have a dramatic impact on primary day and on Election Day.  Once registered, it’s critical that the push to actually vote becomes a focal point and there are numerous groups focusing on that effort as well.  And that’s where “policy over party” comes into play.

Eligible voters, and especially the public education advocates and educators in the upcoming primary and general elections, need to invest time in understanding the platforms of candidates, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation.  If we fail to do so or even if we have a preferred candidate but don’t exercise our right to vote, those most impacted are the kids in the classroom.  That’s not fair to them or to the future of our state.  All of us must understand the criticality of upcoming elections and come together as a group to elect those who will make education a priority.  Our students are watching and counting on us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Time to Vote!

Between the regular session and the special session, it was easy for public education advocates to hit the wall!  I know that I did.  When you hear nothing but criticism (from much of Austin), it’s easy to throw your hands up in the air and resign yourself to the actions of the legislature.  And that’s exactly what many want us to do, led by the Lt. Governor and the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

But that’s the last thing that we all should be doing!  Much has been written and several groups have initiatives underway to address the constant barrage of public education criticism.  In this blog, I’d like to highlight two specific initiatives.

Texans for Public Education, a group founded by Troy Reynolds, (Facebook – texans4publiced; texansforpubliceducation.com; Twitter - @texans4e) has done a very nice job of putting together a scorecard of where each legislator stands on public education.  His is an evolving process and with the support and input of all of us, he is constantly updating the “grades” of each legislator.  He also offers specific commentary about reasons and actions that support the “grade”.

Texas Educators Vote (texaseducatorsvote.com), launched by the Texas Association of Community Schools (web – tacsnet.org; Twitter - @tacsnet) under the leadership of Barry Haenisch and Laura Yeager, was developed as a campaign prior to the last general election to drive increased voter participation by educators … and it worked! Now back and newly refined, Texas Educators Vote is focused not just on getting out the vote, but making sure that educators have access to information that helps them understand which candidates are supportive of public education. 

Texas educators can make a difference at the polls and certainly continue to do so on a daily basis in the classroom.  It’s sad that some in Austin fail to acknowledge educators’ efforts but the next round of primaries and the general election will serve as a great opportunity to change the mindset in Austin.

What all of this boils down to is the need for educators to engage in the election process. Although educators are often criticized and challenged for their efforts, these two outstanding groups have taken the initiative to change the culture in Austin.  They are not alone but they can only do so much.  It’s up to educators and others who support public education to engage and act … now.  It’s time for us to do our homework on who supports public education and do what we can to ensure that those individuals have a seat in Austin, a seat that will make education a priority for the more than 5.3 million Texas public education students.

Words alone will not make a difference … it’s Time to Vote!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What is More Important?

Starting with the phrase “20 in 20” and continuing through the Governor’s threats to note all who oppose “his” 20 items, this special session has been particularly galling.  When I say “his” agenda, I think we all know that this is not the Governor’s at all but that of the LG.  Pandering to the LG is a sad way to run the State but, after all, the election cycle has started along with the headline grab!

What I find most troubling is the effort by the LG to push through legislation with somewhat limited discussion.  His moves to quash parliamentary procedures in order to get “his way” do not serve the majority of the citizens in the State despite his statements that he is doing what citizens want to have done.  And, so far at least, that seems to be working for him … but there is still hope that sanity will prevail in the House.

The Speaker has been accused of plodding through the items on the Governor’s call but what is wrong with a thorough vetting and discussion of the issues impacting each area?  In fact, Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune wrote an article earlier this week in which he referenced the tortoise (House) and the hare (Senate).  Under the Speaker's leadership and the leadership of Public Education committee Chairman Huberty, I am hopeful that the discussions from the 85th will continue and that the House will continue to hold the line on an anti-voucher (by any name) position as well as focusing on how to adequately fund our public school system.

I doubt seriously that the LG’s goal of “20 in 20” will be achieved although there is certainly a possibility (and increasing probability) that the Senate will pass legislation addressing each of the items on the Governor’s call.  But is that what this is really all about?  Perhaps the only good news is that any shortening of the special session would result in some savings of the monies wasted in calling this session. 

I am not suggesting that the session go the full 30 days but what seems most important is a thorough vetting of ideas and legislation, not just a race to see how quickly the legislature can get to the finish line in addressing each item.  As sanity prevails in the House, regardless of the outcomes and whether decisions align with my personal interests, I hope that the topics will get the attention they deserve and that, rather than a headline grab, the legislature focuses on doing the right thing, not just the politics and bullying driving actions in the Senate.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What Makes a “Great State”?

Gov. Abbott announced his bid for reelection in 2018 at a press conference last week, saying that, “To keep Texas the greatest state in America, I’m running for re-election as Governor of Texas.”  In his term as governor, he has done little to make any of this “vision” (what’s a vision if no one knows about it or acts on it?) become a reality.  In fact, the drop to number 4 in business ranking should cause alarm among all of us and this may just be a precursor to a further drop if the Governor (or is it the LG speaking through the governor?) continues to push the unnecessary and damaging bathroom bill and other questionable legislation.  Perhaps that’s a blog for another day but I got to thinking about some of the factors that make a state a great state.

At the top of any list is the education system in the state and it is clearly under attack on multiple fronts, led by the governor as well as the Lt. Governor.  The LG is clearly an enemy of public education, despite the attempt at a headline grab on July 13, and there are those in the Senate who will follow him wherever he goes.  Whatever happened to the day when those elected to serve us actually listened to us and represented us?

How can our public education system, one whose role is clearly defined in Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution, be continually attacked and underfunded without serious repercussions over the long haul?  And is that fair to the students who have become pawns in the games being played in the Senate?   When is enough enough?

Governor, this “vision” rings very hollow with me.  How do your repeated challenges to public education, including the suggestion (without merit and evidence) that administrative expense is too high, help to support our public education system?  On what basis can you make the comments?  If you have evidence to support your claims, please share it with us; it’s time for the headline grab to stop.  If you are truly interested and focused on making Texas “the greatest state in America”, actions and not words are in order.  Can we count on you actually performing the office to which you were elected? 

Our students and teachers deserve better.  The continual challenges to the role of teachers, the ongoing underfunding of a school finance system that “meets minimum constitutional requirements” and the push for vouchers (by any name) are real threats to the long term opportunity to keep Texas a “great state”.  With the special session opening tomorrow, it’s time to make education a priority, not just a headline for political gain.

The Threat (and Opportunity) of a Special Session

As we anticipate the opening of the special session on July 18, I don’t know that any of us has an understanding of how it might progress over the next 30 days.  With the posturing by the governor, LG and Speaker, it’s difficult for me to believe that there will be any real resolution of the items on the Governor’s list … and that would be a good thing.

Sadly, this list reflects the list of the LG’s priorities, not necessarily those of citizens across the State.  Sure, there are groups that support each of the items but I have a hard time believing that these groups are anything other than a minority (but well-funded) voice.  And it’s the dollars that seem to be doing the talking.

Whether the issue relates to teacher raises (suggesting that this be funded by moving dollars within an existing budget is an insult to all educators), retention bonuses (again, moving dollars around without increasing funding), or vouchers (by any name), the governor and LG have made it very clear that they would like to orchestrate a dismantling of public education in Texas.  And that is one of the tenets that will make Texas a “great state”?

I really am very hopeful that the Speaker and Chairman Huberty will be able to hold the line on the work that they accomplished during the 85th session.  Under the leadership of both, the House has made it very clear that public education is a priority, whether in the form of true increased funding (not the charade of moving dollars around) or a continued rejection of vouchers (by any name).  All of us as public education advocates need to make our voices heard and to constantly reinforce and express support for the work in the House.

A great starting point is the Texans for Public Education rally in Austin this afternoon.  A rally by itself will not necessarily make a huge impact but it does start to send a signal that there is overwhelming support for our public education system.  The challenge will be to build on this and to keep building for at least the next 30 days or until the special session ends.  Those with the money who are backing the anti-public education sentiment can only achieve so much if those supporting public education continue to make education a priority.

Game on!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Headlines and Texas “Leadership”

The 85th regular session proved to be an opportunity lost for public education despite the best efforts of House leaders and some in the Senate.  What should have included a focus on addressing the “minimum constitutional requirements” of the school finance system turned into a bartering endeavor by “leadership” in the Senate.  To suggest that either the Lt. Governor or chair of the Senate Education Committee were even remotely interested in solving the school finance challenges would be a stretch; their interests lie much more in trying to garner headlines that tug at the emotions of people, especially parents of children with special needs.  What a sad day when headlines are more important than the well-being of more than 5.3 million students.

And now the governor, largely missing during the 85th, has decided to weigh in on what he sees as critical items to address during the upcoming special session.  To me, this is largely another headline grab largely fueled by being outflanked by Senate “leadership”; he had to do something and the easiest (and seemingly least risky) thing for him to do was to align with the LG and committee Chair.  But if things go as they should given the level of dissatisfaction and angst in the public education community, perhaps the governor’s plot to “steal” back the headlines will backfire; candidly, shame on all of us if it doesn’t!

While certainly disappointed but not surprised that the LG chose to hold school finance hostage for a voucher (by any name) program, what is even more galling right now is the inclusion of a $1000 teacher raise as one of the priorities of the special session.  But it sure does make a good headline!  After all, who wouldn’t agree that teachers are due more than the current salary structure in Texas public schools?  But to suggest that this raise must be funded not by the state but by district budgets is not only shortsighted but an insult to districts and teachers themselves. 

With the percent of funding by the state falling each year, where does the governor think districts can find the funds to provide these raises?  Does he have any concept of what goes on in a public school district and how districts are challenged to manage enrollment growth?  Speaking of enrollment growth, statements that the legislature is funding enrollment growth also make for a great headline.  But do we want to tread water and not provide enhanced programs and other offerings to all students?  Why do we focus on sub-groups such as kids with special needs or kids new to the system?  Oh, yeah, great headlines.

What the governor and LG are doing is to basically divert attention from the issues that they are unwilling to address.  And they are using headlines to move the ball down the field.  So now the hard part begins, not for them but for the kids and all of us who support public education.  Public education advocates have to speak out (and vote) by letting all stakeholders (and that’s all of us whether we have kids in schools or not) know that public education is at risk if nothing changes.  Imagine the headline when schools close or districts consolidate; the state will take no responsibility but the LG will use it to reinforce his support of vouchers (by any name).

It’s truly a sad day when headlines are more important than kids, when responsibility for funding public education continues to shift more and more to the districts themselves.  All of this while the argument is made that we need property tax reform, another great headline.  Let’s pull together as we are starting to do to make education a priority in the State of Texas.  Our kids deserve better.  Now that makes a great headline!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Redefining “Compromise”

In early June, I wrote a blog entitled "The Lost Art of Compromise" (click here to read that post) in which I lamented the inability or unwillingness of many in the legislature to try to work toward solutions that, while not perfect for everyone, would at least provide some balance in addressing the needs of a broad base of constituents.  Of course, since I am writing about public education, my focus is on the failures of the legislature, despite the best efforts of Chairman Hubertry, most in the House and some in the Senate, to come to a consensus on how to address the school finance issue defined in the Texas Supreme Court ruling.

I had a couple of people comment to me that compromise had become a four letter word and that moving off of a hard line position could be viewed as a sign of weakness by those who concede.  So what we found in the end was that, as I defined in the post, absolute winners create absolute losers.  While there really were no winners other than the headline grab by the LG and others, it’s clear that Texas public education students are the losers in this debate.

So I got to thinking about a better word or phrase to define what should be a process to come to some consensus that benefits a broad cross section of the populace.   Still struggling with that, I posed the question to a House representative who suggested to me that a better way to look at this is “to find common ground”.  I agree that this does seem to have a much more positive connotation since it suggests that there are ways for each faction to gain something in the discussion.

Would that have made any impact on the 11th hour discussions about vouchers (by any name) and school finance?  Perhaps not since, after all, both sides had put a stake in the ground and seemed unwilling to move off of their position.  Is it an opportunity to effect some movement in the discussion (regardless of topic) in the upcoming special session?  Perhaps but I don’t know if there is a willingness on either side to move toward common ground.

I certainly like “finding common ground” a whole lot better than the word “compromise”.  The intent might be the same but the outcome seems to be a much more positive focus.  Without the effort to find common ground, there will be no outcome focused on making education a priority for more than 5.3 million public education students.  If that happens, we are all losers!