Private and corporate interests targeting Texas public schools for a hostile takeover have an experiment under way right now in Dallas ISD. And you have a big stake in the outcome, no matter where you live and work in Texas.
The Dallas experiment features the use of a long-dormant state law authorizing the transformation of a public school district, in the name of “home rule,” into a charter entity that can exempt itself from vital state laws protecting students, parents, teachers, school support personnel, and communities. Even something as basic as democratic accountability to the voters through an elected school board can be eliminated through a “home rule” petition and referendum.
All it takes to launch such an experiment is a petition signed by 5 percent of the registered voters in a school district. And in Dallas ISD we have learned how easy it is for special interests to fund a misleading petition drive to secure the necessary signatures. If this deceptive process ultimately delivers Dallas ISD—the second-largest school district in Texas—into the hands of the privatizers and profiteers who have targeted the public schools for takeover, then it can happen anywhere in Texas.
The Alliance-AFT, our local affiliate with thousands of members in Dallas ISD, is playing a leading role in fighting back against this threat at the local level. But you have a role to play, too, no matter where in Texas you call home. You can help stop this hijacking of public education in its tracks by educating your state senator and your state representative about the false allure of “home rule” and the need to repeal the law that opened this door to school privatization. You can begin to educate your legislators by sending them this letter now:
Public education in Texas is at a crossroads. Our public schools are under constant attack from private and corporate interests that seek to profit from a hostile takeover of public education. One weapon they are now using in this attack is a 19-year-old provision in state law authorizing school districts to declare “home rule”—a deceptively labeled device that really would usher in the opposite of democratic, local control of neighborhood public schools.
Dallas ISD is currently serving as the laboratory for this bad idea, which has never before been tried in Texas. But make no mistake—if privatization in the guise of “home rule” gains a foothold in Dallas, it is coming soon to a school district near you.
The home-rule push in Dallas has been bankrolled by a Houston billionaire, hedge-fund manager and former Enron trader John Arnold, a backer of school privatization who also has made himself notorious nationwide for his attacks on public pensions. The home-rule district charter process he and his confederates have launched in Dallas ISD is a Trojan horse. In the name of local control, it would pave the way for nullification of state class-size limits for most K-4 classrooms, elimination of teachers’ professional contracts, demolition of parents’ and students’ and teachers’ rights to due process in student discipline matters, and elimination of accountability to the community through an elected school board.
The Dallas home-rule scheme would transfer power from the parents and citizens in the neighborhoods of Dallas ISD–especially from those in predominantly minority and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods –to special-interest elites and private operators. These special interests are likely to pursue even more intensely the top-down policies that already have disproportionately hurt those communities within Dallas ISD, like recent controversial school closures and layoffs of school personnel.
Home-rule schemes like the one in Dallas ISD undermine genuinely democratic, grass-roots efforts to improve struggling schools, such as community-initiated school turnarounds that provide wraparound community health and social services at school to students and their families, thereby building up rather than tearing down neighborhoods. Instead of transforming our public school districts into profit centers for private operators, policymakers should support authentic community-supported alternatives that have proven effective. A good example is the in-district “campus charter,” initiated by teachers and parents at a campus working together with community partners to provide innovative educational programs, while preserving both democratic local governance and important state safeguards such as class-size limits, due process in student discipline, and teachers’ contract rights.
I ask that you oppose the home-rule policy, which would allow educational standards to be lowered and serve as a pathway to privatization. Please work to repeal this unfortunate provision of state law and reject the underlying agenda of privatization of control over public schools and destruction of democratic school governance.