Sunday, June 30, 2013

American Education: Who's In Charge Here?

My regular "All In Perspective" column for last week.  "All In Perspective" is published in several local newspapers.  For more information, please email hollyshansen@gmail.com.  



In a recent public address, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that an onslaught of federal mandates has transformed the Department of Education into a de facto ‘National School Board.’  As the good senator noted, we have a major disagreement in this country about who should be in control of education: Democrats want a national school board, and Republicans want local control. Unfortunately, right now the Leftists are succeeding.

Earlier this month the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP?) approved the Strengthening America’s Schools’ Act, (S1094).  Passed along party lines, the bill strengthens federal enforcement of Common Core and demands some 150 new reporting requirements from the states.  Furthermore, SASA sets additional dictates on how states may spend education dollars, and preempts the authority of states to set certain licensing and certification criteria.  In essence, SASA is a federal power grab.

While Tom Harkin’s SASA bill dramatically moves us closer to a national school board, local control over education has been on the decline for several decades.   President Jimmy Carter initiated the federal takeover by creating the Department of Education in 1979, and Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act legitimized further curriculum interference.  While denigrating NCLB out of one side of his mouth, President Obama has enthusiastically built upon the NCLB foundation to seize federal control of education.

Defenders of federal control insist that nationalized curriculum will improve academic standards and create uniformity.  However, the curriculum imposed by the federal Common Core program demonstrates that one-size-fits-all standards are highly suspect.  Numerous educators have pointed out that much of the CC math components are based on a ‘new math’ education fad that abandons math ‘facts’ in favor of enigmatic ‘critical thinking’ exercises.  (“Critical thinking” may in fact be the most misunderstood, misused, and abused term in modern pedagogy, but that’s another column altogether.)

Likewise, the Common Core language arts curriculum gradually de-emphasizes literature in favor of “informational texts.”  Many CC whistle-blowers have revealed that these “informational texts” often consist of blatant political propaganda (Leftist, of course.)   Literature and Philosophy professors across the nation have decried the shift as the implementation of radical leftist Deconstructionist philosophy that denies the existence of ‘truth.’ 
 
The latter problem may be difficult to grasp, but it is important to understand that these national standards are not ‘values neutral’ but emphatically present a leftist-worldview, and that worldview has no room for either absolute truths or religious belief.  Only last week President Obama suggested that allowing children to attend religious schools was ‘divisive.’  His defenders claim that his comments only applied to Ireland, but many of the President’s domestic policies have also conveyed a certain anti-religion bias.  (e.g., healthcare rules, military chaplains, etc.)

Those who have opted out of public school also have cause for concern.  Part and parcel of the leftist “utopian” dream is a uniform, collective education.   Not only do they oppose any form of parental choice in education, but believe public schools should strive to separate children from the “child abuse” of religious training.  (Richard Hawkins, etc.)  These groups do not believe parents should be able to opt out of federally mandated curriculum in any way.  With nationalized standards in place, they plan to use various school accreditation services and college admissions to impose Common Core particulars and worldview on all American students.

Here in Texas we have pushed back against federal control to some extent.  After learning about the content of CSCOPE (which was at least partially created by architects of Common Core,) parents were able to work through elected members of their local school boards, the State Board of Education, and the State Legislature to stop implementation.  The Governor has also signed a measure requiring school superintendents to comply with information requests from elected trustees, thus further strengthening local voter control over education. 
 
Unfortunately, if Senator Harkin’s so-called Strengthening America’s Schools Act passes, parents and local voters will have far less control over what is taught, who is hired, and where their own children attend school.  Senator Lamar Alexander has outlined an alternate proposal that respects the Constitution by keeping control at the state level, but at this writing, the 1,150 page Harkin bill is moving forward.  Americans should reject this blatant power-grab.
 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rep. Dale Requests 2nd Special Session, UPDATED

UPDATE:  Special session begins July 1, 2013 at 2 P.M.  Shrill "Occupy" protesters like those who tried to stop reforms in Wisconsin successfully thwarted the business of the first special session.  The truth is that Texans strongly support the pro-life measures provided by Senate Bill 5.  Many of the pro-abortion protesters are pretty crass, but if you can take it, please consider showing up in person for the legislative proceedings in Austin this week.  If not, please pray, and call your Texas representative or senator to express support.  (Who Represents Me?)

 A letter from State Representative Tony Dale to the Governor regarding the pro-abortion activists' obstruction of senate proceedings last night.  In case you missed it, a screaming mob prevented the senate from conducting special session business prior to the midnight deadline. 

June 26, 2013
Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
State Insurance Building
1100 San Jacinto
Austin, Texas 78701


Dear Governor Perry,

Thank you for your leadership and all that you have done help make Texas the best state in the nation.  Unfortunately last night, due to the shameful acts of many people, mob ruleprevented our Texas Senate from functioning properly.  This is not Texas and this must not stand.  

I bear no ill will toward those Senators who appropriately used the rules to advance their cause; however we cannot tolerate an offensive lack of respect for our institutions and traditions.  I believe we have a moral obligation to preserve the rights of those elected to represent the people rather than bowing to bullying from those who through willful intimidation and disruption violate the rules of the Texas Legislature.

I respectfully ask you to immediately call a second special session to complete the measures that were killed as a result of last night's disruptions.  Those items include funding mechanisms for transportation, improving the standards for facilities that perform abortions and establishing sentencing guidelines for seventeen year olds that commit capital murder.    

Thank you for your consideration.


Respectfully,



Tony Dale
State Representative
House District 136

cc: Speaker Joe Straus

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big Brother is a Big Bully



I wrote the below column last week for the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger, but this story just keeps growing, and none of the news is encouraging.  

Original Column:  

“They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”
-Barack Obama, May 5, 2013

There is no shortage of news stories on government overreach these days.  Allegedly the IRS has harassed conservative applicants for tax exempt status and targeted a significant number of Republican donors for audits.  Attorney General Eric Holder is facing questions about secret warrants targeting Fox News reporters and possible perjury in Congressional testimony.  The EPA is under fire for giving preferential treatment to liberal groups while hampering conservatives seeking open records.   Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has harassed and intimidated Republican-owned Gibson Guitars. 
 
One of the most disturbing stories to date takes place right here in the Texas, where multiple government entities have harassed True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht.  Not only did the IRS demand excessive and unreasonable information for Englebrecht’s organization, but her business was audited, and both she and her husband faced personal IRS audits.  Furthermore, the Engelbrecht’s were subject to repeated investigations by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms, OSHA, and the EPA.  It is hard to believe any of this is a coincidence. 
 
Clearly the administration has many tools at its disposal for the harassment and intimidation of political enemies.  Now, however, technological advances are enabling our government to collect unprecedented amounts of personal data, a factor that will vastly increase federal power. 
 
For example, in the name of ‘free health care,” bureaucrats will soon have access to our medical records, and it seems that those medical records will include more detailed information than ever before.   Some health questionnaires now ask about gun ownership and other personal habits, and there is really no limit to what information could be included in the national Electronic Medical Record database mandated by the Affordable Care Act.  Such information will be in the hands of…IRS agents. 
 
Public Schools are also collecting extensive data on our children.  President Obama’s Common Core initiative not only imposes questionable curriculum standards, but implements a national electronic database of students.  While Texas has at least nominally rejected Common Core, the state is in the process of creating its own Texas Student Data System (TSDS).  Under this system, every student at a Texas public or charter school will have a “Unique ID.”   Although the systems are purportedly to track academic progress, it isn’t a stretch to see that much more information can be included in these student databases.  Schools often offer health screenings, and some academic ‘assessment tools’ involve asking students to write very personal essays about family life and experiences.  Will those details be added to these electronic records?  Who will have access and what will be done with the collected data 10, 20, or 30 years later?

Now also the Supreme Court has approved the taking of DNA without a warrant.  Unlike fingerprints, DNA samples contain the entire blueprint for individual human beings.  Since some scientists believe they can predict behavior and outcomes based on DNA analysis, how might such information be used in the future?

While the na├»ve will dismiss such concerns as so much paranoia, a review of last week’s top news stories shows that abuse of government power is happening right now and we are often unaware.  Government entities are not only monitoring our phone activity, but every move we make on the Internet.  Obviously there are more than a few individuals in government who are willing to abuse this power.  I fear that in the quest to create a utopia, we have delivered ourselves into the hands of a very powerful bully. 
 
Our founding fathers sought to craft a government that could never tyrannize the people.  If we are to stop these government abuses, we must first enforce constitutional protections, and bureaucrats who abuse power should be punished within the full extent of the law.  Secondly, we must find ways to check government power in the electronic age.  Without new protections for privacy and liberty, any government, current or future, could easily impose tyranny.  And contrary to the President’s assurances, the threat of tyranny is a clear and present danger. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Williamson County Commissioner's Court: "What Would Voters Ask?"

KLBJ Radio is reporting that the Texas Civil Rights Project has filed a lawsuit against Williamson County government on behalf of a former candidate for Constable, Precinct 3.  The candidate,  Robert Lloyd, alleges that members of the Wilco Commissioners Court asked him "inappropriate" questions during the interview process. 

According to Lloyd, Commissioners asked him about his views on abortion, gay marriage, his party affiliation, and his voting record.  He believes these questions were illegal for a prospective "employee."   

The only problem is that Lloyd was not "applying for a job" in the traditional sense; he was asking for an appointment to a politically elected position.  County constables are chosen by voters via partisan elections- in other words, candidates file for the office as either Democrats or Republicans and then run a lengthy campaign in which voters thoroughly vet them. 

If Commissioners did ask about Mr. Lloyd's partisan views, they would merely be asking about the issues primary election voters care about.  The reality is that Williamson County voters continue to choose pro-life, pro-marriage, & pro-family Republicans.  Since the voters will not be able to approve a new constable for some time, it is the duty of the Commissioners Court to stand in the gap for primary voters.  And it looks like the winning candidate was eminently qualified.

And just to note:  contrary to Lloyd's assertions, voting records are not private.  Public records available to anyone include data on whether or not you vote, when you vote, and which party primary you prefer.  The only thing that is supposedly private is which candidate you voted for (although with the recent NSA snooping revelations, one has to wonder.)

If Mr. Lloyd thought he could participate in a Williamson County primary election without having to answer questions about his political philosophy, he is very naive indeed.  While the Texas Civil Rights Project would probably like to stop anyone from asking candidates about social issues, (and are trying to dismiss such issues as just "religious" concerns,) the reality is that voters here do care and they will go on asking.  If you want to run for elected office, be prepared to share your political views. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Gun Control" Town Hall Meeting in Georgetown Tonight, Updated: Doors Open at 4:30

KEYE TV is hosting a town hall meeting in Georgetown, Texas tonight (June 13, 2013).  There looks to be an interesting lineup of speakers and my guess is the discussion could be lively.

If you would like to attend, it looks like KEYE is asking for an RSVP at this website.  You may also submit questions at the site, or use the Twitter hashtag #KEYETVTownhall.

The event will take place at the Williamson County Courthouse 710 S. Main in Georgetown at 6:00 pm.

Panelists are Nina Butts (Texans Against Gun Violence,) Michael Cargill (Central Texas Gun Works & former Democrat candidate for Travis County Constable,) Sam Cox of KLBJ (& former APD Officer,) Nelson Linder (President of Austin NAACP,) Howard Ray (Survivors of Gun Violence Against Gun Control,) and John Woods (Texas Gun Sense).

Update:  Audience members may arrive as early as 4:30, and final seating is at 5:40.  Attendees are strongly encouraged to arrive early.  

Video of the event is available here.  
Panelists Nina Butts Butts is a long-time Austinite who co-founded Texans Against Gun Violence. She is a volunteer citizen lobbyist with the Brady Campaign and Texans Against Gun Violence. Michael Cargill Cargill owns Central Texas Gun Works, a South Austin business specializing in firearms sales, personal protection training, beginning handgun classes and concealed handgun license training. Cargill has more than 20 years of firearms experience. Sam Cox Cox is a former Austin Police officer. He retired in 1995 after 31 years on the force. He was President of the Austin Police Association from 1990 to 1993. Sgt. Sam now devotes all his attention to the KLBJ AM morning show. Nelson Linder Linder is the President of the Austin chapter of the NAACP. He is an Army veteran and long-time Austinite. Linder has been an activist on issues ranging from police brutality to housing discrimination. Howard Ray SGT. (Ret.) Howard Ray is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He was present during the Fort Hood mass shooting on Nov. 5, 2009. Ray encounter the shooter but he did not have his gun due to regulations prohibiting it. He founded the organization, Survivors of Gun Violence Against Gun Control. John Woods Woods was at Virginia Tech in April 2007 when 32 people, including girlfriend, were shot to death. He is a board member for Texas Gun Sense, an organization that believes there exists an individual right to bear arms, but that with all rights come responsibilities.

Read More at: http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/town-hall/
#KEYETVTownHall

Read More at: http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/town-hall/
#KEYETVTownHall

Read More at: http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/town-hall/

Monday, June 10, 2013

Leander ISD: Employment & Budget Growth Outpaces Enrollment, Update: Citizens Launch Petition

LISD Proposed Budget Growth

A few weeks ago, the Austin American Statesman reported that the number of $100,000 plus earners at Central Texas school districts had jumped by 78%.  The story drew a good deal of deserved criticism of bloated superintendent/administrator salaries.  (Although the story only reported base salaries; when we include benefits, Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez’ total compensation jumps from $260,000 to over $304,000 annually.)
 
While troubling, the increased number of highly compensated employees wasn’t the most shocking statistic in the report.  At the very end of the story, the Statesman reported that in the Leander Independent School District, student enrollment growth has increased by 30% over the past five years, but during that same period employee growth was 82% and budget growth came in at 78%.
 
This is a stunning admission, especially considering that the LISD administration has just proposed $25 million in spending increases.  The district continues to struggle with mind-boggling $2.7 billion debt obligation, downgraded bond ratings, and ever-climbing property tax rates.

Sadly, the only tune we ever seem to hear from the public school community is “just give us more money.”  At what point will we require fiscal efficiency from these school districts?

Update:  Some local LISD citizens have launched an online petition asking for public discussion of the debt/finance issues.  The petition site states that the LISD Board President has refused to even permit discussion of anything other than "the good things happening in LISD."  Wow.

The petition can be found here.