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Posts published in “Channels – Editor’s Notebook”

Good things are happening

Last week the Northeast News ran a story about an alleged member of a dog fighting ring being arrested.

Within days a reader, B.J. Salinas, wrote a letter to the editor praising the tipster and law enforcement for the arrest. The writer added the admonition that we must speak out for animals who cannot speak on their own.

This arrest remings me that that good things are happening in the community. We are all encouraged to become change agents for good in our community, to make our community a better place to live and work.

A BIZARRO page from my notebook. Or why I always carry a camera.

Rule number one for a reporter or editor: Always carry your camera, ready to take a picture.

An event on Monday afternoon of this week serves to illustrate the wisdom of this advice: On a routine errand, driving down Westpark Drive, I happened to notice several ramps to the new Westpark Tollway were closed off by Constable and Police Cars. As curious as a newspaper person can be, I drove around another way to get a view of what might be happening. Was I surprised.

There standing on top of a 170’ tall electric transmission tower, was a man, balanced perfectly with no support.

Pulling into a parking lot, I found a lot of others watching, too. “What’s happening?’ I astutely asked, and learned that this man had climbed the tower over 4 hours earlier, and now the police, sheriffs, constables, Houston rescue squads, SWAT team, Houston Fire Department, ambulances, and even the federal terrorism authorities had gathered to watch and figure out what to do about it.

The electric company, which is now known as CenterPoint Energy, was also on hand, since it was their tower. They had the good sense to shut off the 345,000 volts that were pulsing through the lines only a few feet away from the man. They also were smart enough to have two trucks that could reach the top of the tower if needed. One had a height reach of 170’, the other 200’ feet tall.

Let me tell you, that is a long way up, looking from the ground. I can only imagine (no I can’t) how high it must have looked to that man, staring down in such a stoic way.

What was he thinking or feeling? What was his ultimate intention? The hundreds gathered below, curious, worried, or entertained, didn’t know. The first thought was that he would jump, but I am glad to say no one on the ground wished that for him. Was he trying to damage the electric line? He had plenty of time to do that before i arrived, so it must have been some other motive.

I was there several hours, not knowing how this would resolve itself, and hoping that my prayer and presence would bring some since.

The authorities either didn’t know how to deal with him, or they did. Besides talking to him in Spanish through a bullhorn, the only other thing they tried was to gather a lot of men and equipment, perhaps in a show of authority.

Anyway, the man moved around a bit, climbed partway down and then back up. Took off his shirt, put it back on.

Why?

We don’t know. The authorities finally decided that the best plan was to show him they had no interest. They began to pull their equipment away, they had ordered the helicapters to stay away, and at some point this climber decided his show was over, and he came down.

I must say, at that point he was treated by the Houston Police with care and concern.

Reportedly he told them he was depressed, had no job or legal papers, and saw no future. He was taken to a phsychiatric hospital for exam, but at this writing has not been charged with any crime.

So there is an unusual, but perhaps not too untypical, day in the life of a newsman.

On a diet at the Northeast News…

It’s quite the craze these days, to be slimming down. Popular diets include Atkins, Weight Watchers, Curves, and much more.

ItÕs true in the newspaper industry, too. For many reasons, the large and small newspapers have reduced the size of their pages, some in width only, others in length also. You may notice that this issue of the STAR-COURIER looks slightly different. It’s the page width, which has been reduced from 14′ to 12.5′

Did you notice? We are interested in your opinion of the new size, and how the pages will look with a different layout. Also, please remember that we are here to serve you. If you would like to read different material, let us know by letter, email, or phone.

Thanks. And enjoy our new slim look.

Grading Teachers Fairly

By Dr. Dorothy Rich
President, Home and School Institute

To judge whether a teacher is good, bad, or in between, you don’t need to be an expert on education.

As a teacher, I give parents clues on how to look at and grade my work when they visit my classroom.
That’s why I tell parents to visit their children’s school and classroom as soon as possible in the new school year.

Parents should schedule a visit and expect to spend a few hours in the classroom. They have to see the teacher and classroom in action to really know how to grade it.

Here are my basic clues for parents. You’ll have your own to add.

•Don’t be impressed with my bulletin boards or with whether the desks are neat and the room is quiet. Some of the best learning in my classroom goes on with students making noise or even laughing.

•Assess: Is there a feeling of security among the students? Do I encourage divergent opinions and answers, or am I “answer pulling,” looking for the exact one I have in mind?

•How do I treat “wrong” answers? Do I discard them? Do I try to point out reasons why one answer is better than another?

•How do I treat “difficult” children, and what do I define as “difficult.” It’s possible that your children, on their problem days, may get similar treatment.

•Look carefully at my personality and me. I need not be beautiful. Yet like all good teachers, I need to convey to students qualities of optimism and encouragement.

•Try to come back to see me more than once. If you come away pleased with what you’ve seen, tell me. We teachers need praise, too. If something upsets you, discuss it with me first.

•Try not to tear down teachers in front of your children. This doesn’t mean you need to whitewash the school and blame children when they come home complaining about something. Yet, agreeing with the children that teachers are “stupid” or “dull” defeats any good purposes.

•Watch out especially for phone conversations, when children can overhear parents complain about the “boring” homework they have been assigned. Instead talk to someone at the school, where it can do some good.

•For the best evaluation, look to your children. Are they interested in learning? Are they eager to go to school? When this is happening, the school year is good. When it isn’t, there is trouble…trouble that all of us – students, parents and teachers – need to pay attention to.

Dr. Dorothy Rich, founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School institute, is the creator of the trademarked MegaSkills programs for character and academic development used by the National Education Association and school districts in more than 4,000 schools.

We Must Teach Patriotism

Survival of American Culture at Stake in Textbook Fight

By Michael Quinn Sullivan

Should public schools teach children to hate America? According to some social studies textbooks proposed for use in our schools, and their apologists on the political left, the answer is yes.

As the battle over social studies textbooks continues later this month at Texas’ State Board of Education hearings, the very survival of our way of life is at stake.

Of course, the blame-America groups conduct their “I Object” campaigns of anti-Americanism under the pretense of combating “censorship” and promoting “academic freedom.” Make no mistake, though: left-wing groups want censorship. They unabashedly seek to censor the triumph of the American Experiment while discrediting opponents with assertions of hidden agendas colored with pejoratives.

In their view, America and free enterprise are to blame for everything bad. One textbook describes socialist systems as operating “for the good” of all people, while condemning our economy as greedy Never mind that the quality of life, by any measure, in socialist countries is far below that of the U.S.

One need only look at the standard of living in China, Cuba, Sweden, and elsewhere to see the utter failure of socialism. Why else do millions risk life and limb coming to the US from the “progressive” economies of the socialist world?

Those fanatics objecting to Texas’ open textbook selection process contemptuously sneer at “flag-waving conservatives” seeking to imbue classrooms with patriotism.

What is so wrong with patriotism? The laws of Texas demand patriotism be taught “in regular subject matter… and (considered) in the adoption of textbooks.” A deeply-held respect for our country, rooted in its ideals and history (failures and achievements alike), should be a source of honor, not scorn.

The Texas Education Code, Section 28,002, continues, “A primary purpose of the public school curriculum is to prepare thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism and can function productively in a free enterprise society with appreciation for the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage”

Patriotism – not a flag on a pole – inspired men to live and die so the beacon of liberty could shine brightly in our world. Our children must be taught the immeasurable contribution our nation, people and system has made improving the human condition. If children do not learn the historical value of our system today, as adults they will accept any other.

Some textbooks ridiculously claim slavery was invented by Western European societies. But while African and Asian nations still tolerate – even encourage – slavery, the people of the United States work to eradicate the shameful institution from the face of the planet. Similarly, the United States has led the way in protecting the environment, while socialist countries like China recklessly pollute our world.

Our children should learn it was the free-market culture of the United States that liberated Jews from Hitler’s socialist party-run death camps. The blood of thousands of Americans flowed at Omaha Beach so millions – indeed, billions – of people could live free of tyranny. It was the moral, economic and military might of the United States that crumbled the evil empire of the Soviet Union.
It wasn’t the socialist economies of Europe praised in textbooks that eradicated so much disease and pestilence; it has been the United States. The same system that put a man on the moon also makes it possible for high school dropouts from the worst of neighborhoods to become millionaires. No other nation can make such claims.

In a long-ago conversation with my grandfather, a highly decorated soldier whose service spanned multiple wars and decades, I asked what he thought of the vitriolic, anti-American protests of the 1960s and ‘70s,

“It made me proud,” he said to my surprise, before explaining: “More friends than I can count died, and I killed more people than I want to remember, to ensure stupid people could believe, say and do ridiculous things.”

That is the essence of our freedom. The anti-American movement is alive and well only because our system protects their freedom, if they succeed, and our children are brainwashed with anti-American, socialistic vitriol, our freedoms will be weakened in ways we cannot imagine.

Let the stupid people make their case, but Texans must demand the law be followed and textbooks promote what is good and just: our values, our ideals, and our history.

Abraham Lincoln warned that the Philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the Philosophy of government in the next. That insight should cause us to shudder with fear, and inspire us to action. Our way of life is at stake.

Michael Sullivan is director of media and government relations for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation’s textbook review is available a: www.tppf.org

Perry’s transportation vision Texas’ forward thinking will lead nation

By Wendell Cox

Vision looms large in American history. John F. Kennedy’s vision rook us to the moon, Ronald Reagan’s vision led to the end of the Soviet Union, and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision produced the Interstate highway system, which has done so much to make this nation one and to fuel its unparalleled economic growth.

But in the increasingly politicized environment of America, vision seems to have taken a long holiday.
That is until Governor Rick Perry’s TransTexas Corridor plan, which would build wholly new transportation networks throughout the state. Perry’s vision is the first serious innovative thinking in transportation in a half-century. The TransTexas Corridors would be wide lights-of-ways bypassing the metropolitan areas, providing expedited travel on separated truck and automobile roadways, while providing capacity for freight and passenger rail Most importantly, in a time of severe funding challenges the corridors would largely pay for themselves.

Texas and the rest of the nation are overdue for the Perry vision. The state of Texas, like so many others, is suffering from an inability to handle growing traffic congestion. To some degree this is due to the influence of those who erroneously claim that more highways create more traffic, on the assumption we sit around waiting for new toads to open so we can spend more time behind the wheel, In fact, automobile use has increased in recent decades because groups of people who have had less access to mobility in the past have or are moving Into the mainstream – such as women and minorities. Progress is still required in minority auto ownership, which means that driving will continue to increase at a higher rate than population increases. This is as it should be.

Additional increases will be fueled by NAFTA-driven freight volumes, both by truck and rail. The truck traffic will be diverted to innovative ‘truckways” which are separate lanes designed specifically for heavy-trucks. The truckways will make the passenger vehicle lanes safer, less congested and less stressful for regular traffic.

Freight rail traffic is expected to double or triple in the coming years. Perry’s Corridor plan will prevent additional rail-induced gridlock in communities that are already dissected by slow-moving freight rail lines.

Then there is the matter of money there just isn’t enough gas tax money to build all the roads that are needed. Indeed, it is time to bury the gas tax as a source of additional highway revenues. Virtually all of the highest priority expansion needs are in and around the state’s largest metropolitan areas, and politics simply will not permit spending all of the tax money from around the state in just a few places.

Serious improvement to transportation in Texas requires user-pay mechanisms, as Gov. Perry is proposing. Infrastructure companies will submit proposals to build corridors across the state and around the cities using tolls and rail access fees. Even though large cost estimates are being tossed around, very little of the funding will come from the public treasury.

But there is a risk. Around the world are examples of success and failure in infrastructure development. For example, the Channel Tunnel (connecting England with the European continent) and the new Denmark bridges are self-financing, with little or no government assistance. On the other hand, high- speed rail projects in both Florida and Texas, advertised as self-financing, were abandoned after the firms reneged on their promises and sought significant government support. It will be important for Texans to tell the difference between serious infrastructure players who are prepared to take risks, and the firms that have so often played “bait-and switch” games with taxpayer money, The TransTexas Corridor plan will need strong safeguards to ensure that commitments are kept.

Effective safeguards will prevent the infrastructure industry from dipping into money that is so needed for better metropolitan roadways.
Legitimate concerns have also been raised, about the viability of the passenger rail portions of the plan. But it is well to remember that the Perry plan is self-financing. If a private firm can figure out how to make money and provide passenger rail service, more power to it. The key, again, is to make sure that the public vault is securely locked.

Governor Perry has articulated a vision that can transport Texas and its people to a better future. It is likely that within months other governors will offer similar proposals. But Texas has led the way. More importantly, skilled administration by the governor, the legislature and Texas Department of Transportation will help propel the state to economic preeminence and a better future for all.

Wendell Cox is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of the Heritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

(Wendell Ccx is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of theHeritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the at the C’cnservatoire des Arts et A’kriers in Paris.)

Let the Sun Set on SBEC

Teacher certification Board Fails Texas

By Chris Patterson

Improving Texas public schools depends on qualified teachers. That’s why the threat of a teacher shortage prompted the Texas Legislature to create the State Board for Educator Certification in 1995.

But SBEC has done nothing to fix the problem In fact, SBEC has increased the likelihood that children sit in classrooms without an academically qualified teacher.

Since its inception, SBEC has methodically dismantled the academic requirements for prospective teachers. Today, you could be certified to teach algebra even if you never took algebra in college.

According to education research, there are two factors that contribute to being a good teacher. The first is a broad body of academic expertise in the field being taught. The second is an expansive vocabulary.

SBEC requires only that prospective teachers pass the academic equivalent of the TAAS for the grade they hope to teach. This means a seventh-grader could meet the SBEC academic requirements for teaching the sixth grade. Parents should be frightened. These requirements don’t mesh with what we know about good instruction.

SBEC is divorcing academic knowledge from teacher certification even further. Two years ago, SBEC drafted a proposal to let teachers teach subjects and grades outside their certification for three years.

If SBEC wants educators to teach outside their certification, why have certification in the first place? Fortunately, the State Board of Education had the authority to veto this misguided idea.
Of course, SBEC is hoping to change that. They want to be autonomous. That would be a disaster for teachers and children.

Many Texans had hoped SBEC would craft an alternative to traditional teacher certification that would allow knowledgeable individuals to bypass teacher education programs that are weak in academics and strong in fuzzy teaching methods
Over the past seven years, SBEC has only increased the number of teachers with alternative certification by a paltry seven percent. Last year, school districts reported that 25 percent of new teachers were not certified to teach in the classrooms they were hired to lead.

If increasing the number and qualifications of teachers isn’t SBEC’s main concern, what is’? SBEC recently completed work on a new ethics code for teachers. This new code would prohibit a teacher from sharing her professional and personal judgment with parents about their children, unless the law compels schools to release such information. What could SBEC find wrong with open, honest parent-teacher communication?

It is clear that either SBEC should be placed directly under the authority of the elected State Board of Education, or that individual districts be allowed to decide who is qualified to teach – provided there is full disclosure to parents of teacher qualifications.

Growing bureaucracies and expanding regulations will never produce classrooms staffed by academically qualified and responsible teachers.

Texas’ children, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better. As the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission reviews SBEC this year, Texans have an opportunity to reshape the educator certification process in a way that makes it more responsive to the academic needs of our children while enhancing parental involvement.

(Chris Patterson is the director of education research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Her research can be found on the web at www.tppf.org)

San Jacinto: Different Times, Same Meaning

An Op-Ed Column by Jim Haley

Sunday, April 21, marks the 166th anniversary of that brief, terrible battle that secured the independence of the Republic of Texas in 1836. At first hailed equally by Anglo and Tejano participants, it was the subsequent pervasiveness of prejudice and racism that bleached the victory into a largely white celebration. Many Hispanic Texans now feel, or are urged that they ought to feel, cheated and demeaned by celebrations of the victory at San Jacinto. This is unfortunate and needless.

For generations, the rectitude of the Texas revolution, and the celebration of its success at San Jacinto, were rarely questioned, at least within the Anglo community. However, the study of history has undergone many changes in the intervening century and two-thirds. Scholars in recent decades are more sensitive to injustices suffered by minority groups, and they have grown willing to take a more critical look at the participants in our history and their motives. This has been beneficial, because for too long the study of Texas history basked in a rosy glow of unquestioning Anglo hero-worship, which eventually established itself as a mythology that was, at times, far removed from historical reality.

But the study of history, like history itself, has swings of its pendulum, and the current trend of historical “revisionism” has gone, one senses, about as far as it can. When revisionism was reinforced with the advent of what we call political correctness, resulting in the construct of the “New History,” assertions about our past have become more abstruse and equally as removed from reality as the hero worship they replaced.

One can read today that Sam Houston deliberately let the Alamo fall because he was jealous of Jim Bowie and William Barret Travis. One can read that the Battle of San Jacinto was essentially unimportant, because if the gates to the Pacific were not thrown open to American expansion there, it would have happened elsewhere. That Americans “stole” Texas from Mexico has become an article of faith in many academic circles. Much of the study of Texas history has gone rather the way of classical music, conceived and written to outdo other professionals, with the appreciation or understanding of the everyday person having become irrelevant. It’s time for a reality check.

When the Mexican government first began to sense it was losing its grip on Texas, it sent its most able officer, General Don Manuel de Mier y Teran, on an inspection tour of the province. In his report of June 1828, one of the causes of unrest he listed was the Anglo colonists chafing under a government he called “venal and ignorant.” He found both the Anglo and Tejano residents united in the desire for separate Mexican statehood for Texas, as was promised in the Constitution of 1824. He found other causes of unrest, political, social and religious, to which he was largely sympathetic. but he had to tailor his advice to a government that was becoming increasingly authoritarian in outlook. General Mier y Teran, a trusted friend of Stephen F. Austin, fell on his sword in 1832 after it was clear that power would fall to a new autocrat, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

When Santa Anna abolished the Constitution of 1824 and began to crush resistance to his regime, most notably in the state of Zacatecas, he lost any legitimate claim to allegiance. That his brutality was matched by his military incompetence cost Mexico the province of Texas. No one “stole” it. That appeal to past enmities is refuted by the patriotism of Juan Seguin and Lorenzo de Zavala and other liberal Tejanos who fought the dictator, and is seconded by uncounted Mexicans put to death in the interior during Santa Anna’s march to power.

His overwhelming defeat on the Plain of St. Hyacinth was just cause for joy for both Anglo colonist and native Tejano. It was the following unattractive chapters of prejudice and abuse of the Tejano population that still need healing.

Importantly, the reasons to celebrate San Jacinto are better seen, not then, but now. Today a full one-third of Texas’ 21 million people speak Spanish as their first language. Many families have been here for generations, and the current statistics of immigration, both legal and undocumented, need no recitation here. People who are oppressed, either politically or economically, still vote with their feet and for hundreds of thousands of Hispanics every year, the quest for a better life brings them to the Texas that was freed at San Jacinto.

The Texas revolution was waged to secure political liberty and economic opportunity for its inhabitants. For several generations, ethnic minorities in Texas, not just Hispanic and African-descended but many others, did not fully share in that promise. But as the promise moves closer to reality for all, there is no need to apologize for honoring the sacrifice, and victory, of those who liberated this vast and remarkable land to fulfill its destiny by letting its people – all of them – reach their potential. Texas is a multi-cultural society and can be celebrated as such without resort to blame.

James L. Haley is the author of more than a half dozen books devoted primarily to Texas history including Sam Houston (University of Oklahoma Press, 2002). He will be a speaker in the Battle of San Jacinto Symposium 2002: Personalities of San Jacinto on Friday April 19. His topic is Sam Houston and San Jacinto: It Wasn’t Supposed to Happen This Way.

High hopes for low-performing schools

By Bob Chase,
President, National Education Association


In 1997, Wyandotte High School in Kansas City was plagued with low test scores, high dropout rates, and discipline problems. To its dismay, its entire school district was considered low-performing.

But both the school board and the school’s staff refused to accept this label. And so, they did some soul-searching. Administrators and teachers decided that if the school was going to shine, they had to work together as a family instead of as a hierarchy. Their goal became: “Create a school you’d want to send your own child to.”

The staff began to share decision-making. They reduced class sizes, provided teachers with weekly professional development, and reorganized classes into “learning communities” so that students would have the same teachers for all four years of high school. This enabled teachers to get to know every student personally and give them individual attention.

Wyandotte’s staff also set high academic standards, engaged parents, and coached students to work collaboratively.

Four years later, the school is thriving. It has gone from an average of 1,000 tardy students a day to 27. Suspensions are down, test scores are showing gains, more students are graduating, and the overall atmosphere is one of “respect and cooperation.”

Social studies teacher David Cland confessed, “Before, we had lockdowns. I was struggling. I almost left over the discipline problems. Now, we use discipline issues to build relationships with the parents. The familial atmosphere has kept me here.”

But while Wyandotte may be unique in its approach, it is hardly unique in its commitment to reform – or in its success.

This past July, I pledged to NEA’s 2.6 million members that I would seize every opportunity to visit low-performing schools. Since then, I have toured troubled districts from Oakland to Atlanta, Milwaukee to Omaha.

Many of them have been as inspiring as Wyandotte. Everywhere I’ve gone, teachers and administrators are valiantly committed to the idea that every child in America can learn – and every school in America can succeed – given the right conditions and resources.

The biggest education question facing America is not whether struggling schools can improve, but how?

Last month, at a conference titled “Priority Schools, Priority Students: Making Public Schools Great for Every Child,’ 500 principals, school superintendents, education experts, and teachers – including some from Wyandotte – convened in Atlanta to address this very question.

They recognized that one size does not fit all in school reform. Many low-performing schools, like Wyandotte, have turned around through creativity, tailoring programs to the specific needs of their communities.

Yet like Wyandotte, most “turnarounds” have also instituted the same common sense improvements: Small class sizes. Strong parental outreach. On-site professional development for teachers. High standards. Testing used diagnostically, not punitively. All have drawn upon data-driven reforms, not pie-in-the-sky experiments.

At the conference, Harvard Education Professor Pedro Noguera summed it up best:

“It’s not rocket science. In many districts, we know what works and we know what schools need.”
To improve low-performing schools, “what works” must become the cornerstones of education policy.

Yet we ourselves must also take a page from the staff at Wyandotte. If we are truly going to lift up all public schools, then we must all work together as one family – and regard all children as our own.

For as a wise man once observed, “in communities where men build ships for their own sons to fish or fight from, quality is never a problem.”

Black Military Men Helped Build America’s Glory

Captain Charles E. Douglas of the United States Armed Forces, graduated as valedictorian of the 1965 class of B. C. Elmore Senior High School of Houston, Texas. He was President of the Association of the United States Army Student Chapter R. 0. T. C. and President of his Senior Class at Prairie View A & M University of Prairie View, Texas. He graduated from Prairie View A & M University in 1969, with a Bachelor of Science degree concentrating in Electrical/Electronic Engineering and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After graduating from college, he entered into the U S. Armed Forces as Second Lieutenant (U.S. Army Signal Corps). Shortly after he was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia and Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was a Communications/Electronics Instructor and Signal Unit Commander, respectively. He later received orders to be stationed at Long Binh, Vietnam, where he was a Combat Unit Signal Commander in charge of Operations. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service against hostile enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam. Prior to his Honorable Discharge, Lieutenant Douglas was promoted to Captain. Recently, Captain Douglas earned a Master of Education degree from Texas Southern University of Houston, Texas. Currently, he is a Licensed Professional Engineer with a successful Engineering and Consulting Firm, a certified Educator in Mathematics and Science, an Evangelist Minister of the Christ of Jesus Christ From God and he is working on his Ph.D. degree from Cambridge State University of Honolulu. Hawaii.

Since the birth of our nation, Americans have been in the struggle to protect, preserve, and make more meaningful the ideals of freedom and liberty. From the very beginning, the Black American has been part of this struggle and a valiant fighter in every conflict in our history.

Negro soldiers, about 5,000, both free and slave, served gallantly in the Revolutionary Army. Others served in the Navy, especially as coastal pilots. Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave who fled to Boston, was involved in the Boston massacre. He and three other men fell there, the first blood for independence that was shed.

During the war of 1812, the Louisiana Free Men of Color and San Domingo Free Men of Color were integral parts of General Andrew Jackson’s Army, which was rather small and included Blacks and whites. It inflicted a decisive defeat upon an army of British regulars, compelling it to withdraw front Louisiana.

During the Civil War, there were almost 180,000 Negro troops on the union side. Two of the significant Negro regiments were the 54th and 55th Massachusetts. Black Troops fought both in the Eastern Theater and as far West as Kansas and Missouri. Regiments of free Negroes from Massachusetts fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, particularly at Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Several regiments of free Negroes even offered their services to the Confederacy and. in the late part of the war, the Confederacy considered giving slaves their freedom in return for military service.

Negro units were instrumental in the Spanish-American War. The 9th Cavalry gained distinction in the charge up San Juan Hill by Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders.” During the Philippine insurrection, the same four Negro regiments that fought in the Spanish-American War, along with two volunteer units, fought bravely to quell the Philippine insurrection.

In World War I, the bulk of the 404,348 were Black troops in the Services of Supply – in quartermaster, stevedore and pioneer infantry units. The all-Negro 369th Infantry Regiment was the first American unit to break through the German line and reach the Rhine River. Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, two members of this unit, were the first two American soldiers ever to be honored by a foreign government for outstanding bravery on a foreign battlefield. Individually they were awarded the coveted French Croix de guerre, with Star and Palm, for defending and holding an exposed position, while wounded, in the face of overwhelming odds.

During World War II, on March 15, 1942, Sergeant Alouzo Douglas was credited as the first Negro infantryman to kill a Japanese enemy soldier in the Solomons. Almost 100,000 Negro troops and 7,700 officers served in World War II. Three Negro armored units and nine separate Negro field artillery battalions served in Europe. Lieutenant Charles B. Hall of the Army Air Corps was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and credited with the all-Negro 99th Fighter Squadron’s first aerial victory after he destroyed a Focke-Wulf 190 in aerial combat on July 2, 1943. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin 0. Davis, Jr., (West Point class of 1936, the son of the first Negro general) commanded the 332nd fighter group that flew bombing missions in Europe and while attached to the 15th Air Force made a 1,500 mile round trip attack on Berlin, the longest mission of the l5th’s history.

A Black seaman, Doris Miller, became the first hero of World War II. He was a Messman 1st Class serving aboard the U.S. Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. During the ensuing assault, Miller shot down at least four planes until his ammunition was exhausted. For his distinguished devotion to duty, he earned the Navy Cross.

The Korean War saw the advent of integration of the American Armed Forces. Private First Class William Thompson of the 24th Infantry was the first Negro since 1898 to win the Medal of Honor for martyrdom beyond the call of duty.

In yesteryears, White and Black men fought side by side in Vietnam to preserve the freedom of a country imperiled by Communist aggression. The Medal of Honor rolls are filled with Black and White Americans who have fought courageously in Southeast Asia. These Americans had little regard for their personal safety in performing feats of heroism in protecting the lives of their fellow soldiers. The past Secretary of the Army, Stanley R. Resor, during the Vietnam War said that “the policy of equal treatment and opportunity, in addition to being a just one, has paid dividends to the Army. Today we have over 5,500 Negro Army officers. Among infantry sergeants – the backbone of our combat forces in Vietnam – 24 percent were Negro.”

Brave Black men have also fought in the Desert Storm War preserving the right to protect the welfare of America’s home front, near and far. General Colin Powell, U.S. Army Five Star General, during the Desert Storm was the first Black Joint Chief of Staff reporting to the President of the United States. Now, Secretary of State Colin Powell is the first Afro-American in charge of the United States foreign and domestic affairs under President George Bush, and he is the first Afro-American to be appointed to such a high cabinet post.

The Black American has fought for hundreds of years for his freedom from slavery and then continued to fight aggressors who sought to take away his American freedom. Perhaps an anonymous Swiss officer serving with the Union Army in the Civil War said it most aptly concerning the Negro heritage, “It is beautiful to fight for an idea that is to bring freedom to all men; attractive is the satisfaction, which each brave soul brings with him out of hot combat to have contributed his bit to the success of a beautiful cause.”

Time has come again to study way we pay for our schools

Public education in Texas has been shaped by reform since birth. In fact, one of the cata1ysts that fueled the Texas Revolution was the charge that Mexico hadn’t done enough to provide Texans with public schools.

Today, we have grown from a young nation with 30,000 Texans into the second largest state with nearly 21 million people. Our population soared 23 percent in the last ten years alone, spurring demographers to point out that 3.9 million new Texans counted in the last census rival the 1990 populations of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio combined.

Growth amid changing dynamics mean the time has come again to look for new ways to pay for public education. Since many newcomers may not know what state leaders have gone through to find an equitable way to finance our schools, it is vitally important for everyone to understand the difficult job it has been.

The Texas Constitution, adopted in 1876, established public schools in state law and requires the Legislature to provide for “an efficient system of public education.” It is the word “efficient” that raised the issue of equity in school finance that lawmakers still struggle with today.

The first major overhaul of our school system came with the Gilmer-Aikin Act – passed in 1949 after a heated debate. The new law created a foundation program to help equalize state aid. Opponents called the proposals “communist” or “fascist,” and the House Education Committee held the first all-night committee hearing in state history to take public testimony. But perhaps the most lasting legacy of the Gilmer-Aikin Act are two concepts that remain at the core of equalization today – equity for students and equity for taxpayers.

School finance changed little until a federal district court declared the system unconstitutional in a 1971 landmark decision in Rodriguez v. San Antonio. Plaintiffs argued that children who lived in communities with low property wealth were treated unfairly because the highest tax rates couldn’t begin to approach the funding the wealthiest communities could raise with much lower tax rates.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision in 1973, ruling school finance was a state issue and not a federal matter. But the stage was set. The struggle for equity would continue for the next generation.

The mid-1980s, brought sweeping reform of the Texas public school system and the momentum for equity increased when a group of poor districts filed a lawsuit in state court – Edgewood v. Kirby. Plaintiffs cited discrimination and charged it violated the constitutional requirement for an “efficient and free public school system.”

In 1987, the court agreed and ordered the Legislature to create a more equitable funding mechanism. The case reached the Texas Supreme Court on appeal in 1989. It ruled with the plaintiffs and ordered a new plan for the next school year.
Four consecutive and contentious special sessions followed before lawmakers finally approved a bill that would increase school funding more than $500 million. But the plaintiffs weren’t satisfied. Three months later, the district court agreed and ordered another plan within the year.

Once again, the Texas Supreme Court heard the case on appeal. And once again, found the system unconstitutional. It gave the Legislature a little more than two months to come up with another idea. Under a tight deadline and serious threats to cut off state finances, lawmakers created County Education Districts to consolidate funding.

Within the year, the high court found that unconstitutional too, labeled the new districts unlawful taxing units, and demanded another plan. In short order, the Legislature hammered together a new multi-option school finance plan just three days shy of the court-ordered deadline that set a top tax rate and required high-wealth districts to share with low-wealth schools. A number of poor school districts appealed that plan too, But this time, the Texas Supreme Court ruled it constitutional.

Recently, a number of wealthy districts filed a new suit in state court arguing the current system is a state property tax and violates the law. The court disagreed – noting a majority of school districts would have to reach the top tax rate to support that argument. The court also said as long as districts were giving optional homestead exemptions and spending funds on activities other than academics, they were voluntarily taxing at the top rate – and not due to any state requirement.

Nonetheless, the challenge was clear. It is time once again to thoroughly reexamine the way Texas pays for public education and look at alternatives that will meet constitutional muster.

Speaker Pete Lancy and I have appointed a Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance for that very purpose. A skilled group of legislators and seasoned public members led by Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson have been asked to consider all of the equity issues that govern school finance and revenue resources that fund it, including the property tax system. Public hearings will be held throughout the state and I hope all Texans will seriously consider taking part in the latest debate.

History has shown that just being dissatisfied with the way we find our schools isn’t going to change it. We must all work together now to make sure all children are getting the opportunities they need and deserve with a school funding system that is not only constitutional, but fair.