These are the long-term goals of Texans for Parental Choice in Education.
Long-term Goal 1
Every family in Texas, who pays taxes for public education and pays for any product or service to further the learning of their school-aged child, would be compensated for that expense with a dollar for dollar credit against their personal public-education-tax, up to some generous ceiling.
Long-term Goal 2
There would be a network of private, charitable, scholarship organizations that gave scholarships to needy students to attend the private school of their parents’ choice, and any public-education-taxpayer, including corporations, could donate to one of these scholarship organizations and be compensated with a dollar for dollar tax credit.
Long-term Goal 3
Finally, the attempts by the enemies of educational liberty to obstruct those liberties would be defeated.
☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺
But now back to the unfortunate reality. ☹ ☹ ☹ How do we get from here to that wonderful vision?
This report is about strategy. What are the logical steps and short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal described above?
Option 1: All-out Frontal Assault
This strategy would say that, with our conservative legislature, an all-out assault on the unions with a universal property tax-credit bill is the obvious strategy. Unfortunately there are three problems with this strategy.
Problem 1: The ISD Property Tax
During the legislative session of 2009, Rep. Paxton agreed to submit a property tax-credit bill for educational expenses to Legislative Counsel. To my amazement and frustration, Legislative Counsel never returned a draft. Not during that session, not during the rest of 2009, and not before October 2010 did I hear from them. Finally in October of 2010, one of the attorney’s at Legislative Counsel called me directly and told me that because the ISD property tax was complicated by the addition of robin-hood’s complex and perverse formulas for tax-fund flows from district to district and from the state comptroller to districts, it had become so complex that they, the team of lawyers, could not write a ISD property tax-credit law! That’s right, the law had become so complex and perverse, a law to give a credit off of this tax could not be written.
Short-term Goal 1 for Problem 1: Replace the ISD property tax with a Simple State Tax
The first project is to abolish the ISD property tax and replace it with a simple statewide tax. There aren’t many choices. A state income tax and a state property tax are both unconstitutional in Texas. The only two taxes left are a Value-added Tax, which is a hidden tax, or an expansion of the state sales tax. The expansion of the state sales tax is the obvious choice. It is simple, visible, voluntary, and flat.
We currently have a state sales tax, but it does not raise enough funds to replace the ISD property tax. Rather than replacing the ISD property tax by dramatically raising the sales tax rate from its current 6.25%, it is better to broaden the tax. Texas has many services that do not charge sales tax. By broadening the sales tax to include these un-taxed services, more tax funds can be raised without dramatically raising the tax rate.
Texas does have a state corporate-franchise tax, this tax can be used for a scholarship organization tax-credit, but not a family tax-credit (since corporations don’t have children. :)
Problem 2: The TSTA’s & AFT’s Grassroots Network
The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the two major ISD employee associations. In Texas, these associations (unions) cannot call a strike and they cannot make membership a requirement for employment or advancement. So these unions are not as strong as they are in northern states where they can do these things. In spite of that these unions are still very powerful in Texas.
The unions oppose charter schools, voucher programs, and tax-credit programs for a very simple reason. All these innovations represent a direct threat to their income stream of member dues, because teachers in charter and private schools are not members of the TSTA or AFT. The priority of the unions is not effective learning or even good teachers. It is member dues.
The main political power of the TSTA & AFT is not money. Since a majority of ISD employees are members of these organizations, they have a huge grassroots network in every county in Texas and they keep that network politically organized. Although the elections of 2010 saw a great resurgence of conservatives in Texas, this network of ISD employees is powerful and tenacious. They have not given up and will not go away easily. I am sure that they are regrouping and preparing for a counter-attack.
In order to have any long-term success against the unions, we must match their network with our own network of passionate parents, teachers, and citizens who can clearly identify the enemy and are willing to invest time and resources to fight the war for the sake of the kids and the future of Texas. I believe our grassroots organization has to be bipartisan and much bigger in order to have long-term victory. How do we build such a network?
Problem 3: The Unions’ Strategic “Con Game”
In addition to their extensive grassroots organization, the unions’ successful strategy for the last 20 years has also included a huge “con game.” They siphon the public school budget for themselves by adding unnecessary administrators and staff, which increases their member dues, but claim that they are focused on educating the kids and helping the neighborhood. This lie only works because most low-income parents are suffering in silence, and this silence doesn’t contradict the union lies.
This lie is what the unions effectively hide behind. If we propose an all out assault with a universal tax-credit program, the unions will complain that, “You right-wing bigots are trying to take the money away from the schools that are helping the poor inner-city kids.” This lie has worked in the past, and it will work again, as long as the inner-city parents are silent. How do we give inner-city parents a voice?
Short-term Goal 2 for Problems 2 & 3: Energizing Inner-city Parents with the “Parent Trigger”
If we can energize the sleeping giant of the inner-city parents, we can solve problems 2 & 3 at the same time. So how do we energize them?
Inner-city parents have only one “education reform” goal. They want their public school down the block where their child goes to school to improve. Any goal bigger than that seems irrelevant and overwhelming. We have to give them a way to change their public school down the block, one school at a time.
The “parent trigger” bill would give inner-city parents a way to organize to improve their public school down the block. The bill would allow parents whose kids attend one particular public school to collect signatures on a petition to change the school’s management to a private management company free of union ties. Then the school would be run effectively and efficiently outside of union control. The name for this privately managed school is a charter school. Collecting a majority of parent signatures would “trigger” or force the school district to make the conversion. A small voucher program for the kids that don’t prefer the new charter school could be added.
If the parent-trigger becomes law, then the real job of Short-term Goal 2 begins. This job is passing petitions in inner-city neighborhoods to energize and organize parents to improve their neighborhood school. This will take time, but it should be productive because it engages parents at the level that they understand and care about. This is the process of building the large bipartisan grassroots network required in Problem 2.
When some of the petitions “trigger”, the unions will try to block the charter conversions. The unions will surely resist this reform because more charter schools mean less union dues. But they will be opposing the very inner-city parents that they claim to be helping. This will expose their lie, which gives them no place to hide. Now the right-wing tea-partiers AND the inner-city parents will be united in their opposition to the unions. Then we will have a grassroots army large enough to fight for universal tax-credits.
In summary, even though our long-term goal is universal family and scholarship tax-credits, there are two short-term goals that must be accomplished first.
Short-term goal 1 is to abolish the ISD property tax and substitute a broad-based state sales tax.
Short-term goal 2 is to pass the parent-trigger bill and start organizing parents to convert their local school to charter schools.
Both short-term goals can be worked on simultaneously. When both are accomplished, the groundwork will be completed to move on the universal tax-credits.