As the Texas Legislature enters a special session on education funding (or lack thereof), I thought it would be nice to share this wonderful letter from Superintendent John Kuhn from the Perrin-Whitt CISD.
Governor Perry and our legislators know funding for Texas public schools is a complete mess. They knew it several years ago when the changed the formula for school finance and property taxes, essentially placing a Band-Aid on a severed limb. As a former educator, I find the behaviour of our elected officials in Austin both hypocritical and unethical. In our race to keep Texas "open for business", we've simultaneously given educators across the state a collective slap in the face.
The age of accountability should be renamed the age of blame, when
teachers wear the scarlet letter for the failings of a nation. We send
teachers into pockets of poverty that our leaders can’t or won’t
eradicate, and when those teachers fail to work miracles among
devastated children, we stamp ‘unacceptable’ on their foreheads.
I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to
clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our
leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty,
health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We
know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why
have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet?
Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read
“exemplary” in the suburbs and “unacceptable” in the slums?
Let us label lawmakers like we label teachers, and we can eliminate
100 percent of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and preventable illness by
2014! It is easy for elected officials to tell teachers to “Race to
the top” when no one has a stopwatch on them! Lace up your sneakers,
Senators! Come race with us!
Teachers are surrounded by armchair quarterbacks who won’t lift a
finger to help, only to point. Congressmen, come down out of those
bleachers and strive with us against the pernicious ravages of
poverty. We need more from you than blame. America’s education problem
is actually a poverty problem.
If labels fix schools, let us use labels to fix our congresses! Let
lawmakers show the courage of a teacher! Hold hands with us and let us
march together into the teeth of this blame machine you have built.
Let us hold this congressman up against that congressman and compare
them just as we compare our schools. Congressmen, do not fear this
accountability you have given us. Like us, you will learn to love it.
Or maybe lawmakers do such a wonderful job that we don’t need to hold
Did you know that over the next five years, Texas lawmakers will send
half a billion dollars to London, to line the pockets of Pearson’s
stakeholders. That’s 15,000 teacher salaries, sacrificed at the altar
of standardized testing. $500,000,000 for a test! I’m sure it’s a nice
test, but it’s just a test. I’ve never seen a test change a kid’s life
or dry a kid’s tear. Tests don’t show up at family funerals or junior
high basketball games. They don’t chip in to buy a poor girl a prom
dress. Only teachers do those things.
If times are desperate enough to slash local schools’ operating funds,
then surely they are desperate enough to slash Pearson’s profits.
Lawmakers, get your priorities straight. Put a moratorium on testing
until we can afford it. Teachers are our treasure – let’s not lose the
house just so we can keep our subscription to Pearson’s
Test-of-the-Month Club. We have heard Texas senators often talk about
the teacher-to-non-teacher ratio in our schools. Lawmakers, they are
ALL non-teachers at Pearson. Don’t spend half a billion dollars that
we don’t have on some test that is made in England.
Parents are so fed up with standardized testing that hundreds are now
refusing to let their children test. They do not want their children
run through this terrible punch press. They do not want standardized
children. They want exceptional children!
Let me tell you Texas’s other dirty secret – some schools get three
times the funding of other schools. Some schools get $12,000 per
student, while others get $4,000. Did you know that every single child
in Austin is worth $1,000 more than every single child in Fort Worth?
Do you agree with that valuation? Congress does. They spend billions
to fund this imbalance.
Now the architects of this inequity point at the salaries and staff
sizes at the schools they have enriched to justify cuts at schools
that have never been given enough. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, of
Plano, says, essentially, yes, but we’re cutting the poor schools by
less. Senator, you don’t take bread away from people in a soup line!
Not even one crumb. And you should not take funds away from schools
that you have already underfunded for years. It may be politically
right to bring home the bacon, but ain’t right right.
Legislators, take the energy you spend shifting blame and apply it
toward fixing the funding mechanisms. We elected you to solve the
state’s problems, not merely to blame them on local government. After
all, you have mandated local decision-making for years. Your FIRST
rating system tells school boards that their district’s administrative
cost ratio can be no higher than 0.2 percent. And over 95 percent of
school districts in Texas are in compliance with the standard you have
set. At my school, our administrative cost ratio is 0.06 percent – so
could you please stop blaming me?
If 95 percent of schools are compliant with the administrative cost
ratio indicator in the state’s financial rating system for schools,
then why are state officials saying we have too much administration?
We have the amount of administration they told us to have! Either they
gave us bad guidance and we all followed it, or they gave us good
guidance and just need someone other than themselves to blame for
Is this the best we can do in Texas? I wish they would worry about
students half as much as they worry about getting re-elected.
These same senators have a catchy new slogan: “Protect the Classroom.”
I ask you, senators: who are we protecting the classroom from? You,
that’s who. You are swinging the ax; don’t blame us for bleeding
They know that their cuts are so drastic that school boards will have
no choice but to let teachers go, and I can prove it: while they give
press conferences telling superintendents not to fire teachers, at the
same time they pass laws making it easier for ... you guessed it
...administrators to fire teachers. Which is it, senators?
If we don’t truly need to cut teachers, then don’t pass the laws that
reduce their employment protections. And if we truly do need to cut
teachers, then go ahead and pass those laws but quit saying teacher
cuts are the superintendents’ fault. Here’s the deal: I can accept
cuts, but I cannot do anything but forcefully reject deceit.
Politicians, save your buck-passing for another day. We need
leadership. Get to work, congressmen. Do your jobs, and find the
revenue to fund my child’s education.
John Kuhn, father of three, Perrin"