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Schools Menaced by Texas Legislature

AUSTIN: They may hide their intentions with terms like "Freedom Scholarships," but rightwingers in Texas are out to undermine the public school system with vouchers. Worse, a significant number of legislators are working with them!

On April 5, the Legislature held hearings on voucher proposals. All over the Capitol, parents, children, and professional lobbyists swarmed with pro-voucher signs and literature. They do not use the term "vouchers," which would take education money for private and religious schools. Their signs emphasize "freedom" and, oddly for right-wingers whose reputation depends on ugly anti-abortion campaigns, "choice!"

Teachers said that the voucher supporters were financed by federal tax money under Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Lobbyists for the teacher unions, supported by other union reps, fought back. Fortunately for them, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) had brought several busloads of citizen lobbyists the same day. One of ACORN's issues was decent funding for public education, and they were happy to help the teachers. Soon, the ubiquitous "Give Kids a Choice" stickers were matched all over the Capitol with shiny yellow buttons that clarified all: "No Vouchers!"

Long-time Texas political experts opined that stand-alone voucher proposals would continue to meet with failure, as they have for the last dozen years. However, the Republican majority is expected to attach a voucher proposal to any school finance bill that might succeed.

Even though Texas has waited decades for stable school financing, they may have to wait for a special session if the Texas House and Senate continue to squabble over this year's proposals. A District court ruled the present system, which seeks equity by moving money from richer districts to poorer ones, as inadequate. Legislators may wait for the State Supreme Court to rule on the appeals before making any significant moves. Meanwhile, thousands of pulp trees continue to be sacrificed so that enough newspapers can be printed to tell the ongoing saga.

Emmett Sheppard, President of the Texas AFL-CIO, recently wrote, "The history of the school finance debate in Texas can be seen as one big stalling tactic that has impeded the progress of schoolchildren in this state."

Also on April 5, the Texas Education Agency Commissioner predicted that the number of "failed schools" - those where standardized test scores are low - would rise greatly in the next year as new standards are imposed. The State Senate received a proposal to privatize such "failed schools." The Dallas newspaper's front page story said, "The confluence of two distinct shifts in the Texas education world has some wondering whether schools are being set up for failure."

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