If disastrous trends in Texas portend bad developments in the rest of the nation, as they have since George W. Bush became governor, then Americans should prepare to fight if we want to save public education. Texas schools, like others throughout the nation, are afflicted. The proposed cures being peddled by the GOP, though, are considerably worse than any illness.
Having already rigged the November elections in Texas through redistricting, the state’s right-wing legislative majority awaits the March 9 primary elections, in which incumbent officeholders will hide their intentions for the much-delayed special session on school finance. Rampant speculation on their “remedies” is nourished by almost daily “smoke and mirrors” pronouncements from Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.
None of the proposals being dangled before the public includes significant increases in public school funding. None of them would equalize per-pupil expenditures. All of them divert funds into privatization schemes. All of them shift the tax burden even further onto the poor and working class.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Topeka held public schools remiss in their constitutional duty to provide equal education. The American ruling class, its politicians, and a handful of spokespersons in the education field have used the ensuing decades to muddy the issue.
In Texas, an impoverished school district near San Antonio, Edgewood, brought the basic issue of disparate per-pupil expenditures into focus in the early 1970s.
Under pressure from the courts, civil rights organizations and public opinion, the Texas Legislature fumbled until the 1990s, when they mandated that the richer districts had to share their property-tax incomes with the poorer districts. The solution, which was much more fair than any that had preceded it, calmed the legal fight, but brought on a storm of orchestrated propaganda from the corporate-controlled media. They dubbed the new school finance procedure “Robin Hood” and denigrated it at every opportunity.
In the 2002 state elections, both Democrats and Republicans ranted against “Robin Hood” and swore to exterminate it. Both said that more state aid to the districts would replace the disparity in local property-tax income. Well, after the election, the right-wingers changed their tune. “No new funding,” said the governor. “Increase state sales taxes and cut local property taxes,” said the lieutenant governor. “No new taxes,” said the speaker of the House. “Divert tax money away from public education” they all sang.
Many progressive Texans have been drawn into quibbling over relatively minor points. They point out, for example, that money for schools could come from taxing the corporations who do business in Texas but register their taxable activities elsewhere, most notably in Delaware.
They also point out that both local property taxes and statewide sales taxes regressively overburden the poorest Texans, and that the proposed increase in sales taxes would make them even more regressive. They observe that the old private schools, the new charter schools, the privatization efforts, and the ongoing home-schooling schemes have failed to improve on the public schools.
But the corporate news sources and their news editors control the public “debate;” consequently, it mainly revolves around how much to cut the schools, how much to award the privatizers, how much more tax-and-tuition burden can be heaped onto the backs of the poor, how much to penalize educators, and how much more meaningless and misleading testing can be added to the burdens of Texas students.
Recently published “solutions” exacerbate the problem: vouchers, doing away with requirements for teaching jobs, textbook cuts, weakening teacher unions, merit pay for test scores, more tests, increased sales tax rates, sales taxes on basic necessities, cutting extracurricular activities, tuition for preschoolers, increasing classroom sizes, removing funds from other state social services, and a babble of senseless proposals that would have no meaningful effect one way or the other.
We progressive Texans, and all Americans, must clear our heads of the flimflam and unite to fight for our children’s rights. Public education is being undermined and attacked. No increases in tuition! No regressive tax schemes! No privatization! Real money and real educational solutions for our children!
Jim Lane is a World correspondent, labor activist and former teacher from North Texas. He can be reached ator via the web site tx.cpusa.org.