Virulent Destroy Public Education Movement Rampaging in Texas

3 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/2/2019

Top leaders of the Texas Republican Party have joined with the Chamber of Commerce and other wealthy business groups to undermine democratic control of local schools. Eschewing long held conservative principles of liberty from the tyranny of big government and a reverence for democratic local governance, these odd Republicans are joining with like minded Democrats to arrogate power over public schools to themselves. Wielding new legal tools they designed and an old education funding law, politicians are forcing privatization upon the 1025 independent public school districts in Texas.

The Legal Heist

Legal Privatization Incentives.

Legal Framework Forcing Privatization of Public Education in Texas

In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that public education was inequitable and ordered the state to remedy the situation. A new school finance system, commonly referred to as ‘Robin Hood,’ required property wealthy districts to help equalize funding with property poor districts. The wealthy districts that provide money are known as Chapter 41 school districts, which is the chapter in the Texas education code where the law exists. The mechanism for taking the money is called “recapture.”

In 1993 there were 34 Chapter 41 school districts sending 130-million recapture dollars. Since then, the State has quit providing its share of school funding which caused the number of schools subject to Robin Hood to increase dramatically. Today, more than 371 school districts qualify as Chapter 41 school districts.

Lori Kirkpatrick a Dallas area school board candidate in 2017 writes an informative blog focused on Texas public education policies. She writes here about charter school funding and recapture,

“I reached out to Chandra Villanueva, school finance expert at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and here’s what she had to say when I asked about the recapture dollar amount for the state of Texas ($2.8 billion) being eerily similar to the charter school budget ($2.7 billion). (Emphasis added)

[Villanueva said] “‘Statute says all the dollars collected by the state through recapture may be used only for foundation school purposes – it does not say anything about property-poor districts. A lot of people believe that recapture doesn’t go to education because it supplants rather than supplements education funding. So I like to point out the connection between recapture and charters for two reasons.

“‘1.       Charter school operations are 100% state funded – and like you pointed out, the funding for charter schools is just slightly under what is collected in recapture, this makes it easy to draw a line to which schools exactly are getting most of those dollars.’ (Emphasis added)

“‘2.       This is probably the most important point, recapture is determined by wealth per student. When a student leaves a traditional ISD for a charter school, the home districts wealth per student goes up – if this happens enough times a district can be pushed into recapture. This is exactly what happened in Houston – charters drained the student population, making the wealth per student of the district fall into recapture territory. If all the charter students were still enrolled in HISD, the district would be entitled to more funding than it is currently paying in recapture. So if you live in a recapture district that has charters you can think of your tax dollars being sent directly to the charter.’” (Emphasis added)

Lori noted that Dallas has 35,000 students in charter schools. The property tax per public school student has increased which increases recapture payments to the state. Money is taken out of the public system and transferred to the privatized system. When this happens, taxpayers lose their democratic control over the schools they are financing.

In 2015, the Texas House of Representatives introduced and passed HB 1842, which is the school district “death penalty” bill. Governor Abbott signed the bill into law that same year. It mandatesintervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….” (Emphasis added)

The law says that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district ….;
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

Districts that present an approved turnaround plan are designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad test scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. Governor Abbott signed this bipartisan legislation requiring districts to be taken over by the state if just one school in the district is labeled “failing” as measured by State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing.

It has been known for some time that even good standardized tests are NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. (See evidence here, here, here, here and here.) In 2012, when the current version of the STAAR tests came out, Texas A & M researchers said the reading tests were testing at a level two grades above the students. In 2016, researchers at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton, Texas confirmed the A & M study. The headline in February’s Texas Monthly asks the obvious, “Are Texas Kids Failing? Or Are the Tests Rigged?

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools predominantly in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker a Houston parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools.”

Bipartisan Attack on Public Education

Public School Political Privatize Leaders

Texas Politicians Promoting Public School Privatization

Governor Greg Abbott is the first paraplegic governor since George Wallace of Alabama. A tree fell on the then 26-years old future Governor damaging his spinal column. Abbott is a white anti-abortion Catholic married to an educator of Mexican descent.

He was appointed to the Texas Supreme court by former Governor, George W. Bush. After leaving the court he was elected state Attorney General, a position he held for 13-years. He famously or infamously – depending on your position on the separation of church and state – successfully protected the right of Texas to keep its 6 foot tall 3 feet wide granite 10-commandments monument in front of the state capital. The court split 5-4 in Abbott’s favor.

As Attorney General, Abbott brought over 30 suits against the Obama administration. In a 2013 Texas Monthly article he was quoted, “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.” The article went on to report, “… he has gleefully battled perceived federal overreach in matters of environmental regulation, redistricting, and voter ID.”

A Houston Chronicle editorial noted, “… Texas Governor Greg Abbott hasn’t issued any public statements on the withdrawal from the Paris agreement, but he led the charge against Obama-era climate regulations.” Abbott also filed suit against the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care).

The Governor believes that state’s rights are being abused by both the federal executive and legislative branches of government plus the Supreme Court. In 2016, he called for a convention of U.S. states to adopt nine new amendments to the U.S. Constitution limiting the powers of the federal government.

It is shocking that a conservative republican with Abbott’s credentials would sign and champion legislation like HB 1842 taking away the democratic rights of Texas residents to govern their own schools. His Trumpian Tweet sent in January reeks of “Big Brother,”

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.” [HISD is Houston Independent School District]

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick grew up in Maryland with the given name Dan Goeb. He changed his name to Dan Patrick when he moved to Houston. His career as a bomb throwing talk radio personality provided him with the required name recognition to become a successful conservative politician.  Patrick founded the Tea Party caucus in the Texas legislature. He calls Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump the two greatest Presidents of his lifetime. He opposes abortion rights for women.

Patrick has a knack for alienating his fellow legislators. He accused Republican State Senator John Corona of spreading rumors about his marriage. Corona responded,

“Though I have heard rumors regarding your marital status and sexual preferences for a while now, at no time have I told anyone that you are either separated, divorced or gay. As you know, if you truly believed I had said something unflattering, you could have simply asked. I’ve never been shy about sharing my dislike and distrust of you. Put bluntly, I believe you are a snake oil salesman, a narcissist that would say anything to draw attention to himself.”

One of Patrick’s first acts as a State Senator was to introduce legislation lifting the Texas charter school cap. Patrick also champions school vouchers which he calls “the civil rights issue of our time” and he encourages the teaching of creationism. These are radical positions that deliver harm. They violate the establishment clause the US constitution, would force taxpayers to pay for religious schools and will financially devastate public school districts. When did being a radical become a conservative principle?

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was a Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Trustee when picked to be Commissioner by Governor Abbott. Morath’s only education experience is as a substitute teacher in one class for part of one year. When he ran for school board in 2011, he was the first of a new wave of business community PAC supported candidates who now dominate the DISD board. While on the board, Morath discovered a never used Texas law that made privatizing a school district possible and he led a failed effort to do just that in Dallas.

Morath continues a fifteen year period in which Texas has not had an experienced education professional leading its schools. Billionaire businessmen like Eli Broad discount the value of education leaders having deep education knowledge and experience. Broad who established the un-accredited Broad Superintendents academy claims that education leaders without education experience can hire consultants for that.

Morath’s primary agenda is a statewide effort to institute the portfolio school district management model using his System of Great Schools Network program. The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. Under this model, as schools are closed or reconstituted because of poor standardized testing results, the replacement schools are controlled by private concerns. Local citizens’ have their democratic rights purloined in favor of private companies.

Jimmy Don Aycock Republican State Representative from Killen joined with Harold Dutton Democratic State Representative from Houston to create and pass HB 1842, the state school district death penalty law signed by Governor Abbott in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt Republican State Senator from Houston and Jose Menendez Democratic State Senator from San Antonio wrote and passed SB 1882 the “Partnerships” law. Menendez was the lead author. Governor Abbott signed it into law in 2017.

Wealthy Texans and Billionaire Outsiders Finance the Destroy Public Education Agenda

In 2013, the Texas Observer published “Meet the New Money Behind School Reform in Texas.” Author Patrick Michels reported on the launch of Texas for Education Reform (TER) with deep-pocketed donorslike Dick Weekley, Ray Hunt and Doug Foshee who helped the education group raise nearly $1 million for its new political action committee.

By 2016, TER was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual state representative and senate seats to defeat pro-public education candidates and replace them with candidates that will vote to cut spending on education. For example, the Texas State Teachers Association reported in January 2016, on two public education supporters – Democratic Representative Mary Gonzalez in House District 75 and Republican Representative Gary VanDeaver in House District 1 – that were targeted. The report said, “So far, TER has contributed almost $300,000 in advertising and other services to Gonzalez’s opponent, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, and more than $100,000 to VanDeaver’s challenger, former Rep. George Lavender.

Billionaire John Arnold the former Enron trader from Houston is spending heavily to promote the “portfolio model” of education governance. Billionaire Michael Dell of Austin is spending heavily promoting charter schools and education technology. He has also sent $9 million to Arnold’s “portfolio model” agenda. These examples go on and on.

This is not altruistic philanthropic spending. These people are opening new lucrative markets while they reduce their own tax burdens. They are destroying public schools because it is worth billions to them.

This article wraps up a series of articles over the last seven months about the Destroy Public Education movement in Texas. Here are links to the other five posts:

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA: The large profits and huge funding behind selling a subpar school system to destroy public education are documented here.

Big Spending on Privatizing Public Schools in San Antonio: How a local business woman and an Eli Broad/Arne Duncan trained superintendent are speeding the privatization of public schools in San Antonio.

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs: Details about how Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is driving the privatization of all of the state’s schools.

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools: Describes how the state’s new legal powers are being used to force Houston to privatize schools in minority zip codes.

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools: Provides details about how Dallas’s country-club set is pushing the privatization of public schools in that city’s almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods.

4 Responses to “Virulent Destroy Public Education Movement Rampaging in Texas”

  1. ciedie aech March 3, 2019 at 7:22 pm #

    “Morath continues a fifteen year period in which Texas has not had an experienced education professional leading its schools.” One of the hardest thing to watch as this same formula of “business leaders now run schools” hit Denver is that THEN these same non-educators — people who have really hurt our schools — push political careers based upon their “school reformer expert” status. HOW do I put my voter mark down onto a ballet where the only “progressive” choice becomes yet another man who has had such a big hand in hurting me, my career, my students, my students’ neighborhoods….

    • tultican March 3, 2019 at 8:03 pm #

      Your question is well taken. Being an intense follower of education politics has dramatically changed my view of the Democratic Party and not for the better.

      • Jay Proctor March 6, 2019 at 7:10 pm #

        I live in Harold Dutton’s district, and as a very concerned alumnus of HISD, it bothers me that I am just now learning about this information. I’ve recently reached out to his office and have gotten no response regarding the bill he recently filed that will change Phillis Wheatley High School’s association with HISD.

  2. drext727 March 4, 2019 at 3:45 pm #

    Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.

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