Sunday, January 30, 2011

Budget shortfall a good reason to revisit mandatory standardized testing

Once again Texas school districts are being asked to do more with less, this time it’s due to a new testing regime mandated by House Bill 3 from the 2009 legislative session. The dreaded TAKS tests were dropped but the replacement isn’t just more demanding it is more testing.
Currently the TAKS tests require about 25 school days per year but when the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR™) testing regime is fully implemented it will require an astounding 45 days of testing. That’s one quarter of the entire school year. I’ve heard from a school administrator friend that when this was announced at a conference the only people smiling were from Pearson Testing Services because they were seeing dollar signs from all the lucrative contracts that will surely ensue.
While the old business adage that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is certainly true, more testing doesn’t equal more learning. Given Texas’ looming $27 billion budget shortfall and the fact that much of that shortage will be made up by cuts to school funding now would be good time for our legislators to stop and rethink this unfunded mandate.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reponse to letter to the editor regarding separation of church and state

In his letter “Writer is wrong about court decisions on separation of church and state” Mr. Mis argues that since the Supreme Court found slavery constitutional one can’t use their decisions as the basis for governing. Mis should remember that at the time the Constitution considered slaves only three fifths of a person but I suppose he should be forgiven that error since the Republican House reading of the Constitution conveniently skipped over that since repealed section.

Mis refers to (Zorach v. Clauson) to support his position but all one must do is read the majority opinion to understand that it in fact supports separation of church and state. The 1952 case involved New York City schools allowing students to sign out of school to attend religious instruction or devotions off campus. From the majority opinion written by Justice Douglas: “The public schools are merely accommodating the people of faith who want to receive religious education. Lack of cooperation by the state towards religion should be construed as hostility.” That’s not so far from allowing kids to sign out of school to go to the orthodontist.

I have only one question for Mr. Mis and anyone who thinks as he does, how would you feel if the prayers offered at the next meeting of the City Council you attend were offered to Hindu gods, Native American spirits or pagan earth mother? After all if you have the right to say a sectarian prayer so do they.

Reponse to January 20 Express News letter to the editor

Durand Waters’ letter “Losing our Republic” seems to pin the blame for the nation’s ills on the roughly 17% of the public who aren’t Christian or Jewish. It’s awfully arrogant to claim that Christians and Jews have a monopoly on morality when we have such examples as the disgraced Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker defrauding his flock and the Catholic Church hiding child molesters.

If there’s any small minority that can be blamed for the loss of the Republic it’s the 1% super rich like the Koch brothers who through their direct and indirect campaign donations and lobbying have suborned the government that is supposed to be, as Abraham Lincoln famously stated in the Gettysburg Address, “of the people, by the people and for the people”.

Waters asks if there’s any better way to pledge allegiance to the Constitution than by placing our hand on the Bible? The answer is of course that there is, especially if you’re one of the 17% that is moral without being Christian or Jewish. On the other hand what good is that pledge if the “monied interests” that Andrew Jackson feared would overwhelm the nation are the real masters.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Letter to the editor: Calling out Texas Republican leadership for failure to fix the budget

After ten years of Republican control of Texas state government and calls for small efficient government we’ve gotten a $27 billion state budget shortfall and nothing but talk about cutting spending. If there was really such waste in our state budget for the last decade why didn’t Texas Republicans deal with it earlier? The answer is there isn’t much waste in our already proportionally small budget but since the Republicans leadership hasn’t seen fit to address the structural problems of our tax code they need a scapegoat.

This Republican leadership failure will hurt citizens all across Texas because state agencies will be forced to cut jobs in an already depressed economy and add to the jobless rate. Those lost jobs will further reduce tax revenues because those folks won’t be spending and paying sales tax and they’ll be collecting unemployment insurance all further deepening the deficit.

With those jobs cuts will also come cuts in services like education and health care even though a recent poll shows that more than 70% of Texans don’t want those areas cut. In addition we can look forward to higher property taxes so that cities and counties can fund police and fire departments as well as hospital districts and schools.

All this and yet Gov. Perry and the Republican led legislature refuse to tap the Rainy Day Fund’s $9.4 billion which would at least ease the damage. If a $27 billion shortfall isn’t a rainy day I don’t know what is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Letter to John Kuempel, State Rep HD 44

January 13, 2011

The Honorable John Kuempel
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768

Dear Representative Kuempel,

Congratulations on your overwhelming win in the special election. Now that you have officially assumed your duties as our representative in HD 44 I urge you to recognize the massive budget shortfall Texas is faced with and the need to restructure the state budget. It is imperative that you and your colleagues act on the wishes of the vast majority of Texans, 70% plus, that want social services and education to be funded at or above existing levels. The state budget has already been cut to the bone and any further cuts will damage the health and future of this great state.

Education is not an expense, it is in fact an investment in the future of Texas as I’m sure you recognize given that your personal success and that of your employer could not have occurred without an educated work force. The new Caterpillar plant would not have been built in Seguin without access to an educated workforce. If we fail to invest in the future of Texas by not fully funding primary, secondary and university educations for all Texans you will suffer the shame for the rest of your life. I urge you to remember that your own children will be live in the future Texas that you, even now, are going to shape.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What does Texas AG Greg Abbott think about human waste in our water?

The state of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have refused to implement Clean Air Act protections against carbon pollution so the Environmental Protection Agency has taken up the task as is mandated by law. Despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate CO2 Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has sued the EPA in federal court to stop it from doing its job in Texas.

Mr. Abbott said in a radio interview today “It is the height of insanity to have the EPA regulate something emitted by all living things.” Does Greg Abbott believe that the Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t protect our clean water from human waste because we all defecate?