Monday, March 28, 2005

Debriefing on Public Hearing on taxpayer funded home-schooling and private schooling...

TO: Coalition for Public Schools Organizations
FROM: Carolyn Boyle

SUBJECT: Debriefing on Public Hearing & Background Information
This email is intended to provide background information on H.B. 1445, a risky expensive proposal to offer taxpayer funded home-schooling and private schooling. A "what to do" email will follow that covers both virtual vouchers and the three private school voucher bills.

The public hearing on H.B. 1445 was held Tuesday, March 22, before the Texas House Committee on Public Education. It lasted 3 hours (approximately 7:30-10:30 p.m.) Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano) explained that the virtual school bill was designed to benefit a variety of students, including those who: are home-schooled, need an extra course to graduate, are sick or in the hospital, are overseas with military parents, or desire courses not available at their high school (like career and technology courses, foreign languages, or advanced math and science).

There was some discussion of the fiscal note, which gives a projected cost of $26 million for the first biennium and then $52 million each year by 2009. Major new expenses would be for students who currently are home-schooled or enrolled in private schools. You could read the fiscal note at this URL:

There were 9 persons who testified in favor of H.B. 1445, including John Fleming (whose wife Cheryl Fleming is vice president-education at Questia Media America, Inc., ); two home-schooling moms; a woman who was an online kindergarten-first grade teacher in Wisconsin; two coordinators from the SUPERNet Consortium, which is comprised of 17 school districts in East Texas participating in the current virtual school pilot; a representative of the conservative group Texans for Texas; Forrest Watson representing the Alliance for Sound Education Policy* and Miss Texas.** (see "OF NOTE" below).

The 11 persons testifying against the bill did a terrific job explaining all the problems. They included: Lindsay Gustafson, Texas Classroom Teachers Association; Ted Melina Raab, Texas Federation of Teachers; Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network; Karen Miller; Tim Bacon, Texas State Teachers Association; Jo-Hannah Whitsett, Association of Texas Professional Educators; David Watson, Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Association of School Administrators; Kimberly Baxter, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals; David Priddy, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals; Charlotte Coffelt, Americans United for Separation of Church & State; and Paul Colbert.

You could listen to the hearing on H.B. 1445 at the following URL.
[Note: I was asked to explain how to do this by some individuals who had not listened to an archived hearing before, so here goes: Click on the URL above, which should take you to the Texas House Audio/Video web site with recordings of Committee on Public Education meetings. Click on the one that says 3/22/05. If you have RealPlayer on your computer (and if you don't you can download a basic version for free at this site: ), audio/video of the hearing should appear on your RealPlayer screen. Under the screen there is a horizontal line with a circle in it. You can click on the circle and drag it to any particular time in the hearing. There also is a fast forward arrow which can advance the time by clicking on it and holding it down. The testimony on H.B. 1445 begins at 4:55:47 (which is 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 47 seconds into the hearing). Note: If you have difficulty following my online teaching, feel free to give me a call or ask your children or grandchildren!]

* Alliance for Sound Education Policy. Some Coalition leaders asked me for background information on Forrest Watson's Alliance for Sound Education Policy. Watson has testified on behalf of the Alliance on several bills, but there is no information about the group available via internet search engines. Watson was one of the founders of Eagle Academies of Texas, a chain of 18 charter schools in Texas, and he continues to be associated with Eagle providing contract management through Planagement, Inc. In August 2003, Eagle Academy of Texarkana closed, and Watson changed the name of the nonprofit corporation holding the charter for that campus to "Alliance for Sound Education Policy." This is reflected in documents on file at the Texas Secretary of State's office. The amended and restated articles of incorporation say the Alliance for Sound Education Policy corporation has no members. Four individuals serve on its board of directors: Dr. Forrest E. Watson and his wife Betty of Cedar Park; Earl "Buster" Renfrow of Cedar Park; and Charles S. Cook of Lewisville. Cook is president of Pathway Publishers Inc., which produces the Odysseyware software used by Eagle Academies and the new Texas Virtual Academies, which the web site says is "Coming Soon":

** Miss Texas. One surprise witness testifying in favor of H.B. 1445 was the reigning Miss Texas, Jamie Story, and she even placed her crown on the podium while she spoke to prove she is Miss Texas. Her main point was that students in rural areas need access to online Advanced Placement courses (she may not be aware that there are distance learning and electronic courses for such students in Texas now). Ms. Story explained she is earning her Miss Texas scholarship through speaking fees, and in answer to a question she said the fee to hire her to speak depends on the "booking party." Unfortunately, no one asked if there was a "booking party" who paid her to speak in favor of H.B. 1445! You could hear Ms. Story's testimony at 1:24:30 at the following URL:

WHAT NEXT? This week Rep. Jerry Madden is expected to develop a committee substitute for H.B. 1445. We'll keep you informed about any changes to the bill, and a subsequent email will include a specific call to action.

Coalition for Public Schools, 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 550, Austin, Texas 78701-2491, (512) 474-9765, Fax: (512) 474-2507, Carolyn Boyle, Coordinator

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