You’ve probably seen the articles about what’s going on with public education these days.
There’s the “it’s the Republicans fault” cry to counter the “it’s the Democrats fault“, but I’ll take the unpopular stance and say it’s OUR fault, fellow voters … or non-voters if that’s the case.
Let’s review some history.
The voters of Texas approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution in November 1991 authorizing lottery sales in Texas. Lottery funds were and still are put into the general fund, which is distributed to services such as public education, public safety, and health and human services.
Hmm, so why are these the areas where state funding is always cut first?
Dedicating lottery funds solely to education didn’t then and doesn’t now mean schools will get more money because it actually decreases the money dedicated to education from general revenue. In other words, it was a shell game, folks. The lottery was sold as a way to help education, and most people feel like they were misled a little bit – like me, for instance.
In 1991, then-Gov. Ann Richards told voters in a televised address the day before the lottery was approved that if they wanted good schools, they could choose between a lottery or “a huge tax bill.”
Talk about political strong-arming in true southern woman “bless your heart” fashion.
So in Texas, we were never supposed to have a budget concern again because the magic Lottery was going to take care of all that, or so we were loosely led to believe.
Under current law, the Lottery gives 30 cents of every dollar generated from ticket sales to education funding. In 2003, the education portion of the Texas state budget amounted to nearly $16 billion. That same year, the Lottery generated $3.1 billion dollars in ticket sales, yielding only $882 million in tax revenue. So much for covering state-wide education costs even if they did own up to the bill of goods they sold us. If we hadn’t fallen for the loosely promoted line that lottery money would help pay for education, we might have been able to really hold the politician’s feet to the fire to ensure that any public education program would actually have money behind it to make it work.
So my fellow citizens, how many other times have we fallen for the campaign promises, and then been disappointed when those promises go unfulfilled?
In 1993, we had the Robin Hood plan – legislation enacted by the State to provide court-mandated equitable school financing for all school districts in the state. Similar to the legend of Robin Hood, who “robbed from the rich and gave to the poor”, the law “recaptured” property tax revenue from property-wealthy school districts and distributed those in property-poor districts, in an effort to equalize the financing of all districts throughout Texas. This one fell apart because the Texas Supreme Court ruled that, since the vast majority of school districts were having to tax at the maximum maintenance-and-operations tax rate of $1.50 per $100 of property valuation just to raise enough money to meet state mandates, the school finance system was, in effect, a state property tax, which is prohibited by the Texas Constitution.
Oops. That was a disaster of epic proportions.
In 2001, the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed with strong bipartisan backing by the House of Representatives by a vote of 381-41, and by the Senate by a vote of 87-10. President George W. Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.
If you’ll remember, this NCLB thing was going to take care of our disadvantaged students; serve delinquent and neglected youth in institutions, day programs, and correctional facilities; provide resources for improving teacher and principal quality; facilitate improved student academic achievement through the use of technology in the schools; and provide resources for fostering a safe and drug-free learning environment that supports academic achievement.
NCLB was initially legislated for 5 years, and has since been temporarily extended, but not officially reauthorized. Senate Democrats were divided were divided on reauthorization, while most Senate Republicans heartily despise NCLB. Oh, the irony. In May 2008, Senate reauthorization was put on the backburner while legislators pondered hundreds of reform ideas, along with their navels apparently. The problem with NCLB then and now is that no one has ever realistically given a credible thought to the challenge of program funding. So yes, let’s all continue to sit here and wait while they prepare to commence to think about the possibility of getting off their arses and maybe doing something someday, or not.
I think a great big thank you is in order to those fine representatives of the people who have inflicted NCLB on us for the good of the children and our futures.
In 2009, $91 billion of stimulus funds were set aside for education spending. Total federal spending on education on the 2008-09 school year was $667 billion, but we’ll spend roughly ten times that on one of our current wars again this year. One quarter of our total federal budget every year officially goes to pay for defense programs. Imagine what we could do in other areas with that money!
So here we are, 20 years later, still facing massive budget shortfalls for public education, and with no answer from the people we voted into office as to how to truly fix the problem.
You may or may not have heard that HISD will revisit the budget situation in June. How convenient. There will be no school in session then, no opportunity for parents to voice their concerns at a PTO meeting, no easy forum or venue for anyone to opine about the decisions that will be made that will affect our children, and in turn our future, prior to implementation for the 11-12 school year. Very clever. I’m sure they’re hoping no one will notice.
In the mean time, let’s get rid of good teachers, cram more kids into classrooms, limit educational and artistic programs but keep football and athletics fully funded (by G-d!), hang on to bilingual education programs even though the last time I checked English was still the predominant language in the US, force districts to teach to a test rather than just teach, and turn a blind eye when we face a crisis of epic proportions that will potentially be our downfall as a nation because we’re cultivating sheep, not thinkers.
After all, the future of the US is totally tied to either a WAR or the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc. We don’t need no stinkin’ scientists to create or discover new things and boldly go where no one has gone before, authors to write about things that touch/move/inspire us, artists to feed our bereft souls, philosophers to challenge our thinking, mathematicians to break through the boundaries of our limited logic, or historians to remind of us where we’ve been so that we don’t move backwards.
Who needs the likes of Einstein, Pythagoras, Curie, Michelangelo, Aristotle, Da Vinci, Herodotus, Lao Tzu, Plato, Mancini, Socrates, Aquinas, Camus, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Asimov, Austen, Descartes, Lewis, Darwin, Baum, Kipling, Euclid, Rembrandt, Boole, Picasso, Monet, Galilei, Shaw, Mozart, Dickinson, Newton, Hemingway, Browning, Hippocrates, Bohr, Pavarotti, Copland, Joplin, Nightingale, Stowe, de Beauvoir, Beethoven, Chekhov, Wright, Archimedes, Tesla, Sumner, Fibonacci, Dvorak, and so on and so on?
Nah, who needs that.
We have our politicians looking out for us, and our money, and the future of our civilization. I wonder how many of them were home schooled?
BTW, if you can identify more than 5 of those names up there, thank an educator.