10.31.12

The definition of hypocrisy

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Public Schools, Teachers at 9:46 am by wcnews

Austerity for thee, but not for me. Via the DMN, Audit: Texas governor, AG, land commissioner boosted staffs as state workers’ overall numbers shrank.

As the state’s workforce in areas such as education and protective services was shrinking last year, some agencies led by elected officeholders were growing.

Texas agencies shed about 3,200 workers in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, a reduction of about 2.1 percent, a new report from the state’s auditor shows. But the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office and the general land office — each run by a Republican elected while touting the virtues of shrinking government — added workers.

Aides to Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stressed Tuesday that each remains below hiring maximums set by the Legislature.

That’s right do as I say, not as I do. There’s more.

Former state District Judge Scott McCown of Austin, who runs the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, said he doesn’t begrudge successes by Perry, Abbott and Patterson at getting a few more employees.

“They needed more staff and had the clout to get them, while human service agencies had the need, but not the clout,” McCown said. [Emphasis added]

“You can’t achieve the same efficiencies in public services as in many businesses because the job is fundamentally different,” he said. “You can’t eliminate staff and more efficiently remove a child from an abusive home. Someone has to walk that child out the door hand in hand.”

The Department of Family and Protective Services, which includes Child Protective Services, lost 112 employees last year, a decrease of 1 percent. CPS is struggling to retain caseworkers and has had to pull workers from Dallas and Houston to manpower-shortage areas such as Austin and Midland.

Other major departments absorbed much bigger reductions, including the Texas Education Agency (down 24 percent), the Juvenile Justice Department (13 percent), Parks and Wildlife (5 percent) and the Department of Aging and Disability Services (4 percent), Keel’s audit shows.

[...]

Gary Anderson, president of the Texas Public Employee Association, said lawmakers and the governor “have absolute control” over general state government but not over public universities, colleges and school districts, which have other sources of income than the state.

Agencies for the most part “continue to meet the mission,” even with fewer hands, said Anderson, whose group calls itself the oldest and largest state employee group and not a union. “There are some problem areas,” he said, citing the prison system’s inability to retain guards, especially in the booming oilfields of South Texas, where they can easily double their salaries.

It’s pretty clear that these three “small government conservatives” only want everyone else’s agency to go through austerity. As Kuff points out today, they’ve had no problem taking in out on public educaiton, Eight billion dollars.

That’s how much is needed per year to make public education whole.

[...]

All this came from direct testimony – the state had not had the chance to cross-examine Moak as of the writing of those stories – so there will likely be more of these depressing numbers to come. The Moak, Casey website is a pretty good resource for following the trial on a blow-by-blow basis. Here’s an interesting tidbit from their embedded Twitter feed: “Moak: from 10-11 to 11-12 school year, 26.5k fewer teachers and staff while Texas schools added 44.5k students #schoolfinancetrial #txlege”. With numbers like that, what happened next should not surprise us.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Perry, Abbott, Patterson.

Link to report, A Summary Report on Full-time Equivalent State Employees for the Quarter Ending August 31, 2012.

09.18.12

How would you, as an adult, perform at work on insufficient sleep and an empty stomach in a stuffy room until noon?

Posted in Around The Nation, Education, Public Schools, Teachers at 5:17 pm by wcnews

This is just a great article by MIchael Peppard, and shreds the regressives analogy of treating schools like factories, Schools Aren’t Factories. Here’s an excerpt, but read the whole thing.

The number one factor influencing a student’s development and success in primary and secondary school is not the teacher or progression of teachers — it is the parent, parents, guardian, or lack thereof. This is why, when teachers talk to each other about schools, they discuss “parent involvement” as a major factor in evaluating a school’s quality. Do the children eat breakfast? Are they cared for after school? Do parents supervise their homework? Is there anyone stopping them from playing video games and eating chips and candy all afternoon and evening? Is there someone to tell them to get off the phone and go to bed?

The answers to these questions mean more than virtually anything about what happens during the school day. Consider how you, as an adult, perform at work on insufficient sleep and an empty stomach in a stuffy room until noon. Kids are even worse off. Show me a school with high parent involvement and low test scores, and first, I’ll be very surprised. Second, I’ll agree that some teachers and administrators in that school ought to be fired.

To return to the surreptitious analogy of the factory: judging teachers by standardized test results is like judging the quality of industrial chefs in a canning plant by testing the quality of the tomato sauce coming off the line — except some of the chefs receive well-tended, nutritious fruit while others receive undernourished poorly-handled tomatoes. To do so would be ridiculous. Sure, a top chef can pull off a miracle or two, but overall, better ingredients make a better sauce.

The analogy becomes even more ridiculous when one finds out that it’s very difficult to tell at first what kind of fruit the chef is dealing with. Some that look perfect aren’t quite ripe; some that look bruised can have exceptional flavor with the right care. It takes alot of time and expertise to figure these things out. But by then the process is almost over. Oh, and the next batch will be an entirely different blend, and you’re supposed to produce a similar or better product. Or be fired. Because the farmers, the weather, and the terroir can’t be fired, and someone has to be punished for the inadequate product.

[...]

In short, the widespread movement to judge teachers’ performance primarily by their students’ performance on standardized tests is fundamentally flawed. Schools aren’t factories. If they’re like anything, they’re like gymnasiums staffed by trainers. In fact, that was exactly how communal education started in the first place: in the gymnasia of ancient Greece.

Let’s fix our education system, after we’ve all had a good night sleep and a good breakfast.

09.17.12

Overstating the obvious – “high stakes testing” is hurting public education

Posted in Around The State, Education, Public Schools, Teachers at 10:18 am by wcnews

Tom Pauken, not someone that I agree with generally, has penned a great Op-Ed in the Statesman, A common-sense approach to Texas education.  The gist of it what he’s talking about can be summed up in the opening paragraphs.

While significant polarization characterizes the national political landscape, a movement in Texas is bucking that trend. A broad-based coalition is taking shape, united in its frustration with the unintended consequences of the high-stakes testing system which has come to dominate public education in Texas and across the country.

In an attempt to make every secondary student “college-ready,” our state has come to rely on a so-called 4-by-4 curriculum and a STAAR test to measure school performance and accountability. A growing number of Republicans and Democrats in the Texas Legislature, business and labor leaders, along with parents, teachers, and school administrators, have come to question the effectiveness of the current system and are calling for the replacement of this one-size-fits-all approach with a common-sense solution that recognizes that students have different talents and interests.

The existing system relies heavily on how students score on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness — commonly referred to as the STAAR test. Under the STAAR, students have to take up to 15 end-of-course exams during their time in high school; and the tests are supposed to account for 15 percent of the student’s final grade in the subject tested. However, implementation of the 15 percent grading requirement was delayed because of a public outcry.

Even longtime proponents of high-stakes, standardized testing are starting to question the wisdom of the current system of school accountability. As reported by Paul Burka in Texas Monthly, the outgoing commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott, made this startling admission in a speech to the Texas Association of School Administrators: “I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system that we have created has become a perversion of its original intent, the intent to improve teaching and learning. The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield, and I look forward to reeling it back in.”

Ever since Gov. Rick Perry asked me to chair the Texas Workforce Commission in 2008, I have been concerned about this excessive emphasis on what many of us have come to call a “teaching to the test” mind-set designed to prepare everyone to get a college degree. A fundamental flaw in such an approach is that not everyone is suited for, or interested in, going to a four-year university. Focusing on all students being “college-ready” ignores what every parent and teacher knows — different students learn differently. Some learn best with their hands; as they develop a skill, they begin to appreciate the relevance of basic math and literacy in perfecting their trade. In fact, our TWC data reflects that those students who get career and technical education in high school do better academically as well.

Yes, our schools need to be less about teaching kids to pass tests and instead about educating them on a more individualized basis.  Here’s the solution that Pauken would like to see.

How can we improve the quality of education while recognizing that children learn differently? Dr. David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas and a former school superintendent, recommends “adding multiple pathways to graduation.” One would be an academic pathway emphasizing math and science, another would place priority on the humanities, and a third would focus on career and technical education.

In order to measure school performance, we could return to something akin to the Iowa standardized tests to measure progress at the grade school level. Those who are college-oriented could take the PSAT, SAT and ACT tests at the high school level. Those enrolled in the vocational and technical fields would receive training that would lead to an industry-certified credential in their field of interest.

This is a common-sense approach to preparing young Texans to be college-ready or career-ready. It is time to end this “teaching to the test” educational system which isn’t working for either the kids interested in going on to a university or for those more oriented towards learning a skilled trade.

Let’s replace a system driven by “test learning” with one that emphasizes real learning.

It’s long past time we end the over emphasis on college readiness for all students. And if the trades are suffering, certainly going back to vocational education, like back in the old days, half day at school the other half working at a trade, an apprenticeship makes sense.

Patricia Kilday-Hart followed up with Pauken in the Houston Chronicle, Hart: Pauken demands end to testing treadmill.  While, again, he’s right on the problem I don’t agree with his opinion of the cause.

Pauken recently shared this experience because he’s increasingly frustrated with the education accountability systems devised in Washington, D.C., and Austin that have turned our public schools into testing treadmills. And when he sees schools labeled “exemplary” or “under-performing,” he’s transported in time to the meaningless scores he assigned Asian rice-farming communities during the Vietnam era.

“It’s abstract intellectualism,” said Pauken. “When you intellectualize and take out the human factor, the result is a bloody mess.”

Intellectuals have been against “high stakes” testing for a long time. What’s hurt education for quite some time is an ideological battle, corporate and right wing hatred of the teacher’s unions. That is why the testing regime was created, to drive a wedge between teachers and administrators.

But no matter who’s right about how we got here, testing is not going to get us out of this mess. And the idea of getting back to teaching students, that don’t want to or don’t need to got to college, life skills and/or a trade for after high school would serve the community and society much better.  It would be much better then preparing them for a college they will likely never attend. And with that I could not agree more with Pauken.

Further Reading:
Panel Finds Few Learning Gains From Testing Movement.
School voucher proposals raise concerns.
What should we fix first, education or poverty?

08.31.12

The attack on teacher pensions

Posted in Around The State, Education, Privatization, Teachers at 10:42 am by wcnews

One of the most despicable attacks of the GOP regressives in Texas is their decision to take on teacher pensions.  One group that sacrifices and deserves to have their pension protected, not privatized, are teachers.  Via the AAS, Report: ConvertingTexas teacher pensions to 401(k) would be costly.

Dropping the guaranteed pension benefit for Texas’ future school employees would be costly, complicated and reduce benefits for retirees, according to a new study by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

The study, mandated by lawmakers last year, states that the $110 billion teacher fund can pay the benefits it owes through 2075 but will need additional contributions from the state or members to erase a $24 billion long-term funding liability.

That liability, however, would increase to $36 billion if new employees were closed out of the pension and instead received a retirement benefit akin to a 401(k), as critics of public pensions recommend.

The state would then need to find some way other than member contributions to pay off that liability, said Brian Guthrie, executive director of the Teacher Retirement System.

By all means. Let’s “fix” something that isn’t broken by making it cost more, provide less coverage, and more complicated. Those are the three things most people want in a retirement plan?! Here’s what the billionaire Koch-funded regressive “think tank” had to say about this disaster.

Even so, the critics say, they will continue to press for changes to the pension system during next year’s legislative session.

“It will get a good look. There is a high likelihood that changes will be made,” said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Lawmakers must ensure that the state’s retirement offering “is a combination of the best buy for the employee and for the taxpayer,” Heflin added.

This is just like the Social Security debate. It likely needs a boost in money for inflation over the next 60 years. No surprise there. There’s no reason to destroy teacher pensions through privatization. Teachers certainly deserve to have their pensions protected.

[UPDATE]: Read the report here.

07.05.12

Education = Opportunity

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Education, Good Stuff, Public Schools, Teachers at 12:17 pm by wcnews

It’s assumed that everyone wants a good public education system in Texas and the United States. The main reason is that we need an educated populace for our democracy to survive and our economy to thrive. But the divergence usually comes when the discussion turns to how we go about it. And often times that biggest struggle is over how we should pay for it, and what gets lost is how best provide an education for the youth of our state and nation.

Much of the discussion these days about education centers on who or what is to blame for the failures in our education system – parents, teachers, students, administrators, politicians, etc.. And the focus needs to be on what works in education, and how best to make it better. And the best place to start is with making working conditions better for teachers, and therefore a better environment for students to learn.

Via the Texas AFT Legislative Hotline, Report looks at what makes high-poverty schools effective.

A new Education Trust report out this week validates what every teacher knows is necessary to strengthen public schools and the teaching profession, says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Building a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among teachers, principals and administrators; focusing on continuous professional development for teachers; and ensuring teachers have the time, tools and trust they need to improve teaching and learning are essential ingredients to building strong public schools and a quality teaching force,” she says.

Unfortunately in Texas, the people who believe they run the state, are hung up on a test. From Kuff, here’s what’s going on in Texas, TAB takes a hostage – TAB stands for Texas Association of Business, btw.

To be blunt, these guys are full of it. The TPPF thinks we spend too much on education to begin with, and TAB is about as likely to support any measure that would actually increase revenue for education as Rick Perry is. Saying they’ll oppose an increase in funding for public education unless their demands are met is like Willie Sutton saying he’ll oppose the hiring of more police officers unless those pesky bank robbery laws get repealed.

On a more general note, I don’t understand the single-minded focus on the STAAR tests. Everyone wants accountability, and everyone wants students to graduate having received a good, comprehensive, useful education, but why in the world must we believe that STAAR tests are the only way to achieve that? I agree with this:

Dineen Majcher, an Austin lawyer whose daughter will be a sophomore at Anderson High School next fall, said she was offended by the insinuation that parents are being led around by superintendents.

“We are smart enough to see what that system is and is not doing and we can perfectly understand on our own that it is a badly flawed system that needs to be fixed,” said Majcher, who listened to the news conference at the Texas Capitol.

“I think it is inappropriate to hold public funding hostage to repairing the problems that we all know exist with the current testing system,” said Majcher, who is part of a new parent group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. “The testing system is badly implemented, badly flawed, there are a lot of groups, a lot of parents who are working very hard to make positive corrections to that. I would not call that rolling it back. I think when we see a mistake, we make a course correction.”

Exactly. We’ve been pushing various accountability measures for 20 years in Texas. Some have worked well, others not so much, but it’s been an ongoing experiment, with tweaks, adjustments, and changes of direction as needed. To believe that the STAAR and only the STAAR can achieve the goals these guys says they want is myopic and suggests they care more about the process than the result. Turns out, even some prominent Republicans see it that way, too.

Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken said Thursday that the state’s current public education accountability system is “broken and badly in need of fixing.”

During testimony at a hearing of the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development on career and technology education, the former state GOP chairman expressed his disagreement with a coalition of business leaders and a conservative think tank that announced Wednesday it would oppose any additional funding to public education if there were any rollback of existing accountability standards.

Pauken, who along with two other commissioners oversees the development of the state’s workforce, said he was surprised that the coalition claimed to speak for the business community and conservatives as it defended the existing testing system.

He said he had found widespread agreement among business leaders, teachers, school district officials and community college representatives he had spoken to around the state that “teaching to the test is one of the real reasons that we have a significant skill trade shortage.”

Pauken said he spoke as both a businessman and a conservative when he criticized the position taken by the coalition.

“The current system does not hold schools accountable for successfully educating and preparing students — rather it makes them beholden to performance on a single test,” Pauken said, adding that a consequence of the system was that “‘real learning’ has been replaced by ‘test learning.’”

Hammond and his buddies are speaking in their own interest, not those of schools, students, or parents. We should not take their little tantrum seriously.

The fundamental flaw in the testing argument is that groups like TAB see them as the only way to measure how teachers are doing and how well students are learning. When, tests along with several other items, should be used as one piece of a puzzle, and not the only measure.

But facet of the over reliance on testing  has to do with how, depending on worldview, how people believe education should be measured, Students Are Like Plants, Not Widgets.

Education is part of the government’s purpose to empower its citizens: we become fuller, stronger people by making more informed choices in our lives, by more fully experiencing art and literature, by being more productive workers, and by giving back to society. People are motivated to work harder when they have enough support to grow and be successful. As more people get a high quality education, kindergarten through college (and even beyond), the better they will be and the better society will be. Education is an investment in people and our government should make it possible for every young person to have a high quality education.

[...]

We must be more conscious about the metaphors we use in thinking and talking about education. The progressive empowerment frame for education is built on metaphors. For example: schools are gardens, minds (and sometimes classrooms) are soil, ideas (and sometimes students) are plants, teaching is gardening, and learning is growth.

Thinking with the empowerment frame, teaching and learning are cooperative activities between the teacher and student. Learning takes place as the student (or anyone) internalizes and reshapes information and experiences into new understandings. This happens automatically, unconsciously; however, learning cannot be mandated or completely controlled. It can, however, be invited and enhanced. Thus, teaching involves nurturing or empowering students—understanding their needs as individuals and providing a rich environment in which each student can grapple with and eventually internalize a new, more sophisticated understanding of what he or she is studying. Like a plant, a student’s understanding will thrive when each individual gets attention that addresses his or her individual needs, gifts, and interests.

The proof and the power of these metaphors expressed through the progressive empowerment frame is in the programs and activities that come from them. In The Framing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), I described some general activities that come from thinking in the empowerment frame:

It makes more sense to assess learning holistically, using projects and real-life activities and through descriptions of progress (intellectual “growth”), as much as possible. Further, assessment is integrated into each student’s learning activities, rather than being done as an external process, by and for others. What the teacher does or says is not expected to be absorbed directly by the students. Rather, like the air, soil, and water that a plant converts into its green structure, students construct their knowledge from the resources and experiences provided to them by the teacher and student understandings will look and be different than exactly what the teacher taught. Thus, the teacher and students must continuously assess and communicate about lesson goals and student progress.

In conservative production frame, knowledge is thought of as discrete objects that are delivered by the teacher and absorbed directly by the student. This is why standardized tests make sense in the factory metaphors of the conservative production frame, but not in the gardening metaphors of the progressive empowerment frame. Measuring corn more often doesn’t make it grow faster or taste sweeter.

What all of this means is that we have to create environments in our schools that allow teachers, who know best how students learn, to do their jobs. And that can’t be measured solely by any test. While education is about protecting our democracy and making sure our economy is sound, education is mostly about providing opportunity to our citizens.

Education is about much more than money for teachers. They do it because they love to teach. Watch the video here, Teachers affect eternity.

Further Reading:
“Well, Duh!” — Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring
.

03.31.12

Teachers affect eternity

Posted in Around The State, Teachers at 8:31 am by wcnews

We all have at least one teacher that profoundly affected our lives. They were likely like the ones in this video from the Texas Retired Teachers Association.

We owe so much to our current and former teachers. More than just money, our thanks, respect, and support.  They sacrificed so much to do the work that they love.  Work that is so vital to our communities and our democracy.

Check out the Texas Retired Teachers Association and the Foundation.

03.25.12

News from the Save Texas Schools Rally

Posted in Around The State, Education, Good Stuff, Public Schools, School Finance, Teachers at 2:20 pm by wcnews

Start at YNN Austin, Thousands gather at State Capitol to protest education cuts.

For the second year in a row, a statewide group dedicated to saving public schools took their calls for action to the State Capitol Building.

Hundreds of teachers, students and administrators marched Saturday demanding that lawmakers make school funding a priority.

[...]

In addition to speaking out against budget cuts and school funding, the group is also opposed to the emphasis lawmakers put on standardized testing. Good video from WFAA in Dallas, Teachers rally at Texas Capitol.

Hundreds of teachers, students and leaders from school districts around Texas are rallying at the state Capitol to decry $5.4 billion in education cuts approved by the Legislature last summer.

Here’s the Statesman’s article, Education cuts protested at Capitol rally, and what a concerned citizen had to say.

Sherry Dana’s reason for joining a rally protesting cuts in public education spending was summed up by a quote from the Italian poet Dante on a cloth bag slung over her shoulder:

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

As far as the retired Austin teacher is concerned, this is no time for neutrality.

“We want kids to be educated,” she said. “It makes this a better country.”

The Texas Tribune has a slideshow from yesterday.

Via the FWST, At rally in Austin, demonstrators slam state education cuts.

More than 1,000 teachers, students and administrators from schools across Texas rallied Saturday at the state Capitol to decry $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and demand that lawmakers restore some of that funding — or at least not impose another round of cuts next year.

The demonstrators, who also included parents and a number of Democratic lawmakers, including state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, marched through downtown, then gathered under the Capitol dome for nearly three hours. They chanted “Save Texas Schools!” and held up signs that read: “Cuts hurt kids,” “You get what you vote for” and “If you can’t read this, thank your congressman.”

Another sign implied that Republican Gov. Rick Perry would receive a failing grade for his role in the cuts. It read “Perry F-.” A student band from McNeil High School in Round Rock, just north of Austin, pounded drums, giving the rally a football-game feel as the booming sounds echoed off nearby buildings.

And from the AusChron, Save Texas Schools Gets Back in the Game.

Teachers, students, families and politicians gathered at the capitol today as part of the second Save Texas Schools rally. Many spoke to the crowd, but it may have been John Kuhn, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, who finally found the perfect metaphor for Texas school funding: Football.
Kuhn was one of a list list of speakers that covered the panoply of public school advocates. Democrats like Congressman Lloyd DoggettReps. Donna HowardMark StramaEddie Rodriguezand Elliot Naishtat shared a stage with Republicans like State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, union leaders, school administrators and students who addressed a large crowd on the south steps.

And last from the HChron, Educators and students rally against school cuts in Austin.

Sarah Mussleman is a teacher who could not find a full-time job in the Houston area for two years after graduation. State budget cuts, she said, have squeezed public school teachers – especially those with extended educations – out of the market.

“Fire Rick Perry, not school teachers,” her sign read at a rally Saturday protesting school funding reductions. Hers is one of a choir of complaints made at the Capitol, where more than a thousand people organized in hopes of turning up the heat on lawmakers to increase funding.

03.20.12

Texas GOP will hoard money instead of refunding public education

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Public Schools, Teachers, The Budget, The Economy, The Lege at 1:06 pm by wcnews

Last week the HChron reported that School districts statewide cut 25,000 positions after budget cuts.

Visit public schools across Texas, and you’ll see more students packed into classrooms. You’ll see fewer of just about everyone else – teachers, librarians, counselors, janitors.

New data from the Texas Education Agency illustrate what school officials have decried for months: Their staffs are stretched thin following the unprecedented state budget cuts that took effect this school year.

Statewide, districts eliminated roughly 25,000 positions, including more than 10,700 teaching jobs. Overall, districts cut their workforce by 4 percent – through attrition and, in some cases, layoffs – since last school year.

“I’m hoping the Legislature will see there’s hard data showing that, yes, districts are making some good decisions in terms of efficiencies,” said Bob Sanborn, president of Children at Risk, a Houston-based nonprofit that analyzed the state figures. “But the Legislature should be very worried that in the haste to be more efficient we are cutting our future out from under us.”

Tip to Kuff on this and as he points out, there’s more bad news to come.

Remember that the cuts from the 2011 budget are somewhat backloaded for the second year of the biennium, so there’s more of this to come. This is why HISD is grappling with its budget again, and is considering a property tax rate hike as one option to close another multi-million dollar shortfall. Don’t like that idea, or the other things they’re considering? Blame Rick Perry and the Legislature for putting them in that position. And yes, it could have been so much worse.

[...]

The budget the House passed would have $7.8 billion from public education. Every House Republican voted for that budget. The economic news in Texas is getting better, but we’re going to keep getting more of the same from the Lege for as long as we have the same Lege.

Texas is not in the dire situation is was when this budget was written as the Economic Stabilization Fund keeps growing. And growing, this from a recent report at QR from Stuart Greenfield.

The increase in natural gas and oil production taxes accounted for 14.9 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively, of the increase in total tax collections. With the substantial increases in both severance taxes, each revenue source now exceeds the revenue level required to begin accumulating transfers to the Economic Stabilization Fund (the Rainy Day Fund or ESF). It is likely that instead of the estimated FY13 ESF transfer of $1.1 billion, the transfer will now be over $2.0 billion. This should result in an estimated $8.5 billion balance being available for the 83rd Legislature.

While there are many problems that come along with this increase in revenue from fracking, (Marathon Oil flaring shale gas in the Eagle Ford Shale and Roads Killed: Texas Adds Up Damages from Drilling), the least we could do is use that money to keep from making deeper cuts in public education this year. Perry and the Texas GOP have the power to keep more education cuts from happening next year, and so far, they have chosen not to act.

In today’s AAS Jason Embry has this article, Education backlash could fuel turnover in the Legislature.

More than a dozen Republicans and Democrats who have sat on school boards are running for the Texas House this year, and a backlash over spending cuts and standardized testing might help them get there.

Legislators sliced per-student spending last year, prompting schools to trim programs, increase class sizes and enact new fees. The publicity surrounding those cuts could persuade voters to change their representation in Austin, particularly if the alternative is a candidate seen as friendlier to public schools.

“We’re saying it’s time to bring in a significant number of new legislators,” said Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which endorses and helps candidates who it deems pro-education.

Boyle said her group plans to back an equal number of Republican and Democratic candidates in legislative races this year. A similar strategy worked in 2006, when groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

But finding such success again this year won’t be easy. For one, those who vocally support more money for schools risk turning off voters who are most concerned about government spending, particularly in Republican primaries. Plus, an unusually late primary date this year – May 29 – has introduced uncertainty about who the voters will be.

Let’s hope history repeats itself. The last time the Texas GOP started a right wing assault public education it lead to several cycles of losses for the GOP in the Texas House. Which essentially ended Tom Craddick’s reign as House Speaker and being replaced by Joe Straus.

Public education has been one of the few areas where Democrats have been able to make inroads against the GOP over the last decade.  The upcoming primary and general election will go a long way in determining whether public education is still sacrosanct in Texas. Or will is just be defunded like so many other public services we once saw as crucial to the survival of our democracy.

See you Saturday!

02.02.12

Texas teachers and schools need our help

Posted in Around The State, Education, Hutto, Public Schools, Teachers, The Budget at 11:15 am by wcnews

The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) is calling on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session of the Texas legislature, Teachers seek special session to stop school cuts.

Gov. Rick Perry should call Texas legislators back to the Capitol for a special session to spare more public school cuts next year now that the economic recovery is producing more revenue than expected, a teachers group said Wednesday.

The state ended the 2011 budget year with a $1.1 billion surplus, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, noted and the current budget cycle is expected to produce another $1.6 billion surplus.

Perry should ask lawmakers to tap into the state’s $7.3 billion rainy day fund to avoid more school layoffs and larger class sizes next year, Howard and Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature last year cut $5.4 billion from public education for the current two-year budget, which forced school districts to cut about 32,000 school employees, including 12,000 teachers, Haecker said.

More than 8,200 elementary classes are larger than the cap set by state law.
“It is time to stop the bleeding and stop the cuts, now,” she said.

There’s little likelihood that Perry will call legislators into a special legislative cuts to spare more school cuts next year.

“There are no plans to call a special session on this or any other issue. Thanks to Gov. Perry’s fiscally conservative leadership Texas has a balanced budget and has increased funding to Texas public schools by billions of dollars,” Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Of course it’s unlikely. Because defunding public education has been part of the GOP’s plan for decades. But the TSTA is asking for our help and we can start by signing this petition.  The job loss numbers com from this recent report, How Did State Budget Cuts ImpactSchool District Staffing Levels: Preliminary Information from 2011?12.

Locally these cuts are having devastating effects in Hutto, Hutto officials weigh possible budget cuts.

HISD officials also want to raise money for the district by possibly charging a transportation fee for students riding a bus to school. By charging $100 per semester per student, or $50 for students qualifying for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, the district can raise approximately $150,000. The district will cap the amount for families who have more than two children at $200 per semester, Boswell said.

District officials could increase the newly instituted extracurricular fee for students competing in middle school and high school University Interscholastic League events. The current fees are charged on a sliding scale starting with a $25 yearly fee for a student to participate in unlimited activities. Students qualifying for federal reduced lunch programs are charged $12.50 and for students on free lunch the fee is $2.50.

These extracurricular fees could increase to $100 for the average student, $50 for students qualifying for reduced-price lunch programs and $25 for student qualifying for free-lunch programs.

Tier Two cuts total approximately $345,000 and include such measures as eliminating some custodians and transportation workers, and two elementary art and music positions.

Tier Three cuts total approximately $834,000 and include such measures as cross country and powerlifting to become self-sufficient sports, eliminating two band assistant positions and eliminating four elementary receptionist positions.

Tier One through Three cuts total approximately $1.9 million.

And, of course, all these cuts and fees will exact much more pain on working and middle class families.

Perry’s appointee to the Texas Education Agency Robert Scott made some news yesterday as well, Texas Schools Chief’s Remarks on Testing Draw Backlash.

Some high-profile members of the education community aren’t pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott’s speech on Tuesday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools.

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured “what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day.” He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students.

Uncertainty about student performance on the rigorous new state STAAR exams has caused concern across the state as schools also grapple with a $5 billion-plus reduction in state funding that lawmakers enacted during the last legislative session.

“I think he owes all of the legislators an explanation of his comments,” said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, a chief architect of the legislation that created STAAR. Shapiro, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she was “blown away” by the commissioner’s remarks in light of his repeated testimony during the legislative session that schools would have enough money to move forward with STAAR.

“That’s a direction I’ve never heard him take,” she said, adding, “He’s been the one that’s been talking about school accountability over the years. We’ve all been a part of this. School accountability is something we started many, many years ago, and we believe in it.”

Teaching to a test is not accountability. Most people know that we can’t treat our children, students, can’t be treated like widgets. And how a person is being educated is much more subjective than how someone does on a standardized test. That’s why we need quality teachers and a strong public education system.

Further Reading:
Texas’ starving school districts lawyer up for (another) epic battle for survival.
Don’t go counting school finance lawsuit money yet.

11.17.11

Survey says….Texas public schools are in trouble

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Public Schools, Teachers, The Budget at 3:17 pm by wcnews

Here’s an excerpt from a press release from the recent survey conducted by Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Texas AFT Survey Shows Destructive Budget Cuts Hitting Students and Teachers Hard.

A recent Texas AFT web survey of more than 3,500 teachers, school employees and parents reveals the extent to which our schools are experiencing widespread layoffs, cuts to key programs and services, larger class sizes, and stressful conditions for teaching and learning—all related to the $5.4 billion in state budget cuts enacted this year. [Emphasis added]

In addition to quantifying some of the impacts, teachers and other school employees consistently commented on significantly lower morale from lack of resources to teach schoolchildren, and from longer work hours, more duties, increased paperwork, bullying by administrators, reduced planning time and lack of learning materials and supplies.

“The numbers reported for layoffs and larger class sizes confirm the direct impact on classroom instruction,” said Linda Bridges, Texas AFT president. “Our teachers are doing their best to mitigate the damage of these cuts, but it’s disturbing to hear comments on how much less time they have—both in giving students the personal attention they need to succeed and in preparing for their classes, grading papers and trying to meet the expectations for achievement on the more rigorous STAAR exam this spring. It’s as if the state gave schools a higher bar to hurdle this year, then dug a deep ditch in front of it.”

The Texas GOP’s education cuts are working as designed. Here’s another report from the Public News Service, Survey: Texas Teacher Morale Plummeting.

A majority of state legislators this past session were determined to balance the budget with a cuts-only approach, saying services could be adequately maintained without new revenues. [President of Texas AFT Linda] Bridges says the impact of that decision is now being felt in all education areas.

“Art and music, early childhood, P.E. and athletics – cut. Also foreign language. And increases in class size, across the board, from elementary to secondary.”

She says teachers are facing added pressure preparing students for a new, more rigorous, statewide test to be launched next spring. Lawmakers mandated the STAAR exam at the worst possible time, she adds.

We need new legislators so we can fix our fiscal and education problems in 2013.

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