Monday, January 31, 2005

Spellings Promises to Push Bush Agenda

Mon Jan 31,11:35 AM ET White House - AP Cabinet & State
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Margaret Spellings, a loyal adviser to President Bush back to
his days in Texas, was sworn in Monday as secretary of education and vowed
to "stay the course" on the president's school reform agenda.

Spellings pointed out that she's the first mother of school-age children to
lead the Education Department. Bush said that gives her a personal stake in
the state of the nation's schools.

As Bush's domestic policy chief in his first term, Spellings helped write
the demanding education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The law
requires yearly gains among all students, regardless of race, income or
English ability. Schools that receive poverty aid face penalties if they
fall short.

Many education leaders say they struggle with the law, from getting top
qualified teachers in every class to finding room for students who are
promised transfers.

Spellings said the law has been a success, with test scores in reading and
math on the rise.

"When you signed No Child Left Behind into law three years ago, it was more
than an act ˜ it was an attitude," Spellings told the president after she
took the oath of office. "An attitude that says it's right to measure our
children's progress from year to year so we can help them before it's too
late. An attitude that says asking children to read and do math at grade
level or better is not too much to ask.

"We've learned a new equation ˜ accountability plus high expectations plus
resources equals results," she said. "We must stay the course."

Bush said Spellings was "instrumental" in helping to get his signature
education reform passed and will help extend accountability standards to
high schools.

"Today only about 60 out of every 100 students entering our public high
schools ever make it to graduation four years later," Bush said. "Margaret
understands that is unacceptable."

On the Net:

Picking Tests to Drop Won't Be Easy for HISD

Jan. 31, 2005, 4:57PM

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Houston ISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra's promise last week of a new culture that values teaching over testing has made him the darling of those who think the school district's test-heavy accountability system has gone too far.

"These are the best proposals I have seen during my 23 years in HISD. I strongly applaud and support you," Westbury High School teacher Faye Volcy wrote Saavedra via e-mail with "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" in the subject line.

Although some saw the move as a retreat from the test-based reforms that landed former Houston Independent School District Superintendent Rod Paige a job as U.S. education secretary, Saavedra is emphatic that Paige's core values still drive HISD philosophy.

"We're not retreating," Saavedra said. "The issue with the testing is that after 10 years, we need to examine whether testing has grown to where it needs to be cut back."

Still, following through on his plan to give those No. 2 pencils a break could be a tough task for the first-year superintendent.

Most of the 22 standardized tests used by HISD would be difficult to discard. Some, such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, are state-mandated. Others measure college-readiness, such as the PSAT, or identify gifted students, such as the Naglieri.

That leaves few options for a newly formed committee of teachers, principals and administrators as they try to come up with recommendations for Saavedra.

Already, Saavedra has his eye on two tests as candidates for a major overhaul — the so-called "snapshot" practice tests that gauge how prepared students are before they take the real TAKS and the Stanford Achievement Test.

Use of several exams urged
Yet some educators say even those tests, particularly the Stanford, are vital to pinpointing weaknesses in students' education.

The best way to keep teachers from teaching to the test, they say, is to use several tests to measure learning.

The Stanford, given in grades 1 to 11, is the only test that compares HISD students with their peers nationally. Though committed to keeping the Stanford, Saavedra said he may scale back its role in HISD.

"The question is, do we need to be giving it at every grade level," he said.

It wasn't long ago that HISD viewed the Stanford, which costs nearly $1.9 million to administer, as key to proving Houston students really were learning.

The exam, produced by San Antonio-based Harcourt Assessment Inc., came to Houston in 1996, when lagging public confidence in the school system resulted in voters' rejection that year of HISD's $390 million bond package.

"The whole purpose behind the use of the (Stanford) test was to convince the public and the business community and the other stakeholders that schools were performing well enough to meet national standards," said Gary Dworkin, who runs the University of Houston's Sociology of Education Research Group.

Expert affirms need
Don McAdams served on the school board that authorized Paige's testing proposal in 1996. He still considers it one of HISD's smartest steps toward silencing critics who questioned the validity of students' high passing rates on the old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

"That's exactly why HISD developed an accountability system that used the TAAS and the Stanford," said McAdams, now a nationally recognized education consultant. "If you are testing in various ways, it prevents teaching to the test."

McAdams agrees it's time for a re-evaluation of the tests taken by Houston's 209,000 students

"But I would not want to see the public fall into the trap of thinking that teaching and testing are somehow opposed to each other," he said.

If decision-makers in Houston and elsewhere are concerned with freeing up more instructional time, "The place to start is movies, field trips and other activities that aren't involved in supporting the curriculum and the learning process."

Some wonder about the motivation for getting rid of a test that has served as ammunition for skeptics of the No Child Left Behind Act that Paige championed in Washington, D.C.

Those critics often point out that the education reforms that led to HISD's big gains on the old TAAS didn't yield the same results on the Stanford.

Usefulness is questioned
"We would like them to keep Stanford administered on all grade levels," said Lester Houston, executive director of the Houston-based Parent Leadership Union of Texas, which has 4,000 dues-paying members in the Houston area.

"If you eliminate it in early grades, you put kids in a deficit situation," Houston said. "School districts allow the learning gaps to increase so dramatically, it's almost impossible to close those gaps once kids get into high school."

Others, though, question the Stanford test's usefulness since its questions don't reflect Texas' curriculum the way TAKS questions do.

"Testing is just a way to get information about students' learning, and we have far too much testing going on," said Thomas Haladyna, an Arizona State University professor specializing in standardized test research. "When it comes down to which tests are most useful, that would be the TAKS. The Stanford would be the least useful because it's not aligned with Texas' standards."

Texas, Haladyna said, would do well to follow the lead of Arizona and other states that have embedded Stanford questions in their state accountability test. "We're cutting down on testing time and increasing teaching time," he said.

Practice TAKS sessions
It could be the Stanford has outlived its usefulness for Houston schools, said Dworkin, the UH researcher. School ratings in both the state and federal systems are based on TAKS performance, he said.

"As we move toward No Child Left Behind, TAKS becomes the measuring stick for Texas, and it may be feasible to drop some of the norm-referenced testing — Stanford is one — especially as TAKS becomes more rigorous," he said.

Although opinions vary on the Stanford exams, there's less debate on snapshot TAKS tests.

HISD requires that students in grades 3 to 11 take three or four TAKS snapshot tests a year. Saavedra said he is considering letting teachers decide for themselves whether and how often to give those tests.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the union has been pushing for less snapshot testing for years.

"Some of our schools have gone absolutely over the edge on benchmark testing," she said. "We have schools where kids are taking the prep test for the TAKS over and over and over, sometimes as frequently as once a month."

'Drill and kill' method
Sandy Kress, an Austin attorney who was a top education adviser to George W. Bush as Texas governor and in the early years of his presidency, agreed some schools go overboard with such testing.

"That's an area where test-makers and test-givers probably need to be a little more artful," said Kress, now a lobbyist. "If short assessments are used on a timely basis during the year to see that the curriculum is being learned, that can be a very helpful tool for everyone involved."

Often, Fallon said, principals ask teachers to use the snapshot results to identify test-taking weaknesses and use a "drill and kill" method that focuses on narrow concepts instead of the broad curriculum.

"If you teach the curriculum," she said, "they should do all right on the test."

This article is:

State's Teachers Descend on Capitol

Hundreds — including some who took a 'staff development day' — lobby lawmakers on education issues.

Monday, January 31, 2005

More than 400 teachers from across Texas converged on the state Capitol on Monday to press lawmakers to pump more money into public schools in Texas.

And to raise their pay. And some were doing it on the taxpayer's dime. Sort of.

Several lawmakers raised eyebrows about having so many teachers around on a school day.

"Who's paying for all the substitutes?" asked Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, echoing the sentiments of other lawmakers.

Some of the teachers said they had taken the day off, either on paid leave or without pay. But others said they were there on a "staff development" day, which they are entitled to take to receive in-service training or improve their schools.

"I think it's great that they have concerns and want to talk to us, but they could do that at our district offices or they can send us a message," Shapiro said. "In my opinion, it doesn't look professional to have this many teachers all up here at once like this."

According to state and local school officials and the teachers, the lobbying day was legit. It's just the first of several this spring that teacher and educator groups will organize in Austin to lobby lawmakers.

State rules require students to receive 180 days of instruction each semester, with teachers allowed to take off up to six days per year for staff development. The exact number varies from district to district. On those days, educators most often attend training programs, seminars or conferences.

Some districts allow staff development to include the Capitol visits because the lobbying days are sometimes connected with a professional conference in Austin, such as one that the 105,000-member Association of Texas Professional Educators held over the weekend.

Some schools, including those in Austin, had staff development days already scheduled for Monday and held no classes.

Andy Welch, a spokesman for the Austin district, said teachers were not allowed to count the Capitol visit as staff development. But they could take one of three paid personal-leave days allowed each teacher annually.

"It's no-questions-asked," Welch said. "What they do on those days is up to them. They just get three."

Marcy McNeil, a fourth-grade teacher at Odom Elementary who has taught for 29years, did just that. She is the local president of the professional educators group.

She and hundreds of other teachers made the rounds of legislators' offices advocating for more funding for public education, smaller class sizes, a salary increase for teachers and restoration of a medical-benefit payment that lawmakers slashed in half two years ago. They were also opposing school vouchers.

Other teachers from Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio — several of whom said they were using professional development days — bristled at the suggestion they should be in class.

"I'm appalled anyone would suggest I'm here for myself," said one teacher, who, like several others, refused to give her name after a reporter questioned who was tending to their classrooms. "I'm here for better public education. I'm here for the students. Better schools make Texas better for everyone."

Randall Iglehart, state president of the educators group, said he came to the Capitol on a professional development day. He has taught for 28 years, currently English-as-a-second-language classes at a San Antonio middle school.

"Some are here on professional development days, some are here on personal days, but everyone is here to help make public education better in Texas," he said. "Some districts see this kind of thing as important and benefiting public schools in general. It's the kids who are the heart of what we're doing."

And should anyone wonder who was minding his classes Monday, Iglehart said not to worry, because he's covering the costs himself.

"I'm paying for my own substitute," he said.

In Austin, that would be between $60 and $80 a day, depending on the substitute, Welch said.
What's a staff development day? The Texas Education Code allows staff development days that are 'designed to improve education in the district.' Among other things officials said they may include: •Programs for reading/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies. •Teacher conferences. •Training in discipline policies and strategies. •Instruction for alternative education programs. •Other types of training approved by the local district. Source: Texas Education Agency, from state law and agency policy


Saturday, January 29, 2005

January 29, 2005 News on Vouchers in Texas

TO: Coalition for Public Schools Organizations
FROM: Carolyn Boyle

All signs are showing that a major piece of legislation which includes private school vouchers will start moving in the Texas House of Representatives soon, and Governor Rick Perry will be its chief cheerleader. The governor used the "State of the State" speech January 26 as his platform to call for vouchers, saying, "Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child. Let's give children who need a second chance new choices that can forever change their future. Let's give them school choice."

According to insider reports, leaders in the Texas House are polling members on their first choice among three approaches to public school finance, and all three include vouchers. Vouchers also may be included in a "school reform" bill that is expected to be filed in the House next week. House Speaker Tom Craddick told a Texas Public Policy Foundation audience Thursday that House members "aren't going to play" with the school reform bill--they will just "make decisions and go on." H.B. 12, a proposed voucher pilot program in urban areas, also is expected to start moving soon.
The Texas Senate did not include vouchers in its consensus outline for Senate Bill 2, an omnibus bill on public school excellence and school finance reform. But even if there is no Senate voucher legislation, amendments that fund private school tuition could be proposed on the Senate floor.


Voucher legislation is expected to move quickly, so NOW is the time for public school supporters to write LETTERS (not email) to their state representatives and senators. (We'll urge activists to make phone calls at a later date when there are bill numbers and key dates for action) If you do not know who represents you in the Texas Legislature, go to
Addresses are:
Representatives: Texas House of Representatives, P.O. Box 2910, Austin, Texas 78768-2910
Senators: Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068-Capitol Station, Austin, Texas 78711

A FEW POINTS YOU COULD MAKE (but please personalize your letters)

-- Legislators should solve the problems with our state's school finance system and not get distracted by divisive, ill-conceived schemes that would take away money from neighborhood public schools. Vouchers would just create new school finance problems.

-- A voucher pilot program in urban areas would be a new "Robin Hood" that takes tax money from rural and suburban public schools to subsidize private, religious, and forprofit academies in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio.

-- H.B. 12 proposes a new "school stamp" program, giving a private school tuition voucher to every urban child from a low income family who fails any section of the TAKS test. Legislators must be fiscally conservative and not create a new, unaffordable entitlement program. Plus, the TAKS test should not be turned into a voucher eligibility test.

-- Legislators should vote against any bill that uses our limited public funds to subsidize private schools and home schools.

-- There are only 3 neighborhood public schools in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin ISDs that were rated low-performing for two consecutive rating years. The consistently failing schools are charter schools, which must either improve or be closed by the state.

Thank you for making letter-writing a priority, and please encourage your family and friends to write letters, too!!
Coalition for Public Schools, 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 550, Austin, Texas 78701-2491, (512) 474-9765, Fax: (512) 474-2507, Carolyn Boyle, Coordinator

The Coalition for Public Schools is comprised of 40 education, child advocacy, community, and religious organizations representing more than 3,000,000 members in Texas. Founded in 1995, CPS opposes expenditure of public funds to support private and religious schools through mechanisms such as tuition vouchers, franchise tax credits, and property tax credits. The Coalition believes public tax dollars should be spent only to improve neighborhood public schools, which serve more than 94 percent of all Texas children.

Coalition for Public Schools groups are: American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Americans for Religious Liberty, Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Anti-Defamation League, Association of Texas Professional Educators, Delta Kappa Gamma Texas, Jewish Federation of San Antonio Community Relations Council, League of United Latin American Citizens, League of Women Voters of Texas, Let Freedom Ring, National Council of Jewish Women, Parents for Public Schools of Houston, People for the American Way, Texas Advocacy Inc., Texas AFL-CIO, Texas Association for Bilingual Education, Texas Association of Community Schools, Texas Association of Mid-Size Schools, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, Texas Counseling Association, Texas Educational Support Staff Association, Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, Texas Federation of Teachers, Texas Freedom Network, Texas Impact, Texas Parents and Teachers Association, Texas Retired Teachers Association, Texas Rural Education Association, Texas School Public Relations Association, Texas State Teachers Association, The Arc of Texas.

New York Plans Test to Affirm Fitness for Jobs

New York Plans Test to Affirm Fitness for Jobs

Under mounting pressure from business and labor groups, New York is expected to become the first state in the nation to issue a "work readiness" credential to high school students who pass a voluntary test measuring their ability to succeed in entry-level jobs, state officials say.

Employers have complained for years that too many students leave high school without such basic skills, despite the battery of exams - considered among the most stringent in the nation - that New York requires for graduation. The work-readiness credential, employers say, will make hiring decisions easier and cut employee turnover.

The test would cover so-called soft skills in 10 broad areas, including the ability to communicate, follow directions, negotiate and make basic decisions. It will be tried out in pilot programs this spring and could be ready as early as the fall, officials said. The test, given by computer, would include one section on speaking skills, with oral answers to be recorded and then analyzed by examiners.

James C. Dawson, a Regent who represents several upstate counties, said that many details of the proposal had yet to be worked out, but that he had little doubt the Board of Regents, which controls education policy, would endorse some form of the new credential.

"It is going to be an interesting discussion," he said. "But the bottom line is to do something that will help students who are inclined to go into the work force at an early age."

Other states including Florida, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Washington are part of a national plan by the United States Chamber of Commerce to create a work-readiness credential that would be recognized across the states, a project that is supported by the New York State Departments of Education and Labor.

The Board of Regents is expected to take up the proposal next month. State officials say the Regents are likely to adopt the idea because of the state's role in the national initiative, and because the commissioner of education, Richard P. Mills, is a member of a quasi-governmental state group, the Workforce Investment Board, that has been one of the credential's main proponents.

"This is something that business has wanted for a long time," said Harry Phillips, a Regent from Hartsdale, N.Y. "The Regents had an original reaction that maybe it would dilute the diploma. But I hope that we have come around to feel that it is not that, and is something we should support."

Officials still have not determined whether students who do not earn a diploma, either because they fail the Regents exams or do not take them, would be eligible for the work-readiness credential. Some Regents are expected to insist that the credential be tied to the diploma, so it does not become an incentive for dropping out of school.

Critics of the proposed credential question the need for yet another high school assessment in New York, which is already among the most aggressive states in requiring testing. Further, they question whether schools have the time and resources to put in place the new courses required to prepare students for the work-readiness test.

Still others ask a more basic question: How is it that students can graduate from high school without the basic skills necessary for entry-level work?

"If the diploma now provided after a student takes five Regents exams - if that is not enough for a student to be ready for the rigors of life, then one has to question the worth of that assessment," said Assemblyman Steven Sanders, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. "Here we have the highest-stakes examinations of any state in the country, and the business leaders are saying there's something missing here. That means there's something wrong with this approach. The Regents have a problem here."

Eva S. Moskowitz, the chairwoman of the New York City Council's Education Committee, had similar thoughts.

"I'm glad that the business community has piped up about its needs, and I hope it will continue to be vocal about its expectations for high school graduates," she said. "I don't believe, though, that the credential as I understand it will actually improve students' ability to be successful in the workplace. Kids should be practicing public speaking in social studies, for example. A good education, college preparatory or vocational, would guarantee that students have mastered these skills."

In a report about the proposed credential addressed to the Regents, Commissioner Mills noted that statewide learning standards already included "foundation skills" that were similar to what businesses were calling for. State education officials have also said that the Regents exams already judge foundation skills.

But business leaders have been clear that the current system is not measuring up. "Right now, most work development programs tend to be fragmented," said Margarita Mayo, director of education and training at the Business Council of New York State. "Having people be able to get this credential and pass an assessment that is recognized nationally, that would really help students in having something to present to employers that is valid."

In his report, Mr. Mills did not take a position on the credential. Nonetheless, he told the Regents, "We must redouble our efforts to guarantee to students, parents and the employer community that the diploma means 'ready to work.' "

Daniel E. Richardson, the director of finance and planning at Latta Road Nursing Home, a facility in Rochester, and a member of the Workforce Investment Board, said, "We owe it to ourselves and our society to come up with a metric, much like the Regents did 10 years ago for academic standards."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Black Baptist Leaders Affirm Shared Values

The presidents of America's four major black Baptist denominations prepare for Friday press conference.

Black Baptist Leaders Affirm Shared Values
by Bob Allen

The presidents of America’s four major black Baptist denominations on Friday issued a joint statement opposing the war in Iraq, the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General and efforts to divert public funds to private schools.

The leaders said they hoped the statement would expand the discussion of faith and values and have an impact on American politics.
William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., described the shared points of agreement among the four national bodies as “a faith perspective that is quite different” from that espoused by the religious right.
Issued at a press conference, the statement outlined points of agreed actions stemming from forum sessions during a four-day joint board meeting of the four groups in Nashville, Tenn.
The statement, issued through the four convention presidents, also called for extending provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, increased funding for children’s healthcare and “an end to the prison-industrial complex trend.”
The leaders opposed efforts to make recent tax cuts permanent and called for a national living wage. They also called on national leaders to address and invest in aid relief and development for nations in Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America, including increased relief to combat AIDS.
One of the leaders expressed hope that a united voice from denominations representing nearly 15 million African-American Baptists would focus energies toward “some revolutionary change in America.”
“We have the power in terms of black registered voters across the country to make a decisive input to who sits in the White House,” said Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
“What we have discovered this week is there is strength in numbers,” said Major Jemison, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
“We have come together in one room, and now we speak with one voice,” said Melvin Wade, president of the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America.
The Baptist leaders called for an end to the war and withdrawal of U.S. military from Iraq.
They called the war “a costly and unnecessary military action begun on grossly inaccurate, misconstrued or distorted intelligence against a nation that did not pose an immediate or realistic threat to the national security of our nation.”
The war “is not only creating a hell for the poor in Iraq,” the leaders said, but also disproportionately affects poor and struggling families in the United States, who are more likely than wealthy families to send loved ones into the active military or as reservists or members of the National Guard.
The statement called on President Bush and the Congress to “immediately enact and sign into law an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” which is set to expire in 2007.
Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists struggled to give substance to the right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, they noted. “Yet each election cycle reveals disturbing evidence of continued and deliberate efforts to intimidate, discourage or suppress voting by people of color, senior citizens and people of limited income and impaired physical ability.”
“Democracy in the United States deserves at least as much attention as democracy abroad,” the presidents stated.
They called on the Senate to vote against the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General over his views supporting use of torture against prisoners of war. “Cruelty is not moral or just no matter who tries to give it legal sanction,” they said.
They declared “full commitment to the public education system” and a belief that public schools are threatened by “deliberate attempts to divert public monies and resources to private schools,” including vouchers and charter-school incentives.
“We are wholeheartedly opposed to the effort to privatize public education and believe the Bush administration’s Leave No Child Behind Law fails to address the needs of children in public schools across the nation,” they said.
They also labeled “immoral” efforts to “undermine the safety net for children through block grants, budget cuts, caps or freezes in child healthcare programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Heath Insurance Program.”
The leaders called for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for crimes and opposed privatizing of construction, operation and administration of prisons. States should address the problem of repeat offenders by a system of education and job retraining, rather than just building more prisons, they said.
They opposed efforts to make recent tax cuts permanent and said that a nation that can afford to spend $200 billion in Iraq can afford a national living wage for its own people.
While supporting relief efforts for tsunami victims in Asia, the leaders urged equal attention to suffering nations like the Sudan and Haiti. “As religious leaders, we urge our national leaders to give equal development and aid to global suffering in black nations, rather than intimate by their actions that black suffering is somehow not as deserving of relief and black aspirations for development not as deserving of support.”
More than 10,000 delegates attended at least part of the first-ever joint winter board meeting of the four groups, which have splintered over various organization and philosophical differences during the last 90 years.
The presidents said plans would be developed for future joint gatherings, probably before the presidential elections in 2008. “This is not a one-time event,” the NBCUSA’s Shaw said.
Asked about the possibility of a formal merger, Shaw said, “There is in the will of God a thing called the fullness of time.” Crediting the Holy Spirit with bringing the four groups together for the initial meeting, he said, “What the Holy Spirit will work out in terms of structural relationship, we will leave up to Him.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of

Bill Launches Property Tax Talks in House

Bill launches property tax talks in House
Selling lottery tickets at the pump is one proposed option for relief
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Smokers would pay more, businesses would ante up and drivers could buy lottery tickets at service station pumps under a House plan to cut school property taxes.

Rep. Jim Keffer, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, on Thursday filed House Bill 3 as a "shell bill" to begin discussions on property tax relief.

The bill's highlights were listed in a press release sent late Thursday after the Legislature had adjourned for the week. The text of the bill was not available.

When the Senate outlined its school finance proposals Jan. 12, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and all 31 senators held a news conference and answered questions. The Senate has not yet filed a bill incorporating the ideas it discussed that day.

Similar to a plan unveiled by the Senate two weeks ago, local school property taxes would be lowered to $1 per $100 valuation. The state would need to raise more than $5 billion to pay for such a cut.

Keffer's bill proposes raising the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and a minor expansion of the sales tax base.

It also would continue the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, a fee assessed on phone service and would authorize the sale of lottery tickets at service station pumps, allowing motorists to use credit cards to play the lottery.

The corporate franchise tax, currently paid by only one out of every six businesses, would be eliminated and replaced by an unspecified business tax.

"We want to start looking at a uniform business tax," said Keffer, R-Eastland. "What the ingredients will be in that we don't know."

Keffer said the payroll tax he proposed during last spring's special session on school finance may be one option.

Labor-intensive companies argued that a payroll tax would unfairly burden their business.

The more specific plan outlined earlier by the Senate would rely on increases in sales, tobacco and alcohol taxes, and closing a loophole on sales taxes for used cars.

The Senate would replace local school property taxes for maintenance and operations with a statewide property tax. The House would leave the local school property tax in place but lower the cap from $1.50 to $1.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said this week that he personally favors a statewide property tax because it would end court challenges by school districts over inequities in property wealth. But he said some rural lawmakers are opposed to a statewide tax and he might have trouble getting the needed two-thirds vote to place the issue on the ballot.

The Senate also proposed spending $1 billion to raise teacher pay. The House will be handling teacher pay issues and other educational changes in a separate bill that is expected to be filed next week by Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington. -- | Section: Local & State
This article is:

Picking on public schools, Austin Am-Statesman EDITORIAL

Picking on public schools
Friday, January 28, 2005

Much of Gov. Rick Perry's State of the State speech on Wednesday was standard fare for such legislative addresses. But there was a disturbing undertone of hostility toward public education.

At one level, the governor had the usual bromides: Improve school and teacher accountability for classroom performance, reward outstanding teachers financially and do more to help struggling schools.

And, he said, all this could be done with no new taxes.

But after making a proposal reasonable on its face, Perry would follow it up with a kick at public education.

For example, he called for more detailed disclosure by school districts of how much of their costs go to classrooms and how much to administration.

But then he added that taxpayers "deserve to know how much is spent on administration and how much they are paying for lobbyists and lawyers who seek to extract even more tax dollars from their pockets."

The governor favors "school choice" — diverting some public education funds to private schools. We dislike the idea, but it's worthy of debate.

But the governor again attacked public education, saying of parents, "They deserve better than to leave their fate in the hands of a local monopoly that is slow to change without the benefit of competition."

And, he added, "Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child."

A casual listener could be forgiven for not knowing that the Texas Constitution declares that it "shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."

And the Constitution says it's the governor duty to make sure the laws — including those regarding public education — are "faithfully executed."

If that system is screwed up, it's Perry and the Legislature's job to fix it — not campaign against it as though they have nothing to do with its present state of affairs.

Find this article at:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Prepared Text of Perry's State of the State Address

Prepared text of Perry's State of the State address
Scheduled for Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Text of Gov. Rick Perry's State-of-the-State Address

(NOTE: Gov. Perry frequently deviates from prepared text.)

Thank you. Statewide officials and members of the judiciary, members of the Legislature and distinguished guests, friends and fellow Texans: I am honored to uphold our constitutional tradition and speak to you today on the state of our state.

As always, we are joined on this occasion by distinguished friends and neighbors. Please join me in welcoming Governor Eugenio Hernandez Flores of Tamaulipas. And please join me in recognizing two distinguished guests from Canada, Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba, and Premier Bernard Lord of New Brunswick.

In this people's house we have many outstanding officials, two of whom join me today on this dais. Please help me recognize a great lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. And please join me in recognizing an equally extraordinary leader and a fellow West Texan, Speaker Tom Craddick.

West Texas not only raised me, it gave me the love of my life. I'm proud to have by my side today, and every day, a wonderful woman who makes every day a radiant one – your First Lady, Anita Perry.

It was twenty years ago that I first took the oath of office in this House. And while much has changed, it's good to know some things have stayed the same. It's good to see in this House so many veteran lawmakers, including two old classmates, Harold Dutton and John Smithee. And it is good to see long-serving leaders in the Senate, such as the dean, John Whitmire, and Ken Armbrister.

Anita and I want to issue a special welcome to our newest members. You are the invigorating lifeblood every democratic body needs. Thank you for your willingness to serve.

Democracy functions best when we have an active citizenry. It is great to see the balconies filled by folks our forefathers called, "we the people." I want to issue a special welcome to a group of Texans who have a vision for extending educational opportunity to every corner of this great state – the members of HOPE, Hispanics for Opportunity and Progress in Education.

As we gather today, I am more optimistic than ever about our future.

Dark economic clouds are dissipating into an emerging blue sky of opportunity. In the last 15 months, we have added 162,000 jobs. In 2003, we attracted nine of the 24 largest capital investments in the nation, including the single largest investment, a $3 billion Texas Instruments semiconductor plant.

Last year we convinced Vought Aircraft to add 3,000 jobs in Texas, and then we persuaded Countrywide Mortgage to bring 7,500 jobs to our state – the largest job expansion nationwide in four years.

These major investments, and many more, were made possible by the Texas Enterprise Fund, a fund that is not only bringing jobs to the big cities, but to towns like Brownwood, New Braunfels, Buda, Nacogdoches, Port Neches, League City and Ennis too, Chairman Pitts.

It's no wonder Site Selection Magazine called Texas the best business climate in the nation in 2004.

We can feel good about our economic progress because more families are making a good living. Jobs are not just economic statistics, they are an investment in our people and a generator of revenue.

Job growth has led to tremendous revenue growth. In two years we have gone from $10 billion in the red to $6 billion above what we last budgeted. That didn't happen by accident. It happened because we made the hard decisions and you cast the tough votes. And today you deserve much of the credit.

Among the ten largest states, six still faced revenue shortfalls heading into this year. All six recently raised a patchwork of taxes, and one borrowed up to $15 billion to address their budget gap.

We took a different path. We asked every agency to justify their budgets. For the first time since World War II, we lowered general revenue spending. And we addressed the priorities of our people without raising their taxes.

Going forward, we must not retreat on the principle behind our prosperity, fiscal responsibility.

We did not tax and spend our way to a revenue surplus, and we need not tax and spend our way to future shortfalls. Our challenge is to make sound, strategic investments that stand the test of time.

That is what we have done for many years in education. Standards are higher and test scores are rising again. According to a study by Achieve Incorporated, Texas is the first state to make a college-prep curriculum the standard coursework in high school, starting with this year's ninth grade class.

We were the first state to require individual graduation plans for at-risk students, and provide a personalized study guide for eleventh grade students that fail state assessments. And we have joined the Gates Foundation in investing $130 million in the Texas High School Initiative to reorganize and reconstitute failing schools.

The foundation for future prosperity is built on the bedrock of good jobs and great schools. We are building a strong foundation one job at a time and one educated Texan at a time.

Progress can be measured on other fronts too. Because of leadership on both sides of the aisle, doctors are returning to areas once deemed high-risk, hospitals are seeing double-digit declines in their insurance costs, and patient access is improving because the personal injury trial lawyers are no longer calling the shots when it comes to Texans' health care.

We also passed sweeping reforms to address one of the top job-killers in Texas:...frivolous lawsuits.

Texans stuck in traffic now know that help is on the way. The Trans Texas Corridor is quickly becoming a reality with the private sector willing to expend $7.2 billion up front without asking for one dime in state money for construction. This toll project will allow us to build needed corridors sooner and cheaper. And for those who like driving on free lanes today, let me be clear: I do not support tolling existing lanes.

The reforms of the last two years have protected Texans' pocketbooks, preserved their health care and improved the job climate. With our recent economic growth, continuing gains in education and a better budgetary picture, the Lone Star of Texas is once again on the rise.

So today I am proud to declare the state of our state is vibrant and our future is limitless.

Because of the right choices you have made, we find ourselves at the brink of a new era of possibility. And today I ask you to consider what is possible if we make wise investments in good jobs, great schools, and stronger families.

Nothing impacts our future like the education of our children. It is the one issue foremost on the minds of every leader in this room. And today it is the focus of my remarks.

Education often gets reduced to a numbers game inside the walls of this Capitol. But inside the walls of our schools, the greatest concern is whether our children grow and learn. Let us keep the most important issue the most important issue: and that is the quality of education in our schools.

This is not merely an exercise in accounting, or a chance to change our complex funding formulas. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure children of every background are given a chance in life.

The financing component is critical, but it is only the means to an end destination. And we will not arrive at that destination until every child, in every corner of this state, can walk through the schoolhouse doors and have waiting for them the best teachers, the best curriculum, and the best opportunity to succeed.

Our challenge in education is to go from good to great by empowering children of modest means to live unlimited dreams.

I ask you to think about what is possible, not what is standard practice, when it comes to education. We've climbed a long way up the mountain, but many of our schools still have no view of the top.

We must have two goals: ensuring more students graduate and ensuring more students graduate prepared for college. It's that simple and it is the greatest challenge we face.

Despite a decade of progress and gains by students of every background, we still have an achievement gap in Texas schools that will be an opportunity gap when today's students become tomorrow's workers.

Today we have 36,399 students trapped in failing schools. Last year 889,468 students failed at least one section of the TAKS. And two years ago 15,665 students dropped out.

The answer to these great challenges is not simply more money poured into the same system. If it were, then the $7 billion in new money appropriated in the last six years would have solved these challenges.

How much money we spend on education is important but not nearly as important as how the money is spent. Washington, D.C., has some of the best-funded public schools in America and yet they consistently rank near the bottom.

When our work is done, parents won't measure our success by how much money we spend, but whether more children learn. I support additional dollars for our schools, but even more importantly, I support dedicating new money to rewarding and supporting our best teachers and providing incentives for progress at schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students.

Let's attract our best and brightest teachers to our toughest learning environments. Too often our struggling schools attract our most inexperienced teachers. We need to recruit proven teachers to under-performing schools, teachers who can turn around a campus one child and one classroom at a time.

We have many excellent teachers in Texas. I want our best and brightest teachers to be paid salary incentives as high as $7,500 a year when they rekindle the love of learning among children too often left in the shadows of success.

Excellence should not be rewarded the same as mediocrity; otherwise, mediocrity becomes its own incentive. When money follows results, we will get more results for our money.

That's exactly what is happening with the Advanced Placement incentive program that rewards schools with up to $100 for each student that registers a high score. In its first five years, the A.P. incentive helped double student participation and helped us nearly triple participation among African-American and Hispanic students.

Achievement incentives work. With the right incentives, we can encourage more students to take our hardest course of study, the distinguished achievement program, and improve student performance on the TAKS test. We should also reinstate end-of-course exams in subjects like algebra, biology, English and history, and allow schools to offer these exams on an optional basis, with incentives tied to student results.

The achievement gap will begin to narrow when we reward student performance and teaching excellence. But for any incentive plan to succeed in closing the achievement gap, it must be focused on schools with the greatest challenges.

We have more than 660,000 students who have limited proficiency in English. Many show up for class several grades behind. We must provide meaningful progress incentives for schools that serve mostly disadvantaged student populations. The challenges these schools face are difficult but not impossible. Let's meet this challenge with new resources, proven teachers and higher expectations.

At the same time, bad schools that refuse to change and chronically fail our children must not be allowed to do so without consequences. And we must have zero tolerance for those that tamper with test results.

It is wrong to blame our testing system for test tampering. Cheaters are not victims, they are perpetrators of a crime, and a terrible example to our children.

While test tampering is likely an isolated problem, schools that fail our children remain too prevalent.

Our first response to failing schools should be to send extra help. We must establish school turn-around teams at the Texas Education Agency that specialize in improving management practices and provide additional mentoring to teachers who lack the support they need.

But if schools refuse to change, they must be shut down and begin again with new leadership. Here is why: we simply cannot sentence our children to a lifetime of mediocrity because of a state-sponsored policy of passive indifference.

Instead, we must be passionate about making a difference, especially in pockets of failure where parents lack the opportunity to say "no" to failing schools.

That is why, as we look to end the era of Robin Hood, we cannot turn our back on the era of equity.

Equity should be about more than fair funding. The fact is, a poorly run school will produce poor results regardless of funding. We won't have equity in education until we have equity in educational opportunities.

Parents that can't afford private tuition and can't afford to quit their jobs to home school their children... have fewer choices, and their children have fewer opportunities. They deserve better than to leave their fate in the hands of a local monopoly that is slow to change without the benefit of competition.

Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child. Let's give children who need a second chance new choices that can forever change their future. Let's give them school choice.

Choice has worked for many at-risk charter school children. Because of innovative charter schools, once-struggling students are now succeeding.

Successful charter schools should be emulated across Texas. But those that fail our children, and worse yet, those that exist to enrich fly-by-night operators, should be shut down without delay. I'm tired of bad charter schools obscuring the work done by the good ones.

Reforming education must begin long before our five-year olds enter the kindergarten classroom. Two years ago I worked with Senator Zaffirini and Chairman Grusendorf to initiate a pilot pre-K program that takes a scientific approach to early childhood learning. The Early Start Initiative focuses on the building blocks of reading and language development...and it is working for our youngest children. It is time to take the next step and increase funding for the Early Start program to give more children a true head start.

I also support the expansion of teacher mentoring. A good mentor can be as valuable to a young teacher as any course offered by a college of education. And a good mentor can make a tremendous difference for children who come from broken homes.

That is certainly true for Jamar Gipson, whose father has been in prison since he was three months old. A sixth grader at Fitzgerald Elementary in Arlington, Jamar has had a big brother looking out for him for the past two years. Jamar's performance in school has improved, and he has his sights set on one day becoming either a police officer, a business owner, or a professional basketball player. We are honored to be joined today by Jamar, and his Big Brother Charles Pierson...shining examples of the difference mentoring can make in young lives.

Charles Pierson left a successful career in international business to work full-time at Big Brothers Big Sisters as the North Texas chapter's CEO. He is one of many Texans who make a difference by mentoring.

Let's do more to help children in broken families, including children of prisoners, make right choices and break the cycle of incarceration. Let's do more to promote responsible fatherhood for dads that have lost their way. Let's invest $25 million more in mentoring programs that can build stronger communities, one changed life at a time.

The two essential ingredients to our children's success are strong families and great schools. I have talked a lot today about education because we have no greater priority. In order to get better results in our schools, we need more transparency in school budgeting. That's why we need a "Truth in Spending" initiative that gives every taxpayer detailed information on how local school dollars are spent.

Taxpayers should know what percentage of their money makes it to the classroom and what is considered a classroom expenditure. They deserve to know how much is spent on administration and how much they are paying for lobbyists and lawyers who seek to extract even more tax dollars from their pockets.

The taxpayers writing the check ought to be able to look at every debit on the account. It's a matter of trust. If schools are going to demand more money for education, then Texans should be able to demand more education for their money.

Reforming education is a tremendous challenge with great possibilities. And I can't think of two better Texans to help lead this effort than Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Kent Grusendorf.

Like both of them, I believe the work of the Legislature should not be left to the courts.

Each day that passes without a school finance bill represents another day of uncertainty for our schools...and another day Texans must live under a property tax system gone awry.

It is time to cut property taxes for the hardworking people of Texas. In fact, let's not only give Texans property tax relief...let's give them appraisal relief too.

Texans don't like taxation without representation, and they are sick and tired of taxation by valuation.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand for the taxpayer: Let's cap appraisals at three percent.

If you oppose a three percent cap on the philosophical grounds of local control, I can respect your position. But then I would hope you would be consistent, and advocate for the repeal of the ten percent cap on the same basis. There is no point in being lukewarm on this issue. Either be hot or cold; either provide real appraisal relief, or none at all. But let's stop this false pretense of taxpayer protection at ten percent.

Last year I also proposed a property tax revenue cap. Since then I have listened to other ideas and I think we can learn a lesson from some wise West Texans. In Lubbock, the city council refuses to accept the proceeds of an appraisal windfall because, as Councilman Gary Boren points out, re-evaluations often amount to a hidden tax.

Excluding new construction, Lubbock leaders automatically lower their rate to adjust for appraisal growth so they generate the same amount of revenue as the year before. Then they have a vote on whether they need to raise or lower that rate.

Two years ago, this saved Lubbock taxpayers from having to pay $2 million more in taxes. I think it is such a good idea that I asked Lubbock's Mayor, Marc McDougal, and Councilman Boren to join us today in honor of their fiscal restraint on the local level. Thank you for your leadership. I look forward to working with you and Representative Isett to champion this issue.

The fact is it's not a tax cut when your rate goes down if your total tax bill goes up. Let's bring Lubbock's "Truth in Taxation" plan to every local jurisdiction in Texas.

As we lower property taxes, we must all work together to find the right mixture of new revenues without harming Texans' jobs. I join the leadership of both houses in support of the concept of a broad-based business tax that is fairly distributed, assessed at a low rate and reflects our modern economy.

When it comes to a business tax, most employers want you to keep it simple, treat everybody fairly and create protections so the rate is not easily raised. This is vital to continuing our prosperity.

We should view this as a rare opportunity to modernize our tax system, and eliminate inequities. But just to be clear: The goal is to create greater tax fairness, not a greater tax burden for the people of Texas.

With our vastly improved budgetary picture, we can provide new money for education and real reductions in property taxes without increasing the net tax burden on Texans.

Some say it can't be done. But if we can avoid a tax hike in the face of a $10 billion shortfall, we can do it again in times of surplus. And I pledge to work with you over these 140 days to get it done.

Today I am submitting a budget that substantially increases investments in jobs, public education, higher education, health care and protective services and that reduces spending at 60 percent of our state agencies. And it provides a $2.3 billion cushion to close out the books on this biennium and invest even more money in key priorities.

Some will argue we can't invest in jobs when we have so many human needs. Those critics argue against themselves. To make long-term investments in health care, education and the social welfare, we need the revenue generated by economic growth.

To date we have attracted more than 22,000 new jobs and $6 billion in capital investment because of the visionary job creation tool you created last session: the Texas Enterprise Fund.

We are in stiff competition for these jobs. Sometimes we lose, such as when we made a $45 million offer to bring jobs to the Rio Grande Valley. But we've had more than our fair share of victories because I have two strong negotiating partners in Governor Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick.

Because of our good economic climate, we're spending a lot less than other states to attract a lot more jobs. One state offered $240 million and another state offered a $3.2 billion package to land a single project. Both amounts are more than we have allocated to bring more than a dozen projects to Texas.

But consider the possibilities if we not only invest in specific job creation projects but in the innovations and new technologies that will be the foundation of the future economy. I ask you to not only replenish the Enterprise Fund, I ask you to make investments to grow our world-class research institutions, develop cutting edge technologies and harvest the miracle of modern science with a new $300 million Emerging Technology Fund.

Over the next ten years, California is investing $3 billion in one area of biotechnology, Ohio is putting up $1.1 billion for technology commercialization and Kansas is investing half a billion dollars in biotechnology. We can't afford to be left behind.

In the next ten years, emerging technologies will generate $3 trillion in revenue worldwide. The question is, where will those investments be made, and who will reap the benefits? Where will the better, faster computer architecture be designed, the gene therapies and treatments that will rescue people from terminal and chronic diseases, the cleaner technologies that will clean the air our children breathe? I want them developed in Texas labs by Texas minds to the benefit of the Texas economy.

This is a test of our vision: Will we succumb to short-term thinking, or invest in limitless possibilities?

Preserving jobs requires action on three other fronts.

First, I ask you to relieve Texas employers of some of the highest workers compensation costs in the nation. With the leadership of Senator Staples and Representatives Giddings and Solomons I know we can get this done.

Second, as the Public Utility Commission goes under sunset review, I ask you to modernize telecommunications laws so we have a regulatory framework that keeps up with technology advances...and allows for greater economic opportunity.

And third, it is time to end Texas' status as the home of frivolous asbestos lawsuits. Let's care for those who are truly sick, while preserving legal rights for those who are not.

Our choice this session is not between jobs and human services as some suggest. We can make sound, strategic investments in both.

Medicaid and CHIP meet a great need. Today more than two million children are insured by these two programs, compared to one million children just six years ago.

When it comes to CHIP, better economic times will allow this legislature to re-examine the program's benefits, and provide dental, vision and mental health care. I support such an investment. Our goal should be to provide benefits we can afford while preserving CHIP for families that need it the most.

The most startling fact regarding the uninsured in Texas is not that we rank 18th in the nation in the percentage of children covered by Medicaid but that we rank 46th in the percentage of children receiving employer-sponsored insurance.

We must not lose sight of the long-term goal to move more Texans from subsidized insurance to private insurance. Last session we provided small employers lower cost options and today there are health insurance options available that cost up to 30 pecent less.

We need to continue these successes by promoting innovative options like health savings accounts so Texans have viable health care alternatives that put them back in charge of health care decisions.

And when it comes to a healthier border region, I ask you to make two critical investments. Let's fully fund the Irma Rangel Pharmacy School in Kingsville. And let's fully fund the Texas Tech Medical School in El Paso.

Our greatest concern in health and human services must be to invest in the most fundamental components of our safety net so we can protect those who can't help themselves: those in the dawn of their lives or the twilight of their years who are at risk of neglect and abuse.

The investigations I ordered last year revealed a safety net that fails many vulnerable Texans. But the results of these investigations can lead to lasting improvements that will change Texas for the better.

Working with Senator Nelson and Representatives Hupp and Uresti, I am confident we can greatly reduce investigator caseloads at Child Protective Services, improve salaries, improve case management with better technology and refocus this important agency on its core mission: protecting our most precious resource, Texas children.

We must take the same passion to reforming Adult Protective Services, with expanded training, additional caseworkers and the transfer of guardianship services to the Department of Aging and Disability Services.

We must not only reform protective services, we must improve programs that can prevent the need for protective services for many Texans. With greater local control, decreased administration and a better integration of services, we can improve behavioral health for persons with mental illness and chemical dependency while also improving aging services and care for Texans with disabilities.

This is the unfinished work of our health services reorganization. Improvements made on the state level must now occur on the local level so that when Texans need help, they will always have somewhere to turn.

Our vow as a society to protect those who cannot help themselves must never exclude some of our most vulnerable Texans – unborn children.

Within a matter of weeks, a beating heart can be detected in the womb, and early sonograms show human life in its most precious and fast-developing state. This great human journey, from the moment of conception until our last moments on earth, is sacred.

The right to life is a fundamental right declared by our forefathers. If you send me a bill requiring parental consent for a minor to have an abortion, I will sign it without delay because it will protect innocent life.

And in order to preserve the sanctity of human life, I ask you to send me a bill to ban human cloning in Texas.

Texans agree there is a legitimate role for government but there must also be a limited role for government. While government must meet a great many social needs, it should never loom larger in our lives than our freedoms.

What makes this state great is not the size of our government or how much we spend. The greatness of this state is measured by the vision, the values and the virtue of our people.

Texans have never shied away from the tough tasks and have never viewed sacrifice as the calling of another. A great many Texans have made sacrifices for freedom in recent years in the American Spirit of service to causes greater than self Today we have once again been reminded that freedom is protected at a great price with the news that 31 Marines were killed in a helicopter crash early this morning in Iraq, the deadliest day since American forces began the liberation.

These brave Americans gave up their dreams so our children can realize theirs. Every member of the Armed Forces makes a great sacrifice, as is the case with two Texans here with us today who served a tour of duty on the front lines of the war on terror.

Technical Sergeant Cindy Matzen with the 204th Weather Flight of the Texas Air National Guard was deployed north of Kabul, Afghanistan for seven months in 2003, leaving five children behind, and five precious grandchildren.

And Lieutenant Colonel Foy Watson, the son of one of our Senate doorkeepers, and a deputy commander with the 71st Information Operation Group of the Texas Army National Guard served in Baghdad as the Chief of Information Operation Plans for Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. He left behind four children and six grandchildren who missed him dearly those six months he was gone in 2003 and 2004.

These two Texans and a great many more honor us with their heroic service. And the least we can do is honor them with a hero's welcome for their courage on the front lines of freedom.

The state they have returned to is a state that honors service. Each of you has answered the noble calling of public service as elected representatives of the people. And though we come from different places and different points of view, we all gather to do what is best for Texas.

A new era of possibility awaits us, one full of promise and prosperity if we invest in our children and the opportunities worthy of their future.

It can only happen if we stand together reconciled in causes that serve a greater interest than party or personal ambition. We must strive to be, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, a "beautiful symphony of brotherhood," a people in pursuit of the common good united by the common bonds of our humanity.

Our work is before us. It cannot be passed to future legislatures and must not be passed to future generations. May we boldly seize the moment with singular unity. And may we build a Texas of unlimited possibility. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Texas.

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Group Plans to Advertise the Positive Side of Public Education

Jan. 26, 2005, 6:12AM

Singing schools' praises

Group plans to advertise the positive side of public education
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

News reporters have been so busy chasing negative stories about Texas
public schools that the positive stories have gone unheard, a group of
Houston business leaders was told Tuesday night.

Scott Milder's newly formed Friends of Texas Public Schools plans to
correct that.

"I've seen firsthand all the good things that happen in the public
schools and they never get coverage," Milder said.

He was raising money for his nonprofit organization Tuesday night with
the help of Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, who sits on the
organization's advisory board.

"There's this negative perception out there that public schools are
failing or in a crisis," Milder said. "We're saying, let's celebrate
successes and help them improve."

Milder's crusade comes at a time of allegations of widespread cheating
on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and a state judge's
ruling that Texas' school funding levels are inadequate and

"We are doing a good job in Texas public schools, but we're not
perfect," Neeley said.

Neeley said the cheating allegations were "blown out of proportion," but
acknowledged that wrongdoing occurred.

"We're not going to bury our head in the sand. ... We're going to deal
with it very aggressively," she said.

Milder's friendship with Neeley dates back to 1996 when she hired him as
her spokesman in the Galena Park Independent School District. Today,
Milder is in charge of public relations for a Dallas architectural firm
that specializes in school design. The company, SHW Group Architects,
has annual revenues of $40 million, according to Milder's résumé.

Before Tuesday night, the nonprofit group had collected about $5,000
from donors, Milder said. He hopes to haul in much more to pay for a
pro-public-schools advertising blitz that will include billboard,
television and radio advertising.

"The public schools are an easy target," Milder said. "We want to change
that. We want people feeling better about public schools."

On the group's Web site, Neeley describes herself as a "cheerleader" for
Texas public education, calling on business and community groups to
"circle the wagons" to promote the school system.

"I can lead and I can cheer but every school in Texas needs the strong
support of our public and the business community," Neeley wrote.

Although his company makes its money from school building projects that
often depend on voter-approved financing, Milder said that had nothing
to do with his decision to form the organization.

"Our motives are pure and to be perfectly honest, the reason behind
doing this is, it's the right thing to do for kids in Texas," Milder
said. "Everybody is going to benefit."

He said his boss, SHW Group CEO Gary Keep, told him he could spend half
of each work day running the nonprofit. Keep also sits on the advisory
board, as do representatives from Houston Habitat for Humanity and Texas
Tech University.

Milder called the organization a grass-roots operation. He said he
invited business leaders, particularly those from the construction
industry, to attend Tuesday night's fund-raiser.

"Everybody has an interest in the public perceiving the schools
accurately and that's what we're about," Milder said.

Texas' Asian American fourth-graders, for example, outscored all peers
nationally on a standardized test, according to the group's Web site,

Parent and teacher groups applauded the effort by Milder and his
schoolteacher wife, Leslie, who helped him form Friends of Texas Public

"There are more things going on that are positive than are negative,"
said Mercedes Alejandro, president of the Houston chapter of Parents for
Public Schools. "The stories that don't get reported are the ones where
students are excelling."

The ads could convince more people to pursue teaching careers, said
Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.

"Education in general has an image problem," Kouri said.

Staff writer Rosanna Ruiz contributed to this report.

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The Concience by the Pond

by TOM HAYDEN, a social activist since the 60s, has been a California State Assemblyman and state senator. He is a professor at Occidental College and the author of nine books.

ON THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY of Walden, several new editions of the classic were published. Some are elegantly footnoted or designed. Others explore the recurring significance of Thoreau as a mirror reflecting America's nature, and Barksdale Maynard's detailed history of Walden Pond itself contains invaluable new material for students of Thoreau.

Rachel Carson kept Walden by her bedside. Annie Dillard wrote her master's thesis about Walden Pond. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were affected by it in their early years, as was Pete Seeger. Arlo Guthrie named his cat after Henry; my wife named a dog. Besides these individuals, millions of anonymous backpackers carry their own paperback editions of Walden wherever they seek respite.

These days Thoreau is mainly remembered for the self-conscious life he lived, and for his vital role in the creation of environmentalism. In his own time he embodied ideas that others merely discussed in their parlors. The liquid clarity of Thoreau's sentences arose from the natural simplicity in which he was grounded.

The danger in such memories is that he becomes a harmless icon whose example is salutary but obsolete. The problem is that Thoreau cannot be understood through Walden alone. One wonders if the prestigious publishers of these volumes will issue new editions of the whole Thoreau, the Thoreau who drafted Civil Disobedience (1849), who penned Slavery in Massachusetts (1854), A Plea for Captain John Brown (1860), and Life Without Principle (1863), who kept thirteen notebooks on Native Americans, and whose last mysterious words were "moose" and "Indians" -- or whether he will be reduced to an ascetic hermit.

In 1960, I was spellbound as a student editor listening to a representative fresh from the Southern sit-ins cite Thoreau's refusal to pay taxes for the Mexican war. His conversation with Emerson from jail -- "Why Henry, what are you doing in there?" "Ralph Waldo, what are you doing out there?" -- was the most powerful expression of the credo that carried thousands of young people, mostly African Americans but some whites as well, to fill the southern jails in protest against racial segregation: "A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority... but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight."

The same Thoreau inspired the resistance to the Vietnam War and to domestic police brutality: "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison... It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them." It was also this Thoreau who framed the issue of voting in a larger moral context: "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, by your whole influence."

Since Thoreau drafted both Walden and Civil Disobedience in the two years spent at Walden Pond, we must conclude that there was only one Thoreau, not an earlier nature writer and a later champion of Indians, Mexicans, tax-refusing war resisters, and violent abolitionists. The message linking all the issues Thoreau addressed was to live naturally wild and free, like the rest of Creation, not in conformity to institutions or dogma. "Action from principle," he wrote in Civil Disobedience, "the perception and the performance of right, -- changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with any thing which was." In essence, action -- the fully lived life -- creates an evidence of its own that the social order can change, just as the natural order changes through the drama of evolution.

The lesson of Thoreau is not that environmentalists and nonviolent spiritual seekers should retreat from the worlds of poverty, racism, and war, or focus on voluntary simplicity alone as the antidote to consumption. Their natural dignity, he seems to argue, requires that they understand themselves as carriers of a "wildness" that resists all bondage. To be faithful, if we would follow Thoreau into the woods, should we not follow him to the prison cell? If we respect the reasons he retired to his cabin -- a radical act at the time -- why not admire his defense of Captain John Brown?

Thoreau's call is to live heroically as nature does, to feel both the inner and outer as one, to link personal self-reliance with direct action in the world, and to resist the nature of any state that does not conform to the state of nature.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fla. Board Seeks Social-Promotion Ban in All Grades

Published: January 26, 2005

By Alan Richard

Florida could become the first state to require students to pass a reading test to advance at every grade level, under a plan approved by the state school board last week.

The plan requires lawmakers’ approval, but support for limited bans on “social promotion” has been strong for years in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Commissioner of Education John Winn said in an interview that the plan would take hold only gradually if passed into law.

The state already requires most 3rd graders to pass a reading test—normally the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test—before they advance to 4th grade. High school students similarly must pass an FCAT reading test or an alternative before they can graduate. Low-scoring 3rd graders must attend three-week summer reading classes, which enable some students to escape retention.

The Florida board of education voted unanimously on Jan. 18 to ask the legislature for the authority to expand the social-promotion ban into other grades. In social promotion, students who have fallen short academically are advanced to the next grade to keep them with their peers.

Mr. Winn said last week that he would recommend the ban start with 4th and 5th graders—students who already have been subject to the 3rd grade requirements. State board members then could determine how swiftly the program would reach other grades.

“This could take 10 years” to implement, the commissioner said.
Catalyst or Quick Fix?

The existing policy against social promotion has improved reading skills among 3rd graders and has been a catalyst for higher student achievement in the elementary grades, Mr. Winn said. Expanding the program to all grades would keep students with poor literacy skills from advancing through school without the preparation they need, he added.

Florida would be the first state to link student retention to standardized-test scores at all grade levels, if the plan proceeds. Eight states now link retention to test scores at some grade levels, typically in grades 3, 5 and 8, according to the Education Week Research Center.

But critics warn that the plan may need more thought.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said the union was surprised by the state board’s plan.

The union, a merged affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, favors leaving the decision to retain or promote students in the hands of teachers and parents, rather than judging pupils by a test score.

“When you have a child that’s behind in a particular grade, then I think you need to launch all kinds of special attention on the kids. That’s something that’s lacking,” Mr. Pudlow said.

School district leaders may also be skeptical of the plan to end social promotion in all grades.

“We’ve never been a big proponent of social promotion, but keeping a student back a grade level isn’t the only way to address a student’s shortcomings” on tests, said Connie M. Milito, the director of government relations for the 183,000-student Hillsborough County schools.

Commissioner Winn said the state board’s plan fits into Florida’s other strategies for improving public schools. “Social promotion is just the symptom” of the problems that exist in teaching children to read, he said. “What we need to work on is better teaching and learning.”
Chance for Approval

It’s not yet clear how the legislature will respond to the state board’s plan.

Towson Fraser, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Allen Bense, a Republican, said the speaker had not reviewed the state board’s plan. But the speaker backed the 3rd grade program when it was approved in 2002, he said.

“The idea that you just keep pushing kids along when they’re not prepared to be better students is not something he agrees with,” Mr. Fraser said on behalf of the speaker.

Mr. Winn and other supporters of expanding the social-promotion ban cited recent test data as proof that the 3rd grade program is something to build on. Sixty-six percent of the state’s 3rd graders scored at acceptable levels in reading in 2004, while only 57 percent did in 2001, according to the state.

Most 3rd graders who have been retained under the social-promotion ban were able to improve their reading scores enough to move on to 4th grade the following year. The program exempts some students who are learning English, or who do not take state tests because of disabilities.

Also, some students are allowed to show progress using portfolios or tests other than the FCAT. Still other low-scoring 3rd graders can advance after taking three weeks of remedial-reading classes and passing a test during the summer.

Now in its second year, the 3rd grade policy resulted in about 28,000 retentions in the 2003-04 school year. Fewer than half that number of pupils were retained in the other elementary grades.

Mr. Winn said that retaining more students would not result in more high school dropouts, as critics claim, because more children would improve their basic skills at earlier ages. School leaders should not panic over the proposed changes, he said.

“You will not see the governor or me proposing massive retention in grades that we already know that we haven’t experienced success in,” the commissioner said.
Vol. 24, Issue 20, Pages 22,27

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Sticky Ladder

January 25, 2005


n his Inaugural Address President Bush embraced the grandest theme of American foreign policy - the advance of freedom around the world. Now that attention is turning to the State of the Union address, it would be nice if he would devote himself as passionately to the grandest theme of domestic policy - social mobility.

The United States is a country based on the idea that a person's birth does not determine his or her destiny. Our favorite stories involve immigrants climbing from obscurity to success. Our amazing work ethic is predicated on the assumption that enterprise and effort lead to ascent. "I hold the value of life is to improve one's condition," Lincoln declared.

The problem is that in every generation conditions emerge that threaten to close down opportunity and retard social mobility. Each generation has to reopen the pathways to success.

Today, for example, we may still believe American society is uniquely dynamic, but we're deceiving ourselves. European societies, which seem more class riven and less open, have just as much social mobility as the United States does.

And there are some indications that it is becoming harder and harder for people to climb the ladder of success. The Economist magazine gathered much of the recent research on social mobility in America. The magazine concluded that the meritocracy is faltering: "Would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap."

Economists and sociologists do not all agree, but it does seem there is at least slightly less movement across income quintiles than there was a few decades ago. Sons' income levels correlate more closely to those of their fathers. The income levels of brothers also correlate more closely. That suggests that the family you were born into matters more and more to how you will fare in life. That's a problem because we are not supposed to have a hereditary class structure in this country.

But we're developing one. In the information age, education matters more. In an age in which education matters more, family matters more, because as James Coleman established decades ago, family status shapes educational achievement.

At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.

In this way these highly educated elites produce a paradox - a hereditary meritocratic class.

It becomes harder for middle-class kids to compete against members of the hypercharged educated class. Indeed, the middle-class areas become more socially isolated from the highly educated areas.

And this is not even to speak of the children who grow up in neighborhoods in which more boys go to jail than college, in which marriage is not the norm before child-rearing, in which homes are often unstable, in which long-range planning is absurd, in which the social skills you need to achieve are not even passed down.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush is no doubt going to talk about his vision of an ownership society. But homeownership or pension ownership is only part of a larger story. The larger story is the one Lincoln defined over a century ago, the idea that this nation should provide an open field and a fair chance so that all can compete in the race of life.

Today that's again under threat, but this time from barriers that are different than the ones defined by socialists in the industrial age. Now, the upper class doesn't so much oppress the lower class. It just outperforms it generation after generation. Now the crucial inequality is not only finance capital, it's social capital. Now it is silly to make a distinction between economic policy and social policy.

We can spend all we want on schools. But if families are disrupted, if the social environment is dysfunctional, bigger budgets won't help.

President Bush spoke grandly and about foreign policy last Thursday, borrowing from Lincoln. Lincoln's other great cause was social mobility. That's worth embracing too.

Clergyman Stumps for School Vouchers at Supreme Court Building

by Jackie Hallifax
The Associated Press

January 25, 2005

TALLAHASSEE · Backed by several dozen students on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court, a West Palm Beach minister spoke out Monday in defense of state laws that let parents send their children to private schools on state vouchers or scholarships.

Florida's high court is considering the constitutionality of Florida's original voucher program. Bishop Harold Ray and his supporters say a ruling against the 1999 law would put in jeopardy several other programs that are used by thousands of students, including the state's forthcoming pre-kindergarten program.

"School choice is rapidly becoming the pre-eminent civil right of the 21st century," said Ray, a senior pastor at Redemptive Life Fellowship and a senior administrator at Redemptive Life Academy.

Voucher opponents said Ray and his backers are resorting to scare tactics. Voucher opponents include the state's teachers union, the Florida PTA, the League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"This lawsuit is not to destroy everything," said Ruth Holmes, a retired Panhandle teacher.

The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case, which came to it after the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in November that the law violates the church-state separation provision of the Florida Constitution. It forbids the state from using tax dollars to aid any church, sect or religious denomination.

Nearly 700 children attend private schools on state vouchers under the original law, which is triggered when a public school earns failing grades from the state two years out of four. More than half the students attend religious schools; the law specifies that students cannot be forced to pray or profess a religious belief.

Although the law at issue in the lawsuit is Florida's first school voucher program, it is dwarfed by later voucher programs.

Nearly 14,000 students attend private schools on McKay scholarships, which were created for children with disabilities, and another 10,000 students attend private schools on scholarships granted by businesses that get tax credits from the state.

Voucher supporters warn that programs such as these, as well as the popular Bright Futures college scholarship and the pre-kindergarten law, are at risk if the Florida Supreme Court upholds the appellate ruling.

Parents who spoke Monday said they wanted to send their children to private schools because of smaller class sizes, greater physical safety and academic content.

Micelle Emery, a Castleberry mother who wants to send her youngest to a Christian preschool, said she wanted her children to be taught creationism as an alternative theory to evolution.

"Why should I lose my rights to send my children to a school that promotes the values, the level of education and the safety that are important to me simply because that school is religious?" Emery asked.,0,7881858.story?coll=sfla-news-florida

What Do Trees Have to Do with Peace?

Note: This is an incredible story. I just had to post it. I reveals what the power of a single individual can do. -AV

by Denise Roy
Thirty years ago, in the country of Kenya,
90% of the forest had been chopped down.
Without trees to hold the topsoil in place,
the land became like a desert.

When the women and girls would go in search
of firewood in order to prepare the meals,
they would have to spend hours and hours
looking for what few branches remained.

A woman named Wangari
watched all of this happening.
She decided that there must be a way
to take better care of the land and
take better care of the women and girls.

So she planted a tree.
And then she planted another.
She wanted to plant thousands of trees,
but she realized that it would take a very
long time if she was the only one doing it.
So she taught the women who were looking
for firewood to plant trees, and they were paid
a small amount for each sapling they grew.

Soon she organized women all over the country
to plant trees, and a movement took hold. It was
called the Green Belt Movement, and with each
passing year, more and more trees covered the land.

But something else was happening
as the women planted those trees.
Something else besides those trees was taking root.
The women began to have confidence in themselves.
They began to see that they could make a difference.
They began to see that they were capable of many
things, and that they were equal to the men.
They began to recognize that they were deserving
of being treated with respect and dignity.

Changes like these were threatening to some.
The president of the country didn't like any of this.
So police were sent to intimidate and beat Wangari
for planting trees, and for planting ideas of equality
and democracy in people's heads, especially in women's.
She was accused of "subversion" and arrested many times.

Once, while Wangari was trying to plant trees, she was
clubbed by guards hired by developers who wanted
the lands cleared. She was hospitalized with head injuries.
But she survived, and it only made her realize that she
was on the right path.

For almost thirty years, she was threatened physically,
and she was often made fun of in the press. But she
didn't flinch. She only had to look in the eyes of her
three children, and in the eyes of the thousands of
women and girls who were blossoming right along
with the trees, and she found the strength to continue.

And that is how it came to be that 30 million trees
have been planted in Africa, one tree at a time.
The landscapes--both the external one of the land
and the internal one of the people--have been transformed.

In 2002, the people of Kenya held a democratic
election, and the president who opposed Wangari and
her Green Belt Movement is no longer in office.
And Wangari is now Kenya's
Assistant Minister for the Environment.

She is 65 years old,
and this year she planted one more tree
in celebration and thanksgiving
for being given a very great honor:

Wangari Maathai has been awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the first
African woman to receive this award.

After she was notified, she gave a speech entitled,
"What Do Trees Have To Do With Peace?"
She pointed out how most wars are fought
over limited natural resources, such as oil, land,
coal or diamonds. She called for an end to
corporate greed, and for leaders to build more
just societies. She added:

"Our recent experience in Kenya gives hope
to all who have been struggling for a better future.
It shows it is possible to bring about positive change,
and still do it peacefully. All it takes is courage and
perseverance, and a belief that positive change is possible.
That is why the slogan for our campaign was 'It is Possible!'"

"On behalf of all African women, I want to express
my profound appreciation for this honour,
which will serve to encourage women in Kenya,
in Africa, and around the world to raise their
voices and not to be deterred."

"When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of
peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future
for our children. I call on those around the world
to celebrate by planting a tree wherever you are."

As she received the Nobel Peace Prize this week
in Oslo, she invited us all to get involved:

"Today we are faced with a challenge
that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that
humanity stops threatening its life-support system.
We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds
and in the process heal our own."

* * *

Can we accept Wangari's invitation?

(c) 2004 Denise Roy. All
rights reserved. can read it on her recent newsletter page at