Archive for May, 2016

SCHOOL FUNDING CRONYISM

The Texas Supreme Court recently and unanimously ruled that the state’s school funding system is constitutional. They stated: “Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements. Accordingly, we decline to usurp legislative authority by issuing diktats from on high, supplanting lawmakers’ policy WISDOM with our own.”

Having served as a public schools superintendent for the past 24 years, I will now translate that statement :

“Despite glaring school funding inadequacies and inequities, we, the Supreme Court of Texas, hereby hope our executive and legislative cronies are pleased. After all, we deferred to their WISDOM! Realizing our decision flies in the face of all common sense, we waited until we won our own Supreme Court election primaries in March and until a day when the media was distracted. We received the perfect gift on May 13, when the feds declared that boys have access to the girls’ bathrooms! Thank you, President Obama!”

The evidence for the unconstitutionality of our funding system is so overwhelming I wrongly predicted there was no chance the Supreme Court could overturn the findings of the district court. Boy, was I wrong. It took tortured language and 100 pages, but our Supreme Court found a way.

Austin legislative/judicial/executive cronies are breathing a sigh of relief and can instead issue loud cries against federal dictates about bathrooms. I see a stampede toward the nearest TV camera.

You must read with some caution my next prediction since I’m unable to fathom the incestuous relations among state cronies. But here goes: Legislators will wring their hands and tell us there is little they can do about funding. Both the sky and the price of oil are falling! However, those seeking national office will simultaneously tell us the Texas economy is the strongest and fastest-growing in the country. Though we’re near the bottom of all 50 states in school funding per pupil, we’ll be told money is not the answer.

Here’s the problem: There are seven inches of expensive state and federal regulations found in every school district’s administration offices. Who put them there? Answer: The very same legislative/judicial/executive branches telling us money is not the answer!

Do not look to either political party for salvation. These regulations have grown, not withered, during the past two decades by the so called party of “small government.” Significant deregulation of public schools allowing funding adequacy and efficiency is a pipe dream.

Meanwhile, our society has expanded the role of educator from classroom instructor to lifesaver and parent. Teachers are now like the ancient Israelites commanded by Pharaoh to increase the quota of bricks (graduates) — and find their own straw (money).

So this is the future as I see it: We’ll continue to be told the public schools aren’t doing enough, that Texas ought instead to provide additional government funding to charter and private schools. We’ll be told those less regulated environments will accomplish more. In the meantime, our own Pharaohs (including the Texas Supreme Court) will continue to add new inches of expensive special interest regulation to the state’s public schools, calling them “reforms.”

My World War II Marine Corps dad would have simply said to these Texas cronies: “Don’t shower me with spit and tell me it’s raining!”

 

The tourism lobby trumps education?

Statewide special interests undermine the common-sense decisions of locally elected leaders. For example, a few years ago the tourism industry — through the Texas legislature — decided when your child’s school year began. While new legislation now allows local officials to make some of those decisions, special interests are misleading parents and teachers into believing  vacations and working conditions will be ruined if their codified profits don’t continue. It’s not true. Allow me to give a little background:

Local Texas school board policy manuals are about four inches thick. In addition, the “Texas School Law Bulletin” consists of 1,553 thinly sliced pages. Of these seven total inches of regulations governing our schools, perhaps 2 percent can be generously attributed to decisions made by locally elected school trustees. (I won’t even include foot-long reams of federal laws and regulations.) Thus, claiming our state is the home of “small government” is like claiming Texas fits within the geographical boundaries of Rhode Island.

Even the entire Bible — consisting of  God’s commandments, man’s history and his future — is far shorter than Texas education law. It’s time to restore a little sanity.

So in 2015, the Texas Legislature took a step in the right direction by passing a law (HB 1842) titled “Districts of Innovation, allowing all but low-performing districts the opportunity to exempt themselves from a few Texas laws. Wise lawmakers realized that some of the same freedoms offered to charter and private schools might benefit public schools — and perhaps place them on a more even playing field.

Special interests are alarmed. Last week, the tourism industry asked the Texas Education Agency to curtail local control of the school calendar. They are lobbying legislators to pass new laws that further constrict local school/parental control over the calendar. And they seek to ally themselves with teacher group representatives, falsely claiming that local districts will use new powers to hurt working conditions.

Quite the opposite. Pearland ISD seeks (through this “Districts of Innovation” law) to end the school year before Memorial Day — instead of in June. We’d also like to improve working conditions for teachers by exempting them from some unnecessary regulations. We think the laws dictating overly-long teacher contract years, the length of school days and other regulations are counter-productive. We’d like to use our teacher/parent calendar committee to draft a school year preserving the local community’s interest in traditional holidays such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, MLK Day, spring break, Good Friday, Memorial Day, etc. In short, we’d like to build the calendar our parents and our educators deem best. Given our most recent ranking as among the top three districts in the Houston area as well as in the top 2 percent of the state (www.niche.com), we believe we have the academic performance and client satisfaction data here to inspire confidence in such local decision making.

It sounds enticing when the tourism industry touts beginning the school year after Labor Day and ending it before Memorial Day. But there are hidden unfavorable consequences in these dictates. Among these are fewer holidays during the school year, an uneven number of days for the fall and spring semester, an even longer school day and a continuing requirement for teachers to begin and end their employment year way beyond the students — even when professional duties are completed.

I anticipate the tourism industry will soon announce a “compromise” by applauding all deregulation — except that which directly affects tourism! That’s sorta like the Texas lottery founders who sold us their profit scheme as “for the kids”!

Decisions on the school calendar are best made close to home. But frankly, public schools do not have the legislative clout that special interests have. So please remain skeptical about the propaganda now underway — and help us retain our new and tiny foothold in local control. Be wary of any legislation next session that seeks to curtail, rather than expand, “Districts of Innovation.”