Sunday, July 24, 2005


Parents aim to teach legislators a lesson on schools

Web Posted: 07/23/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo and Brian Chasnoff
Express-News Staff Writers

Parents of Texas schoolchildren have reached their boiling point.

Time and again, they've watched the Legislature attempt to overhaul the state's public school funding system. Time and again, the legislators have come up short.

Fed up, the parents are taking a page out of the politicians' playbook and forming a political action committee of their own. The goal: to oust old guard lawmakers they say don't support public education.

Dinah Miller, a Dallas parent who's serving as secretary of the Texas Parent PAC, calls the move a "parent revolt."

"The state Legislature must invest in high-quality public education. They have repeatedly let us down," she said. "Our legislators completely ignored the PTA, school board members, superintendents, and all other education groups."

The House and Senate were unable to agree on a school funding plan in the 140-day regular session, which ended May 31. Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for a 30-day special session to finish the job, but that deadline came and went this week with no solution.

Perry has called another 30-day session, so lawmakers are at it again.

Carolyn Boyle, an Austin parent, resigned from her paid post as coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools to head the Texas Parent PAC as a volunteer.

"I quit my job because I was so fed up with the Texas Legislature," Boyle said. "I realized we need new people at the Texas Legislature."

Boyle said she was disillusioned by a Legislature that didn't listen to advocacy groups or constituents. The Legislature she saw in action made decisions based on the promise of committee chairmanships, the threat of axing local projects and old-fashioned bullying, Boyle said.

"Who are they listening to? Not parents," Boyle said. "This is not how the democratic process is supposed to work."

The group plans to raise $250,000 by next year to help fund elections of new House and Senate candidates. The nonpartisan organization will support 10 Republican candidates and 10 Democratic candidates.

Asked if that goal is ambitious, Boyle said: "We think it's conservative. Do you know how many parents there are in Texas? How many teachers, superintendents and school board members?"

Cathy White, parent of two children at Thousand Oaks Elementary in San Antonio's North East School District, says she loves the idea of a parent-driven political action committee.

"The lawmakers aren't taking into consideration what teachers and parents have to say," she said. "It makes you wonder do they know anything about being in a classroom."

Carolyn Baker, a grandmother and school volunteer from Round Rock, agrees that it's time for some new blood in the Capitol.

"I've been extremely let down, very disappointed with their inability to get anything done, and I'm a Republican," said Baker, who was in Austin attending a Texas PTA Leadership Seminar. "Something has to happen."

Legislators are working under pressure from a judge's ruling that the current school funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes, is unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court is considering the case.

Texans may disagree on where the money to fund schools should come from and how much schools need, but there is a general disdain among many for the politicians' inability to reach a compromise. Critics say the only proposals that do get serious consideration at the Capitol do little to boost school funding, impose unfunded mandates and widen the spending gap between rich and poor school districts.

"I think it's typical of the politicians we have in office today. We don't have any leaders," said Tom Presley, 55, a real estate agent from Wilson County.

Diane Meizer, 34, a homemaker from Floresville, calls the failed efforts to craft a school funding plan "pathetic." Donna Hosea, 54, from Grapevine, calls them "ridiculous."

Tommy Faifer, 51, also of Grapevine, said: "It's typical politics."

As superintendent of the Center Point School District, Lee Ann Ray is increasingly anxious as the school finance debate drags on week after week.

"It's very frustrating when it comes to planning for the new school year. The law says we have to adopt a budget by Aug. 31," said Ray, whose district of 550 kids in eastern Kerr County usually gets about 40 percent of its $4 million budget from the state.

"Our expenditure side is ready to go," said Ray. "We're waiting for the Legislature to tell us how much revenue we'll get from the state."

Boyle said she hopes more parents start to pay attention to what's going on in Austin and how it will affect Texas schoolchildren. One of the main goals of the Texas Parent PAC is to educate parents about the political process and make sure they're aware of how their legislators vote.

She is confident that parents will be a powerful force for change — and she hopes the politicians in Austin are listening. She puts it this way:

"We think parents are a sleeping giant."


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