Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Policy Over Party

I met last week with a former TX legislator who has tremendous passion for our kids and for the well-being of all citizens in the State of Texas (unlike some of those in Austin).  We were discussing the mess that is Austin, primarily in the Senate, when it comes to discussions about our public schools and she mentioned the phrase, "policy over party"; what a great way to think about how we vote.

I grew up in a strong Republican household and my dad was involved in politics at both the state and federal level.  So it was pretty easy for me to conclude that voting for Republicans was the right (no pun intended) thing to do.  And to be honest, that is pretty much how I have voted my entire life.  If an individual had an "R" behind their name, that made them a candidate of choice for me, with very few exceptions.

But the movement of some of the Republican Party from a more moderate position to the extreme right embodied by the Tea Party certainly has shifted the way in which I cast my vote each election.  However, I have to admit that not wanting to vote for a Tea Party candidate didn't necessarily mean that I cast a vote for a Democrat.  In fact, in the last race for Lt. Governor, I voted for neither candidate.  I also didn't cast a vote for a gubernatorial candidate, largely because I thought that there was no good Republican candidate.  In both races, sadly, it looks like I was right.  Of course, not casting a vote for any candidate is no different than not voting although I did cast a ballot for all other positions. 

So back to "policy over party".  Over the past 3-4 years, and increasingly since the beginning of the 85th session in January, I have started to look at where candidates stand relative to public education before peeling back the onion to see where they stand on other issues facing all of us.  What I have found is that doing so by eliminating the D, R, I or other party affiliation causes me to really look at the candidate and their policy perspectives.

Not surprisingly, on social issues, I now find myself as somewhat of a centrist.  Whether it's the extreme politics of the LG or the tactics of the president, I no longer look at the party affiliation but where the individual stands relative to my personal beliefs and attitudes.  The House Republicans certainly are worthy of support but I am hard pressed to find more than 3 or 4 R's in the Senate whose beliefs align very well with mine.  The bottom line is that there are some who are willing to make education a priority and party affiliation is not necessarily the attribute that defines their beliefs (and votes).  For me, it is now a perspective of policy over party!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Perfect Storm

I don't get it!  I understand (I think) why the governor felt a need to call a special session but have to wonder why he chose to include 19 specific items (other than sunset legislation) in his call.  Legislators in the 85th proved incapable of coming to any sort of an agreement on many issues, thus the need according to the governor for a special session.  But 19 separate items?  How in the heck does he expect the legislature to be able to address these in the maximum 30 day time frame?  I guess we'll see.

But what are most troubling and confusing to me are the items that are focused on public education, including special education vouchers and a desired $1000 raise for each teacher in the state.  While a noble cause, who is going to pay for it?  During the just concluded session, there was an attempt to attach fiscal notes to legislation but that is apparently not even a consideration here, let alone a discussion topic.  And all of this is to be done on the backs of an already Supreme Court-defined underfunded school finance system.  Does "minimum constitutional requirements" not resonate with those supposedly elected to serve us?

I saw a quick analysis today that was a real eye opener for me.  Providing a $1000 raise per teacher (while certainly deserved) will cost districts upwards of $700M over the biennium and that's before adding the loadings that are incurred.  When you consider the additional costs to be incurred, that number likely goes north of $1B.  So I tried to figure the logic here, acknowledging that that may be my big mistake since there has been little logic in what has come out of the Senate as it relates to public education.  Many districts are losing their hold harmless funding and are now being asked to absorb the cost of these salary increases, and that's before even figuring the impact of what a special education voucher might mean financially to districts.

Talk about a perfect storm that plays right into the hands of the Lt. Governor.  He has not supported public education and now has a foundation as defined in the governor's call that validates his personal agenda.  It's truly sad that nowhere in all of this have the needs of more than 5 million public education students been considered.  When do we reach a point when legislators are focused on making education, the engine of a productive economy, a priority?  This should be a call to all of us to engage and start to think about how we change the makeup of the legislature in the next general election.  We need to make ourselves part of the solution to the perfect storm before it's too late.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Lost Art of Compromise

Watching the chaos and dissension that is the 85th Legislative Session reminds me of being a kid again; the difference is that we were able to resolve issues when we were kids because we had a “leader” (translated as parent or teacher) who really gave us no choice but to figure out how to work better together as a family or with a group of friends.  Imagine where we would all be today had we not learned how to compromise, how to negotiate and how to get along.  Who knows, we might well be legislators!

There have been glimmers of hope over the past month or so on a number of fronts but, as quickly as hope was renewed, someone (often the Lt. Governor) found a way to flip the switch back off.  It certainly is his right, I suppose, to take a hard line stance in supporting what he defined as his interim priorities.  So, too, is it the right of the Speaker to stand pat in supporting his own interim priorities.  But at what point does each give a little in an effort to find solutions acceptable to both chambers and to the political parties?

I applaud the Speaker and Chairman Huberty for standing fast in supporting the Chairman’s HB21, this despite the threats from the Lt. Governor that the Speaker is the cause of an anticipated special session.  But the Lt. Governor’s continued insistence on not addressing school finance was never going to move this off of center.  Looking at his actions to name conferees to “discuss” HB21 (wonder how much discussion there really was before again killing HB21) could very likely be a PR move to try and save a little bit of face with the public.

So back to the art of compromise.  As I read the outcome of the Senate and House conferees relating to HB21, there doesn’t appear to be much compromise on either side.  The Senate wanted $50M for charter facilities funding (camel’s nose in the tent much like vouchers (by any name)) and the House wanted $100M for ASATR.  Is there not a compromise that could have been worked out or did both sides maintain a hard line stance with no flexibility?

The losers in this session are not just the students in our public schools but they are certainly the focus of our collective efforts.  Funding enrollment growth was always pretty much a given but responding to the decision of the Texas Supreme Court (remember “minimum constitutional requirements”) was never the intent of Senate “leadership”.  Again thinking back to my childhood, I always wanted to have my own way if I could but with encouragement from a “leader” in my household or in the classroom, I often had to give something up to get something in return.  Sadly, this legislature seems to have forgotten that absolute winners creates absolute losers; individual agendas fueled discussions, not the needs of constituents.  We’ll have to compromise on some fronts going forward but it will take a collective effort to make education a priority.