Monday, July 24, 2017

A Brief, Post-Trial Reflection on the TUSD Mexican American Studies Court Case

A Brief, Post-Trial Reflection on the TUSD Mexican American Studies Court Case


Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D.
University of Texas at Austin

July 23, 2017

It feels like a long time since I've posted to this blog.  I was quite busy last week with the Mexican American Studies (MAS) court case in the state of Arizona's District Court, either preparing for, or actually serving as an expert witness on, the benefits of Mexican American, and Ethnic Studies, generally, in Acosta et al. v. Huppenthal et al.

Me, Luna Barrington, Nolan Cabrera,
Curtis Acosta, and Bob Chang
Before that, I was at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) teaching a three-hour, two-week course titled Multicultural Education—that I playfully referred to as a "Multicultural Education Boot Camp." 

It was a course for masters and doctoral students and a substantial portion of it involved the court case itself, giving my students a fairly intimate, inside look into what has been going on with Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona since it was dismantled on January 1, 2012. This happened a month after the law took effect that you can read about here.  Just Google it.  There's lots of pertinent stories—on this blog, included.

It was a great experience for my UCB students, I feel, and important do do before the trial.  As a college student once myself, I certainly would have appreciated  a course like this one that gave students a veritable "front-row seat" to a precedent-setting, historic case.
Trial notice (top line) from the Arizona
Federal Court House where
the trial was heard.

Journalist María Camila Montañez, who writes this post-trial piece below, importantly notes that Judge Tashima will rule on this trial in a matter of weeks. Yay!

I am still processing the whole thing so I'm not sure what to say at the moment other than that we shall know in a few weeks, whether the side of justice, due process, and Constitutional rights and protections were won by what truly turned out to be an extraordinary effort by the expert witnesses, witnesses, legal team, and community. 

I'll write more on this later, but for now, kudos to Attorneys Richard Martinez  and Luna Barrington from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Manhattan, NY, with whom I most closely worked in preparing for this trial. They are exceptional attorneys and great human beings.
The entire team was, of course, truly outstanding!

I was in great company as an expert witness with Yale History Professor Stephen Pitti and University of Arizona Professor Nolan Cabrera. It was interesting to fully grasp the fact that all three of us are not only Mexican American, but also Stanford University Ph.D.s and college professors who only came to know each other as a result of the case.  Stephen and I even over-lapped at Stanford but we somehow didn't get to know each other at the time. There are just so few of us Mexican Americans in academia to begin with, that the universe surely conspired to make this happen.

I was in Tucson Sunday through Thursday of last week.  It was all very intense, as you might imagine.  This is the culmination of a protracted 6-year, or longer, struggle.  So the trial's ending is a much-awaited-for respite for all, at the very least.

There were so many moving, powerful moments throughout such that as grueling as the experience of testifying was, it was all worth it.  I feel even more confident than I ever have, that the work that we do in Ethnic Studies is not only life saving, but it is also just as potentially powerful and transformative for whites as it is for people of color.  And for our youth, it promotes college-going, to boot!

Some day, I hope that what we teach will simply be regarded as "good education," la buena educación.  Regardless of the outcome, I am convinced, we are in the dawning of a new age, a new consciousness that has heretofore existed, unfortunately, only as subjugated forms of knowledge located at the margins of state curriculum, policies, and practice. This historic, legal challenge illuminates the vital importance of educator, student, parent, grandparent, and community advocacy for curricular inclusion like this one.

For me personally, the whole ordeal was an amazing, truly worthwhile experience.  It was great connecting with my dear friends in Tucson, Dolores, Nanie, Natalie Carrillo with sister Cal State San Francisco State University Professor Teresa Carrillo flying in from San Francisco to attend the trial and provide moral support. It was also special having Drs. Barbara Flores and Esteban Díaz from San Bernardino present.

University of Arizona Dr. Francesca Lopez' work, friendship, and support was vital to the case, as well.  Dr. Cesar Cruz Teolol also regularly attended the trial with his beautiful eight-year-old son, Amaru Agape, who reported regularly on the trial in his "All Power to the Kids News" broadcast on Facebook.  His regular reports, as his father shared, provided much needed, "good medicine," to the entire effort.  What a heart-warming highlight to know that the next generation will keep humanity on track!  You can hear what he said about my testimony here on Facebook.  I was so very impressed with, and humbled by, his report.

I see a traumatized, but resilient community.  I have witnessed admirable strength, commitment, and resolve.  Their main "problem" was unapologetically disavowing bigotry in their pedagogy and curriculum together with challenging all forms of institutionalized oppression—in order for their students to live life confidently and intelligently as skilled agents of change in a democracy.  

This was a rigorous curriculum that helped students see themselves in an affirming way while opening their minds to a world of college-preparatory, intellectually stimulating texts and thought that spoke to their experience while helping them to simultaneously develop a strong, academic self-concept alongside an awareness of their own potentialities.  It helped them to feel part of the American story, nurturing that sense of belonging that is so woefully missing in so much of "subtractive," K-12 schooling.

Arizona is the land of my maternal ancestors, my mother and grandmother with roots that go back to the Mexican Revolution and northern Mexico from the towns of Arizpe and Hermosillo, Sonora.  My family lived and worked in the mines of Bisbee and Morenci, where my grandfather worked by day, while working as a minister in a Baptist church in nearby Clifton by night, and on weekends.  My mother was born in Superior, Arizona, located north of Tucson near Apache Junction, where my grandfather also ministered.

My grandmother's grandmother was either Yaqui or Apache. Her name was Jesusita Yepes.  My grandmother graduated from Tucson High School as a fluent, English-Spanish biliterate that served her and her family well for the rest of her life. Our entire family is therefore a beneficiary of the great education that my grandmother received there in the early 1900s.

And Tucson is very much an indigenous space that renders it "contested terrain" even when things are going well—not unlike Texas and so many other places in the U.S. where we constitute little more, unfortunately, than a "demographic threat."  How lame this situation that we as a Latino community frequently find ourselves in, particularly when considering the amazing, indeed breathtaking, opportunities that are foregone with all that our communities and university-level, Ethnic Studies programs, have to offer!

On Friday, closing arguments were delivered and you may access the transcript here [pdf]We are cautiously optimistic about this, but ultimately, it is Judge Tashima's decision.

Regardless, I will live the rest of my professional career and life with Arizona in my heart and mind. And I could not be more thankful or blessed.

On Friday, the Mexican-American studies (MAS) trial in Tucson concluded without a ruling. U.S district Judge Wallace Tashima will make a decision in the next few weeks on whether the law was intended to discriminate against Latinos.
The 2010 law currently prohibits public schools to include ethnic studies in their curriculum that “promote the overthrow of the United States Government, promote resentment towards a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
This was the second part of the two-week trial.
Former Attorney General Tom Horne testified on Tuesday, maintaining his position to keep the 2010 law that bans the MAS program and hoping it eliminates all ethnic studies at Arizona public schools, according to a story by HuffPost’s Roque Planas.
Horne was one of the authors of the law, along with former Superintendent John Huppenthal, who testified in June during the first part of the trial.
Lawyers defending MAS argued that Horne and Huppenthal specifically targeted the program unlike other ethnic studies.
Former Deputy superintendent Elliott Hibbs also testified on behalf of the state.
During the trial, the state questioned the program and its teaching of Che Guevara, according to witnesses in the courtroom.
Academic expert Dr. Angela Valenzuela, a professor at the University of Texas, testified in support of the MAS program. She spoke about the benefits that the classes bring to students. She mentioned research, showing students who took the MAS program performed better that those who did not.
People from around the country went to Arizona to support advocates of the MAS program.
Dr. Cesar Cruz Teolol drove from Los Angeles with his eight-year old son Amaru. During a phone interview with Latino Rebels, he said that “these programs should be championed. As an educator, it matters that every kid has the opportunity to learn their history and where they come from.”
Judge Tashima did not specify how many weeks it will take to make a final decision on the ban. He will be ruling in the “next few weeks.”
María Camila Montañez is a journalism student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Spanish-language program. She is originally from Colombia and tweets from @mariacmontanez.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Why we need universitiesnow more than ever by Dr. Richard Reddick

Excellent op-ed by my colleague, Dr. Richard Reddick that came out yesterday, July 14, 2017 in the Dallas Morning News.  It states clearly and passionately why we as a public should support higher education.


Written by
Richard J. Reddick, Contributor

The recent results of a Pew Research Center survey on the public's views of colleges and universities are disheartening. Pew found that during the past year, Republicans perceiving higher education in a negative light increased 13 percentage points. Among Republicans, 58 percent now perceive colleges and universities negatively, while 36 percent viewed them as positive. Among Democrats, 19 percent see higher education as negative while 72 percent see it as positive.
It's no secret that one likely cause of this change is the 2016 presidential election and the political climate that followed. College campuses were, and still are, the sites of protests leading up to and following the election. This is part of the role that universities have historically played as sites of social activism, from Edward R. Murrow's leadership of the National Student Federation of America in the 1930s to the student protests over Vietnam and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s. 
But what is different now are the ways in which we understand events taking place on campuses.
In addition to these results, Pew also reported similarly wide gaps in the perception of the national news media between Republican/Republican-leaning respondents and those on the other end of the political spectrum. Americans are accessing other sources such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs for news, which can radically skew one's perception of what is actually occurring at the nation's more than 4,000 campuses.
In the 1960s, former University of California president Clark Kerr introduced the term "multiversity" to describe higher education, with manifest ideas of knowledge production and dissemination, for a multitude of constituents. Kerr said, "The university is so many things to so many people that it must, of necessity, be partially at war with itself."
Universities, by their nature, are chaotic places, but one of the few where the purpose is to bring together individuals with diverse identities and beliefs to engage in a better understanding of the world. It is tragic to think that a sizable population of Americans views this opportunity as adverse, or worse nondesirable. And especially at a time when a larger proportion of historically underrepresented students — students of color, low-income students, immigrant students and nontraditional adult students — are comprising the higher education landscape.
Another cause for these results likely relates to the increasingly high costs of college. Researchers have detailed the 30-year trend of declining state appropriations to colleges and increasing tuition at public and private institutions. Coupled with increasing amounts of student debt and a diminishing number of full-time faculty members, the recipe for dissatisfaction is a potent one.
More of us need to understand that universities are learning organizations that are often at the forefront of longstanding social challenges. There are, at times, missteps in how to engage with one another, but it often starts with inaccurate or partial information. Civil and productive discourse is essential to the development of critical thinking, and hopefully the solutions to problems that bedevil our society will originate when people engage, debate and analyze different perspectives. But this opportunity is often thwarted by a mentality that seeks to find "both sides" of an argument when one side denigrates, obfuscates or demeans the humanity of the other. All members must cultivate an approach that seeks to elucidate and educate, rather than insult and intimidate.
Social injustice — such as racism, sexism and homophobia — persists. But if we cannot summon the courage to engage and discuss the causes, effects and solutions of these ills, we are fated to perpetuate them. By their very nature, colleges and universities are not sites to uncritically absorb dogma or ideology. The marketplace of ideas only functions with a full understanding of the histories and lived experiences of all those who inhabit it.
If anything, the results of the Pew survey suggest that we need greater engagement with ideas across the political spectrum, with less of the vitriol endemic to the political arena. With so few institutions that purposefully engage with diverse perspectives and experience, the role of the university has become more critical than ever.
Richard J. Reddick is the assistant vice president of research and policy and an associate professor of educational administration at The University of Texas at Austin. Email:

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's official: Latinos now outnumber whites in California

Big news!  Latinos, as projected, outnumber whites in California.  I see California entrepreneurs preparing for this under the aegis of Code2040,  an organization that seeks to diversify high-tech firms that are otherwise largely white. By 2040, whites are expected to be the numerical minority, nationally.  Their premise is that corporations that know how to deal with diversity will be those that survive, whereas those that do not will fail or not do as well.  However to "do well" with diversity, they must also be diverse and now is the time to be intentional about that. 
Relatedly, this involves closing the skills and opportunity gap between whites and minorities. This isn't a "nice thing to do," but rather an imperative for corporate survival.  #Code2040


The demographers agreed: At some point in 2014, Latinos would pass whites as the largest ethnic group in California.

Determining when exactly that milestone would occur was more of a tricky question. Counting people isn't like counting movie ticket receipts.

The official confirmation had to wait until new population figures were released by the Census Bureau this summer. The new tally, released in late June, shows that as of July 1, 2014, about 14.99 million Latinos live in California, edging out the 14.92 million whites in the state.

The shift shouldn't come as a surprise. State demographers had previously expected the change to occur sometime in 2013, but slow population growth pushed back projections. In January 2014, the state Department of Finance estimated the shift would take place at some point in March.Either way, the moment has officially arrived.

Go here for Infographic
"This is sort of the official statistical recognition of something that has been underway for almost an entire generation," said Roberto Suro, director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC.

California is now the first large state and the third overall — after Hawaii and New Mexico — without a white plurality, according to state officials.

The country's Latino population is now 55.4 million. California and Los Angeles County have the largest Latino populations of any state or county in the nation, according to the new figures.

The demographic shift has been a long time coming. In 1970, the 2.4 million Latinos in California accounted for 12% of the population, while the 15.5 million whites in the state made up more than three-quarters of residents, according to state figures. By 1990, the Latino population jumped to 7.7 million, or about 25% of the state's population.

The Latino population is relatively young, with a median age of about 29, while the aging white population has a median age of 45. State demographers project Latinos will account for about 49% of Californians by 2060.

"It is going to accelerate," Suro said. "This is really the beginning of a new phase that will play out over another generation."

A young Latino workforce helps the economy by backfilling retiring baby boomers, said John Malson, the chief demographer for the state finance department.

The continued influx and growth of Latinos in the United States is not being fueled exclusively by immigration but by second- and third-generation immigrants who are settling down and starting families, said Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor and dean of education at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

California is a harbinger of the national rise in Latinos. The nation's Latino population has grown 57% since 2000, when Latinos numbered 35.3 million. Latinos accounted for most of the nation's growth — 56% — from 2000 to 2010, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Where L.A. goes is where the rest of the state goes and where the rest of the country goes," he said. "We announce, demographically speaking, the future for the rest of the country."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Naomi Klein: The Worst Is Yet to Come with Trump, So We Must Be Ready fo...

Full Interview: Noam Chomsky on Trump's First 75 Days & Much More

UT faces new lawsuit over role of race in admissions policy

Here we go again.  The Asian-American gentleman notwithstanding, they fail to see or admit that so-called "color-blindness" primarily sees in white.


 UT faces new lawsuit over role of race in admissions policy



UT won an earlier challenge to affirmative action at the U.S. Supreme Court, but this one is in a state court.
Once again, UT alumnus Edward Blum has organized a case against his alma mater.
The use of racial and ethnic preferences in admissions at the University of Texas violates state law and the Texas Constitution, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a group whose leader who took a similar case to the U.S. Supreme Court twice and lost.
This time, Edward Blum has set his sights on the state courts of Texas rather than making another run at the federal courts. The Supreme Court upheld UT’s use of affirmative action by a 4-3 vote in June 2016.
Blum’s nonprofit, Students for Fair Admissions, which says it has more than 20,000 students, parents and other members in Texas and elsewhere around the nation, contends that UT grants preferences to African-American and Hispanic applicants at the expense of white and Asian applicants. The suit, filed in state District Court in Travis County, seeks a permanent injunction barring UT from using racial factors in admissions decisions.
“It is our belief that the Texas Constitution unequivocally forbids UT-Austin from treating applicants differently because of their race and ethnicity,” said Blum, the group’s president.
Maurie McInnis, UT’s executive vice president and provost, said in a statement that “diversity is central to our pursuit of excellence” and that all students and other members of the campus community reap its benefits.
“The policy is narrowly tailored,” McInnis said. “It complies with state and federal law and the Texas and U.S. Constitutions and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
UT considers such factors for a relatively small fraction of its entering class. Under state law, UT reserves 90 percent of its freshman slots for state residents, with the remainder for out-of-state and international students. And at least three-fourths of its freshmen from Texas get in under a state law that grants automatic admission based on their high school class rank.
Only the remaining applicants, including those from other states and abroad, are considered under a so-called holistic review that takes race and ethnicity into account along with grades, essays, leadership qualities and other matters. In last year’s Supreme Court majority opinion in Fisher v. UT-Austin, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote “that race consciousness played a role in only a small portion of admissions decisions,” asserting that this was “a hallmark of narrow tailoring, not evidence of unconstitutionality.”
But Students for Fair Admissions contends that the Supreme Court’s ruling has no bearing on its lawsuit, which relies on two passages in the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights and one provision of state law.
Section 3a of the state’s Bill of Rights, approved by voters in 1972, says: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed, or national origin.” This amendment provides “more expansive protection against discrimination” than the U.S. Constitution, rendering UT’s use of racial preferences “patently unconstitutional under the Texas Constitution,” the lawsuit claims.
Blum’s group says its case is also bolstered by Section 3, which says in part: “All free men … have equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments, or privileges.”
The state law cited by the lawsuit is the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which includes a provision declaring that an employee of the state “may not, because of a person’s race, religion, color, sex, or national origin … refuse to permit the person to participate in a program owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of the state.” The lawsuit claims that this creates “a broad statutory right to be free of official discrimination.”
Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who teaches and writes about constitutional law, said he was “a little puzzled” that the suit wasn’t filed sooner.
“I understand why they challenged the program under the federal Constitution — I’m sure they thought the time was right for bringing the federal challenge,” Schwinn said. “It just smacks of politics to me, but maybe the Texas Constitution and statute give them a little bit more traction than what they got under the federal equal protection clause.”
Mishell Kneeland, a lawyer in Austin with the Culhane Meadows law firm who worked on the Fisher case as an assistant attorney general in Texas, said the new case appears to be designed to wind up at the state Supreme Court. She doubts that the plaintiff will succeed, in part because the state’s constitutional standards are “relatively similar” to the federal version. “The University of Texas’ admissions process is very thoughtfully crafted,” she added.
Blum, a former stockbroker and onetime candidate for Congress who majored in English and government at UT, isn’t a lawyer, but he has made something of a cottage industry out of lining up lawyers, funding and plaintiffs in a 20-year quest to end the use of racial and ethnic considerations in college admissions, voting rights and other aspects of public policy. He has ushered cases into the marble-and-mahogany chamber of the nation’s highest court six times.
His Project on Fair Representation, another nonprofit group, underwrote the lawsuit by Abigail Fisher, a white woman denied admission to UT. In its first opinion in that case, a 7-1 decision written by Kennedy in 2013, the Supreme Court set aside a lower court’s approval of UT’s use of affirmative action and told that court to conduct a “searching examination” of whether such considerations are really necessary to obtain the educational benefits of diversity. The lower court concluded once again that UT’s program was legal, after which the high court took the case a second time.
Blum has also organized lawsuits in which Students for Fair Admissions is the plaintiff against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Those cases, filed in federal courts in 2014, contend that well-qualified Asian-Americans are routinely denied admission solely on the basis of race.
No other state has admissions laws precisely like those governing UT.
A 1997 state law offered automatic admission to UT and other public colleges and universities to students ranking in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school class. In 2009, the law was modified for UT, allowing it to cap automatically admitted students at three-fourths of its freshmen from Texas.
Each fall, the university notifies Texas school officials of the class rank that current high school juniors need to attain by the end of their junior year to be automatically admitted; the cutoff is 7 percent for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.
Blum’s latest lawsuit against UT doesn’t come as a surprise. In March, he began inviting students who were rejected by UT to provide grades, test scores and a list of outside activities to help build the new case.

To ALL Texas teachers, both working and retired, an important message from me, Angela Valenzuela

To ALL Texas teachers, both working and retired, an important message from me, Angela Valenzuela:

The Special Session of the Texas legislature begins this Tuesday.  You should really consider getting involved in this since they're going to be talking about YOU and this is only one area, albeit of vital concern to your future. 

Get familiar with the online portal:
Search bills under 85(1) 2017 (which stands for special session). 
Type in a keyword like "Teacher," and then you'll get a listing of bills filed.

Doing this took me to this helpful page.  I also just posted below a very important agenda item:  Teachers health benefits

You can also set up a bill alert that will keep you abreast of where/what state the bill is so that you might can consider coming to Austin and testifying in a hearing committee.  You can also view archived video House and Senate Hearings in case you miss one and want to see who testified and how. Plus, being involved like this could make your summer interesting, to boot!

You can also keep track of bills from state teacher organizations like the Texas State Teacher Association (TSTA) and the Texas Federation of Teachers (Texas' and the nation's biggest, major teacher associations).

If you're currently teaching, consider joining these associations as they represent you.  And get involved in them, too, so that you can extend or amplify your voice through them.  Plus, they need your help.

I bet that Tim Lee, head of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, would be happy to hear from you, as well.

You can also, of course, always reach out to who represents you.  If you do not know who does, visit the Texas Legislature online and plug in your information here, and it'll let you know.  No reason to be or feel powerless when there's already so much advocacy to which you can simply attach and become a voice.  Hope this helps!

Angela Valenzuela

Lawmakers propose reining in health costs for Texas retired teachers

After failing to temper soaring health care costs for retired teachers, state lawmakers are considering giving retired teachers up to $1,200 more a year and pumping $200 million into their health care over the next two years.
Starting in January, many retired teachers, particularly those under the age of 65, will see higher premiums and deductibles grow as much as 10 times what they’re paying now. The Legislature approved the changes during the regular legislative session this year as a part of an effort to deal with a $1 billion hole in the retirement system. Lawmakers ended up partially plugging the hole with $484 million and raising costs for retired teachers.
“We have discovered some outliers where some people in the TRS system are getting hit a little harder than others. The good news about a special session is we can fix it. We don’t have to wait a year and a half,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on Thursday.
READ: Retired teachers: Texas lawmakers broke their promise on health care
Patrick said he wants Senate legislation filed for the special session that starts Tuesday that would pump an additional $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to help address rising premiums and deductibles as well as give retired teachers who had 20 years of teaching experience a $600 yearly bonus starting in March. The bonuses would eventually rise to $1,000.
In the House, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, has filed two bills. House Bill 80 would give retired teachers up to $100 more on their monthly retirement check and HB 76 would boost funding to the Teacher Retirement System by $100 million over the next two years.
“Each member of the Legislature (has) been receiving comments from retired teachers from the effects of health care premium increases and their fixed income,” Darby said.
Retired teachers and advocates said that they welcome any relief from their rising premiums and deductibles. But Gov. Greg Abbott has not included the Teacher Retirement System, which faces at least a $200 million shortfall by 2021, as part of the special session agenda.
“It is a good faith effort on their part if the bills pass. But we have been down this road. This game is not over until the ink is dried,” said 67-year-old Ella Wetz, who retired from the Pflugerville school district in 2005. Wetz, along with fellow retiree members of the Texas State Teachers Association, have been calling lawmakers for relief.
Wetz’s deductible is increasing from $300 to $3,000. She suffers from fibromyalgia as well as metal toxicity, which requires an out-of-network specialist. She said that with no increase in her retired teacher annuity and ballooning health care expenses and cost of living, she is looking to sell her Northeast Austin home within the year.
Other retired teachers, most of whom don’t receive Social Security because their school districts didn’t pay into it, have taken on jobs to supplement their monthly retirement checks.
The last pension cost-of-living increase was in 2013 when only teachers who retired prior to Aug. 31, 2004 qualified. Darby’s HB 80 would expand that cost-of-living increase to those who retired on or before August 31, 2015.
“When a person retires that’s all that they get. We take a sort of ad hoc approach to do raises,” said Tim Lee, head of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, adding that more money “for our retirees means that they can more easily afford the things that seniors are having trouble paying for whether it’s medicine or getting around town or just to continue to enjoy a life of retirement.”
None of the legislative proposals would make any structural changes to the health insurance system for retired teachers that advocacy groups say ultimately should happen.
RELATED: Teacher groups, school advocates bracing for Abbott’s special session
It’s unclear how the $100 million in HB 76 and the Senate’s $200 million extra in the retirement system would be used to drive down health costs for retired teachers. Patrick said that he would like the money to be prioritized for retired teachers with children with disabilities and spouses, and to reduce drug costs.
The state established the retired teacher health care plan in 1986 with enough funding to last through 2000. Since then, the system, which covers 270,000 retirees, has been at risk of going unfunded, requiring legislators nearly every two years to tinker with the system to keep it funded for the short term.
Advocacy groups say that instead of teacher salaries, contributions should be tied to insurance costs, which is more like how the state funds the Employees Retirement System of Texas. But that change would push up costs and so far has not been popular with lawmakers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dan Patrick to Texas schools: Starve.

Thanks to Bonnie Lesley for sharing this November 7, 2016 piece from the Houston Chronicle.  It speaks the truth about how Texas' schools are starving no thanks to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick who does not support equitable school funding while simultaneously backing charter school and Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) legislation that he knows will bring public education to its knees in Texas. That IS the whole point as this piece by Cort McMurray observes.  Yet here's what a credible Stanford study finds (that's consistent with other studies in the field):
The reality, as reported by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond in her CREDO study of math performance in charter schools, is that just 17 percent of charter students outperform their traditional public school peers. Thirty-seven percent of charter school students underperform the public school kids, and 46 percent achieve levels identical to the students in the traditional schools.
Read on.

Dan Patrick to Texas schools: Starve.

November 4, 2016 Updated: November 7, 2016 9:41am
 Photo: Cody Duty, Staff / © 2013 Houston Chronicle
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was in town this week, talking schools, school finance, and property tax reform. These are favorite topics for Patrick, who, before becoming arguably the most powerful man in state government, was a Houston media personality, best known for undergoing an on-air vasectomy during a live radio talk show. In his 2015 inaugural address, tucked between the Stetsoned hubris and the cowboy booted jingoism and the liberal quotation of Scripture, Patrick bemoaned the failure of "our inner city schools" and invoked Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech to articulate a dream of his own, a "dream of the day every child gets a quality education so they can break the binds of poverty and live the Texas and American dream."

It was a "conversation" in which a middle-aged white man was having a “conversation” in a room filled with middle-aged white men and women, talking about “people in the inner city.”  Mr. Patrick likes to talk about the “inner city.”  It’s a phrase he uses often.  He talks about “inner city” schools, which are invariably “failing,” and inner city residents, who are “losing their homes” because they can’t afford to pay the gosh-darn property taxes: It’s not the lousy economy or the drugs and gangs or the relentless tectonic grind of decades of tone deaf public policy that’s ruining the places where the poor folk live. It’s property taxes.

Patrick speaks about “the inner city” with the smooth confidence of a man who’s never experienced the challenge but knows the precise solution. He’s the loudmouthed guy at the end of the bar, explaining how to hit a Clayton Kershaw slider. He’s the clueless uncle, giving an expectant niece his sure-fire, drug-free tips for managing pain during childbirth.  He’s the eternal talk show host, all honeyed words and callus-free hands.

What Patrick wants has little to do with bringing hope or light to the shadowy spots in our benighted inner cities. What Patrick wants is the evisceration of the Texas public school system, replaced with a quasi-public collection of “charter schools.”

Property taxes are the primary means of financing public education in the state. Earlier this year, Education Week, a highly respected newspaper, published Quality Counts, its 20th annual analysis of performance in U.S. schools.  Texas ranked 42nd out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in student performance, 42nd in “student chances for [post-high school] success,” and 45th in quality of school funding.

Patrick’s solution to a stretched, struggling, woefully underfunded system?  Cut the funding.  Starve the schools.  Starve them to death.
Link here to see Public School Expenditure levels for the 50 states.
Patrick’s alternative, the charter school system, presents its own set of problems. The popular perception, pushed by charter school boosters ranging from Dan Patrick to Bill and Melinda Gates, is that charters are able to provide educational opportunities public schools cannot, and that charter school kids routinely outperform their public school peers.

The old propagandist’s adage – Lie big and lie often, and eventually your lie becomes what everyone believes – is at play here. The conventional wisdom is that charter schools produce better results than public schools. The reality, as reported by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond in her CREDO study of math performance in charter schools, is that just 17 percent of charter students outperform their traditional public school peers. Thirty-seven percent of charter school students underperform the public school kids, and 46 percent achieve levels identical to the students in the traditional schools.

But the most powerful man in state government keeps selling the charter school magic. In a display of faux sincerity that would have made Eddie Haskell grimace, Patrick told his Houston audience that without immediate school reform, “we are going to have a have and have-not population,” as if he hadn’t noticed that Texas split into haves and have-nots several generations ago.

While some charters — KIPP Academy and YES Prep are leading lights here in Houston — do very good work, the charter system is rife with questionable curricula, underperforming students, and gross malfeasance. Last year, the founders of the Varnett Public School, a Houston charter serving predominately poor, minority students, were indicted by federal prosecutors, charged with embezzling $2.6 million from the school. Harmony Public Schools, one of the largest charters in the state, has been investigated for everything from bias in admissions to accounting irregularities to ties to a controversial cleric in Turkey. Charters may be an aid in improving educational opportunities for some students. They are not a panacea.

All over our city, teachers and administrators struggle against those twin Dickensian nightmares, Ignorance and Want, as they try to prepare their students to be productive citizens. They struggle with budgets wholly inadequate to their classroom needs. They struggle to inspire kids who have never known a family member — not an aunt, not an uncle, certainly not a parent — to attend college, much less earn a diploma.

Kids who face pressures that would buckle the knees of most adults — you have not experienced the whole of Houston until you’ve sat down with a 16-year-old who’s taking all AP classes while holding down a 30-hour-a-week busboy job, because without his paycheck, the family would lose their home — find solace and sanctuary at school. Every single public high school in Houston has kids like that. And every single kid like that has teachers and principals who are killing themselves to give those kids every chance to succeed.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, French-cuffed Pharisee. Photo: Laura Skelding, MBO / Austin American-Statesman
Photo: Laura Skelding, MBO
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, French-cuffed Pharisee.

All of them, teachers and administrators, teachers and students, struggle against the easy fixes of our state leaders, those French-cuffed Pharisees who breeze into town from time to time, attending special invitation “conversations” in rooms filled with middle-aged white people just like them, where they solemnly shake their jowls and bemoan the problems in “the inner city” and announce that vouchers and charter schools will make everything all better.

In Houston, the “inner city” is everywhere. Dan Patrick doesn’t seem to understand that. It’s in Sunnyside and Denver Harbor. It’s in Aldine and Spring, a blown kiss (or a waved middle finger, take your pick) away from the forested affluence of Kingwood and The Woodlands, places where the Dan Patricks of the world congregate. It’s in Alief and Galena Park, Rosenberg and Galveston, Spring Branch and Pasadena.

For thirty years, we have fidgeted and wrangled over equitable school finance. We have filed suits and countersuits. Our leaders have turned a deaf ear to teachers, parents, and administrators, and left two generations of our kids to twist slowly in the new digital economy. We have slowly starved our schools. And we’ve built football stadiums. There’s always money for football stadiums.  Now, when the crisis is ripe, our lieutenant governor comes to Houston, cooing soft words about our troubled inner cities, and declaring that the solution is “school choice.”

This state, like the rest of the United States, was built on the notion of universal public education.  The school was the center point of the community: It was the one building in the neighborhood that belonged to everyone, no matter their race, their creed, or their gender.  We all had a place there. We all had a stake there. And that common stake, that sense of place, enabled a collection of farmers and factory workers to raise children that became scientists and poets and world-changers. The public school gave us hope. It inspired people to look past the troubled places, to believe that there was a reason to believe. It made us America.
Dan Patrick needs to think about that the next time he comes to town for a conversation.

Cort McMurray is a Houston-area businessman and a frequent contributor to Gray Matters.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Reflection on Age and Generation: Last Weekend’s Raza Unida Party Reunion in Austin by Angela Valenzuela

I published this awhile back in the Rio Grande Guardian and can no longer find it on their website.  So I am re-publishing it here.  It speaks to the elder epistemology that informs our work in Academia Cuauhtli, and in Ethnic Studies, in general. 


A Reflection on Age and Generation: Last Weekend’s Raza Unida Party Reunion in Austin

by Angela Valenzuela

July 14, 2012

I had the wonderful opportunity of being able to attend the 40-year anniversary of the Raza Unida Party at a reunion in Austin last weekend.  I have been reflecting on a comment made by a young person attending the reunion: “You older folks need to make way for the younger generation.”  “In whose way are they standing?” I thought to myself.  Mal educado, ese muchacho.  Poor manners.  What a silly thing for a young person to say, generally, but particularly at a Raza Unida Party reunion attended by activists.

Just prior to the conference, one of our elders, the renowned Martha Cotera, shared this dicho with me in the context of a conversation that we were having about our political identities and nurturing the next generation:  "Al que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija." ("If we get close to a good tree, a good shade covers us.")  This is a statement about mentorship.  We shouldn’t bask in someone’s shadow, but rather in their shade.  Mentorship experiences should be that nurturing and fulfilling.

We need our elders. They offer much wisdom, knowledge, and experience that the younger generation can still benefit from.  As I spoke to members of this earlier generation before and during the conference, what became evident is how the movement energy lit an unquenchable fire for social justice, with many holding leadership positions and positions of high esteem within our communities to this very day.  Martha Cotera is a great example of one of them.

This was and remains a formidable generation that has left our community and the world with a continuing and enduring legacy in the righteous struggle for civil and human rights.  This was a generation that decided that being Mexican and speaking Spanish was not only a private identity, but a public one, as well. 

This generation used arguments about history and identity to lay claim to their charter member status, not as immigrants but as natives to this land of the Southwest.

This generation talked back to oppression and said:  “We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." 

Like Gloria Anzaldua says in her landmark text, BORDERLANDS/LA FRONTERA, there isn’t a Tejano or a Tejana alive who doesn’t know that the lands were taken away.

A lot of these persons—if not most—have continued to be civically engaged in one way or another.  And many of them are now retired and with more time on their hands.  They were young activists forty years ago; they are young, retiring Baby Boomers today.  This was and remains and exceptional generation regardless of their age and we need them now more than ever.

Note: If you would like to cite this piece, here is how I have cited it:

Valenzuela, A. (2012) Reflection on age and generation: Last weekend’s Raza Unida Party reunion in Austin. Rio Grande Guardian. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from