Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Breaking News: RRISD Superintendent Chavez Announces Retirement

Round Rock Independent School District Superintendent Jesus Chavez announced today that he will be retiring at the end of this year.  Chavez, who is paid $260,000 per year plus benefits, has presided over a decline in academic achievement for the district, and has made numerous controversial statements

Chavez stated that he wants to spend more time with his family, but of course there is much speculation as why he suddenly decided to retire.  Not sure if the likely passage of HB 628 has anything to do with it...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Texas Leg to Strengthen School Board Trustees' Ability to Govern

Among the many bills filed for the 83rd Texas Legislative session is HB 628, "Relating to the right of a member of the board of trustees of a school district to obtain information, documents, and records."

The bill has strong bi-partisan support, and was authored by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.  (Authors are Reps Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park,)  Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso,) Poncho Nevarez (D,) Dan Huberty (R), and Ed Thompson (R).) 

If passed, HB 628 will merely codify a 1983 ruling by the Attorney General which states that elected school board trustees must be given district information and documents without having to file open records requests.  
"I think if you're an elected official you need to have access to documents so that you can understand what's happening in your government organization so you can govern," said Dale.
The issue came up recently when it was discovered that El Paso ISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia had been engaging in fraudulent activity that resulted in his conviction and incarceration in federal prison.  Garcia was able to hide his criminal activity for a lengthy period since he refused to give El Paso school board trustees documents regarding the district.  Now, it also appears that even some of the trustees may have been complicit in hiding the district's illegal activity, and the U.S. Department of Justice may approve a board of managers to replace the trustees until new elections can be held.

Locally, Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez insisted at a November 27, 2012 Board meeting that he had the right to withhold district information from the elected trustees.  In this case, Superintendent Chavez is trying to prevent certain trustees and the public from scrutinizing the $25,000,000 campus they are building for at-risk (of dropping out) students.  Although Chavez denied trustees access to the relevant documents, someone within the district anonymously provided information to Trustee Terri Romere revealing that attendance in the so-called "Success High School" program averaged 40 students a day.

In an ironic parallel to the El Paso ISD scandal, several RRISD trustees seem determined to turn a blind eye to some of the recent revelations about Superintendent Chavez' activities.  Instead of holding him accountable for setting up a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) that unequivocally violated state law, they have merely swept the issue under the rug and even allowed Chavez to blame the board in recent news accounts.  And when Trustee Terri Romere shared the truth about the daily attendance numbers in the "Success" program, several fellow board members not only ignored the data, but voted to censure Romere

HB 628 is likely to pass, but will not take effect until September 2013.  In the meantime, it is likely that school superintendents will continue their clandestine activity.  Even after passage, it will still be incumbent on local school boards to govern their respective districts appropriately.  The El Paso trustees did not perform due diligence, and now will be removed from office.

Proposed text of HB 628:

SECTION 1.  Section 11.1512, Education Code, is amended by adding Subsection (c) to read as follows:
(c)  A member of the board of trustees of the district has an inherent right of access to information, documents, and records maintained by the district, and the district shall provide the information, documents, and records to the member without requiring the member to submit a public information request under Chapter 552, Government Code.
SECTION 2.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2013.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Solutions for the Poor: The Texas Model

My "All In Perspective" column for January 24, 2013.

As an avid reader with a variety of interests, I subscribe to numerous publications on culture, books, and faith which have very little to do with politics. So I was rather surprised last month when one particular Christian publication sent me a political email requesting immediate action. The message urged all subscribers to contact members of Congress and ask them to support tax increases and oppose spending cuts as a means to help the poor of America. While I believe the author of this ‘political action’ email had the very best of intentions, I do not think he really understands how to effectively help the poor around us.

Unfortunately, there are many well-intentioned folks who believe that progressive, ‘Big Government’ policies are the only acceptable way to assist lower-income Americans. These so-called Progressives introduce increasingly socialistic policy proposals, and anyone who opposes said policies is labeled ‘greedy,’ ‘heartless,’ ‘uncaring,’ etc.

In practice however, how do liberal-progressive policies stack up against more conservative, business-friendly policies? In his new book, The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons For America, former California State Representative Chuck DeVore describes how conservative policies favoring lower taxes, restricted government spending, less regulation, and fewer frivolous lawsuits have made Texas a better place to live for any American.

DeVore, who is one of some 2 million individuals who have fled California over the last decade, points out that not only has Texas created nearly half of all new jobs in the country this year, but actually has lower poverty levels than California. Critics of the Texas model often point to national poverty rates without considering the cost of living, but ignore the fact that a dollar buys a lot more in Texas than in California. The most recent Census Bureau figures (2012) including cost of living factors reveal that California’s poverty rate is actually 23.5%, while Texas’ is 16.5%. Accordingly, California adults are 2 ½ times more likely to need welfare than the average American. Despite being inundated with the unemployed from other states relocating to Texas, Lone Star unemployment rates remain substantially below the national average.

Critics also decry Texas’ education spending, claiming that we spend far less than other large states. Once again, said critics do not consider cost of living comparisons; when we factor in cost of living Texas spends $12,676 per student compared to California’s $8,346. And as for results, on National 8th-grade tests in Reading, Math, and Science, Texas students scored above the national average in every category, while California students scored below average.

The above statistics are only a small sample of the information Devore includes in The Texas Model. He also argues that Lone Star State conservative policies can work anywhere in the nation. It is unfortunate that Devore was not advising the Romney campaign last year prior to the game-changing “47%” remark. Romney’s gaffe played right into the media narrative that those on the Right don’t care about the poor. Governor Romney should have been speaking directly to the ‘47%’ and explaining how conservative policies would improve their lives. It also might have been helpful to point out that under President Obama white unemployment rates hover around 7.4%, while rates for blacks has climbed to 14.1%, and for Latinos to 10%. According to the Census Bureau, poverty rates under Obama have swelled, and now almost 1 in 6 people live in poverty.

Thinking Conservatives do care about the poor, and know that Texas Model policies will actually improve lives. As Senator Ted Cruz recently stated, “We should champion every day the 47%.” Contrary to the message in the Christian ‘political action’ email I received, I don’t reject progressive policy because I don’t care, but because I care enough to want a proven approach that will actually make a difference.

Going forward, one of the most important exports Texas may have for the rest of the nation is a model that works. Sadly, many liberal-progressive policy programs that make folks feel good about doing ‘something,’ not only fail to improve the lives of the poor and under-privileged, but actually worsen conditions and trap individuals in permanent dependency and poverty. On the other hand, more conservative, free-market policies allow for individuals to escape poverty and improve conditions for all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

MLK and the Texas Rally for Life: Updated

 Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!  As I've written previously, (Dr. King and His Enemies,) MLK was a social conservative who valued the sanctity of life and favored premarital abstinence.  Unfortunately, socially liberal policy has taken an especially heavy toll on black Americans, and some 16 million black children have been aborted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Forty years after Roe v. Wade, abortion continues to be a highly controversial issue, but despite President Obama's ardent pro-abortion agenda, a majority of Americans consider themselves to be pro-life these days.  Many voices are calling for at least more humane abortion laws, but unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will remain legal at all stages of pregnancy and for any reason.  (Note: the partial-birth abortion law only prohibits one particular abortion procedure- not a late-term abortion.)

One of many ways to get involved is to participate in the upcoming "Rally for Life" in Austin this Saturday, January 26, 2013.  Sponsored by the Texas Alliance For Life, the event will feature Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and former Planned Parenthood Director, Abby Johnson.  Events begin with a march to the Capitol from 17th Street and Congress Avenue (Meet at 1P.M.,) and the Rally itself is from 2-3 P.M. at the South Steps of the Capitol.  There is typically a huge turnout, but as usual, little coverage from the main stream media.

Hope to see you there!

Update:  Ugh.  Just saw this latest poll showing that 54% of Americans now believe that abortion should be legal always or most of the time.  Gallup came up with different results, and indicates that younger voters don't have much knowledge with which to make a decision.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Here's To A New Year of Conflict!

As always, I tend to forget to post my newspaper columns online: here is my "All In Perspective" column that ran in the Hill Country News, Georgetown Advocate, and Jarrell Star Ledger in late December/early January.

“When we dare to create conflict, we enable the very best thinking." Margaret Heffernan
In her lecture series “Dare to Disagree,” retired CEO and author Margaret Heffernan points out that most of us would prefer to avoid conflict. If the status quo is not too terribly uncomfortable, we embrace what Heffernan calls “Willful Blindness.” We blissfully ignore warning signs, and even when faced with uncomfortable truths, we often choose ‘going along to get along.

The Willful Blindness dynamic plays a significant role in local elections. For example, when the local guy announces his candidacy for city council, school board, dog-catcher, etc., his friends and acquaintances are happy to endorse him. One hears comments like, “Bob coached my son’s baseball team back in ’92- he was great with the kids!” Or, “Dave sold me a truck last year- he was real nice, ya know?” Unfortunately, while Bob and Dave might be really nice guys, they might just happen to have really lousy policy ideas, but friends are reluctant to ask the tough questions of such ‘nice guys.’

Even worse, if we point out Bob or Dave’s lousy policy ideas, local folks can get pretty upset. Those who dare to question are often accused of being ‘too personal’ and ‘mean-spirited.’ Never mind that nice-guy Bob thinks public schools should do away with grades or that Dave wants the city to tax walking on sidewalks. No one wants to create conflict with Bob and Dave, and they are often duly elected.

Once elected, local government officials rarely conflict with each other; if you review records of your local school board decisions, you will find that most trustees vote in lock-step with each other. On the rare occasion when one board member challenges the status quo, he or she is usually labeled a ‘trouble-maker’ and is likely to be run out of town on a rail.

One of the most marked examples of Willful Blindness in America is our ostrich-approach to public education. Parents especially often become emotionally attached to the local school, and are reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of glaring problems. Sometimes we hear discussion of problems in those “other” school districts, but any public education criticisms are usually followed with, “but we live in a good district.” Sadly, the mindset is not “We place our children in the public school because we trust the school district,” but has become, “We trust the school district because we placed our children in the public school.” Few parents want to know that their child has received a sub-par education.

Unfortunately the Willful Blindness dynamic is a huge obstacle to reform in public education. There are still many individuals who are afraid to change the status quo (and certainly those who wield power and fortune from the status quo don’t want change.) But these are our children, and the future of the nation rests in their hands. Public education does not exist to provide job security for teachers or wealth for superintendents.

We should not be afraid to ask serious questions: Why do school districts spend so much on curriculum fads every few years? Why are only 50% of public education employees actually teachers? Why does California have 1.6 million more students, but Texas has 52,000 more public education employees? Why have public education expenditures grown so much faster than enrollment rates? Why is it okay for the district to have over $1 billion in debt? Why do education dollars follow the district instead of the students? And so on.

Yes, our toughest questions create conflict, and folks do get upset. But the truth matters, and Heffernan is right; engaging in conflict can allow us to do our best thinking. Of course good questions should be asked respectfully and without ad hominem rhetoric. We must not be afraid to question and be questioned.

With that in mind, may your New Year be filled with productive conflict!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Williamson County Rep Tony Dale Joins House Energy Caucus

In case you missed it, State Representative Tony Dale, HD-136 (western Williamson County) has joined the newly created House Energy Caucus and has been elected Secretary.

Here's the official release:

 AUSTIN -- State Representative Tony Dale, R- Cedar Park, has been elected as Secretary of the newly created House Energy Caucus (HEC). This caucus, which includes Republican and Democratic Members of the House, will study and address issues related to traditional and alternative energy sources, as well as the energy industry's effect on the rest of the state.

"I look forward to taking a leadership role on energy issues," Dale said. "The energy industry is critical to the overall economic health of our state, and this caucus will work to see that Texas remains a national leader in energy production and innovation.

"Energy production is a critical part of our state's economy and vital to our national security," the HEC Chair State Representative Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, said addressing the members during the organizational meeting. "The importance of this production is never lost on the communities supplying the men, women, and businesses supporting the oil patch, the mine, or renewable fields spread over most of our state."

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas is first in the nation in production of oil, natural gas, and wind energy. Texas coal and lignite production is also a key supplier for energy demands. As technological capability and demand has increased, the growth and expansion of these forms of energy production has affected all areas of the state, including central Texas, where the energy industry has brought significant job growth. Companies like National Oil Well Varco, Tolteq, Corvalent, EEstor and 3Ps Solutions have created well-paying primary jobs in southwestern Williamson County.

The House Energy Caucus will provide educational opportunities and information on policy issues regarding traditional energy production such as oil, gas, and coal, as well as alternative energy including biomass, wind and solar power, and emerging technologies like clean coal/coal gasification. In addition, the HEC will also identify, research, and build coalitions to help resolve social and infrastructure issues faced by areas of the state experiencing significant impacts from increased activity related to the energy industry.

"The Caucus will help to educate its members on the impact to energy production of legislation addressing water, transportation and workforce development needs," Rep. Darby said. "This state's energy industry is revitalizing our state through innovative technologies and significant economic investment and I want to see that continue."

"Energy is a vital, growing industry in Williamson County, and this leadership post will help me advocate for constituents who work in the energy sector," Dale said. "In addition, strong energy policies will benefit all of my constituents, and my role in this caucus will give me an immediate policy impact during my first term in the Legislature.

Dale was elected to the House in November 2012.  He is a small business owner and veteran of the U.S. Army who previously served on the Cedar Park City Council.  He represents western Williamson County, including the communities of Cedar Park, Leander, and Brushy Creek, as well as parts of north Austin.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

TPPF Policy Orientation, Day 3 Highlights

Okay, folks, for the five of you who care, here are highlights from Day 3 of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's 2013 Policy Orientation.

In the morning I attended a policy panel entitled, "In the Crosshairs: A Look at For-Profit Providers of Higher Education."  Panelists included Dr. William Pepicello of the University of Phoenix, Jeff Sandefer of the Acton School of Business & Acton Academy, and Dr. Lynn W. Tatum of Baylor University

I found this session particularly enlightening, and was disabused of some prejudices against the University of Phoenix.  Contrary to some narratives, UOPX is more regulated than any other university.  Not only must they answer to the federal Department of Education, but state agencies in 36 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  UOPX is also required to be far more transparent than traditional institutions of higher learning, and openly invite all to scrutinize their Academic Annual Report online.  Dr. Tatum was less enthusiastic, and presented the viewpoint of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP,) and expressed concern over the for-profit model for faculty accountability.  Jeff Sandefer dismissed AAUP as being essentially the "professors union," and suggested the argument was very much about money and AAUP's protection of the status quo against innovators like UOPX. 

The second panel I attended was "The Classroom of the Future:  Improving Learning Through Technology."  Panelists included Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson, President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Susan Patrick, and Director of Government Relations for TCEA Jennifer Bergland.

This panel gave me the most concern.  All three panelists were positively giddy about embracing technology in K-12 education, but didn't really touch on the drawbacks.  They used some of those old progressivist buzzwords that decry teachers as authorities, and one speaker even showed a photo of a baby in a crib using an iPhone and uttered that phrase I find so troubling: "The next generation is different."  I would suggest that the next generation uses different tools and methods of communication, but are still the same human souls that were born 100, 1,000 or 4,000 years ago.  Embedded in those statements about how children today are 'different,' is the potential for dismissing anything and everything that is actually true for human souls at all times and in all places.

For the record, I'm not exactly a Neo-Luddite; I have spearheaded efforts to bring numerous organizations into the technology age, and in our home we have kindles, iPhones, an iPad, laptops, and one desktop.  My 12-year old can crank out a highly professional PowerPoint in about 20 minutes, but that same child checks out the maximum 15 books allowed from the local public library each week and reads them.  In our home we have embraced technology as a tool, but acknowledge the dangers and drawbacks of an overemphasis (sleep disruption, physical and emotional health, etc.). 

Technology in education?  Sure, as long as we emphasize solid content, recognize the inherent flaws, and keep it in its place as yet another tool, but not one that will replace real knowledge and advanced thinking.

The last event was a closing luncheon featuring Newt Gingrich, who was introduced by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, the latter sounding much more conservative these days.  Gingrich also jumped on the technology in education bandwagon (suggesting that Texas invite the folks at World of Warcraft to come up with quality educational games,) and even stating that computers are making students better writers.  Of course this prompted one of my fellow bloggers to tweet:  "newtginrich iz sayin puters mk kdz wrt btr. I iz skptical. "  Yep.

Gingrich did boldly propose that the current political climate could bring about a dramatically better American government, and encouraged all to engage the 311 million Americans who want a better life.  We on the Right must listen to their concerns and show them the better value of Conservatism.

I was very pleased to see that all four members of Williamson County's legislative representation, Senator Charles Schwertner, Representative Larry Gonzales, Representative Tony Dale, and Rep Marsha Farney, attended some part of the orientation.  They have a tough five months ahead of them, and my prayers are with them.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

TPPF 2013 Policy Orientation: Highlights from Day 2

TPPF Banner at 2013 Policy Orientation.

As I warned my readers in Part I, I'm not much of a 'live blogger,' so I haven't yet posted on Thursday's  Texas Public Policy Foundation 2013 Policy Orientation.  Here's just a few highlights from Day 2 for those who are not policy geeks.   

Highlights for non-geeks:

Bill Bennett:  "California is the Lindsey Lohan of the states."  And much discussion about the "Texas Model." 

Rick Perry:  2013 Legislative Session faces quite a different scenario from 2011, but in some way having ample funds might be more of a challenge.  (grossly paraphrased.)  He asserted that the best use of the people's money is to give it back to them.  Very pleased that the Governor also called for new abortion restrictions based on fetal pain studies

Jonah Goldberg:  "At the end of the day, if you are not persuading people you disagree with, you lose."

Texas energy boom is underway and contributed some $8.5 billion in taxes and royalties to state and local governments.  Watch out for the EPA! (From "Unleashing the Texas Energy Colossus")

Legislature is encouraged to control spending while addressing "Big" Issues like water and transportation.  Rep Phil King calls for Texas Constitutional amendment regarding state spending cap. (From "Getting a Grip on Government Spending")

Immigration Debate- Introduced by Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples, and featuring Congressman Joaquin Castro, Linda Vega of Latinos Ready to Vote, Brad Bailey of The Texas Immigration Solution, Brian Kennedy of the Claremont Institute, and moderator Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal.  

The United States needs to have an immigration policy, and Texas is uniquely positioned to lead on this issue.  (Debate on "Immigration: The Texas Way")  Interestingly, the Twitter feed for #TPPF on this one elicited quite a bit of hostility from non-attendees.  TPPF was immediately attacked for being 'Open Borders,' which is completely bizarre. In the first place, this was a debate, with several different ideas up for discussion, and the speakers were from both sides of the aisle.  Secondly, we have got to be able to discuss possible solutions without hysteria.  As several speakers (and my own State Rep Larry Gonzales,) have noted, the Democrats are the ones benefiting from immigration as an unresolved issue.  We need solutions and have to answer some tough questions.  As Todd Staples, whose book Broken Borders, Broken Promises will be published this year, asked, "Do we really want to grow a government big enough to round up 11 million people?”  I don't think so.

School Choice is the civil rights issue of our time.  Our current one-size-fits-all system is lousy for kids. (Joseph Bast)  Florida's tax credit system has benefited the state's public school system as a whole.  Louisiana State Rep Steve Carter was on hand to detail how they passed sweeping education reforms in his state, and it was just lovely to hear someone inside the state of Texas pronounce "New Orleans" correctly.

The final event I was able to attend was a press conference with the National Association of Scholars.  NAS has just completed a study of U.S.  history courses offered at the University of Texas and Texas A&M that shows that these courses "downplay the nation's economic, military, and political history and dramatically overemphasize the role of race."  As a former history major and teaching assistant, this study comes as no surprise to me.  Read the study for yourself at the NAS website.

Okay, Day 3 summary coming...soon.  And lots of wonderful blog fodder for the next few months...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

TPPF Policy Orientation for the 2013 Texas Legislative Session: Updated

Will be spending the next three days as a guest at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Policy Orientation for the 2013 Legislative Session.  Having attended a TPPF orientation previously, I know the next three days will be akin to 'drinkin' from the fire-hose'.  True to form, the Foundation will be providing an impressive quantity of quality research and analysis for those interested in public policy. 

Theoretically, I can engage in 'live' blogging during the event; but I warn my readers that I'm not so great 'off the cuff.'  As a true introvert, I prefer to spend time processing before daring to offer up interpretation.  But who knows?  Perhaps I can share a few nuggets of TPPF wisdom.

Stay tuned:  Today's sessions will focus on "The Movement and the Media," and we'll be hearing from Senator Ted Cruz, Jonah Goldberg, Michael Ramirez, Erica Grieder, and others.

10:00 A.M.  This morningTPPF's Joshua Trevino and Erica Grieder are discussing Grieder's forthcoming book, "Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas."  She has highlighted some of the inherent strengths of the Lone Star State that have made Texas a powerhouse state, but also presents concerns over the state's ability to adapt to shifting economic realities.

11:21 A.M.   Second session with Joshua Trevino and Ben Domenech (The Transom and a founder of Red State).  Session is entitled "What Went Wrong and How We Get it Right:  Conservative Media in 2012 & Beyond."  Domenech points out that Schools of Journalism don't effectively prepare reporters for media jobs; writers in the media have little knowledge or experience in the areas on which they report.  Consequently, many 'informative' articles are riddled with errors and not reliable sources of information.  Also, conservative viewpoints are largely absent from mass media 'non-political' publications.  (I've noticed women's magazines in particular are extremely left-wing and very, very political!)

Update:  8:12 P.M.   "We should champion every day the 47%." -Ted Cruz
Lunch speaker was Senator Ted Cruz- amazing how the entire audience seemed enraptured by our junior senator, and they were not disappointed.  He spoke about the problem for Conservatives in the 2012 elections:  "47%"  Our mistake, according to Cruz, was that we did not address the concerns of the 47%, when we should have articulated that conservative policies work and would actually improve their daily lives.  Cruz noted that Obama's policies have hurt, not helped the poor, and that African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates have risen significantly since 2009.  Also noted that school choice reforms would empower the poor.  "We should champion every day the 47%."

Afternoon sessions included a highly entertaining discussion with Michael Ramirez, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist of Investors Business Daily, and later discussion with Jonah Goldberg of NRO (National Review Online.)  Goldberg included an interesting assertion that young voters are the "iPhone Generation" and accustomed to having access to choices and freedom, but strangely vote for the "one-size-fits-all Post Office Party."  He hopes that the logical disconnect will eventually dawn on them, and believes Libertarianism is the path to reaching younger, uninformed voters. 

We finished up with a special screening of "Rebel Evolution," a documentary by Anna Zetchus Smith that featured several former liberal activists who had 'evolved' in their thinking about politics and the Right.  (Including the delightful Ted Hayes.)  The main protagonist of the film Brandon Darby was on hand for Q&A about his persecution for turning FBI informant on violent 'peace' activists.

Okay, that's about as good as it gets for this writer for 'live blogging.'  More to come for the next two days, and plenty of blog fodder once I've gotten to properly process.