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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

May 14, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. May 13, 2019.

States from California to Colorado to Massachusetts have relaxed marijuana laws. They recognize how foolish it is to jam our courts and jails with people caught with small amounts of pot. Some have fully legalized (and taxed) the drug; many others have moved more cautiously and kept it illegal to grow or sell but reduced or removed the criminal penalty for possession.

In Texas? We’re like the last teetotaling holdouts of the Prohibition era. And we’re running out of time to do anything about it as the 2019 Texas Legislature hurtles toward its May 27 close. If you care about modern, common sense pot policies for Texas, or just about fairness in our criminal justice system, now is the time to call Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott or your Texas senator to demand they not let this opportunity pass.

This session had looked so promising on the pot front. The GOP-led House passed three smart bills with huge, bipartisan vote margins, each vote reflecting Texas’ recent reputation for being not just tough on crime, but smart, too. That momentum is now at risk, just because Patrick appears determined to play the role of Dr. No in the Texas Senate.

Texans should demand better.

The three bills are different.

Two passed last week that would expand — one by a lot and the other more conservatively - Texas’ tiny experiment with medical marijuana. Since 2015, some patients have been allowed to buy cannabis seed oil to ease their symptoms. The bolder bill would grow from three to 12 the number of dispensaries that could be approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and would add many conditions and diseases to those that can be grounds for participating in the program. That bill, HB 1365, co-authored by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville earns our strongest support. But a second, more cautious bill, by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, which the House approved last Tuesday, would also be a step in the right direction. That bill is HB 3703, and it was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services committee Friday.

The medical marijuana expansion would make life better for hundreds, maybe thousands, of Texans who rely on the oil made from cannabis to relieve their symptoms. In April, Marine veteran First Sgt. Arthur Davis, a Houston native with four combat tours, told us that pot was the only thing that has helped with his crippling anxiety attacks. “It’s marijuana. I have my life back,” he said.

Klick’s bill would expand the program she created with 2015 legislation amid concerns about the growing epidemic of deadly overdoses from abuse of painkillers. We supported the program then, when Texas was one of the last states to approve medical marijuana, and support it now. It just needs to be bigger. Too few patients can enroll in the current program, even when the cost of traditional drugs can place treatment out of reach for many.

The third bill is admittedly a bigger step for Texas - but one it only makes sense to take. The House voted 103-42 in favor of HB 63 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, which would virtually decriminalize small-time possession of pot. It builds on experience in Texas’ biggest jurisdictions, where local prosecutors have long argued criminal charges are not appropriate for most cases of pot possession.

Despite that, the number of pot arrests is staggering. In 2017, according to the Department of Public Safety, police across Texas made nearly 25,000 adult arrests for dealing marijuana but more than 64,000 arrests for possessing it. . That latter figure was more than the arrests for cocaine, heroin, or any other illegal drug. That’s crazy.

Arrests for marijuana are also unfair to people of color, especially African-Americans. Black Texans age 17 and older made up just 11.8 percent of the Texas adult population in 2017, and yet their arrests accounted for 27 percent of the total that year. HB 63 would reduce those arrests, perhaps by thousands.

The Senate needs to stop standing in the way of progress on marijuana reform in Texas. Bills to decriminalize pot and to expand medical exemptions for cannabis oil aren’t radical departures from Texas values. They’re smart, humane and fair solutions that have already been tried and tested in other states. Reform can happen this session. Call Patrick and your local senators and tell them to do the right thing.

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The Dallas Morning News. May 14, 2019.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how good we’ve got it until we see how badly others are doing.

Take public schools. We rightly spend a lot of time worrying about the performance of the Dallas Independent School District, even as we’ve taken comfort in the direction of the school district in recent years.

A few hours south of us, in Houston, there is no such comfort.

Last week, the district’s school board voted 4-4 to end Houston ISD’s contract with Teach For America. For those who aren’t familiar with Teach For America, it is a national organization that recruits and trains young people into a two-year teaching program.

These teachers are often placed in some of the toughest schools, where poverty and crime have eroded opportunity.

This is one of those programs that hearkens to an earlier era in our history — a time when young people answered a president’s call to ask what they could do for their country.

The diverse college graduates who answer TFA’s call could just as easily move into far more lucrative work earlier in their careers. They choose, instead, to serve students who need them.

This is the sort of program that should be lauded and supported at every level of education.

Nonetheless, a lot of conspiracy nonsense has circled around TFA, largely driven by entrenched labor interests that are so often at the center of opposition to any school reform.

It appears those interests finally got their way in Houston, and TFA is being shown the door.

“TFA is an organization that is problematic,” Houston ISD trustee Elizabeth Santos said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “It deprofessionalizes teaching, increases turnover and undermines union organization.”

This is nonsense. Teach for America has 31 teachers in Houston ISD with a year left on their contracts, the Chronicle notes. The district employs more than 11,500 teachers.

Officials like Santos are worried about union power within the district and the ability of labor groups to prevent outside reforms from taking root in school systems that are underserving students in poverty.

What’s more galling is this: We know empirically that Teach For America is helping students succeed. This isn’t an assumption. It is the result of an exhaustive six-year study from the Center on Research and Evaluation at Southern Methodist University.

The February 2019 study looked at TFA impacts for 10 grade levels in five Texas regions — Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio.

It showed that students with TFA teachers were as likely or more likely to pass the STAAR. “The effect is strongest specifically for black and Hispanic students who have a TFA alumni as their teacher,” the report noted.

In other words, students who most need to close the achievement gap were most helped by having a Teach For America teacher.

This is to say nothing of the less measurable value of having future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and principles begin their careers as public school teachers with deep personal investment in the success of public schools.

Why should we in Dallas care about this mistake in Houston?

Here’s why: Dallas voters have consistently — if not perfectly — chosen the path of reform and results over division and retreat to the old way of doing business. But there is a constant drumbeat to try to erase the progress we have made.

Anti-reform candidates lined up in the last election for seats on the school board, with strong support from labor and progressive interests. Dallas voters nevertheless wisely chose Ben Mackey and Maxie Johnson against candidates who ran on anti-reform platforms.

That’s a good sign that we will not head down the path of Houston, where a progressive political agenda has seized efforts to pull schools out of decline.

Late last year, the Houston school board rejected partnering with outside organizations to take over operation of failing schools, even as those schools have demonstrated repeatedly they are not up to the job of educating students from impoverished backgrounds.

In January, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that Houston ISD’s board is “a joke” and suggested the state needs to take over. That’s a dark place to reach for a school district.

Here in Dallas, we can celebrate, meanwhile, that a reform program called ACE has focused resources on under-performing schools and rewarded the best teachers for working in those schools. The results are steep improvement in most struggling schools.

We should also celebrate the implementation of a program that financially rewards the best teachers across the district — something that labor organizers despise but that most of us understand intuitively is an effective motivator.

Thankfully, Dallas ISD’s relationship with Teach For America is as strong as ever. Unlike Houston, Dallas is relying on data that shows the district is getting great value from Teach For America. This includes the value of having TFA alumni who not only have served as teachers but who have gone into administration and political leadership. That includes incoming trustee Mackey and current trustees Justin Henry and Miguel Solis.

The story around Teach For America is so instructive because it is really the story of two school districts. One is choosing to put failed politics over students. The other is relying on data and a spirit of service to boost young people into better futures.

Success is not assured, but it is a choice. Aren’t you glad Dallas is making that choice?

___

Longview News-Journal. May 14, 2019.

It seems odd to be suggesting this as many of our neighbors are still struggling without electricity and looking ahead to months of cleanup and repair after powerful storms ripped across East Texas.

But as we viewed last week’s incredible destruction — massive pines splintered like toothpicks, roofs ripped open by wind or smashed under falling trees, power lines ripped off poles — we cannot avoid this thought: How could such widespread destruction hit without warning and still no one be killed, or even seriously injured?

Some have called it luck. We believe it is a blessing.

That feeling of being blessed even in the midst of the damage grows stronger when we consider that last Wednesday’s storms were not this season’s first or even second outbreak of severe weather and that so far, none of it has led to serious injury or death.

Visits to the hardest-hit areas after last week’s storms, or a look at this newspaper’s coverage of the damage, make clear how blessed we should feel.

Uprooted trees fell onto many homes, yes. But we also saw many that fell relatively harmlessly across streets and yards — and even landed neatly between homes or other structures. Power poles were shoved over and lines pulled down, some even onto homes. But they harmed no one.

We have heard from victims in some of the hardest-hit areas that, if not for a coincidence of timing, they would have been in danger’s path. Somehow, they were not.

Consider this, too. While straight-line winds of hurricane force were blamed for the damage in Longview, the same weather system spawned 10 twisters in East Texas and Louisiana. That included one that touched down north of Marshall in Harrison County. Even across all that territory, no one was seriously hurt.

So, yes, despite the devastation and disruption all around us, we are feeling well and truly blessed.

Now, another sort of blessing is being seen. It is one we have received many times but never fails to amaze us: It is the giving nature of East Texans who always turn out to help those in need.

Of course folks elsewhere come together during times of disaster, but we have learned that East Texas is particularly attentive. Nothing matters beyond serving the need; not race, creed, religion or ethnicity. All that matters is that people are in need and help is to be given.

Yes, some of those who come to the rescue do so as part of their jobs with utility companies or municipalities, but that doesn’t make what they do any less special. Others simply show up with chainsaws, hammers, rakes, tractors and other implements. They will help take care of the many smaller projects that must be done and do them at no charge.

If your job is big enough to require professional crews, we advise patience. Just like thousands of us have waited for power to be restored, you may now have to wait for an insurance adjuster or contractor to get to your job.

As you wait, we suggest you enjoy this week’s forecast sunny weather and reflect on the other blessings all around us.