Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talking points: Opposing Vouchers

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts said Tuesday he’d move to table any amendment to a fiscal matters bill that hadn’t been heard in committee, signaling that he’d try to table any school voucher proposal. However, there was talk last night that the language might be brought up as “an amendment to an amendment.” 

There is certainly still a strong possibility that the so-called Taxpayer Savings Grants Program could find its way into legislation. Right now, it’s pre-filed as an amendment to SB 1811 by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville.

A vote on a school voucher program could be a close one. It is vitally important that you call your representatives and tell them to vote NO on ANY voucher program language.

Reasons to oppose the Taxpayer Savings Grant Program or any voucher program:

  • Texas public schools are facing unprecedented and massive cuts to public education and the structural deficit and broken school finance system that created the budget shortfall have not been adequately addressed by this Legislature. To devise a plan that strips money from public schools at such a time is unconscionable.

  • At a time when the state is maintaining a laser focus on accountability, transparency, college readiness and measuring student performance, lawmakers should not consider a program that embraces none of these things. The Taxpayer Savings Grant Program includes nothing about improving student achievement or accountability for how taxpayer money is being spent. There is no mechanism for tracking a student’s progress and ensuring students are receiving a quality education.

  • This session the Legislature is considering increasing standards for charter schools. Why would Texas want a voucher program with zero accountability at a time when standards for all taxpayer-funded schools, including schools of choice, are aiming for higher standards than ever?

  • While the group promoting the voucher program says it could save the state $2 billion over the biennium, that number is a guess, at best. The program could actually end up costing the state money. There are 600,000 students in private and home schools in Texas – what happens if they become eligible for a voucher? What about incoming kindergarten students who would’ve attended private school anyway? They would be eligible for a voucher under the proposal, taking money out of public school classrooms.

  • The $5,143 the voucher would provide is not enough to cover most private schools’ tuition for a year. This program would be a new entitlement program to subsidize private-school tuition for affluent Texans. Is that a good use of taxpayer dollars at a time when lawmakers are making cuts to the Foundation School Program totaling somewhere between $4 and $8 billion over the next two years?

  • Florida launched the country’s first statewide voucher program more than a decade ago, but it was plagued with problems and legal challenges. The state Supreme Court invalidated the plan in 2006, saying it violated a constitutional mandate to create a free and uniform public school system. A voucher system in Texas could cost the state money in legal challenges and could ultimately crumble due to legal violations.

Bringing up a proposal rife with such controversy and potential for divisiveness in the waning days of what most are saying is the most difficult legislative session in memory is a bad idea. Taking away crucial funding from public schools on top of the billions in painful cuts to public education already in the current House and Senate budget bills is unthinkable. Urge your lawmaker to stand up for public education and vote no to any attempt to create a voucher system in Texas.

Voucher program could be among amendments to fiscal matters bills

With just two weeks left in the session and no agreement on funding for public education on the horizon, the Texas House is poised to tackle another controversial school issue that most didn’t see coming: Vouchers.

The State Fiscal Matters bills – SB 1811 and SB 1581 - are scheduled for consideration on the House floor tomorrow and numerous amendments are expected. One of those is likely to be an amendment offered by Rep. Sid Miller that would provide for “grants to reduce state expenditures.”

A group called Texans for Voluntary Taxpayer Savings, Inc. operates the website. It lists 15 groups among its “coalition of supporters” including: Americans for Prosperity, Texas; Texas Public Policy Foundation; Tim Lambert, executive director for the Texas Home School Coalition; the Waco Tea Party; and the Lake Fork Tea Party Patriots.

According to the web site, the program would save the state $2 billion over a biennium by offering the voluntary grants to all parents with children in public schools. The grants would be the full price of tuition at a private school or 60 percent of the state average per-pupil spending ($5,143), whichever is less. The website claims this arrangement would save the state $3,429 for each student that took a grant.

If the proposal became law it would likely be the largest, most encompassing voucher program in the country. Most voucher programs are of a smaller scale and target low-performing schools or low-income children. Florida launched the country’s first statewide voucher program more than a decade ago, but it was plagued with problems and legal challenges. The state Supreme Court invalidated the plan in 2006, saying it violated a constitutional mandate to create a free and uniform public school system.

TASA will vigorously oppose any amendment that comes to the floor that proposes to create a voucher program, even if thinly disguised as a “savings grant.”

We urge our members to contact their legislators and tell them to vote no on any amendment that would create a voucher program and take funding away from already cash-strapped public schools.

Here is a complete list of supporters listed on the webiste:

Americans for Prosperity, Texas
Monsignor Dermott Brosnan, Founder, Patrician Movement
Texas Public Policy Foundation
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Institute for Justice
Ministers for Education
Waco Tea Party
Lake Fork Tea Party Patriots
Tim Lambert, Executive Director of the Texas Home School Coalition
The Justice Foundation
JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director, Grassroots America - We the People
Liberty Institute
Conservative Republicans of Texas
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Young Conservatives of Texas
Texas Institute for Education Reform
Bro. Stanley Culotta, CSC, MD-President, Holy Cross of San Antonio
Rosemary Edwards, County Chairman-Travis County Republican Party

Monday, May 16, 2011

H-E-B awards nearly $500,000 in prizes to educators, schools and districts

H-E-B handed out nearly half a million dollars in awards Sunday night to educators, individual schools and districts, thanking them for the hard work they do every day and the incredible results they produce.

The grocery store chain’s Excellence in Education Awards program has handed out more than $5 million to educators, schools and districts across the state since it began in 2002. It’s the largest monetary awards program for educators in Texas and one of the largest in the nation.

“No profession bears more responsibility than that of a teacher or school administrator,” Charles Butt, H-E-B chairman and CEO, wrote in his welcome message in the program for Sunday night’s event held at the downtown Austin Hilton. “We appreciate the contributions made not only by tonight’s honorees, but also by thousands of other Texas teachers and administrators who are working together to provide a top-level education to our state’s children.”

This year, in celebration of the program’s 10th anniversary, H-E-B added a new category: the H-E-B Fit Campus award. Ten schools from around the state were honored and received a $10,000 grant.

Like every year, H-E-B honored teachers in three categories - Rising Star, Leadership Award, and Lifetime Achievement Award – based on years of experience. Principals are also eligible for awards in elementary and secondary categories. Districts are recognized in large and small district categories.

H-E-B launched the program nearly a decade ago in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators as a positive way to support public education in Texas.

“TASA is proud to participate in this awards program that recognizes the hard work and expertise of Texas educators,” said Johnny Veselka, executive director for TASA. “Through the generosity of H-E-B and Mr. Charles Butt, teachers and principals across the state are reminded that they’re appreciated and that the work they do is valued.”

More than 5,000 educators across the state were nominated for this year’s Excellence in Education Awards. H-E-B begins the process by asking customers, employees and community members to submit the names of their favorite teachers, principals and districts. Each nominee receives a letter with instructions on filling out the online application. The application asks for information on a nominee’s professional experiences, educational philosophies and achievements.

Judges from the Colleges of Education at Trinity University and Texas State University reviewed more than 800 completed applications and narrowed them to 244 semi-finalists. Five regional judging panels made up of former winners, administrators and university and community leaders chose the 40 statewide finalists, who were notified during surprise visits to their schools. Each teacher finalist received a $1,000 check for themselves and a $1,000 grant for their school. The principal finalists received a $1,000 check for themselves and a $2,500 grant for their school.

2011 H-E-B Excellence in Education Winners and Finalists

Rising Star – award for teachers with less than 10 years of classroom experience. Winners receive $5,000 for themselves and $5,000 for their school.

Elementary winner: Lindsay Richard, Wilderness Oak Elementary School, North East ISD

Elementary finalists:

Kimberly Buskirk, Gardens Elementary, Pasadena ISD
Jennifer Garcia, Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary School, Del Valle ISD
Vanessa Rincones, Sam Houston Elementary, Harlingen CISD
Christy Zamora, Flour Bluff Early Childhood Center, Flour Bluff ISD

Secondary winner: Nghia Le, Washington High School, Houston ISD

Secondary finalists:

James Butler, Uvalde High School, Uvalde CISD
Penny McCool, Lee High School & STEM Academy, North East ISD
Jason Sabotin, Arlington Heights High School, Fort Worth ISD
Jennifer Welch, Cunningham Middle School, Corpus Christi ISD

Leadership Award – for teachers with 10 to 20 years of classroom experience. Winners receive $10,000 for themselves and $10,000 for their school.

Elementary winner: Jimmie Lynn Walker, Cambridge Elementary School, Alamo Heights ISD

Elementary finalists:

Cindy Cormier, Jan Schiff Elementary School, Fort Bend ISD
Michael Massad, Sr., Patton Elementary, Austin ISD
Martha McLeod, Fulton 4-5 Grade Learning Center, Aransas County ISD
Michael Sweet, Carman Elementary, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD

Secondary winner: Rachelle Grace, McAllen Memorial High, McAllen ISD

Secondary finalists:

Carol Briggs, Westfield High, Spring ISD
Melissa Cooper, Murchison Middle, Austin ISD
David Foss, Alamo Heights High, Alamo Heights ISD
Judy Holmgreen, Alice High, Alice ISD

Lifetime Achievement – for teachers with more than 20 years of classroom experience. Winners receive $25,000 for themselves and $25,000 for their school.

Elementary winner: Richard Landmann, Forest Ridge Elementary, College Station ISD
Elementary finalists:

Jayne Doxsey, Reeces Creek Elementary, Killeen ISD
Diana Maxwell, Fort Sam Houston Elementary, Fort Sam Houston ISD
Dora Newell, Thigpen-Zavala Elementary, McAllen ISD
Belinda Silva, Menger Elementary, Corpus Christi ISD

Secondary winner: Yolanda Fernandez, Del Rio High, San Felipe Del Rio CISD

Secondary finalists:

Linda Colman, Cuero High, Cuero ISD
Janice Cuccia, Fox Tech High, San Antonio ISD
Carole Smithwick-Kiebach, Seven Lakes High, Katy ISD
Ella Whitley, Midway Middle, Midway ISD

Principal Award – one elementary school and one secondary school principal each received $10,000 for themselves and $10,000 for their school.

Elementary winner: Galen Hoffstadt, Luther Jones Elementary, Corpus Christi ISD

Elementary finalists:

Dolores Cisneros-Emerson, Morningside Elementary, Brownsville ISD
Levinia Lara, Hoffmann Elementary, Northside ISD (San Antonio)
Ann Lilie, Summitt Elementary, Austin ISD
Erin Tite, James F. Bay Elementary, Clear Creek ISD

Secondary winner: David Gonzalez, George Washington Middle, United ISD

Secondary finalists:

R. Scott Allen, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Houston ISD
Michael Cardona, Lee High, North East ISD
Patricia Castillo, Cunningham Middle, Corpus Christi ISD
Charles Pickitt, Richardson High, Richardson ISD

Statewide District Award – the large district category winner  (4A and 5A) receives $100,000 and the small district category winner (1A 2A, 3A) receives $50,000.

Large district winner: Harlandale ISD, Superintendent Robert Jaklich

Large district finalists:

Brownsville ISD, Superintendent Brett Springston
Conroe ISD, Superintendent Don Stockton
Edinburg CISD, Superintendent Rene Gutierrez
Mesquite ISD, Superintendent Linda Henrie

Small district winner: Splendora ISD, Superintendent Thomas Price

Small district finalists:

Aransas County ISD, Superintendent Joseph Patek
Argyle ISD, Superintendent Telena Wright

Statewide Fit Campus Winners  - Each campus receives $10,000 toward implementing a new health and fitness program or enhancing a current program.

C.D. Fulkes Middle, Round Rock ISD, Principal Nancy Guerrero

Tejeda Middle, North East ISD, Principal Brenda Shelton

Friendswood Junior High, Friendswood ISD, Principal Dana Drew

Fulmore Middle, Austin ISD, Principal Lisa Bush

Irene C. Cardwell Elementary, San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Principal Linda Guanajuato-Webb

Pleasant Hill Elementary, Leander ISD, Principal Lana Collier

Rodriguez Elementary, Seguin ISD, Principal Yomeida Guerro

Solomon P. Ortiz Elementary, Brownsville ISD, Principal Sandra Lopez

South Belt Elementary, Pasadena ISD, Principal Candy Howard

Webb Middle, Austin ISD, Principal Rey Garcia

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Perry's call doesn't sit well with senators

Gov. Rick Perry  held a teleconference last week with the anti-tax group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. The organization placed calls to thousands of Texas voters at the beginning of the teleconference, and those who didn't answer got a voicemail from the governor.

"Like you, I know it's essential that we live within our means, whether it's the family finances or the state budget," Perry's message began. "As our economy generates jobs at a rate other states can only dream of, we need to maintain the discipline that got us here. The legislators that we elect, whether they serve in the House or the Senate, need to keep our state living within its means by cutting spending, protecting the rainy day fund and saying no to any new taxes or revenue schemes."

Some members of the Senate apparently took the message as a personal rebuke. The Senate's version of the state's budget spends more money than the House version - though it still cuts $4 billion from public education - and there has been discussion about dipping into the Rainy Day Fund in the Senate. That option seems to be a nonstarter in the House.

One of the Texans who received the call was the wife of Sen. Steve Ogden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I don’t appreciate it. It’s not helping,” Ogden told the Austin American-Statesman. “To have them calling my wife trashing me does not make me happy, no.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Two bills now aiming at opening UIL to private schools

A bill by Sen. Dan Patrick to allow private schools to participate in UIL competitions has already passed the Senate and is waiting on its chance to be heard in the House. 

But Patrick is hedging his bets and doubling his efforts by hitching his bill as an amendment to another bill by Rep. Scott Hochberg that also deals with UIL issues, but has nothing to do with private schools.

Patrick’s bill, SB 1214, passed the Senate 22-7 last week. It allows private schools onto UIL playing fields with two major exceptions – football and basketball. 

Patrick, who has tried to get the UIL to open up to private schools since 2007, said exempting those two sports was necessary to get the bill passed. The football/basketball exemption was added to the bill as an amendment on the Senate floor.

Patrick’s bill now goes to the House for consideration. It’s been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

Meanwhile, Hochberg filed HB 370, a bill that would allow students who transfer to a school or move into the attendance zone of a school for the purpose of participating in an extracurricular activity or a specific UIL competition to participate if it’s not offered at the school from which the student transferred. 

Hochberg’s bill passed the House unanimously, and then headed to the Senate. Patrick, added an amendment to Hochberg’s bill on the Senate floor that included essentially the text of his bill regarding private schools participation in UIL competitions. On Tuesday, the Senate approved the bill 30-1.

The bill as amended requires final approval by the House. Once the bill is eligible in the House, Hochberg will either accept the amendment or request the bill go to conference committee.

Texas is one of a handful of states with separate athletic championships for public and private schools. The UIL has about 1,300 members. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, has about 250.

For years the UIL has battled lawsuits and legislative pressure seeking to bring public and private school competitions under one umbrella. UIL members point out that private schools have the ability to recruit athletes, offering scholarships and incentives, creating an unfair advantage.

The UIL has given up some ground on the issue: In 2003, they allowed Houston Strake Jesuit and Dallas Jesuit to compete because those schools had become too large for TAPPS and had nowhere else to play.

In 2008, Strake Jesuit had the top-ranked boys’ basketball team before losing in the state semifinals. Dallas Jesuit became the first private school to win a state team championship in the 100-year history of the UIL when it won the Class 5A boys’ state soccer title in 2010.

TASA is encouraging it’s members to call their representatives and ask them to vote against any measure that would expand private schools’ participation in the UIL. 

Public school students deserve an even playing field. Allowing schools with the power to offer scholarships to elite athletes to compete with traditional public schools, where sports teams are fielded from the students assigned to that school and nothing more, is patently unfair. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Raise Your Hand Texas gets Hollywood heavyweight and business leader to speak up for school funding

Raise Your Hand Texas has enlisted some heavy hitters to advocate for public education funding in public service announcements that recently began airing on television.

Movie star and eighth-generation Texan Tommy Lee Jones says “Don’t bankrupt our future by cutting back on our kids” in the RYHT spot featuring him. Another commercial features Texans native Ed Whitacre, former chairman and CEO of General Motors and AT&T, who says: "Education isn't a cost, it's an investment."

Check out Tommy Lee’s commercial.