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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

July 24, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Waco Tribune-Herald. July 21, 2018.

Waco Independent School District made history again last week, even beyond its innovative, in-district charter setup designed to prevent state-mandated closure of five academically struggling campuses. Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson revealed that, for the first time, local taxpayers will likely shoulder most of the burden of funding school operations rather than the state of Texas. By many accounts, the state share has been declining for years.

Does the shift in funding responsibilities make a difference? Depends on who you ask — and how hot under the collar one is about rising property values, which are what allow state legislators to quietly relieve themselves of more and more of the load of public education funding. To add insult to injury, legislators claiming to bow to outraged property owners repeatedly have sought to place stricter caps on city and county tax revenue, even though property owners should know by now that public education typically constitutes most of one’s property tax bill — not city and county expenditures.

Only a week before Superintendent Nelson explained that Waco ISD taxpayers are projected to provide 44 percent of district revenue while the state will provide 43 percent, the 13-member Texas Commission on Public School Finance debated the very same matter. Charged with crafting recommendations for school finance reform by year’s end, the commission has come to realize different ways exist of defining just what constitutes state and local tax money.

For instance, property-wealthy schools must funnel some local tax revenue to the state under the so-called “recapture” system which reallocates it elsewhere to equalize poor and rich school districts. But is such recapture money local or state funding? If it’s state money, that changes the state-local split dynamic and soothes some legislators’ egos amid claims they’re tightwads on school funding. Commission members couldn’t quite agree, though Sen. Royce West said that for years such money was deemed local: “I don’t see why we should re-characterize those funds to fit a particular narrative.”

And commission chair Scott Brister highlighted a sharp difference in how state agencies calculate education costs: “As we found in our first expenditures meeting, (Legislative Budget Board) figures have never included textbooks. Well, if you want to look at things over 30 years and you need to be consistent, that’s fine — but that’s crazy. Textbooks are part of the cost of education. They just are.” The former jurist went on to say figuring up all costs, including teacher pensions, is as critical as uniformity in calculations.

Superintendent Nelson is hardly alone in his anxiety about the state’s fiscal commitment to public education, especially when some state leaders want to reduce available funding further by funneling public money into vouchers for private schools. The commission can make significant strides by figuring out the real cost required to educate public school children, even before resolving state and local funding shares. Legislators can help by not addressing challenges involving their constitutional obligations with flim-flam rhetoric and shell games.

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The Dallas Morning News. July 23, 2018.

The jockeying for who will be in the running to be Dallas’ next mayor is, apparently, well underway. With the municipal election less than a year away, the list of potential candidates is climbing into the double digits.

This is all to the good, especially since it seems there is a diverse roster of would-be candidates in the mix. But it isn’t too early to offer a little top-level advice to the man or woman who will succeed Mayor Mike Rawlings. To wit: Have a short list of measurable action items that can shape the city’s success for generations to come.

If that sounds pretty broad, let us narrow it down. As the current occupant of the office often says, it’s hard to see how the city can be successful in the long run if it doesn’t find a way to raise up southern Dallas. You can’t leave half of the city behind and expect to thrive as a metropolitan community.

To ensure that Dallas’ prosperity spreads south as well as north, Rawlings raised awareness of key issues and focused attention on solutions with his GrowSouth initiative and Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty. City Manager T.C. Broadnax is continuing that work by doing such things as using a market value analysis to shape how the city spends money on development. That helps the city align its expenditures with its top priorities.

But this work is far from done. Even with, and perhaps partly because of, an influx of residents, Dallas’ poverty rate has increased 42 percent over the past 15 years. The city’s median income also has declined for 30 years. It stands at $43,781, according to statistics compiled by Rawlings’ task force. That puts us $10,000 behind the national average and behind Houston ($46,187), San Antonio ($46,744), Fort Worth ($53,214) and Austin ($57,689).

The largest long-term task for the next mayor will involve the work required to reverse such trends. It will be tempting for candidates to offer a laundry list of small ideas on how to do just that. But our suggestion is to identify a small list of larger, verifiable ideas that will improve such areas as education, transportation, housing and quality of life for all residents by empowering those who live in Dallas to build successful lives.

And speed here matters. Studies show that the more time a person spends in or near poverty, the harder it is to escape it.

During his tenure as mayor, Rawlings has raised the visibility of issues that have to do with southern Dallas, poverty and the need to include everyone in our city’s success. That work needs to continue and even accelerate. As our city expands, the ranks of those sharing in its success needs to expand, too.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 23, 2018.

Calls to protect our freedoms and liberty sound patriotic and noble. But when they’re aimed at encouraging parents to avoid immunizing their school-aged children, they’re downright dangerous.

We’re urging parents of children heading back to school in several weeks to listen to the medical community, and reject the false, though sometimes sincere, cries from the “anti-vaxxers” who are encouraging risky behavior.

There is no sound medical information that supports their often-cited belief that the shots children receive cause autism and other illnesses. In fact, the opposite is true. Without the recommended vaccinations for measles, whooping cough, mumps, and other preventable illnesses, children will be vulnerable to diseases that can kill them. And unvaccinated children threaten others around them by spreading illness.

In Texas, school children, beginning in kindergarten, are required to receive at least seven vaccinations identified by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 1972 Texas children have been able to opt out of the shots and still attend public schools if they have religious or medical reasons. In 2003 state lawmakers expanded the exemptions to include reasons of conscience.

Since then the number of Texas parents who’ve embraced the anti-vaccine movement and opted out has exploded, setting off alarms in the medical community — and here.

In 2003, 3,000 Texas students said “no” to the shots. Today that number has grown almost 19-fold, to more than 56,000, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s a conservative estimate, because it doesn’t include some children who are home-schooled or attend private schools.

“We are extremely vulnerable to a measles outbreak in Texas,” Dr. Peter Hotez told this Editorial Board.

Hotez, based in Houston, is director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and holds a number of other prestigious medical positions.

He recently co-authored a study on vaccine exemptions published by the Public Library of Science Journal of Medicine, known as PLOS Medicine. It named Texas as one of 18 states that allows the non-medical exemptions, and identified Tarrant County and Fort Worth as national “hot spots.”

The study found that parents of at least 518 kindergarteners in Tarrant County schools last year decided not to get preventative shots for their children.

“All of this is based on phony information,” Hotez said.

The anti-vaxxers tend to be better educated, more affluent individuals, and politically active.

Hotez says Texas communities like Fort Worth are now at great risk for a measles outbreak, which can spread like wildfire and kill small children. It was thought to be eradicated in 2000, but there have been numerous measles clusters because of children who haven’t been vaccinated.

In 2014, a measles outbreak in Disneyland infected at least 145 people from across the country, then moved into Canada and Mexico.

Earlier this year, in North Texas’ Ellis County, health officials scrambled to contain at least six cases of measles affecting people who hadn’t been immunized.

Hotez’s study says children not given the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are 35 times more likely to contract measles than a vaccinated child. A child not immunized for pertussis is three times more likely to be stricken.

Hotez, who has a 25-year-old autistic daughter, says he’s been threatened on social media by anti-vaxxers who want Texas lawmakers to further eliminate policies that encourage or require immunization.

A group, Texans for Vaccine Choice, is among those that targeted Republican primary candidates who support immunization and tried to defeat them. They’ll be at the legislature again in January, hoping to further their agenda.

Texans need to make sure they protect the health of our children and our communities by rejecting the anti-vaxxer dogma and their legislation.

We need greater involvement by medical professionals to convince skeptics of the benefits of vaccines. Parents need to be told of the low-cost, no-cost options for immunization. Faith groups, neighborhood clinics and celebrities should use their influence to reach the under-vaccinated.

We know there will be blowback from this message, but it’s important we all speak out. While we’re sympathetic to families who believe their children have been harmed by vaccines, there just isn’t solid medical evidence to prove that.

The consequences of allowing the emotional anti-vaxxer message to overtake good judgment could be life-threatening.

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Houston Chronicle. July 24, 2018.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s decision to support the older of two Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades that each year compete for an audience was understandable. After all, the 40-year-old Original MLK Day Parade sponsored by the Black Heritage Society is believed to be the first such event ever held in the country.

But Turner’s endorsement alone doesn’t mean organizers of the younger MLK Grande Parade, which began in 1995, are going to accept it. This event is bigger than squabbling factions. It’s about honoring the legacy of a man who stood for bridging divides. Turner has an opportunity here.

It’s time for Houston to make the annual parade an official event produced by the city’s more-than-capable special events staff, complete with corporate sponsors to help cover costs and hire consultants with experience from past parades. If San Antonio can figure out how to host the largest MLK march in the nation, drawing 300,000 people, with $100,00 and help from corporate and private sponsors, Houston can host a 12-block parade.

Turner deserves credit for trying to accomplish what past mayors tried; to forge a union between the founders of the parades. He ran into the same impasse of egos. No one has gotten Ovide Duncantell, the 80-year-old leader of the Black Heritage Society, and his former protégé, Charles Stamps, to get over themselves and find the harmony epitomized by Dr. King’s life.

Both parades have value. The Black Heritage Society parade typically includes living legends like the Rev. F.N. Williams and the Rev. William A. Lawson, who marched with King and stood with the mayor when he backed the older parade. But the MLK Grande Parade, with its street dancers, cheerleaders, and marching bands like Booker T. Washington High’s Baby Ocean of Soul, has become part of the city’s fabric.

Houston City Council in 2007 considered granting only one parade permit, but Duncantell sued alleging First Amendment violations. A federal court ruling left the two parades intact. Duncantell won a coin toss in 2008 to get the coveted morning slot.

No more coin tosses. No more confusion about which parade to attend. The city should take the lead. Given his entrepreneurial skill in enlisting corporate sponsors, hire Stamps as a consultant. Hire Duncantell to maintain the parade’s strong ties to Houston’s civil rights history.

Any funds saved by reducing the police and sanitation costs of two parades could help pay consultant fees not covered by corporate sponsors. More importantly, Turner’s resolution could end a decades-long dispute that every year diminishes Houston’s celebration of a man devoted to brotherly love.

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Amarillo Globe-News. July 24, 2018.

Was the United States of America founded as a Christian nation?

No, it was not, not according to the specific words of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence — the documents that serve as the foundation of this nation.

However, this fact does not mean that logic and common sense regarding religion — of any type or denomination — should be tossed out the window.

It is true that there is no reference to Christianity in the U.S. Constitution or Declaration of Independence, but there are references to God - or at least a higher power - in the Declaration of Independence.

For example, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ...”

And there is also this in the Declaration of Independence: “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states ...”

To make the argument that the founding fathers were not religious seems a bit naive.

Still, if we are going to accept the fact that America was not founded as a Christian nation because our two founding documents do not mention Christianity, it is necessary to apply this constitutional logic in other areas.

For example, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not found in either the U.S. Constitution or Declaration of Independence. Yet - for some reason - we allow this phrase to prohibit public displays of the Ten Commandments, nativity scenes and push for the words “under God” to be ignored in the Pledge of Allegiance. (While some like to bring up the fact that “separation of church and state” is referenced in other historical documents or essays, this nation is not governed by these documents or essays.)

The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

We fail to see how a public display of the Ten Commandments equates to Congress establishing a religion.

So if we are going to debate religion and the founding of America, it would be nice if constitutional logic applied in all cases.

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