Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Power Grab

Power grab
Waco Tribune Herald
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Vast numbers of schools would be taken over by the state and principals would be shown the door under proposals contained in both the Senate and House in Austin.

It is proposed in the name of "accountability" and "setting the bar high." But it has the look of being driven by anti-government ideology and not necessarily the best interests of public schools, their communities or their students.

House Bill 2 and the Senate substitute differ in degree, but both would order state takeover of schools that lag under a certain threshold.

The House bill would allow the state to take over schools that are among the lowest 5 percent in performance standards for two years in a row – even if they were actually rated academically acceptable under state guidelines.

Under the Senate bill, the state would take over schools rated "unacceptable" for two years in a row. That may seem more incremental, but it's not. Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley just announced that the Texas Education Agency will raise test scores schools need to be rated "acceptable." The Austin American-Statesman reports that 1,213 schools would be unacceptable under these criteria.

Two Waco schools, Doris Miller Elementary and G.L.. Wiley Middle, are rated unacceptable. Several others are on the "bubble" and could be turned over to for-profit management firms or other entities such as regional education service centers, univer- sities or charter-school operators.

Authors downplay the prospective role of for-profit management groups. But there seems little likelihood that nonprofit groups will be lining up to manage inner-city schools. Meanwhile, businesses like Edison Schools would line up. The Dallas ISD severed a contract with Edison after two lackluster years. Such a company and its kin covet the chance to get their hands on so many tax dollars.

A state takeover is a valid sanction for the most egregious situations, like Dallas's chronically mismanaged Wilmer-Hutchins ISD. But the matter should not be taken as lightly as either of these bills do. It's as if the authors feel it is an imperative to get for-profit firms into the education business. No, it's not.

Lawmakers who run for office using the phrase "local control" and then support a power grab like this are engaged in false advertising.

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