Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tug-of-War That Went Nowhere

So pleased to be reading these frank analyses of the school finance debate, revealing the not-so-hidden agrenda of those wanting to privatize our public schools. (NOTE: See today's other post regarding the privatization interests behind the 65% rule that I've been covering.) State Representative Dunnam expresses: "Had it become law, House Bill 2 could have subjected over 800 Texas campuses to privatization. That's not just vouchers; it's vouchers on steroids." They agenda, according to Dunnam, is lifted from the pages of the California-based, Koret Task Force.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Jim Dunnam Guest column

Bipartisan solution is there if GOP leadership will yield

“The enemy of public education” -– that's what Devine, Texas, School Superintendent Rickey Williams, a self-described Republican, wrote this month about his party's conduct in Austin.

Based on the party's actions in the last five special and regular sessions, it is hard to dispute his claim.

Although Republicans control all branches of Texas government, they have not offered a single school finance plan that was really about improving education or cutting taxes for all Texans.

The nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board reports that the Republican tax plans would have slapped a net tax increase on 90 percent of all Texans, with only those making over $100,000 a year getting a net tax cut. Everybody else would pay more.

Gov. Perry talks a lot about property tax relief. But when the taxman takes more from your pocket than he puts in your hand, it is a tax increase.

While the GOP plan asked 9 out of 10 Texans to pay more, not one penny of those tax increases would go to improve our schools, revealing the fundamental flaw in the Republican House Bill 2 school plan.

In fact, the “reforms” in House Bill 2 literally were lifted from recommendations made by a California think tank's “Koret Task Force,” a group of private school voucher advocates.

The Republican leadership actually ignored the advice of Texas educators and listened to these California crazies.

The real goal of their plan was revealed this May by Rep. Kent Grusendorf, who “led” the Republican school finance effort. During the House floor debate, Grusendorf said:

“We have gone through over the last two or three decades of airline deregulation, trucking deregulation, electric deregulation, telephone deregulation. The only thing we haven't addressed is deregulating our schools.”

So when Republicans say “reform,” they mean treating our public schools like a deregulated industry.

I think most Texans agree that neither Enron nor the insolvent United Airlines pension fund is a model for improving public education.

Consider one House Bill 2 “reform” that would have allowed the state to turn over neighborhood school campuses to private companies.

Privatization problem

Local voters and school boards would have had no say in the matter, because the decision to privatize a campus would be made by the non-elected Texas commissioner of education in Austin.

Had it become law, House Bill 2 could have subjected over 800 Texas campuses to privatization.

That's not just vouchers; it's vouchers on steroids.

Fortunately, this misguided agenda was too much for the House majority to stomach.

A number of Republican House members broke ranks with their party leaders and joined Democrats to adopt a real plan offered by Democratic Rep. Scott Hochberg.

Although it cost no more than the Republican plan, this alternative earned bipartisan and educator support because it provided more property tax relief for middle class home-owners, $2 billion more in state dollars for our schools and a real teacher pay raise.

Shortly after the Hochberg plan was adopted, Speaker Craddick pulled the plug on the session rather than allow a majority to move forward.

Although we were disappointed, defeating dangerous House Bill 2 was a good move.

The Republican leadership must accept responsibility for their failure, a fact that seems to elude them.

They are even trying to shift blame to our educators and school leaders.

Apparently, the courts will have to force those in charge to fix our schools.

Meanwhile, no taxpayer is getting a property tax cut, and no additional support is being provided to improve test scores.

A bipartisan House majority voted to do those things, but leadership blocked our way.

For Texas students, teachers and taxpayers, defeating Republican tax and school bills was the right thing to do.

But before we start the meter running on another costly special session, those who really believe in public education must demand that our priorities are the basis for a real school finance solution.

Hopefully, the Republicans in charge will not stand in the way next time. Our schoolchildren's future should not be shortchanged by “the enemy of public education” in charge in Austin.

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Waco Democrat, represents District 57.


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