Friday, June 03, 2005

Breaking news: no specifics in 126 page report!

The school finance fiasco continues here in Tejas...

Earlier this week, Gov. Goodhair said a 30 day special session was likely before the end of the month. But today Speaker Craddick said the special will wait till after the Supreme Court rules.

I have no problem with that. In fact, I think it makes a lot of sense. The problem is, however, his reasoning is utterly absurd (via the Dallas Morning News):

"Even if we went in tomorrow and passed a bill," Craddick said, "we don't know what the court is going to say is wrong with the system because the lower court didn't tell us what the specifics were – they just said it's broken."

Didn't tell us the specifics? Are you kidding?

Judge Dietz -- the district court judge -- issued a 126-page "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law." Perhaps the Speaker didn't see it yet? If so, it's right here, and it's very specific.

Oh, but he did get one thing right. Judge Dietz did say the system is broken. Know why? BECAUSE IT IS!

Books are dangerous

Don't miss this fascinating article on censorship in a small Minnesota school district.

The clash in the NYT story was about a scene in which a boy is aroused -- not touched or otherwise engaged in any physical activity -- by other boys. The kids who read the book about a boy's experience in a juvenile detention center were 11th graders. 11th graders! Do you think any 17-year old kid in America today is shocked by that? Have you watched anything on cable lately?

In too many cases, I think, conservativism has come to mean reactionary, antiquated, and naive.

We're going to be hearing more about these book-banning efforts across the country in the coming years:

According to the American Library Association, which asks school districts and libraries to report efforts to ban books - that is, have them removed from shelves or reading lists - they are on the rise again: 547 books were challenged last year, up from 458 in 2003. These aren't record numbers. In the 1990's the appearance of the Harry Potter books, with their themes of witchcraft and wizardry, caused a raft of objections from evangelical Christians.

Judith Krug, director of the library association's office for intellectual freedom, attributed the most recent spike to the empowerment of conservatives in general and to the re-election of President Bush in particular. The same thing happened 25 years ago, she said. "In 1980, we were dealing with an average of 300 or so challenges a year, and then Reagan was elected," she said. "And challenges went to 900 or 1,000 a year."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

In Texas, charters don't cost less

Another myth down the drain. Story here.

Charter school advocates for years have said their schools survive on less money per student than regular public schools. Charter leaders have proclaimed the funding gap for so long that it is accepted as fact among educators.

But it's not true, according to a new report commissioned by the Texas Education Agency.

Charter schools receive more money – not less – than traditional public schools on a per-student basis, according to the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group that recently released its seventh evaluation of Texas charter schools.

According to the report, the average charter school received $8,045 for each child it enrolled in 2003. Regular public schools received $8,028. The figures include state and federal aid, grants, donations and local taxes.

The figures strike to the heart of the charter movement, which has presented itself to lawmakers as a cost-effective alternative to traditional public schools.

The only reasonable objection included in the article:

Mike Feinberg, a co-founder of the well-regarded KIPP Academies, said the study was wrong to omit construction money from the analysis of traditional school revenue. Public school districts routinely pay for construction by selling bonds and by receiving state construction aid. Charter schools, generally, pay for their buildings out of their general operating budgets.

The study is "not an apples-to-apples comparison," said Mr. Feinberg, who has been one of the leading advocates for additional funding for Texas charters. "Charter schools do not have access to capital outlay [building] money, and for the public schools that's a huge chunk" of revenue.

Defenders of public schools hate kids

As the Florida Supreme Court gears up for a decision in Bush v. Holmes, it's worth reflecting on the real intent of voucher proponents. To be sure, there are some that are honest and really believe that choice would benefit the public schools. But there are many more that are pursuing vouchers to serve a narrow political agenda. They are trying to sacrifice our public schools-- and for what?

For ideology.

A column written by one of the lawyers defending public schools in Bush v. Holmes appeared in the St. Petersburg Times yesterday. Howard Simon is also the Executive Director of the ACLU. In his words:

For 137 years, the following words have appeared in the Florida Constitution: "No revenue of the state shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any sectarian institution." Three courts have reviewed the governor's voucher program. All have declared it unconstitutional. Because the Constitution is so clear, the voucher program is being defended by scare tactics and by calling defenders of public schools enemies of education reform.

They've used the exact same rhetoric in Texas. Proponents of vouchers here actually said on many occasions that public school advocates were in favor of the system and against kids. Yeah, that's right, damn kids. Teachers devote their lives to them, not for the kids but because they love the system. Ahhhh yes, the system. It enriches teachers with untold wealth ... and glory. Don't forget the glory.

The first tactic is to spread fear that if aid to church-run schools is not permitted, then the work of religious charities (e.g., Lutheran refugee resettlement programs, Catholic adoption agencies, Jewish Vocational Services, etc.) are also vulnerable to legal challenge. Our nation has been dependent on the wonderful work of religious charities since the birth of the Republic. But when religiously affiliated charities choose to contract with the government to deliver social services, they commit to serving the needs of the community - without proselytizing and without regard to the religious affiliation of who is served, and who is hired to serve.

Exactly. Democrats and anti-voucher folks have got to get this across. In the Texas plan that failed so brilliantly a few weeks ago, there was no provision in the law that prevented a sectarian school from discriminating based on religious belief. You simply cannot accept public money to further religious goals. Put simply, don't take my money and convert people to some religion -- any religion -- I don't believe in. This tradition protects us all and we would let it go at our own peril.

We should all be watching the Florida Supremes very closely in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Gross incompetence

Posting has been very light lately (uh, nonexistent would be more like it), but I plan to change that real soon. Last day of school is Friday and the legislative session in Texas ended on Monday so I've got a lot of free time coming my way real soon.

Look for a post breaking down the unbelievable failure of the ruling party of Texas to do anything for schools as their major "school finance reform" package fell apart amidst a torrent of invective between the House and the Senate. Ahh, it's good to be a Democrat in Texas right now (now there's something you haven't heard lately).

I put "school finance reform" in quotes because that's not what it was about at all. It was primarily about tax cuts for the wealthiest property owners in the state. Sure, they'll tell you it was a tax cut for everyone, but the 15% hike in sales tax would have yielded a net tax increase for every Texan who made under $100,000 (according to the nonpartisan, state run Legislative Budget Board).

The Republicans' main priority -- no matter what they say -- wasn't kids. Or teachers. Or schools. It was tax cuts. And they couldn't even get that done. They have the Governor's Mansion, the House, the Senate, and every statewide office in existence-- and they couldn't get it done. Beautiful. It's gross incompetence. And if you're a Republican, you only have your own party to blame. If you're an independent, vote Democrat next time.

I can see the '06 campaign slogans now: Vote Democrat, there's no way we could do any worse.
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