Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 11th, 2014:

Friday random thirteen: Presidenting is hard work, part 2

Finishing the job I started last week:

1. We’ve Only Just Begun – Grant Lee Buffalo
2. Buns O’Plenty – Isaac Hayes
3. Mary Ann – Ben Arthur
4. Devil’s Radio – George Harrison
5. Sweet Old Chicago – Roosevelt Sykes
6. Ballad Of The Pines – Jonathan Wilson
7. Come Together – Ike & Tina Turner
8. Claudette – Robert Johnson
9. Ain’t Got Nobody – Mojo Nixon
10. I Don’t Care What You Call Me – David Ford
11. Blue Lou – Benny Carter
12. Ballad of Ronald Reagan – Austin Lounge Lizards
13. Rocket Man – Kate Bush

A little cheating in there, but that’s what makes these lists fun. Clearly, I need to get some George Clinton tunes. What contributions can you make this week?

Abbott denies his pre-k plan means standardized testing for 4-year-olds

Glad we cleared that up.

Still not Greg Abbott

After questions were raised about language in a policy proposal that appears to call for the biannual testing of pre-kindergarten students, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s campaign is clarifying his early education plan, saying he is not calling for such tests.

The proposal — the first detailed glimpse at Abbott’s education policy — aims to increase accountability for pre-kindergarten programs in the state by tying their funding to academic outcomes. Announced a little more than a week ago, it asks Texas lawmakers to require school districts with such programs to “administer assessments at the beginning and end of the year.”

After Democrats and education advocates said Abbott’s policy opened the door to standardized testing for pre-K students, the Abbott campaign said Tuesday the language in the attorney general’s proposal would not amount to standardized exams for 4-year-olds.

“Suggestions to the contrary are absurd,” spokesman Matt Hirsch said in a statement.

[…]

Abbott’s proposal would provide an additional $1,500 in state funding for each student enrolled in half-day pre-K programs  — which the state currently funds for children who cannot speak English or are from homeless, low-income, foster or military families — if those programs meet state-set “gold standard” performance requirements. The biannual assessments are necessary, the proposal states, to provide the state with “data necessary to properly evaluate” whether districts would qualify as “gold standard.”

In the section describing how the state should monitor pre-K performance, the proposal cites a 2012 report published by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit organization that develops and administers tests worldwide, that details policies related to “assessing preschoolers’ learning outcomes.” It explains that there are three methods of evaluating pre-K students: through “norm referenced standardized tests,” observations based on predetermined checklists and scales, and portfolios of children’s work. Most states use either the first or second approach, and Texas, it notes, is one of four states that do not require any kind of assessment for pre-K programs.

On Tuesday, Hirsch said that the assessment methods mentioned in the plan were “there for informational purposes only.”

“They are not part of Greg Abbott’s policy recommendations,” he said. “As the plan states, TEA should publish a list of approved assessments that districts may use.”

Under the plan, local school districts would chose from a list of approved assessments to be published by the Texas Education Agency, which it states should avoid “granting any one testing organization a monopoly.”

Asked whether the attorney general would call on the TEA to not include standardized testing as an approved assessment, Hirsch said Abbott “would discourage the use of standardized testing for pre-K students.”

See here for the background. The TSTA, no fans of Abbott’s, remain skeptical. All I can say is that when your education-related plan uses words like “assessment”, people are naturally going to think you’re talking about standardized tests. Abbott’s plan may not actually lead to such testing, but if people think it will, he’s going to have a hard time convincing them otherwise. Sucks to be you, dude.

On a related note, Lisa Falkenberg covers the subject of pre-k education with a candidate comparison.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks among Texas gubernatorial candidates about pre-K, and how the state should invest in it. Yes, I said “how,” not “if.” It’s a good thing that both candidates, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, and state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, can agree that early education is a priority. One that deserves time on the campaign trail. One that deserves a pledge of funds in support.

So far, the biggest difference between the candidates’ proposals seems to be that Davis wants to expand access to full day pre-K to all 4-year-olds in Texas, while Abbott wants to channel limited state funds into the highest quality half-day programs that meet what he calls “the gold standard.”

In general, I side with Abbott on spending limited resources on quality programs, as long as they serve the neediest students. Only high-quality pre-school programs have been shown to produce initial academic gains and long-term character and social benefits that make at-risk kids less likely to commit crimes later in life and more likely to graduate from high school and hold down a job.

Davis’ vision of a Texas where “every eligible Texas child has access to quality, full-day pre-K” is noble, as was President Barack Obama’s similar goal. Davis’ idea about a sliding scale that would allow families to pay what they can is tempting. I’d love to stop paying a second mortgage for private tuition.

But let’s face it. Texans, in our current political incarnation, are simply not willing to make that investment. While the state spent about $727 million on pre-K in the 2012 school year, Davis has estimated her plan would cost an additional $750 million per year.

We don’t even adequately fund our current programs.

The Legislature’s decision in 2011 to cut $200 million from a grant program that helped school districts provide full-day pre-K had disastrous effects. Only $30 million was restored, which is one factor in a lawsuit against the state. And state-funded pre-K seems to be dropping in quality.

In its “quality standards checklist” for 2012, the National Institute for Early Education Research found that Texas meets only two out of 10 benchmarks for pre-K. Teacher education and training, class size and staff-to-child ratios were not among those met.

Abbott’s plan to boost good half-day schools, meanwhile, would cost an estimated $118 million for the years 2016 and 2017. That’s far less than the amount the state once provided for expansion. So, while his strategy is smarter, if he really wants us to believe early education is a priority for him, he needs to put his money where his mouth is.

We can easily afford Davis’ plan. The state is awash in revenue right now, with $2.5 billion left unspent from the last biennium on top of rising projections. We have so much revenue that the usual greedhead fat cats are calling for tax cuts, because they don’t care about spending money on the things Texas needs. This isn’t about making hard choices, it’s about making good choices. Davis’ plan, which amounts to less than two percent of the revenue that will be available in 2015 for the biennium, will likely wind up costing less overall, as schools will be able to spend less money on remediation in the early grades. Abbott’s plan, once you get past the Charles Murray issue and the testing questions and the bizarre animus towards Head Start, still at its maximal amounts to a 40% cut from 2009 spending levels. How much clearer a choice do you need?

Planned Parenthood petitions Fifth Circuit for en banc review of HB2 ruling

From the inbox:

Today, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a petition on behalf of their patients to request that the full bench of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals consider the constitutionality of harmful abortion restrictions that were struck down by  a federal district court last fall. On March 27, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the Texas law, making safe and legal abortion virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access. Similar laws have been blocked by federal courts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Wisconsin, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last December affirmed a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Wisconsin’s law.

In the petition filed today, Planned Parenthood argues that the three-judge panel’s ruling warrants closer review by the full court because it conflicts with decades of applicable Supreme Court precedent and if allowed to stand would have terrible implications for women’s health and rights.

Statement from Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes Action Fund:

“The three-judge panel’s ruling on March 27  failed the women of Texas, and severely limits a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion in vast regions of the state. This hardship further impacts women who have already lost access to birth control and preventative health care at the hands of a small group of politicians who are trying to impose their beliefs on all Texans.

Planned Parenthood will continue providing services, including abortion, to women across the state and we will work to combat these laws in the state house and the court house. Texas women need leaders who will defend the ability to make decisions about their own reproductive health, and who will protect women’s access to basic health care – including birth control.”

The three-judge panel that ruled on March 27 includes a judge who is openly hostile to Roe v. Wade. The Fifth Circuit has repeatedly upheld laws that impose medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion and take health care away from Texas women in need. In a highly unusual move, last October, it abruptly stayed a lower court’s permanent injunction issued after a three-day trial on the abortion restrictions.  In 2012, it allowed Texas to bar all Planned Parenthood health centers from participating in a preventive health care program. Earlier that year, it upheld an especially cruel and demeaning forced ultrasound law. 

The March 27 ruling upholds a law requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital — a requirement that leading medical associations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) oppose because it harms women’s health and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, was jointly filed on September 27 on behalf of more than a dozen Texas health care providers and their patients by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas law firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.  In striking down the measure as unconstitutional after a three-day trial, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the admitting privileges requirement has “no rational relationship to improved patient care” and also “places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”  Despite that ruling, a panel of the Fifth Circuit allowed the law to take effect on November 1, 2013, while the case was on appeal and a different panel held it constitutional on March 27.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the Trib story. Needless to say, I expect exactly zero joy out of this, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. The real question is whether or not to press our luck with SCOTUS when the Fifth Circuit rejects this petition.

No hiding behind privilege

Here’s your latest voter ID litigation update, from the Brad Blog:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Just over a week ago, it was North Carolina legislators ordered by the court to cough up documentation relating to passage of new, draconian restrictions on voting rights in their state. Now, legislators in Texas are facing much the same thing, as that state’s extreme polling place Photo ID restrictions also face legal and Constitutional challenge.

By way of an eight-page Order [PDF]issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has directed the State of Texas to serve upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) documents that relate to the question of whether “state legislators, contrary to their public pronouncements, acted with discriminatory intent in enacting SB 14,” the Lone Star State’s polling place Photo ID restriction law.

[…]

As the DoJ explained in a supplement [PDF] to its motion to compel the release of documentation relating to legislative deliberation before enactment of the law, Texas refused to turn over a wide array of relevant documents, including “numerous communications concerning SB 14 and prior photographic voter identification proposals amongst Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Speaker Joe Straus, Senator Troy Fraser (Senate sponsor of SB 14), Representative Patricia Harless (House sponsor of SB 14), and their top aides.”

Texas Republicans asserted that they could conceal such evidence because of what they claim to be an “absolute” legislative privilege — this despite numerous cases in which courts have not only held otherwise, but have relied upon such things as emails between legislators as evidence of discriminatory intent, according to the DoJ filing.

Federal judges, in this case, and in the pending federal challenge to North Carolina’s massive election “reform” bill have now both rejected the effort by Republicans to hide documentary evidence of discriminatory intent behind a shield of “absolute” legislative privilege.

As occurred in the North Carolina case, Judge Gonzales recognized the existence of a “qualified” legislative privilege to protect such documents from being released. The question as to whether documents must be produced is arrived at by applying a five-part test: “(1) the relevance of the evidence sought to be protected; (2) the availability of other evidence; (3) the seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved; (4) the role of the government in the litigation; and (5) the possibility of future timidity by government employees who will be forced to recognize that their secrets are violable.”

That five-part test weighs the need for confidentiality amongst legislators and their aides against the need to eliminate “racial discrimination in voting — the bedrock of this country’s democratic system of government,” as described by Ramos in her ruling.

Click over for further details. Texas Redistricting was also on this. There’s also an update to the scheduling order for the trial, which remains on September 2.

SBOE does something OK

I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies,” member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.

“This will enable districts to teach courses in Mexican-American studies, African-American studies, Native American studies if they choose to do so,” said board member Marty Rowley, who spoke in favor of the motion, supporting local development of the courses for school districts. “There is curriculum out there, there are materials out there, and publishers are free to submit those materials.”

The board will have a final vote on Friday.

See here for the background. While the vote is encouraging, the Observer notes that the crazy people are reacting to this about as you’d expect them to, so don’t get overconfident about this. Stace and TFN Insider have more.