….The More They Stay the Same

 In August of 2005, I wrote an editorial that appeared in the San Antonio Express News (see Here) and picked up on other websites after our Governor (Rick Perry) and the legislature failed to address the school funding crisis in the regular legislative session and worked into the summer to give us our current failed system. Even though our elected representatives failed to provide an equal and equitable system of school funding, they did manage to increase their own pensions and simultaneously reduce the pensions of teachers. The legislature’s pension is tied to the salaries of state judges. Therefore, when they raised the salary of judges, which they did in the final special session, they also raised their own pensions. Go figure. This is what I said:

  • My party, the Republican Party, although holding the Governor’s Mansion and a majority in the Texas House and Senate, has failed to develop a workable system to finance Texas public schools in one regular and two special sessions this year.Not only have the elected officials of my party made the profession of public education their whipping boy, but fewer of the state’s best and brightest students will choose education as their profession.

    My party has become the enemy of public education in Texas. The Republican Party has consistently wrapped itself in the banner of local control but has turned on itself in legislating areas of local decisions.

    If the Legislature can propose and pass laws detrimental to public education without outcries from the public, then we as educators must shoulder most of, if not all, the blame. If eradicating cupcake parties from elementary campuses creates more public outcry than reducing teachers’ pensions, then we in the profession must better inform the public of our mission.

    The first word in public education is public. Without the support of the public, there is little we can do to fend off the blitzkrieg of assaults every two years from the Legislature in the always fashionable name of “education reform.”

    Public schools take all students who enter our doors regardless of their abilities. We offer programs to accelerate instruction for students who have special learning needs and offer courses for college credit. We teach foreign language to English speakers and the English language to foreigners.  We drive, feed, exercise, remediate and accelerate any and all students.  There is accountability, technology, ESL, LEPs, ARDs, IEPs, AEPs, ISS,
    SROs, drugs, drug dogs, drug testing, guns, gangs, steroids and, unfortunately, consternation from the lawmakers and rule-makers who should be supportive of what we do but instead tell us we’re not good enough as they push through more and more unfunded mandates.

    The governor enjoys the jingle, “We don’t need more money for education, we need more education for our money.” If that’s the case, then let teachers teach, let principals oversee their campuses and stop asking public educators to correct all of society’s ills. If the Legislature worked as hard upholding its promise of increasing teachers’ salaries to the national average as it has cutting property taxes, then we would have more college-bound students choosing education as their profession and less of a need for emergency certified teachers.

    We must elect officials who value public education and recognize that public education is the cornerstone of our American democratic way of life. We do not need public education executioners as our legislative leaders. We need legislative leaders who will execute legislation that is positive for all Texans and positive for public education. We didn’t create the $1.50 cap on school funding, but we’re told to run the schools regardless of increased costs. We didn’t create the deficit in the Teacher Retirement System by reducing the state’s contribution in 1995, but now we’re mandated to put more of our salary into the system and accept a cut in benefits.

    It is shocking that the Legislature would cut teachers’ pensions and then propose to increase their own pension by raising the pay for judges and hiding their individual votes from the public through a voice vote. If raising the salaries of judges is the right thing to do, then make the vote a part of the public record.

    We, the public and public educators, must change our message and the leadership in the Legislature. The current Legislature has done the talk. After the elections in this and subsequent Novembers, if we do our job, the enemies of public education and their supporters in the Legislature will take a walk.

Now it seems that members of my party are again at it with another push for vouchers. Will the onslaught ever end? The more things change…

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School Vouchers or Scholarships: It’s all in a Name

Private companies have attempted for more than a few years to divert public money from public education through legislation. It’s been tried in my state (see Here) and been successful in others. Whether the transfer of public money is disguised as vouchers, school choice or scholarships, the end result is and will be the same…there will be less funding for our schools and more money for profiteers. (See Georgia’s “Scholarship” Program Here)

Commentary

When people select a neighborhood in which to live, raise their family or retire, they also commit to supporting the community and community services. In our county, we support our community by abiding by state laws and city codes, perhaps even homeowner’s association regulations and by paying taxes. When we become upset with city government or our local police department for not providing adequate road maintenance or after witnessing too many speeders in our neighborhoods, we don’t have the right or expectation to redirect the use of our taxes for private solutions. Just because one has enough money to relinquish the use of community services doesn’t give them the legal authority to stop paying their taxes in the same way that parents who choose to send their children to private schools should not have the legal right to redirect their public schools tax dollars to private schools.

The (Absurd) Solution

I’ll support the concept of school vouchers (aka scholarships) as long as the city, county or state will allow me to use my portion of taxes to upgrade my home alarm system or cover the cost of a private security firm to stand guard over my property when I’m on vacation. 

Because of the absurdity that a community member would expect or even request publically generated funds to be redirected for private use is the antithesis to everything about a community.

Common Good

I have no problem with private schools but I do have a problem with for-profit entities attempting and succeeding to divert public money to private schools under the guise of helping economically poor children. Public education is a public good and has served our county well for many years. It’s our civic duty and responsibility to support our public institutions and public education falls into that category. We must be diligent in defending our schools from the smooth talkers that only speak of its needed reform and benefit from the reform measures.

To borrow a line from Lamar University professor Bob Thompson: It’s our schools, it’s our money, and they are our kids!

 

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American Values and Public Education

In a recent educational workshop I watched a video entitled-The Power of Cheese.

The video was the cheese industry’s response for negative information that characterized their product as unhealthy. Specifically, cheese was said to be high in calories, saturated fat and contained too much sodium. Rather than debating point by point against its accusers, the cheese industry produced a comical video that succinctly declared, “If you don’t like cheese, you’re a doofus.”  That strategy must’ve worked because I’m still buying cheese. (See video Here)

The Problem

Beginning in the early 1980s, public education has come under sustained attack for everything from declining SAT scores, low graduation rates, the lowering of teacher quality and students not graduating ready for the demands of college. We educators have been defending ourselves with data sheets and reports that would/should prove our critics wrong.  This video made me realize how the cheese industry and public education handle public perception differently.

Commentary

Those of us who value public education are not going to win the public perception debate by using the tools of our adversaries. Educators are not trained and ill equipped to deflect politically generated and media driven untruths.  We’ve got to come to grips with the notion that state and federal policy-makers historically deflect blame for their own inability to correct societal issues by blaming someone or something and the media naturally matriculates to negative content. It’s ironic that detractors of our schools have chosen to blame the only public entity that is routinely expected to correct societal blemishes.  (ever heard of sex-education, drivers education, childhood obesity, steroid abuse, anti-drug and smoking campaigns, bullying, etc.)

The Solution

Although our data is factual, not enough people listen or invest the time to understand it. Besides, when we educators defend ourselves with good news about our schools, our detractors accuse us of being self-serving.  So here’s the solution for teachers, principals and superintendents. Stop fighting untruths and propaganda with hard to explain facts! It’s not working! We’ve got to stop being the doofus!!!

This is what the public needs to know about their schools.  These are not debatable and should be on billboards and yard signs as to the importance of our public schools:

Public schools in the United States Teach the Value of:

  • Democracy
  • Capitalism
  • Hard work
  • Peaceably Disagreeing
  • Acceptance of Other’s Religion, Race and Ethnicity
  • Patriotism
  • Being an American

Public Schools in the United States Teach Children:

  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • The words to our National Anthem
  • To speak English
  • How to read and write
  • To Use Math
  • To Understand Science
  • To be a good Citizen
  • To get along with others and play fair
  • To Participate
  • To never give up
  • To Be the Best They Can Be!!!

People who value American Values, value Public Education

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