Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Urgency for School Choice

“School Choice is the civil rights issue of our time.”  -Democrat Gloria Romero, State Director, Democrats for Education Reform

Today I had the privilege of attending an event in Austin entitled “The Urgency for School Choice,” presented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, The Heritage Foundation, and The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  Here is just a quick synopsis of the day.
We began with an expert panel discussion that included Virginia Walden Ford of the Heritage Foundation, Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation, and Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  The discussion was moderated by Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, who noted that while school choice initiatives have been sweeping the nation, Texas is lagging behind.
In his remarks, Robert Enlow discussed how school choice initiatives help reduce dropout rates- a benefit for all since high school dropouts are more dependent on government assistance and have higher rates of incarceration.  He suggested that we need to separate government funding for education from government running education.  Enlow also noted that the fastest growing educational choice programs consist of vouchers for special needs children.  (In the Texas Legislature, SB 115 and HB 1175 offer such a program, but liberal-progressives and educators are a bit hysterical about the possibility.)

Next up was Virginia Walden Ford who shared her family’s experiences in the D.C. public school system and how that led to her work for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Ford noted that choice programs like that in D.C. allow for children and families to escape cycles of generational poverty.

Dr. Matthew Ladner noted that even the best performing schools cannot serve the educational needs of every child.  (AMEN.)  “Texas is an economic juggernaut,” and successful since the state is “an opportunity magnet, not a welfare magnet.”  However, the Lone Star state is rapidly becoming a minority-majority state, and Texas public schools are not serving Hispanic and Black students.  (In 2011, only 17% of Hispanic and 15% of Black students achieved 8th Grade Reading proficiency.)  Ladner also pointed out that spending more does not necessarily lift test scores: Between 1992 and 2011, Florida increased education funding the least, but had nearly the highest gains in student achievement. 

Dr. Ladner’s graph on spending increases vs. achievement gains.

In the second session, TPPF’s Joshua Trevino discussed school choice with former California State Senator Gloria Romero.  Romero is now the state director for Democrats for Education Reform.  Considering her party affiliation, and that she herself is a union member who believes in collective bargaining, much of what she had to say came as quite a surprise.  She acknowledged that the teacher unions were much too powerful, and that reforms should allow schools to get rid of bad teachers.  Romero expressed disgust with teacher unions that cared more about protecting their own jobs than educating kids, and asked, “Is this a public education system or a public works program?”  As a CA state senator, Romero was heavily criticized for promoting Parent Trigger legislation and told that her stance was ‘Republican.”  To which she answered, “Since when did the Democrats abdicate representation of the poor and dispossessed?”  Even more provocative was Romero’s assertion that teacher union power within the Democrat party is “disenfranchising the “Black and Brown” members of the party.
During lunch we heard from former Senator Jim DeMint, now president of the Heritage Foundation, and Artur Davis. Although I found all of today’s speakers fascinating, Davis was particularly compelling.  A former Democrat darling & ‘rising star,’ he is now advocating for various ‘conservative’ policies like parental choice in education.  Davis shared an excerpt from an essay written by a 13 year old “Quentin” who had just been promoted from 7th to 8th grade, on how to make his school better.  Here’s a photo:

Sorry about the iPhone quality shot...

As Davis noted, Quentin cannot even spell his own name.  He is trapped in a failing public school, with no options.  Is this providing an equitable education to all children?

Davis asked us why no one in the media, even during a $2 billion presidential campaign, is asking about 13 year-olds who read and write on a 6 year-old level.  He asserted that BOTH political parties have been asleep at the switch on school reform, and it’s time to wake them up.  Equity funding lawsuits might work for the next generation, but they won’t help the Quentins of today. 

The time to act is now. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Education Townhall in Georgetown March 25

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you are probably one of the many Texans deeply concerned about the state of public education.  But may I suggest that it's time to stop reading and start doing something about it?  For starters, you could attend the Americans For Prosperity-Texas' Education Town Hall on Monday, March 25, 2013. 

In addition to the Town Hall discussion at 7:00 P.M., The Franklin Center will conduct a "Social Media" training at 6:00 P.M. 

The event will be at the Georgetown Public Library at 402 W. 8th Street. 

Click here for more information and to register. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Support Transparency for Texas Taxpayers

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, over the last decade local governments have more than doubled their debt load.  Local debt is now more than $7,500 for every man, woman, and child in the state of Texas.  Apologists for local government borrow & spend policies like to point out that much of this debt is 'voter approved,' neglecting to mention voter turnout in bond elections rarely exceeds 10%.  A larger problem is that taxpayers are asked to approve billions in debt without sufficient context; most voter have no idea of the current debt load or the annual service payments.

State legislators have introduced a number of bills designed to remedy these issues, including House Bill 14 and companion Senate Bill 14.  Called "Transparency for Texas Taxpayers," the proposal would:
  • Require cities, counties, school districts, community college districts, universities and special districts that levy taxes or issue debt to provide more financial transparency to the public. Special districts include water districts, transit authorities, hospital districts, etc.
  • Ensure voters will be more informed when they vote on new debt and limits the ability of governments to issue debt without voter approval.
  • Ensure that special-purpose taxing entities demonstrate they serve the purposes for which they were created. 
More specifically:
  • Put spending and debt information online: Under HB/SB 14, cities, counties, school districts, community college districts, universities and special districts must post revenue and expenditure information online annually to include details on long-term debt obligations.
  • Gives more detail on the ballot for debt decisions: Voters are often not made fully aware of how new proposed debt fits into the total debt carried by their local government. HB/SB 14 requires ballots for new debt to include, at a minimum:  
    • Amount of proposed debt;
    • Principal outstanding on current taxable debt (before proposed bond issuance);
    • Estimated remaining interest on existing debt; and
    • Estimated total debt service on existing debt.

  • Limits debt issued without taxpayer approval: in Texas, local governments can issue debt without voter approval through Certificates of Obligation (CO’s). CO’s are now 16.6 percent of all debt issued by eligible entities.
    • HB/SB 14 would prevent governments from issuing a CO to pay for a purpose voters have already rejected, and make it easier for voters to require a vote on a CO through a petition.
    • Also limits local governments’ ability to issue CO’s without notice.

  • Ensures a review of special purpose taxing districts: the bill requires special districts to conduct and publish a self-evaluation that demonstrates to local taxpayers that it is accomplishing the purpose for which it was created. 
  • Requires school facility inventories to inform taxpayer decisions on new debt: Because most education debt is for school construction, HB/SB 14 would require school districts and charter schools to post online inventories of their existing facilities, and report the cost of facilities being built or renovated, to better inform voters when deciding on new debt.

In case you are unfamiliar with Certificates of Obligation, read here.  

Both House and Senate Finance Subcommittees will be meeting on Monday, March 18 at 9:00 A.M.  If you support these measures, I urge you to attend to support Transparency for Texas Taxpayers.  Attendees do not need to testify, but merely filling out a card in support will help demonstrate taxpayer support.

The House Subcommittee on Budget Transparency and Reform meeting will be in E1.030
The Senate Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters meeting will be in E1.036.

Hope to see you there...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

State Leaders Move To Ban Leander ISD's Dangerous Borrowing Practices

Apparently Leander ISD has become the Texas poster-child for poor financial leadership.  Not only did LISD borrow & build excessively, the district further exacerbated their financial woes with the use of Capital Appreciation Bonds, or CABs.  CAB financing allows borrowers to 'kick the can down the road' with bond maturity dates 20, 30, or even 40 years after issue.  Furthermore CABs increase total payoff significantly, leaving taxpayers to pay back as much as 10 times the amount initially borrowed.  Consequently, Leander taxpayers are now on the hook for $2.7 billion dollars in local debt. 

The alarming CAB trend has prompted legislators of both political parties to act.  Democrat Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and Republican Representative Dan Flynn have filed bills to prohibit local governments from using CABs to finance debt.  The companion bills are SB 449 and HB 3416.  If approved, the measure will prevent any future districts from 'becoming Leander ISD.'

Sadly, the measure comes too late to protect Leander taxpayers.  Years of poor financial management have created a quagmire for the school district (which features empty schools but plenty of impressive football facilities.)  While the district is ripe for new leadership, only one school board member has been challenged.  Trustee Pam Waggoner has served intermittently since 2002, and has been challenged by Jim MacKay.  Waggoner, who is endorsed by Democrat State Representative Donna Howard, has served as an apologist for LISD debt.  In stark contrast, Jim MacKay has been endorsed by former Republican Party of Texas Chair and Reagan Administration official Tom Pauken.  MacKay has launched his campaign with some serious questions about the finances of the district. and the CAB problem is huge factor in the upcoming election

Leander ISD's financial future is uncertain, but hopefully the State Legislature will act to prevent other districts from the same fate. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Upcoming Events

In case you're a faithful reader and would like to be more involved, here's a few upcoming events of interest I recommend.

Texas Faith and Family Day:  Tuesday, March 26, at the Capitol in Austin.  There will be a legislative briefing in the morning, and then at noon participants will rally with Governor Rick Perry, numerous state leaders, and area pastors.  More information and Registration.

Agape 5K "Run for Life:"  Saturday, April 20, at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock.  Yours truly doesn't run, (why run when you can have a CHL?) but this is such a good cause that I'll be casually strolling along a mile or so behind the pack.  The Agape Pregnancy Resource Center provides assistance to women and families experiencing unplanned pregnancies.  Registration and Sponsorship Information.

Education Townhall & Social Media Workshop:  March 25, 6:00pm/7:00pm, at the Georgetown Public Library.  If you are as concerned as I am about the state of public education in Texas, I highly recommend attending this event.  There will be a variety of speakers, and prior to the townhall events, The Franklin Center is providing a short social media workshop.  This is a great way to get your feet wet for online activism. More details coming soon!

Update:  I can't believe I left them off!  The Texas Alliance for Life is hosting a Pro-Life Lobby Day on Wednesday, March 20.  Additional Pro-Life Lobby Days are scheduled for April 20, and May 8.   Details and reservation Information. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Texas Taxpayers Coalition Praises Senators Campbell & Paxton

From the Texas Taxpayers Savings Grants Coalition:

AUSTIN, TEXAS (March 8, 2013) -- The Texas Taxpayers Savings Grants Coalition today praised Senator Donna Campbell for filing the Taxpayers Savings Grant bill (SB1575) which will save the state approximately $20 billion over the next decade by simply allowing parents the freedom to choose the school that best fits their child's needs. 

SB 1575 Supported By Over 1 Million Texans

The bill was filed partially in response to overwhelming support by more than 1.1 million Texas primary voters – representing 85 percent of those who voted in the Republican Primary last spring. 

“Minorities support school choice at a high rate,” said Reverend Kyev Tatum, a leader in the school choice coalition. “Our schools are failing the most at-risk communities including low-income and minority students. On behalf of the students who are being left behind, we demand improved quality educational options through freedom of choice.”

SB 1575 Will Save Texas $3,000 Per Student  

Parents who wish to accept less than the state average per pupil M&O expenditure will receive a grant equal to 60 percent - or about $5,000 - as a tuition grant to choose the school of their choice.  Because of state funding formulas, the state would save approximately $3,000 per student. The Heartland Institute estimates total savings to taxpayers, over the next decade, at approximately $20 billion.

Taxpayer Savings Grants Will Increase Teacher Pay

In addition to students gaining freedom, teachers would also benefit.  During the recent school finance trial, economists for the state, experts for school districts, and experts for the Efficiency Interveners all testified that teacher salaries would rise with increased freedom of choice. Economists estimate that metropolitan area teachers could make in excess of $12,000 per year more than they now earn if a program like Taxpayer Savings Grants were enacted.

The Coalition, which includes education advocacy groups and parental choice organizations from all across Texas, will continue to monitor all education reform efforts in the 83rd Texas Legislature.



Adam Prewitt
Canton Tea Party Patriots, Bob Hall
Christopher Hercules
Chuck Toudouze, former Public School Board Member
Concerned Women for America of Texas, Ann Hettinger, State Director
Conservative Republicans of Texas, President Steven F. Hotze, M.D.
Conservatives in Action PAC, John Cook, President
Criag James
El Paso Country Day School, Dr. Laura Alpen
El Paso Country Day School, Melissa Brock
Grassroots America – We The People, JoAnn Flemming
Holly Hansen
Holy Cross of San Antonio, Bro. Stanley Culotta, CSC
Hon. Kent Grusendorf, former Chairman, Texas House Public Education Committee
James A. Dick
Jason Moore, State Republican Executive Committee
Jeff Judson
Karen Bauman
Lake Travis Tea Party
Mark Dorazio, Former Member of the Republican Texas State Platform Committee
Monsignor Dermott Brosnan, Founder, Patrician Movement
New Life Christian Academy, LaSalle R. Vaughn,  Chancellor
New Life Christian Center, San Antonio, TX
Pastor Daryl Crain
Rally Texas, Bob Long
Randan Swindler
Republican Freedom Coalition of Texas, Don Zimmerman
Robert C. Flores
Robert Gonzalez, Clear Lake Tea Party Board
Samuel F. Harms
Smith County Republican Party, Ashton Oravetz III, Chair
South Texas Alliance for Progress, George Rodriguez
Southern Christian Leadership Conference & Ministries for Education
- Texas, Rev. Kyev Tatum
Terese Raia
Texas Legislature Tea Party Caucus, Katrina Pierson
Texas Parental Choice in Education, Connie Sadowski
Texas Parents Union, Matt Prewitt
Texas Pastor Council, Dave Welch, Executive Director
Texas Public Policy Foundation, Brooke Rollins, President
Texans for Parental Choice in Education, Bob Schoolfield
Todd M. Smith, Former Member, State Republican Executive Committee
Travis County Republican Party, Dr. Rosemary Edwards, Chairman
The Justice Foundation, Allan Parker, President
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Williamson County Republican Assembly, David MacEwan
Young Conservatives of Texas, Jeff Morris, State Chairman

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Video From the Save Our Schools Rally

Missed the Save our Bloated Bureaucracy Schools rally?  The very charming Randan Swindler was on hand interviewing attendees and capturing the rally message:  "More money, no matter what."  The very fun posted video includes statements from those in attendance, including the interview team's uh,"interaction" with the folks at the International Socialists table.

The video also includes some great stats, such as:

* Texas Public School enrollment has increased by 19.6%, spending by 95.3%.
* The Consumer Price Index has increased 32% since 1999, but per pupil expenditures have increased by 63%.
* Only 49.8% of Texas education dollars are spent in the classroom.
* Since 1999, Texas non-teaching staff has ballooned by 172%; 4x greater than student enrollment growth.
* K-12 education spending accounts for 43.7% of the state budget.
(Source for all stats:  Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.)


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Donor to Williamson County Democrats Convicted in Federal Court

A federal court has convicted Austin Attorney Marc Rosenthal on 13 counts relating to racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, extortion, tampering, and mail fraud.  This has been more of a story in the Austin & South Texas news, but there is a Williamson County link as well. 

Rosenthal played a huge role in Democrat Diana Maldonado's campaigns for the Texas House in 2008 and 2010.   According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Rosenthal gave Diana Maldonado (HD52) $51,000 in contributions, as well as another $7,000 in "Air Travel" donations.  Back in 2008, local observers had noticed that Maldonado seemed to spend an unusual amount of time traveling around the state on Rosenthal's private jet.  No one could figure out why she would be traveling so far and so often when her district was limited to Williamson County.  

Representative Maldonado was certainly not the only recipient of Rosenthal's money.  He gave to various other Democrat candidates, County Democrat parties, and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, but those donations run between only  $150 and $5,000.  Clearly, at $58,000, Ms. Maldonado was his hands-down favorite. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Public School "Only" Advocates Don't Even Want Choice For Children With Disabilities

Senate Education Committee Hearings Send Some Bloggers Into Hysterics

Tomorrow's Senate Education Committee hearing on SB 115 seems to have the "Public School Only" crowd quite wound up.  The bill, sponsored by State Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would allow children with disabilities a scholarship to attend schools that best meet their special needs.  According to the online summary, a qualifying school "is defined as a nongovernmental community-based educational establishment that exists for the educational needs of elementary and secondary students with disabilities."

Sounds pretty fair:  If the local public school cannot meet the child's needs, the child goes to a school that can.  Sadly enough, liberal-progressives are howling:
That scheme could drain millions of dollars from public schools that educate the vast majority of students with disabilities.
What about the child whose needs are not met?  Clearly this statement is just another example of how these folks care more about money and 'saving our schools,' rather than providing appropriate education for our children.  

Incidentally, the author of this post about how terrible it would be to send disabled children to appropriate schools, also rants about how proposed sex education laws would "end sex education in much of the state."  His hysteria is apparently over SB 521, which prohibits schools from using abortion affiliated groups to teach sex education (probably due to the obvious conflict of interest.)  The bill also calls for "opt-in" rather than "opt-out" measures, meaning parents would decide whether to allow their own children to participate in sex ed programs.  SB 521 has bipartisan support and is authored by Republicans Ken Paxton and Donna Campbell, as well as Democrat Eddie Lucio.

Our anti-SB521 writer must have been quite upset, as he posted a rather inexplicable sentence:
SB 521 is a completely unnecessary expansion of state authority over local school districts. First, the only think sex education has to do with abortion is making it less likely a teen will get pregnant seek one.
I've made plenty of mistakes myself on a hurried post, but Dude, calm down;  you have plenty of time to write a coherent sentence.  

What this fellow wants us to believe is that if abortion providers don't teach sex education that sex ed will cease to exist.  The truth is that there are plenty of sex education sources that have no affiliation with the profitable abortion business. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Truth About Per Pupil Spending

One of the arguments the "Public School Status Quo" folks continue to make is that public schools educate children for far less.  Recently, Round Rock ISD trustee Glenn Colby claimed that public schools are educating children for "$7,000 to $8,000 a student."  I don't know if Mr. Colby is intentionally misleading the public or is just ignorant, but public schools spend far more than $8,000 per student.

The reason folks think that public schools spend so much less is because of the way the spending is reported.  For some enigmatic reason, reported public school per pupil spending does not include 1) capital expenditures (building & construction,) debt service, or employee benefits.  When we include these costs, Round Rock ISD's reported per pupil expenditure of $7,995 rises to $12,339 and in some districts may be more than $18,000.  (To view the Texas Education Agency's AEIS Reports for your district, click here.)

Any private corporation that failed to account for ALL of the costs of doing business would soon be bankrupt, but for some reason public schools are allowed to operate in a fantasy world and grossly underreport costs.  However, if we compare 'apples to apples,' the real cost of a public school education is the same or much more than private schools.  In fact, a recent Cato Institute study showed that public schools spend 93% more than the median private school

Perhaps someone ought to explain to Mr. Colby that private schools determine fees based on all expenses required to operate in the real world.  If he could understand that, then he might realize that his education monopoly isn't such a great bargain after all.