Spieckerman Speaks

Sunday, June 07, 2015

My email to Texas opinion leaders: On School Choice, Nevada Leaves Texas in the Dust

From: Lee Spieckerman
Sent: Thursday, June 4, 2015 11:53 PM
To: Texas Opinion Leaders
Subject: As Texas conservatives laud the Legislative session, Nevada leaves us in the dust
Importance: High

My Tweet yesterday @Spieckerman (www.twitter.com/spieckerman):

Props to Nev Gov. @briansandoval! Signs most far-reaching school choice law in U.S. Must be adopted nationwide! https://shar.es/12rVqX 

Many “conservative Republican” legislators, led by Texas House speaker Joe Straus and Public Education Committee chairman State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (appointed by Straus), have fought anything even approaching Nevada-style school choice plans and voted to maintain a cap on the number of charter schools in Texas. Texas has no cap on the number of liquor stores in poor neighborhoods, but we do have a cap on the number of charter schools in our state. Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking on New York teachers’ unions to remove caps on the number of charter schools in his state. Blessedly, Aycock isn’t running for re-election, presenting a huge opportunity to unwind our state’s anti-school choice insanity.

Aycock & Company have been abetted by an execrable cabal of school administrators, school system bureaucrats, teacher groups and power-hungry school board members. They have pushed the propaganda – all-too-often lapped-up by the media and parents – that school choice will “take money” from “already underfunded” public schools.

By that twisted logic, no one should be allowed to get wireless phone service from T-Mobile or Sprint because it “takes money” from AT&T and Verizon!

Texas Republican protection of our government public school superstructure is a crime against the children of Texas, especially the most disadvantaged kids – disproportionately minority – who are often already hampered by dangerous neighborhoods and toxic home situations.

There’s no conceivable law that would decree intact families or stable home lives for poor children – but government does determine what kids do for at least six hours on most weekdays, nine months out of the year. If that time was spent in schools that actually worked, isn’t it far more likely those children would grow up to make better life choices and be contributors to society rather than dependents of it?

Dallas Independent School District is the Iraq of big Texas school districts. Only when one steps through the looking glass and enters the public school realm would a superintendent who's district has experienced interminable and intolerable mismanagement, apparently systematically cooked its high school graduation stats and where twice as many schools are rated “D” or “F” as “A” or “B” be applauded for his performance.

DISD attempted to right itself through home rule. But the Byzantine mechanism for implementing it was hopelessly flawed.

DISD certainly isn’t alone. Every large, urban public school system in Texas is atrocious. And we don’t even have collective bargaining for teachers. So, what’s our excuse?

What good is Gov. Abbott’s universal pre-K if the children are subsequently going to be sentenced to 13 years of egregiously deficient education at government-run schools?

The fact that Texas doesn’t have powerful teachers’ unions uniquely positions us among the largest states to be in the vanguard of the parent-centered school movement.

Gov. Abbott should call a special session to simultaneously equalize K-12 education funding across Texas – addressing the lawsuit against Texas’ school finance system now pending before the Texas Supreme Court – and dramatically expand school choice, using the Nevada plan as a model.

But even vastly expanded school choice isn’t enough. Government-run schools that consistently fail should be automatically divested to accredited non-government education organizations with a strong track record serving disadvantaged pupils. Texas’ “parental trigger” law for failing schools was a step in the right direction, but is too weak to result in real change.

“Reform” of government run K-12 schools is akin to Soviet leader Gorbachev's ill-fated attempt to reform communism in the 1980s through perestroika. You just can’t get there from here.

Only school funding that follows pupils, not school systems, coupled with de-governmentization of failing government-run schools, will solve the abomination that is K-12 education for most children living in our state’s largest cities.

We’re fortunate that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is an avid and adroit champion of K-12 choice. I respectfully ask you to bolster Mr. Patrick’s efforts and fervently encourage Texas government leaders to quickly enact Nevada-style school reforms in our state. Texas must be a leader, not a laggard, when it comes to education – the most important responsibility of state government and our single greatest force for economic and social progress.

Lee Spieckerman
Follow me: www.twitter.com/spieckerman

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