- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Abilene Reporter-News. June 10, 2017.

With summer officially approaching and hot weather returning after an early June hiatus, we’re familiar with hot seats.

But year round, Texas’ education commissioner sits on his own.

Issues come and issues go, but how to finance public education and how students should be taught, as well as how to take care of educators, are issues that always seem to be with us.

During his recent talk with us, state Rep. Stan Lambert pointed to school funding battles that go back at least 30 years.

Commissioner Mike Morath, who also recently stopped by the Reporter-News, came across as anything but embattled. He was on a mission, to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new STAAR Report Card. STAAR, of course, is the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness testing that draws way more frowns than smiley faces.

The Abilene visit was his first to promote the report card. He got to visit Abilene Independent School District facilities and to talk with local educators. Nothing wrong with meeting the commissioner face to face.

Morath formerly served on the Dallas ISD board, for more than four years. He is a public school graduate (Garland High). He has two children, a boy and girl, who are being educated in Texas public schools.

To us, he came across as low key but informed. He began his job in January 2016, and was confirmed by the Texas Senate in March. He’s had time to polish his pitches, but he came across as earnest in wanting Texas education to be the best it can be.

He emphasized that it is better than many believe, citing a Top 5 ranking in graduation rates and, in peer-to-peer comparisons, a Top 10 ranking for math and middle-of-the-pack ranking for reading.

Texas is, he said proudly, better than New York, which provides considerably more funding to schools.

“We are doing great work in Texas public schools,” he said. “Is that good enough?”

No, he said, especially when the types of good jobs today demand educated workers.

Morath wasted no time praising teachers for that, calling them “simply the most important factor” in a child’s education. That is music to the ears of educators. We know how many skilled and dedicated teachers there are in Abilene, public and private. They care, and the education commissioner knows it.

The new STAAR Report Card provides parents and caretakers of students with more ways to see exactly how students are performing and ways to help them, if they are falling short. The mantra “no child left behind” may have fallen out of favor, but that’s still the goal - to keep moving younger students forward and not giving up on them.

And if the students are in high school, the goal is to prepare them for what’s next. If it’s college, their public school education should give them a great opportunity to be successful as freshmen. Morath said freshmen borne of Texas public schools have a 60 percent success rate.

The target areas are math and reading.

This new report card allows parents to review recent STAAR tests, to the point of checking answers. A wrong answer can’t be changed but a student can be given the right answer and learn from that mistake. Those explanations, as well as why a question was asked, are provided.

Morath emphasized that material on tests is covered in the public school curriculum. Is it sinking in? That’s what tests are for.

Resources to help students improve their reading and math skills are also available. Those are free, Morath said.

For reading, which seems to be a wide-ranging problem, the report card will show recommended reading based on the Lexile Measure. The measure indicates the difficulty of the materials that a child can read successfully.

Parents can take report card information and have better talks with counselors and teachers about their child’s progress.

Another statement comes to mind: “No one’s perfect.” If so, no plan is perfect.

The report card is a great idea but the target audience is parents who care about a child’s education. Will these tools be used by parents of under-achieving students? How can parents be inspired to follow through?

“What mom and dad do is up to mom and dad,” he said. He is not passing the buck but stating the truth. Most students will not be successful if an education is limited to the time between the first bell and last bell.

Also, the reports will show projected growth but who is responsible - that is more positive than asking who’s to blame - if the student’s growth is limited?

And, in a related matter, there still is the controversial implementation of the A to F, which soon goes into effect. Some argue the stigma of being a failing school can’t be overcome; Morath said a low grade demands we “wrap our arms around” that school and make it successful.

Overall, we give the report card plan a thumb’s up. The report card suggests that education goes on throughout the year, and should not be a frantic push to a STAAR test that gets both students and teachers worked up. In Texas, $60 billion is spent on public school education each biennium. Is that enough, especially when it’s noted that by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that 80,000 new students will be added the next two years to the estimated 5.5 million already in classrooms?

Money indeed helps, but so does old-fashioned effort - by students, by parents/caretakers and by teachers.

The report card looks to be a way to help a student progress year to year but to accelerate that process.

“We want to focus on growth,” he said.

That’s something everyone can agree on.

___

Houston Chronicle. June 11, 2017.

There’s a quote out there on the internet that goes like this: “Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed and uninvolved people.”

Widely attributed to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, officials at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in Virginia told us it is a “spurious” quote. Their reference librarian is on the case to track down its origin.

“It appears that everyone online thinks TJ said this, but no one can say when or to whom,” said the foundation’s editorial staff in an email.

Amid the decline in knowledge of U.S. history among high school and college students, the “quote-gate” offers a timely display of the widespread ignorance among Americans about our nation’s founding.

According to the most recent reports from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which periodically tests students in grades four, eight and 12 in broad subject matters, just 20 percent of fourth graders, 18 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of 12th graders performed at or above grade-level proficiency when it came to U.S. history.

Non-students, we suspect, would not fare much better, if recent events are any indication. For example, it was a bit astonishing when President Donald Trump showed his basic misunderstanding of the Civil War, slavery’s roles in creating the conflict and the fact that President Andrew Jackson, whose portrait is now on prominent display in the Oval Office, was not an abolitionist.

Equally egregious misunderstandings of history also have been demonstrated by newly minted appointees to Trump’s Cabinet, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson as well as White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Everyone can and needs to gain a better understanding on how past examples of a changing society are key to understanding a new day. That’s why we encourage everyone this summer to visit a bookstore or local library, check out a book, or even sign up for the library’s summer reading program. You might even consider diving in to the Federalist, a collection of op-eds written to newspapers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, arguing for ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

There are myriad reasons to do it, one of which we offer from a 1998 essay on the American Historical Association website: “A study of history is essential for good citizenship. … History that lays the foundation for genuine citizenship returns, in one sense, to the essential uses of the study of the past.”

Jefferson, who served as this nation’s third president, certainly wouldn’t argue with that quote.

___

The Monitor. June 11, 2017.

We commend the blunt candor of the mayors of McAllen and Mission, who were reacting to the subjects that Gov. Greg Abbott outlined when he called for a special legislative session next month.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling called the topics that Abbott wants lawmakers to address “an assault on cities.”

Mission Mayor Norbeto “Beto” Salinas asked a simple, but penetrating question: Why are state leaders “making life so difficult for us?”

Abbott outlined 20 different items that he wants lawmakers to address during a special session that begins on July 18. Just one of those items - the continuation of a handful of state agencies, including the one that hands out medical licenses - can be deemed an emergency since inaction by the Texas Legislature would mean those agencies would cease operating on Sept. 1.

Of the remaining 19 legislative items that Abbott wants addressed, at least 13 would have the state dictating policy to local governments - or remove policies that cities have already adopted.

While each of these items may be highly popular for the conservative wing of Abbott’s Republican Party, the sheer notion that Abbott wants lawmakers to address these items flies in the face of conservative philosophy.

In what has been a mantra and a guiding principle for conservatives since the days of Ronald Reagan, local control is the best type of governance.

Ironically, as Mayor Darling pointed out, part of Abbott’s appeal to voters and a key reason he is now governor is that he made a national name for himself as Texas attorney general by repeatedly suing the Obama Administration for federal overreach into state issues.

“I guess federal to state (overreach) is different than state to city,” Darling said.

A governing philosophy of local control has served Republicans well. George W. Bush rode that sentiment to the White House.

So one has to wonder why Republican leaders like Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are so willing to upend a fundamental party philosophy.

We believe that it indicates a nuanced, but profound shift in state leadership from governing to the raw exercise of power.

Republican control of the executive, the legislative and judicial branch of state government is not enough; that control must be exerted on municipal governments as well, locales that often are Democratic strongholds such as virtually every municipality in the Rio Grande Valley.

And while we recognize that is how the political game is played, we must raise our concerns when governing philosophies become secondary considerations to political power.

That’s because governing philosophies are an extension of constitutional philosophies.

So when Texas cities implement bans on fracking within its city limits or when voters in Texas cities implement ordinances that keep Uber or Lyft from doing business without certain consumer protections, that is a healthy democracy in action.

To have the Texas Legislature supersede the will of local government and the will of local voters, as they did in each of these cases, seems fundamentally wrong for our democratic traditions.

Perhaps most bothersome about the menu of items deemed so significant as to call lawmakers back to Austin for 30 days is the exclusion of one item: governmental transparency.

Open government advocates lamented in the final days of the regular session about the stinging defeat of several measures aimed at enhancing the public’s right to know about government functions.

We believe that the transparency of government is far more important than the state’s incursion into local affairs - and that Gov. Abbott missed a significant opportunity when he failed to call for lawmakers to address open government legislation.

___

The Dallas Morning News. June 12, 2017.

The furor over Texas’ sanctuary cities bill has revived an old debate. Most in Texas agree that we need stronger border control, but we’re still arguing over what our proper response should be to those who have crossed the border illegally and made a home here. In particular, what do we owe the young children they brought along?

Thirty-five years ago this month, a case involving the Tyler Independent School District put this question squarely before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices, closely split along ideological grounds, ruled 5-4 that every person in America, whether here legally or not, is covered by the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. From that starting point, the justices reasoned that a Texas statute denying a free public education to children who were in the country illegally violated those ironclad guarantees.

In so doing, the court upheld a similar conclusion in a 1978 ruling by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice of Texas. Justice later called the ruling his proudest moment on the bench: “If these already disadvantaged children are denied an education when they are young, they will be forever relegated to the lowest level of employment.” Failing to educate them would leave them “permanently stigmatized and crippled by their former illegal status.”

The Supreme Court embraced that rationale and upheld Justice’s ruling. The dissenters, including Chief Justice Warren Burger, said the court was intruding on a decision best left to lawmakers. But even Burger, a conservative appointed by President Richard Nixon, wrote that he agreed that “it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children - including illegal aliens - of an elementary education.”

Those convictions were tested many years later, when a group of lawmakers, including Domingo Garcia from Dallas, introduced a bill in the 2001 Texas Legislature to provide in-state college tuition for applicants who lived in Texas, even if they had been brought here illegally. Until then, the practice had been to consider undocumented applicants residents of their homelands, no matter how many years they had lived in Texas.

That bill passed in a political atmosphere that is wholly unrecognizable now. Just one House member voted against the DREAM Act; three senators opposed it. Gov. Rick Perry not only signed it, but defended the bill as both humane and smart for years, even as he ran for president in 2012 and 2016.

As we mark the 35th anniversary of the Plyler decision, let’s recall the sane and sage perspective from conservatives who have over the years seen value in Texas extending its hand to children living here, no matter their immigration status.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. June 12, 2017.

“Leaking” is a strong, sometimes unfair and misleading word that has risen to prominence since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. The action described as “leaking” is often a good thing, especially from our perspective.

The word is all about considering the source of the information. So, let’s.

Two prominent sources who have been branded leakers are former FBI Director James Comey and defense contract worker Reality Winner, who graduated from H.M. King High School in Kingsville. They are two fundamentally different cases with one thing in common - the public is better off knowing the information that has been linked to them as accused leakers, and Trump didn’t want it known.

The information Winner is accused of leaking is that Russia tried to breach local voting systems right up to the November 2016 election. Our government knew this information and was keeping it from us. Its unauthorized disclosure was to the American public, via a news outlet, reminding us who our enemies are. It was not a disclosure to our enemies, for profit, of information that would help them against us.

But we can’t let the people who have been entrusted with classified information to make a personal value judgment to declassify it. It should be treated as a crime. Whether to treat a 25-year-old who appears to have behaved like an idealistic 19-year-old as if she were Public Enemy No. 1 is for the prosecution to decide.

Whether Comey’s disclosure, which he acknowledges openly, is an actionable offense of any kind is open to differing, hotly disputed interpretations. Comey wrote memos documenting his conversations with Trump regarding the Russia investigation. Among the disclosures in the memos were that Trump pressured him to drop the investigation against former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

Among the reasons Comey testified that he wrote the memos was because he couldn’t trust Trump not to lie about what they discussed. Trump, who has a well-established reputation for lying, started calling Comey, who has a well-established reputation for honesty, a liar and other unseemly names long before the memos were reported.

The memos weren’t classified information. There’s a compelling argument that they were privileged - meaning not for public consumption. But they also were, in essence, Comey’s notes to himself to remind him what he and the president discussed.

If the memos indeed are privileged, what Comey remembers and wants to say about his conversations with Trump is not. And the two are pretty much one and the same. Comey doesn’t work for the FBI or for Trump anymore. Anything he has to say about what he and Trump discussed should be his business to disclose if he so chooses - especially in response to Trump calling him a liar.

Calling Comey a leaker lumps him unfairly with Winner. Labeling what Winner is accused of having disclosed as a leak is accurate and pursuing charges is warranted, though we hope the prosecution drops the vaguely jihadist narrative it’s trying to pin on her. What she disclosed was for the good of the country to know. And it must have been tough going to work every day with knowledge that our government was protecting Russia from the American public’s full knowledge of its attack on our election. Without excusing the leak, the motive for withholding the information should be of bigger concern than the motive for leaking it.

Labeling Comey a leaker is at its core the disingenuous name-calling of the loudest-barking dog. Shame on the members of Trump’s party who have joined in the attack. They should distance themselves from this orchestrated character-assassination of a former public servant of acknowledged good character who was only defending himself and the FBI.

What kind of country would allow Trump to call Comey a liar, yet hold Comey accountable for defending himself? Surely not this one.

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