The great bugaboo of the Texas Legislature, school finance, was the next topic. Union activists heard from President Linda Bridges of the Texas Federation of Teachers and from Legislative Director Eric Hartman. Hartman's presentation was recorded for playing on the "Workers Beat" program on www.knon.org on Wednesday, December 14 between 7 and 9 AM.
Hartman said the Texas Supreme Court has given June 1st as a "drop dead" date to either fix the problem or close Texas schools. Statewide candidates will all have to deal with this issue. Hartman said that the Supreme Court members are elected by the 1 of each 12th of Republicans who vote in their party's primary. They are generally far right.
Perry spoke confidently about the Supreme Court a year ago and indicated that he had appointed them. It was predictable that the court would not put pressure on the Legislature to put money into the system. But the decision does not simply regurgitate their message. It also indicated that teaching is getting harder in Texas because there are more disadvantaged students and more changes in teacher assignments.
Judge Dietz pointed out that there are increasing demands on teachers, and yet compensation is stagnant. Hartman said, "We're $6,000 behind the national average in Texas." "Texas education is reaching a point where we are asking people to make bricks without straw."
The Dietz decision warned, "An impending constitutional violation is not an existing one. And it remains to be seen whether the present drift toward unconstitutionality…"
Using a time-honored stalling technique, state politicians created the "Texas Tax Reform Commission" of 24 business people. Hartman called it "tax swap commission" because they will come back with the same old governor's plan to shift taxes around on certain businesses, and from the top 10% tax payers onto the poorer 90%.
Hartman hedged, "I'm sure they are all very honorable rich business people." Everybody laughed.
Hartman said that many right-wingers want only to privatize education, not to help it: "It's a multibillion dollar industry that they want to get their hands on. It isn't about kids."
Help for Texas schoolchiildren is on the way, providing progressives are able to carry the 2006 elections. Hartman said, "The real arena in which this battle is going to be decided is the elections in 2006; both the primary and the general elections." A good way to stay up on the topic is on the Teachers' union web page, www.tft.org.
After a long Q&A session on school finance, Legislative Director Walter Hinojosa gave the group a long and careful look at key state races in 2006. A great deal of material had been prepared in fat notebooks.
Hinojosa summarized,"If it's the only thing you carry away from here, be sure you understand this: weare now in the election cycle. Get our members registered. Figure out who to support. There are some victories to be had!"