Dutton: Friendly fire kills my bill

Austin American-Statesman
May 31, 2013

By Harold V. Dutton Jr. - Texas House of Representatives

In politics your friends can be more dangerous than your enemies. At least that was the late Gov. Ann Richards’ take and on many occasions I heard her drawl, as only she could — “be careful, your enemies can hurt you but in politics, your friends can kill you.”
That’s what happened to the bill creating a statewide Achievement School District designed to tackle Texas’ academically unacceptable public schools. My friends killed the bill.

A brief summary of the bill is important here. Why? Because my friends began the bill’s death march by grossly mischaracterizing its content. And that is being kind to the comments of some friends as some arguments against SB-1718 were just outright false. And my friends knew better. Of 1,174 school districts in Texas, only 58 were affected by the bill because it only applied to districts with a student population greater than 20,000. These 58 districts have a total of 3,500 campuses but only 18 of those were academically unacceptable for two consecutive years and therefore subject to placement into the Achievement School District. However, the bill limited the number of campuses that could be placed into the ASD to 10. That’s right—only 10 campuses statewide were affected by the Achievement School District bill.

Under the bill, the Texas Education commissioner would have appointed the Achievement School District superintendent and teachers in that district would have had to have been certified and would have been allowed to teach only in their area of certification. If a campus was rated academically unacceptable for two consecutive years, the bill would have provided the education commissioner these options for turning the campus around:

  • Reconstitute the campus, allow the home district to operate the campus as a charter
  • Require the home district to contract for technical assistance for the campus
  • Place the campus in the Achievement School District

The first two options are squarely within current law. Only placement in the ASD was unique.

The teachers’ unions, my long-term political friends, pitched a fit over the Achievement School District bill and in a successful attempt to kill it, engaged in an all-out campaign of distortion, misinformation, mischaracterization and half-truths. The tactic worked. They raised such imaginary fears about the ASD bill that Democrats backed away from it. The bill was killed on a procedural point raised by — you guessed it — a Democrat. And this Democrat has more than his share of unacceptable public schools.

During the debate on the Achievement School District bill, Democrats should have listened to the voices of children trapped into consistently failing neighborhood schools instead of the irresponsible screams of the teachers’ unions.

Ironically, much of the support for the ASD bill came from legislators whose districts do not have consistently failing schools. Even more curious, these legislators do not generally support the positions of the teachers’ union.

Was Ann Richards right? And is there a lesson here? I think so.

My friend’s enemy is not my friend, and Democrats should be the best friend of children in failing inner city schools. And if anybody — including the teachers’ union — places their interests above these children, Democrats should not just say no to them – they should say hell, no.