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Ross Perot

The fifty percent challenge

An interesting point from Amy Walters.

President Trump is at the most precarious political moment of his presidency. Or at least, the most precarious since the summer and fall of 2017 when, in the wake of Charlottesville, the failure to repeal Obamacare, and escalating tensions with North Korea, the president’s approval ratings were mired in the mid-to-high 30s. It was only the success of the tax cut bill at the end of 2017 that brought Trump’s approval ratings back into the 40s, where they’ve remained ever since.

Today, his overall job approval rating sits at 41 percent. Not as bad as 2017, but certainly a dangerous place to be this close to re-election. Of course, this has been a consistent pattern with this president. Like a hammer which only knows how to bash a nail, Trump has one speed. He has never been interested in broadening his base — only in mobilizing it and growing it by targeting and turning out as many Trump friendly non-voters as possible. In states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where non-voters are more likely to be white and working class, the theory is that Trump can win by expanding the pool of Trump partisans, rather than trying to win back (or win over), more traditional and frequent voters.

As such, his ability to win re-election is centered on him being as close in his job approval ratings as his popular vote showing in 2016. The closer he sits to 46-48 percent job approval rating in October, the better chance he has to squeak out another narrow Electoral College win. But, when he gets much below 45 percent, his path to Electoral College victory gets more and more narrow.

[…]

Lots of folks short-hand the results of the 2016 election by highlighting Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton instead of his actual vote share. For example, hearing that Trump carried Iowa by 9 points sounds impressive, until you learn that he did so while taking just 51 percent of the vote. Clinton underperformed Obama’s 2012 vote share in more states than Trump over-performed Mitt Romney’s share of the vote. And, in 2018, GOP gubernatorial candidates in Ohio, Florida, and Iowa all took mostly the same percent of the vote Trump did in their states two years earlier. In Ohio, for example, Trump took 51.3 percent of the vote; two years later, Mike DeWine took 50.4 percent.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand if Trump’s vote share in 2016 was his ceiling, or whether he has room to grow.

Let’s take this idea and apply it to the data we have for Texas. Since the March primaries, in which Joe Biden effectively clinched the nomination, there have been ten public polls of our state:

UT/Trib, April 25
DT/PPP, April 29
UT-Tyler/DMN, May 3
Emerson, May 13
Quinnipiac, June 3
PPP/TDP, June 4
PPP/PT, June 23
Fox, June 25
UT/Trib July 2
PPP/Emily’s List, July 2

All of them included an approval question on Trump in addition to the horse race question, though in a couple of the polls I really had to hunt through the data to find that exact question. Here’s how the approval numbers for each poll stack up against the “vote for” numbers:


Poll    Approve   Vote
======================
UT/TT        49     49
DT/PPP       46     46
UTT/DMN      45     43
Emerson      46     47
QU           45     44
PPP          46     48
PT/PPP       48     48
Fox          50     44
UT/TT        46     48
PPP          46     46

Avg        46.7   46.3

With the exception of the Fox poll (in which the “disapprove” number was 48 for Trump), the approval number and the “vote for” number are very close. What that suggests, at least if you agree with Walters’ thesis, is that Trump seems to have a ceiling on his support, which in Texas you may recall was only 52.2% of the vote in 2016. Trump’s margin of victory in Texas in 2016 was as large as it was in part because a significant portion of the vote went to other candidates. That’s usually not the case in presidential races here, as we see from the past four races in Texas:


Non-two-party vote totals

Year    Total
=============
2004    0.67%
2008    0.85%
2012    1.45%
2016    4.52%

Of course, in the three elections before that, Ralph Nader (2.15% in 2000) and Ross Perot (22.01% in 1992, 6.75% in 1996) had a much bigger effect. My point here is simply that the “none of the above” options this time around are much less known and thus much less likely to draw significant levels of support. That makes Trump’s struggle to get near (let alone over) fifty percent in Texas that much more urgent.

Now just because people don’t like Trump doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him, or that they will vote for Joe Biden. Biden does better than Trump overall in approval numbers, and unlike 2016 when Trump won a large majority of the people who disliked both of the major party candidates, Biden is dominating that vote this year. Still, he has a lower overall “vote for” number than Trump does, and as folks like G. Elliott Morris document, there are many dimensions to this question, and the underlying basics still favor Trump in our state. The big picture is that we’re in a close race here, and it won’t take much more slippage on Trump’s part to make Biden a favorite. It also won’t take much of a bounce on Trump’s part to put him firmly in the driver’s seat. For now, it’s close, and it will likely stay that way.

Still more on class size limits

Real good article in the Press about class size limits and the possible effects of raising them, which I’ve written about before. A couple of points:

A famous education study done in Tennessee in the 1980s shows class size matters. In the four-year Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) study, kindergarten-through-third-grade classes with 13-17 students in them were compared to those with 22-26 students, and the researchers found out, in fact, that smaller meant better in terms of academic milestones. A followup study showed the effect continues for several years.

But what many administrators now like to say is that class size doesn’t matter till you get down to 15, [State Rep. Scott] Hochberg says. So if you can’t do that, you might as well throw up your hands. Which is not what the study says. The study just compared two groups and said that of these two groups, those with an average of 15 did better.

“It didn’t say until you get to 15 there’s no difference,” Hochberg says. “How you twist that into ‘There’s no difference till you get down to 15’ is pure propaganda.”

And, as it turns out, according to the Tennessee study, smaller class sizes are especially beneficial for kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds — which describes a majority of students in HISD and, in fact, a significant portion of the student population across the Houston area.

“You don’t see successful charter schools operating with 50 kids in a class,” Hochberg says.

First, the person I’ve heard cite that 15 figure the most often is House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler. I’ve come to learn that there’s quite a body of research on class size and its effects – the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association has a bunch of citations, all of which clearly support the idea that smaller class sizes lead to better results. Further, here’s Leonie Haimson with some specific information:

Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.

Since STAR involved comparing outcomes between students in classes of 22 to 25 students and those in classes of 13 to 17, many critics have argued that classes have to be reduced to a certain level to provide benefits.

Yet Alan Krueger of Princeton University analyzed the STAR results for the control group of students who were in the “larger” classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.

Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.

Haimson runs a blog called Class Size Matters, in case you want more.

Back to the article:

In 2006, Governor Rick Perry ordered school districts to cut local property tax, saying the state would make up the difference.

“The state’s new taxes to make up the difference didn’t made up the difference,” Hochberg says. “And so since that bill was passed in ’06, we haven’t had an internally balanced budget at the state level. We’ve been short every time. We covered it the first time because we had a surplus coming in. We covered it the second time with stimulus money — that nasty, awful stimulus money from Washington that we don’t want to touch.

“We were 4 billion short on the budget last time without the stimulus money, and that’s on a zero-growth budget. State revenues haven’t balanced the budget for the last two cycles since those cuts were made.”

I’ve talked about this a lot, so it’s nothing new to us. Sometimes I wonder how the Governor’s race would have gone in 2010 if there had been no stimulus in 2009, and the Lege had had to deal with a budget deficit that was projected to be in the $8 to $10 billion range back then. Then I get depressed and think happy thoughts instead. The bill for that tax cut is due now, and it will come due again in the future until we fix the underlying problem.

The coming fight over class sizes

We’ve discussed the looming cuts to public education, in which the focus of the battle will be class size limits, which are currently mandated at 22 students per classroom. That was part of the sweeping 1984 overhaul of the education code that was spurred by Ross Perot, which included the no-pass no-play law. Research since then has shown a benefit to students resulting from the lower student/teacher ratios, though much of that research is now several years old.

Maintaining these class size limits is expensive, however, so as this DMN story reminds us, it’s a natural place for legislators to look to for cost savings. And it makes me wonder about something.

[Comptroller Susan] Combs, a Republican, renewed attention on the issue recently after recommending that lawmakers scrap the 22-student limit in kindergarten through fourth grade and switch to an average class-size standard of 22.

In practical terms, that means an extra three students per class on average in those five grades. The current average with the 22-pupil limit is 19.3 students per class, according to figures gathered by the comptroller’s office.

Combs, noting that many school superintendents support the idea, said the change would save an estimated $558 million a year – primarily through elimination of thousands of teaching jobs.

[…]

The class-size standard has been in place since the Legislature approved a landmark school reform law in 1984. Among the highlights and other results:

•The law included the no-pass, no-play rule, pre-kindergarten for low-income children, and the state’s high school graduation test. It was passed under the leadership of Perot and former Democratic Gov. Mark White.

•There is no doubt the 22-pupil limit is costly because every time a class in the five affected grade levels hits 23 or more students, a new class must be created with an additional teacher and classroom. One superintendent from the Houston area said each new class costs his district $100,000 to $150,000.

•The law allows school districts to get a state waiver if they can’t find enough teachers or have insufficient classroom space. The state rarely turns down waivers, and last year 145 districts received waivers that allowed larger classes at 548 elementary schools. The Dallas school district had waivers at 31 campuses.

Whether or not we think 22 is a magic number for class size limits – Rep. Rob Eissler has said that you don’t really see a benefit from smaller class sizes until you get considerably under 22 per class – there is broad agreement that student performance benefited from the 1984 reforms. I have yet to see any claims about what the effect of larger class sizes might mean, but it seems to me that with all the waivers that have been granted in recent years, there ought to be enough data to allow us to draw some conclusions. Why not commission a study to compare the districts that have received waivers to similar districts that have not, and see what it tells us? And if such a study has already been done, please show it to us. Why fly blind when we don’t have to?

Which leads to a second question. Given that we don’t necessarily know what the effect of undoing the 22:1 ratio will be, and given that school districts have been able to get waivers to that whenever they’ve needed to, why make a permanent change? Why not just suspend the rules related to getting waivers for two years, and let the school districts work it out as best they can? Because otherwise it sure looks to me like the goal here is to force school districts to fire a bunch of teachers – for which superintendents and school board members will be blamed, not the Lege – while using the discussion of the class size limit as a distraction. If the Republican intent is to increase unemployment, the least they can do is be honest about it.

Get ready for larger class sizes

Back in 1984, one of the school reforms that resulted from the Perot Commission was a mandate that elementary school classes could have no more than 22 students in them. Many things have changed since then, but that standard has remained. Now it may be a casualty of the current budget crunch.

Any statewide change in the standard could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and districts. The 22-pupil limit is costly because every time a class in the five affected grade levels hits 23 or more students, a new class must be created with an additional teacher and classroom.

One superintendent from the Houston area said each new class costs his district $100,000 to $150,000. Superintendent David Anthony of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district also said his district added more than 70 classes last year.

The legislative committee’s recommendations could loom large as lawmakers grapple with what is expected to be a record revenue shortfall approaching $15 billion. About 60 percent of the state’s general revenue funds are spent on education.

The leaders of the special committee – Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands – said class size standards will be scrutinized. Shapiro and Eissler also chair the education committees of their respective chambers.

“If a change seems feasible, we could try it,” said Eissler, who maintained that quality teachers are much more important than class size in improving student achievement. “The research doesn’t show any particular significance to 22 to 1. You really have to get below 18 to make a difference.”

Eissler said he understands, though, why teachers would be reluctant to see any change in the standard.

[…]

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said that if anything, the state should take the requirement even further by “pushing class sizes down further at campuses that are low-performing or in danger of becoming low-performing.”

Teacher groups also point out that school districts can get waivers to be exempted from the 22-to-1 limit if they claim they lack classroom space or can’t find qualified teachers for additional classes. But superintendents dislike the requirement that they must notify parents whenever they seek exemptions for larger classes and in some cases must hold a public hearing.

This school year, 144 districts received waivers from the state that allowed larger classes at 544 elementary schools. The Dallas school district had waivers at 31 campuses.

In all, nearly 1,800 classrooms – with almost 40,000 students – had more than the maximum number of pupils this year.

“The Texas Education Agency never denies waivers,” said Josh Sanderson of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, insisting that school districts don’t need to have the class size rule changed because they can get exempted from it when necessary.

There’s certainly room to argue over whether or not the 22-1 ratio is the difference-maker it was when it was first adopted. As Rep. Eissler points out, the right answer if you really want to improve classroom performance would be to reduce the teacher-student ratio even further. It’s likely the case that there are more cost-effective solutions for achieving that improvement, but that is a known solution. Allowing the ratio to be increased instead as a cost-cutting measure is just another reminder of what our priorities are as a state, and a reminder (as if we needed one) that the school finance question still hasn’t been answered. We do know how to do things more cheaply, because we’ve had a lot of practice with that. We’ll be doing it again soon. Doing things better never seems to be more than a theoretical option.