Thursday, March 24, 2005

Are you paying attention?

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman is a very serious-minded legislator. He's been voted one of the 10 best in the state several times by Texas Monthly throughout his long tenure serving the people of the 3rd Ward in Houston. So what he has to say is not -- as many say whenever the subject comes up -- the far flung fantasies of a wing nut. They are the cold hard facts.

Texas Republicans hired a right wing think tank to write the most important school reform legislation of the last decade. If the Senate doesn't majorly change the plan (and God willing they will), 400 schools currently are in danger of being taken over by a for-profit private corporation within the next two years.

From Rep. Coleman:

When the Legislature considered an education bill recently, Texans expected their elected officials to make our schoolchildren, their families and their teachers our top priority. Unfortunately, the plan that narrowly passed the Texas House turned a deaf ear to the best advice Texans had to offer. Instead, House leaders forced passage of a House Bill 2 plan that was lifted, almost verbatim, from a report issued by the Koret Task Force, a product of a right-wing California think tank.

In my community, a proposal made by Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abe Saavedra to hand over control of three Houston high schools � Yates, Kashmere and Sam Houston � to private management companies prompted an intensely negative response from parents and community leaders. Yates High School is a historic anchor of the Third Ward community. It belongs to us, not profiteers. Today, we can make our case before our local school board, but under the House Bill 2 plan, local parents would have no voice.

House Bill 2 includes a provision that could turn over 400 Texas public school campuses to private school management companies and provide them a potential $2 billion in profit. The bill would require the Texas education commissioner to turn over as many as 5 percent to 10 percent of all Texas school campuses, without approval from local school districts.

Who would get the money?

John E. Chubb, chief education officer and one of the founders of Edison Schools Inc., was a member of the Koret Task Force. At least 20 school districts in Texas and across the country have severed contracts with Edison because the company's schools performed so poorly. Edison has hidden costs in contracts with school districts and cut teaching and staff jobs as enrollment and school costs increased. Investigations found that Edison exaggerated achievement results in schools in Dallas, Minneapolis and Dade County, Fla.

Despite Edison's poor record, some of our state leaders ignored the voice of Texas educators and turned to an Edison official to write a blueprint for Texas education reform.

This is disgusting. It's shoddy policymaking to turn to a think tank -- not for advice, but to actually write the law. And the Republicans in charge of the bill admitted to it, as if there was nothing wrong with it. There is something wrong with it, especially considering every educational organization -- principals, teachers, school boards, urban districts, rural districts, fast growth districts, etc. -- was deadset against it.

Make no mistake: this is no conspiracy theory. Many conservatives believe in the free market with the faith that only a true believer can have. They want public schools privatized and they're barely even hiding it anymore.

To paraphrase a bumper sticker, if you're not completely apalled, you aren't paying close enough attention.


Anonymous Tony Bologna said...

Nobody should be surprised that think tanks are being hired to write the laws. That's standard practice here in Washington DC. Except that on Capitol Hill, it's usually the corporations themselves who write the language in the bills, then pass it on to friendly Congressmen and Senators through corporate lobbyists, who more than likely, are themselves former Congressmen and Senators. It's an industry. It's called Lobbying.

Lawmakers have no time to actually _write_ the laws. They're way too busy making sure they get re-elected. Do you know how hard it is to raise the money needed to run even a mediocre campaign these days?

I want one of those bumper stickers: "If you're not completely appalled, then you're not paying close enough attention." Indeed.

9:35 AM  

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