I would like to offer a different perspective on Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Senator Patrick’s announcements made in Wednesday’s press conference. The expressed goal of Senator Patrick is to rescue public school students that are being subjected to a level of educational abuse that is unacceptable. He stated in Wednesday’s press conference, “students in poverty in low-performing schools have the same right as any other Texas family”. It is a good statement that no one could or should have a problem with. There are questions that need to be asked.
- What is happening at the schools these students of poverty are going to attend that is different than where they are coming from? Answer – The private schools that will accept “some” of these students are not held to the same standard of accountability as Texas Public Schools for curriculum, graduation requirements and/or mandated assessments.
- If this is such a better method of providing an education, why are the Public Schools held to a set of inhibiting requirements? If the state’s system is the best method of measuring success in education, it stands to reason that every student in the state of Texas should be held to that standard to insure the best educated workforce for our economy. Answer – This campaign is not about what is best for all students in the state. It is about tax savings for entities that support the Senator and an agenda to move state tax dollars into private school systems and the families that already have students enrolled.
- Will all low economic disadvantaged students have an opportunity to benefit from this system? Answer – No! The students that are most effected by poverty will not be able to pay the difference between the voucher and tuition. Students in rural areas will not have a non-public school to exercise the “choice” that will be offered to some. Students with disabilities, both physical and instructional, will be left out of this system because the private school has the right to choose whom they will accept. So the plan promoted by Senator Patrick and Lt. Governor Dewhurst will most benefit those students already enrolled in private schools and a very select few others that may be accepted through the selection process. This is not a plan for Texas; this is a plan for loyal donors to the party!
- What is a low-performing school? For most people, the term brings visions of chaos in the classroom, no instructions for any students, no discipline in place, or in other words, a complete failure to provide an education to students. Answer – A school campus or district will be labeled AU if any sub-population of students by race, language or economic status numbers more that 30 students and fails to meet the minimum standard on the current state approved assessment instrument (TAKS for now, STAAR on the way). So, “low performing” is an indication that as few as 30 students did not do well on a one shot, multiple choice, bubble sheet exam that has no relevance to what the majority of experts in education are promoting as 21st century learning.
The Senate Leadership team also promoted the funding of “scholarships” with funds created by private business in an effort to justify a hands-off approach to the state accountability requirements placed on Public Schools. The fact that this private business fund will come with a 25% tax break, in their minds, does not equate to the use of taxpayer funds for private school finance! Then we are told, as superintendents, we should “go the extra mile with the tax-credit plan” because it does not take money away from the public schools. REALLY! The last time I checked (I check daily), the only way White Oak ISD receives an increase in funds is through an increase in enrollment. In my mind, a decrease in enrollment will equate to a decrease in funds at the local level. A decrease in tax dollars paid by businesses in the state will most certainly equate to further cuts to all programs funded by the state.
The Texas Legislature does not have a constitutional responsibility to grow the private school industry and promote the success of private sector educational enterprises. The Texas Legislature is expected and required to abide by the Constitution of the State of Texas Article 7 Section 1 that states; SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE SCHOOLS.
A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the 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 public free schools.
The faculty, staff and administrators that make up the approximately 600,000 employees of the Texas Public System are not opposed to scrutiny, accountability and/or competition with any other educational entity. We are opposed to being held to a completely different standard and then being labeled as “failing” in an arbitrary and unjust manner. Every challenge that has been placed before us has been successfully completed and that will continue to be the case. What I ask of my representatives is simple, seek the will of the people in House District 7 and Senate District 1 and represent those interests with a passion! Your constituents believe in their local public school system and have said so over and over again. They have passed referendums against high stakes testing, passed Tax Rate Elections to increase local funds and approved bond referendums to provide improved learning environments for students and staff. The Public Schools of the State of Texas are not only successful, but they are leading the way in finding ways to provide a 21st century educational experience for their students. Many times, this is taking place in spite of our legislators instead of with legislative support. I want to extend my thanks to Representative David Simpson and Senator Kevin Eltife for their loyal and vocal support of the Texas Public Schools. It is my hope that many more will follow their leadership.