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Anticipating the future bathroom-related litigation

It will be a matter of when, not if, should a bathroom bill passes.

[B]oth sides agree if any version of the bathroom bill becomes law, it will likely trigger a protracted legal battle that could have implications for the transgender community in Texas and nationwide.

“If it does in fact pass, it will be a big test for civil rights organizations,” said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It will also be a huge, landmark case in the courts to test the scope and limits of transgender rights in this county.

Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, authored by Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst, are nearly identical. They would both require public and charter schools to ensure that every multiple-occupancy bathroom, shower and locker room “be designated for and used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

A few schools in Texas allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, according to Joy Baskin, legal director for the Texas Association of School Boards. But Kolkhorst’s bills would force trans girls, for example, who are born male but identify as female to use either a private, single-stall bathroom or the boys’ restroom.

School districts would also not be able to protect athletes from discrimination, unless they are already covered under state or federal law, such as Title IX. Courts in other parts of the country have ruled Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination against female athletes also apply to transgender students. But there’s been no similar decision that applies here in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League, which regulates most high school sports, already segregates competition based on the sex listed on an athlete’s birth certificate. This year, it famously barred a transgender boy from wrestling other boys; he went on to win the girls state title.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that while the legislation won’t create a state-funded “potty police,” it will likely land Texas in the courtroom if it becomes law.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, questioned the legality of Kolkhorst’s bills as well as two pieces of legislation pending debate in the House.

The House bills, pushed by Carrollton Republican Ron Simmons, are far narrower and seek to shift the power over regulating bathroom from municipalities and schools to the state government.

But TASB’s Baskin says Simmons’ schools bill won’t require them to change their current policies because it would not force trans kids out of the multi-stall restrooms that match their gender identity. Simmons disagrees, but understands most schools are already only providing single-stall bathrooms for trans kids.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the bathroom debate unnecessary and the legislation anti-business, but one of Simmons’ two bathroom bills already has more than 40 Republican co-sponsors in that chamber.

Carpenter said the Senate bills would be more susceptible to a legal challenge because they restrict rights based on biological sex and gender identity. The House bills don’t explicitly use these terms or limit bathroom use based on “birth certificate,” so they’d be tougher to fight in court, he said.

“The (Senate) bill, it seems to me, is directly aimed at preventing people from using restrooms associated with their gender identity,” Carpenter said. “But, no matter which of these laws passes, it will probably be challenged.”

Obviously, it would be best if it didn’t come to that, but best to be prepared for the worst. My assumption has been that there will be more than one lawsuit, as there will be multiple angles to attack this from. The fact themselves that the bills being considered seem to have a lot of loopholes and room for broad interpretation is also an invitation to litigate. Like so many other things the Lege and our Republican leaders have deemed to be top priorities, this will be tied up in the courts for years.

But first, there’s the hard work to try to stop these bills from becoming law, and a big part of that is the public testimony against them. One takeaway from the fight over HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated, was how much the public testimony contributed to the court case, by showing how indifferent and willfully ignorant the Republicans were to objective fact and contradictory evidence. I feel pretty confident the same sort of thing will happen here with the potty bills, if they make it to the finish line. There’s live coverage of the hearings in the Trib, and there’s plenty of activity going on outside and around the Capitol, as the Texas Association of Business runs anti-bathroom bill ads and the national Episcopal Church comes out against the bills. It’s never a bad idea to call your legislator and let them know how you feel, so make your voice heard. And remember, in the end, the one message every politician receives is losing an election. The Observer, BurkaBlog, the Current, the Rivard Report, and Texas Leftist have more.

UPDATE: In the end, SB3 passed out of committee, as expected. On to the floor of the Senate, then it’s up to the House.

The special session could get a little testy

Sow a little discord, Joe. We approve.

Speaking to educators Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Straus took some jabs at the Senate for focusing on a bill to regulate public bathroom use instead of putting more than a billion dollars into public schools.

The lower chamber’s leading politician spoke about the upcoming special session to hundreds of school board members and superintendents in San Antonio on Wednesday evening at the Texas Association of School Boards’ annual summer leadership institute. He urged educators in the room to keep speaking out for the issues important to public schools — and to act.

“There have been a few of you who would make good members of the Texas Senate,” he said, a joke that got him a round of laughter and applause.

Straus’ appearance comes as Texas legislators prepare to return to the Capitol for a July-August special session, with a packed agenda of 20 pieces of legislation Gov. Greg Abbott wants to see passed. Several of those bills would directly affect public schools, including a bill to regulate public bathroom use for transgender Texans.

“I don’t know what all the issues are with bathrooms in our schools, but I’m pretty sure you can handle them, and I know that you have been handling them,” Straus said. He said the “bathroom bill” sends the wrong message about Texas, instead of “making decisions that attract jobs, that attract families.”

[…]

Straus said Wednesday that even if the House had compromised on private school choice, the Senate stripped about $1 billion in funding for public schools. “Even if we approved vouchers, they still cut out the vast majority of the funding we had proposed for public schools, so there was hardly anything left,” he said.

He said the school finance reform study was too little, too late. “The Texas House has been studying this for years. We already passed a bill that’s a very strong first step,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

You tell ’em, Joe. One wonders what might happen if we make it to the end of this session without any of the red meat stuff passing, possibly without getting out of committee. Would a weak leader like Greg Abbott keep calling them back? I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong, I have no reason to be optimistic about anything here. But if nothing else, a little pissing contest could make things interesting. I think we can hope for that much. The Statesman has more.

How bad is the “Patrick Lite” bathroom bill?

For one view, there’s this, from Texas Competes:

A review of press coverage shows that the Texas “bathroom bill” debate generated $216 million in publicity for the state of Texas in the period from January 10, 2016 through May 22, 2017.

During the 85th Texas legislative session, 25,774 local, state, and national articles were written about the efforts to pass bathroom and changing room restrictions on transgender adults and children. More than 20,000 of these articles were published outside of Texas.

The media tracking service Meltwater was used to generate the data; its language-detecting algorithm deemed 73% of the coverage, or $155.5 million, “neutral;” 25%, or $56.4 million, “negative;” and 2%, or $4 million, “positive.” A review of coverage categorized as “positive” by the software revealed that these stories largely described efforts by performing artists, businesses, sports organizations and others to protest “bathroom bills.” Overall, the sentiment calculated across all news coverage was deeply negative, as seen in the chart below. (The February 2017 spike in sentiment was largely related to a “positive” story covering the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Charlotte to the LGBT-inclusive city of New Orleans.)

The topic of bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans has been shepherded into the spotlight by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and vocal anti-LGBT backers like Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Texas Values.

Texas business leaders and small business owners have consistently cited the war for talent as a major concern related to the state’s anti-LGBT reputation. “HR executives and business leaders voice concern to us when stories about discrimination dominate the news about Texas,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes, a coalition of nearly 1,300 Texas employers and chambers of commerce making the economic case for an LGBT-friendly Texas. “We cannot maintain the pipeline of talent needed to fuel this state’s economy in the face of national coverage that tells young workers that Texas is in the business of discrimination.”

In a February UT/TT 2017 poll, a majority of Texans said that it’s “not important” for the legislature to pass a bathroom law. In March, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll showing that 53% of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. In a recent USA TODAY poll, Americans aged 18 to 35 – a group representing the current and future talent pool for many Texas employers – oppose bathroom laws by nearly a two-to-one ratio.

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity? This will be a test of that. And I’m sure North Carolina’s glad we’re getting all the attention for being transphobic and unwelcoming now. It’s taking some of the heat off of them.

As bad as the perception is, the reality may be somewhat less harsh, though that remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to depend on how people interpret the amendment,” said Dax Gonzalez, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, which represents the state’s school districts and provides guidance to them on policies related to transgender students.

Under Paddie’s interpretation, the amendment would nix existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice at school. (Some Texas school districts allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity through formal policies or on a case-by-case basis.)

But the school board association, which endorsed the measure on Sunday night, argues school districts could probably maintain such policies, possibly with a few tweaks, because of the measure’s “flexibility.”

“I think what it boils down to is that this amendment is pretty flexible and open to interpretation,” Gonzalez added.

[…]

After the Sunday vote, Straus suggested the Paddie amendment would not require schools to make significant modifications to how they “handle sensitive issues.”

School groups agree because providing single-stall facilities for students seeking bathroom-related accommodations is something school districts “would do anyway,” so the amendment doesn’t make a “significant change” on that front, said Jennifer Canaday, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

When it comes to the amendment’s possible effects on efforts to accommodate transgender students beyond single-occupancy bathrooms, Canaday echoed the school board association in saying there was “enough ambiguity” in the amendment to allow for different interpretations by school districts.

But she indicated that the school group — which deemed bathroom-related legislation “a solution in search of a problem” — was still sifting through any possible repercussions for trans-inclusive policies in place across the state.

“Obviously there’s some confusion,” she said. “It may take some time [to figure out] how school districts interpret this.”

I strongly suspect that more forward-thinking districts like HISD will continue to accommodate trans students as best they can, while districts with jerks for Superintendents like Pearland ISD will take a hard line. It will inevitably be up to the courts to sort it out.

One major danger zone in all this is privacy concerns.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.

[…]

Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret — a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA indicated that 13,800 Texas teens identify as transgender, but the number of children under age 13 is not known.

Even if this law isn’t quite as bad as it could be, given its limited reach, it’s still potentially catastrophic for thousands of children. Not everyone is out, and not everyone wants to be, but what is a school to do with a trans kid who doesn’t want his or her classmates to know about that? Trans kids are already at an elevated risk for suicide. When something bad happens, don’t say we weren’t warned. The DMN, Burkablog, and Deadspin, both of which note the lack of any response so far from the NCAA, have more.

UPDATE: The Senate will reject the “Patrick Lite” amendment in SB2078. Nothing good can come of this.

The challenges transgender children face

At least now we’re starting to talk about those challenges openly.

One month after voters in Houston rejected an equal rights ordinance that proponents say would have protected transgender people from discrimination, Ben and his parents, Ann and Jim Elder of Friendswood, are among families nationwide challenging their communities to respect the identities of kids who feel their true gender doesn’t match their bodies. Their experience, and Houston’s, illustrate the gap in understanding gender identity issues and the divide over how best to deal with them in places such as public restrooms, courthouses, day care centers and schools. As much as the country has changed in accepting gay marriage, transgender rights remains a new frontier, rife with uncertainty.

Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children like Ben express themselves, just as gay rights gained momentum after families began supporting openly gay children.

Until then, misunderstanding reigns.

Take the case of two former Katy child care workers. A week after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was defeated following the airing of TV ads alleging the law would permit transgender men to assault girls in women’s bathrooms, the workers said they were fired by the Katy center for refusing to treat one of their students as a transgender boy.

Accepting the child’s assertion at such a young age “just didn’t make sense to me,” said one of the workers, Madeline Kirksey, who argues that she had the child’s best interests at heart. Kirksey has filed a federal discrimination complaint challenging her dismissal and is represented by an attorney who fought to bring HERO before voters, leading to its ultimate defeat.

“I still believe that, at that age, they’re exploring,” Kirksey maintained. “It’s innocence. … Let her explore for herself until she gets older and then decide.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Association of School Boards describes transgender issues as “relatively new in public discourse, understanding and the law.”

While state law does not explicitly protect students who are transgender, it says students are safe from discrimination “based on their gender identity and their free speech expressions of that gender identity,” including choice of clothing, name and gender, according to a written explanation from the association’s legal division.

The association provides sample policy documents to protect against discrimination based on gender. Districts like Houston ISD have taken the language further, to explicitly cover “gender identity and/or gender expression.”

Conflict in the state regarding bathrooms and locker rooms, however, “is not legally settled,” the explanation reads, concluding that schools should “assess each situation as it comes … to reach a resolution that protects the learning environment for all.”

[…]

While the medical community doesn’t have clear data on why individuals identify with a certain gender, kids as young as age 3 may begin to understand “what their preferred gender roles are, what their gender expression will be,” said Robert McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist and dean of the school of allied health sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

Early on, features that may indicate gender dysphoria can manifest in a preference for the clothes, toys, games or even peers of the other gender, said Meredith Chapman, a psychiatrist with Children’s Health in Dallas. In more severe cases, children might say they wish to be the other gender, express unhappiness about their body or try to harm their genitals.

There isn’t a clinical consensus on specific treatment methods for gender variant kids, Chapman said. But experts agree that denying a child’s claims or trying to coerce him or her to be one way or another likely has dangerous ramifications.

“We never know a child’s outcome,” McLaughlin said. “All we know is the child we have before us. We can make that child’s path miserable and tragic, or we can make that child’s path supported and affirmative.”

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Katy child care workers, because not that long ago I would have thought the same thing. I know more now, which (along with their choice of attorney) limits the amount of sympathy that I feel. Gay and lesbian kids generally have an easier time of it than they did even 10 or 20 years ago because we all know more as a society about who they are and what they’re experiencing. There’s still a long way to go, and far too many gay and lesbian kids still encounter hostility and rejection, but the progress is obvious and the direction we’re going is clear. We need to get there for trans kids as well, and the sooner we do the fewer of them we will lose to violence, drugs, and suicide. A year ago at this time blogger/pundit Nancy Sims wrote about her experience as the parent of a transgender child. Go read that and remind yourself why this matters. Every kid deserves a chance to grow up and be loved and accepted for who they are.

School districts deal with ACA paperwork

The headline for this story says that Texas school districts are “struggling” to deal with requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but there’s not much evidence of actual struggles in the story itself.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas school districts are scrambling to meet an Affordable Care Act provision that requires them to offer health insurance to thousands of substitute teachers, bus drivers and other workers who clock at least 30 hours a week.

While many of these workers are already eligible for health insurance, tracking compliance is proving cumbersome for administrators. Compared with traditional employers, school systems rely on more variable-hour workers and follow an unusual calendar.

“It’s kind of a nightmare. It’s extremely complex,” said Holly Murphy, senior attorney for the Texas Association of School Boards, who is touring the state to address school administrators’ questions about the new requirement.

How districts choose to handle the mandate could spell either good or bad news for employees. Some school systems may cap part-time employees’ hours, while others appear to be creating new full-time positions to ease the demand from hourly workers. Both options should make the bookkeeping aspect of compliance prior to the Jan. 1 deadline simpler, officials said.

The Fort Bend Independent School District posted job openings for 74 educational assistants – one at each campus – who will essentially be full-time substitutes eligible for benefits. Those positions should help take pressure off the district’s pool of 1,000 part-time substitutes, administrators said, although the district would still face the increased cost of providing benefits to more employees.

“We basically solved the issue around the Affordable Care Act,” said Kermit Spears, chief human resources officer at Fort Bend ISD.

Groups of suburban and rural school districts are considering creating co-ops that could share and provide benefits for full-time substitutes, Murphy said.

[…]

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said limiting hours isn’t in the spirit of the law and wouldn’t even be an option in the Houston ISD, which already struggles with substitute shortages.

“That’s the sort of shoddy behavior we were worried about,” she said.

She applauded the Houston ISD’s move to begin offering this month a basic $5-a-month health insurance plan to employees earning under $25,000 a year.

“HISD did very early compliance,” Fallon said. “We have paraprofessionals and clerks and food service and custodial (employees) who can afford insurance for the first time, and we got told instantly it was the Affordable Care Act that did this.”

Sounds more like “School districts have a variety of options for meeting the requirements that workers’ hours are documented and that everyone who works at least 30 hours per week receives a health insurance plan” to me. Limiting some workers to a maximum of 29 hours per week, which a number of unscrupulous businesses in food service and similar industries have tried to avoid offering health insurance at all, is an option for school districts as well. The vast majority of these employees are already eligible for health insurance under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, so the situation is very different here. School districts will have to do some more paperwork to be in compliance with the ACA, but if anyone is equipped to deal with paperwork it’s school districts, and the net effect will be that more employees wind up with health insurance. I’m okay with that.

Pushing for the Governor to sign HB5

While a lot of big ticket items were addressed by the Legislature during the regular session, not all of those bills have been signed into law yet. Among them are the big education reform bills, and proponents of fewer standardized tests are urging Rick Perry to sign them.

Six organizations representing a statewide coalition of advocates in favor of reducing the emphasis on high-stakes testing sent a joint letter to Gov. Rick Perry Monday morning urging him to sign House Bill 5 — the omnibus bill that would drastically reduce the number of state exams students must take and overhaul curriculum requirements for high school students.

The letter calls on Perry to sign HB 5 as soon as possible, stating the delay is costing schools money and hurting students. The letter also notes that 123,000 Texas high school students failed at least one state test last year and that early reports from several school districts “indicate that the number of students failing at least one test is likely to double.”

“Parents, teachers, education support staff and, most importantly, current ninth and tenth grade students across Texas are confused and unsure of their high school future,” the letter states.

Representatives from Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment and the Texas Association of School Administrators both signed the letter.

Many districts have started to plan for summer school, which includes remediation for students that failed the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test. Remediation may be unnecessary if students failed a test no longer required under HB 5. Instead of the 15 tests students are currently required to pass, HB 5 requires high school students to pass end-of-course exams in Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History, English I and English II.

You can see a copy of the letter here.The Texas PTA also sent out a message asking its members to call Perry’s office in support of signing the bills. I haven’t seen any indication that Perry might veto any of these bills, but the DMN’s William McKenzie is arguing that he should.

For several policy reasons, he should veto HB 5, HB 866 and HB 2824. Those are the most important education bills coming to his desk.

HB 5 would reduce from 15 to five the number of high school end-of-course exams students must take. The proposal also would make it easier to graduate without the current four years of math, science, social studies and English. HB 866 would allow some students to skip annual testing in reading and math in some grades. HB 2824 would allow some districts to no longer give some of the state’s tests in grades three through eight.

Being the politician that he is, my hunch is Perry does not veto HB 5 outright. It is the main anti-testing bill. It has passionate support from suburban parents, some of whom urged him Monday to sign the measure. They also are key voters, and I don’t see him crossing them completely on such a visceral issue.

But he could veto HB 5 on narrow grounds, such as requiring legislators to revisit in special session the type of tests HB 5 reduces. He could send it back with guidelines for requiring fewer tests but making sure those few tests include state exams in key subjects.

For example, he could request that HB 5 require end-of-course tests in Algebra II and English III. They matter because they are seen as good predictors of a student’s readiness to do college work.

He also could send it back with instructions about improving applied math and science courses in high school. HB 5 would allow math and science courses that are aimed at trade jobs. Perry could say let’s make sure Texas has the best type of applied math and science courses in the nation.

HB 866 and HB 2824 are different matters. Perry has plenty of room to veto them outright.

HB 866 would require the governor to ask Washington for a waiver from testing in reading and math in grades three through eight. Testing in those grades is the backbone of No Child Left Behind. Despite that law’s bad press, the Obama administration has never let up on testing in those subjects in those grades.

Why should states let up on testing students in reading and math in elementary and middle school?

Don’t most parents want to know whether their kids are advancing in reading and math year over year? Don’t they want to receive each year the kind of detailed information that the state provides parents about their children’s work on STAAR tests? That includes their high-achieving children, whom HB 866 would exempt from some annual reading and math tests in grades three through eight.

McKenzie is now joined in his desire to see HB5 vetoed by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

In this special session, the Legislature can fix House Bill 5. Here’s how:

• Reduce graduation testing by at least half. Continue to expect students to demonstrate knowledge at least on par with TAKS to graduate. If the Legislature doesn’t scrap end-of-course testing altogether and return to the TAKS, they should at least choose the six tests which cover the same content: algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, and English 11/writing.

• Continue to place students on an internationally competitive course of study. In House Bill 5, this would be either an endorsement or the distinguished course of study. Continue to ensure parents have a major say in the decision made about their child’s graduation plan.

• Ensure each endorsement requires students to learn content in physics and algebra II or statistics (applied or traditional). Manufacturing is built on these skills.

• Continue to keep all incentives like college scholarships, top 10 percent automatic admission and university admission aligned to student completion of that competitive course of study.

• Ensure innovative courses which teach traditional content in a hands-on way first receive approval from Texas’ Education commissioner or the State Board of Education to ensure that, if the family moves, credits transfer with the child.

• Fund the state to train every high school counselor thoroughly on the raft of new options, graduation plans, seals and college eligibility requirements.

This approach reduces testing, reduces mandates, increases flexibility, keeps the system simple but doesn’t lower expectations.

I blogged about HB866 before, and I disagree with McKenzie on this. I think if there’s one place you can dial back on testing, it’s with the students that have already demonstrated a clear grasp of the material. I have mixed feelings about HB5, and I don’t know anything about HB2824. I don’t know how likely a veto of any of these are, but I do know that Sen. Dan Patrick sponsored HB5 and co-sponsored HB866, and I have a hard time believing Perry would stab him in the back like that. Be that as it may, Perry has till June 16 to decide on all the unsigned bills, so to whatever extent you think you can influence his opinion, now is the time to contact his office and let them know how you feel about this legislation.

Corporal punishment

Fascinating story in the Statesman from last week about the debate over the use of corporal punishment in schools.

People who are not educators can be confused about the meaning of corporal punishment. It is not a teacher shoving a student to break up a fight, pushing him from a chaotic classroom or striking him in self-defense. Corporal punishment is when a teacher deliberately inflicts pain as punishment or for discipline.

Technically, that could include coaches who order uncooperative athletes to perform squat thrusts or run extra laps. But most often it takes the form of smacking the student, typically with a wooden paddle, usually on the buttocks.

Texas is one of 19 states that permit the practice. Out of more than 1,000 districts, fewer than 100 prohibit the practice outright.

Yet it’s difficult to know exactly how many actively strike students. Neither the Texas Education Agency nor the Texas Association of School Boards keeps count.

Those districts that choose to administer licks or swats must have a written policy outlining the procedure. Most have similar guidelines: Use a less severe punishment before resorting to hitting, inform the student why he is being struck and have another district employee witness the act. It should be done in private with an approved instrument.

A bill pending in the Legislature, sponsored by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, would require districts to obtain written permission from parents before using corporal punishment on their children. (About half already require some form of parental permission, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.) Supporters say the law would safeguard parental rights; opponents insist it would remove a crucial element of local control of public schools.

A late amendment to the bill, filed by Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, exempts counties with fewer than 50,000 residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates, that’s three-quarters of the state’s 254 counties.

Chisum’s amendment reflects a divide between rural districts and urban and suburban ones on how corporal punishment is viewed and accepted in Texas. Educators say that although most large cities and their surrounding communities generally have shied away from the practice, smaller communities continue to embrace it as a symbol of traditional values.

Chisum’s amendment was subsequently stripped from the bill by the Senate; the House then concurred with the change and the bill was sent to the Governor. In case you’re curious, as I was, “Board of Education policy prohibits corporal punishment as a disciplinary method within the Houston Independent School District” – see the Code of Student Conduct, page 14. That’s good, because I don’t hit my kids and I damn sure don’t want anyone else hitting them. I personally feel that hitting a kid is an admission that you don’t really know how to discipline that kid. I will admit that for some kids there may not be a good way to discipline them, though in such a case I still don’t see how hitting them is going to help. For the record, my parents’ disciplinary arsenal did include corporal punishment, so I’m personally familiar with it. I’d be stunned if as many as one out of ten households on Staten Island in the 1970s and 80s did not hit kids as a matter of course. The Catholic elementary school I attended into the sixth grade made heavy use of corporal punishment, to the point of sadism in the case of at least one teacher. Whether it helped any of the miscreants among my classmates find their way to the straight and narrow I don’t know, as I’ve long since lost touch with everyone from that school. But let’s just say I have my doubts. I feel like we know a lot more now than we did then, and as such I don’t understand why anyone would still think this was a good idea. And I really don’t understand why anyone thinks that requiring parents to be fully informed about it might somehow undermine “local control”. What do you think?

A little budgeters remorse?

Just a little. Not much.

As a vote looms on a bare-bones budget that would slash education and threaten nursing homes with closure, House GOP leaders softened their rhetoric on Tuesday to emphasize that it is a starting point and that cuts could be eased later without raising taxes.

“I think there’s people out there that want to keep it right the way it is right now. But I think we’re going to be able to do things that are better,” said Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Pitts – who last week said the budget proposal approved by his committee might be as far as many House Republicans were willing to go – said after a closed-door House Republican Caucus meeting that GOP members raised many of the same concerns that have been aired by Democrats.

“There’s a huge concern about what’s going to happen in nursing homes,” said Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “And what’s close to all of us – we all have a public school in our district – is what’s going to happen to our schools?”

I guess I’m glad to hear someone on the Republican side of the House express those concerns, though Pitts has been pretty realistic about this from the beginning. There’s not much in the story beyond hope for good news from Comptroller Susan Combs and a few accounting tricks to make you think there’s any action to back it up, however. Maybe they’re waiting to see what the Senate finds in the couch cushions.

“It is the beginning of the process,” Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said Tuesday. “I would say judge us by the budget we pass as a Legislature, not as a first, early-in-the-process budget proposal.”

Where you end up is certainly what ultimately matters, but where you start out says something about you, too. I think we’ve learned a lot already.

Whatever the case, the budget debate begins today. There are a lot of voices urging a No vote on HB1.

School districts across the state are urging their House members to vote no on the proposed budget that will be taken up on the House floor Friday. A letter sent to House members by the Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of School Boards and Texas School Alliance said the bill “proposes unsustainable cuts to your public schools” and should be rejected. “The significant reduction in state funding for school districts proposed in House Bill 1 inevitably will force districts to lay off employees, reduce salaries, or both,” the groups said.

[…]

“Before you vote on House Bill 1, we encourage you to consult with the superintendents and school board members of your school districts to understand the impact the proposed state funding cuts will have on your schools and students,” the letter concluded. “On behalf of the students of Texas, we urge you to vote against House Bill 1 until all budget balancing options are utilized to mitigate the proposed funding cuts for public education.”

You can view a copy of the letter here (PDF). I doubt it will have much effect, but I sure hope it serves to remind everyone associated with those organizations who to vote for and vote against next year. Remember that while the Senate version of the budget so far would cut funding less than what HISD is currently planning for, the House version cuts funding quite a bit more than that.

Also worth watching will be the hundreds of budget amendments, many of which would be as damaging as the budget itself.

At least three proposed amendments would prohibit funding of any organization that provides abortion services or refers pregnant women to facilities that provide abortion services. This is clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood.

Texas Conservative Coalition Chairman Wayne Christian has one to require universities to provide traditional family values centers if they support “a gender and sexuality center” for gay and lesbian students. Another of his would require universities to dedicate at least 10 percent of their courses for undergraduates to the study of Western Civilization.

Because there’s never a bad time to stick it to the gays, as it were. The only thing that could be better is denying health care to women who need it. Do yourself a favor and find a nice, solid wall on which to bang your head now. You’ll need it for later. The Trib has a list of all the budget amendments that will be debated, plus information about who proposed them.

More charter school stuff

Now that you’ve listened to my interview with Chris Barbic, here are a couple more charter school-related articles of interest. First, from the Trib, a story about charter schools getting help for facilities from the Permanent School Fund.

Fledgling charter schools, like any other start-up business, have difficulty establishing credit. Because the schools must renew their charter with the state every five years, banks can view them as a risky investment, said Cinnamon Henley, executive director of the Austin Discovery School, a charter that opened in 2005.

Without access to financing for buying or building new facilities, charters are subject to the whims of the rental market, which can make budgetary planning difficult.

Some state lawmakers are pushing to change that with legislation allowing some charter schools to be eligible to access the Permanent School Fund.

Proceeds from several sources — including revenue from taxes and offshore oil-drilling leases — go into the $23 billion fund, which is managed by the State Board of Education. Interest from the fund feeds the Available School Fund, which helps pay for public school textbooks.

The proposal to expand access to the fund has prominent backers, including state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, who introduced the legislation. Her House counterpart, Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands and chairman of the Public Education Committee, filed a companion bill last week.

Not everyone is on board: Traditional school districts do not like the idea. The Texas Association of School Boards opposes opening the bond guarantee program to charters, said Dax Gonzalez, a spokesman for the association, adding that charter schools are generally deemed to be poor credit risks.

“We’ve had around 280 charters awarded over the last few years,” Gonzalez said. “Out of those, 71 are no longer operating anymore. That’s about a quarter of charters that have been abandoned or closed down. That doesn’t show that they are going to be around for the state to recoup their investment.”

I’ve discussed this before, and my feelings haven’t changed. I don’t think the PSF is the right vehicle for this, because I don’t think it’s a sufficiently sound investment on the state’s part. There should be a way for charter schools with a good business plan and/or a track record of success to get state resources for facilities, but it should be created and funded by the Legislature. If that gives some charter school supporters in the Lege heartburn because of the budget crunch, that’s just too bad. If you want this to happen, you can find or create a revenue stream for it.

We also have this op-ed from the Sunday Chron about why Houston is such a hotbed for quality charter schools. The three people referenced are Soner Tarim, founder of the Harmony schools, Mike Feinberg of KIPP, and Barbic.

Houston’s charter school sector, which accounts for a rapidly growing 16 percent of public school enrollment, is among the biggest in the nation, and almost certainly the best. So why does Houston host three great charter chains, along with what may be the best urban school system in the nation? I recently asked Tarim, Feinberg and Barbic, and got answers that would not surprise any student of entrepreneurship. Just like Silicon Valley, Houston’s education miracle shows the importance of entrepreneurs, capital, transparency and political leadership favorable to competition.

To start with, entrepreneurs see a need, and as Soner Tarim points out, with a rapidly growing and increasingly low-income student population, “there was such a need.” But there was also great talent. Houston has attracted entrepreneurial educators from across the globe, many, like Tarim, drawn by the University of Houston, Rice and nearby Texas A&M. Other educational entrepreneurs were not new to the country, but were new to Houston. Feinberg, Levin and Barbic were among an army of young, idealistic TFA corps members from out of state drawn to Houston to save urban schooling. Houston has the nation’s largest TFA chapter. Unlike many cities, Houston welcomed TFA rather than seeing corps members as taking jobs from locals.

So what makes Houston different? First, the Houston Federation of Teachers never had the power to keep out TFA or hamstring KIPP and other charters. But that still left a bureaucracy, which, as Jay Mathews writes, resented KIPP’s notoriety and success. Before KIPP became a charter, the Houston Independent School District central office investigated KIPP, and at one point reassigned its classrooms. Political leadership saved the day. HISD Superintendent Rod Paige publicly praised KIPP and intervened when bureaucrats attacked. Paige also had HISD serve as an incubator for YES Prep. As Barbic recalls, “A lot of superintendents would have seen that innovation and tried to kill it, but Paige did the exact opposite.” Paige’s successors have followed his lead, fashioning a public school system that can compete with the charters.

In many cities opponents manipulate zoning and building rules to keep charter schools from finding sites, but Houston has few regulations. Not coincidentally, it also has low construction costs and cheap land. As Mike Feinberg points out, “Fifteen acres in Houston is about the same cost as one acre in Los Angeles.” That meant that once school leaders like Feinberg, Barbic and Tarim refined their operations at one or two campuses, they could expand cheaply and rapidly.

This expands somewhat on what Barbic mentioned in the interview about how charters coexist with HISD and in an ideal world each would push the other to be better. I don’t think you can fully discuss this subject without noting that our entrepreneur-friendly environment here is also attractive to a range of hustlers and con men and that the charter school business has seen its share of each as well. That would make a good subject for a longer analytical piece, not a short op-ed. Greg has more.

Interview with Sarah Winkler

Sarah Winkler

Sarah Winkler

For what truly will be my last interview of the 2009 cycle, I bring you a conversation with Alief ISD Trustee Sarah Winkler, who serves District 6 and is also the President of the AISD board. She has been in office since 1997, and is a 28-year resident of Alief whose five sons all attended Alief schools. She also now serves as the President of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Alief is having its school board election in November for the first time, and also for the first time, a majority of the seven-member board is up for election. This year, there is a concerted effort by a group of tax cut uber alles types to run a slate of candidates on a slash-and-burn platform in an effort to take over the board, which is what attracted my attention to this race. I hope this helps shine a little light on it.

Download the MP3 file

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E
Council Member James Rodriguez, District I
Council Member Jarvis Johnson, District B
Mike Lunceford, HISD Trustee District V
Ray Reiner, HISD Trustee District V
Council Member Ronald Green, candidate for Controller
Council Member MJ Khan, candidate for Controller
Council Member Pam Holm, candidate for Controller
Gene Locke, candidate for Mayor
Council Member Peter Brown, candidate for Mayor
City Controller Annise Parker, candidate for Mayor
Adrian Collins, HISD Trustee District IX
Otis Jordan, District D