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‘We’re just a spark;’ Alvord church women launch legislative letter-writing effort

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A quartet of Alvord women are the point of a pen that may feel a bit like a cattle-prod to Texas lawmakers.

Kim French, Kandy Shelton, Gay Dickens and Judy Nivens went to Austin recently as part of the United Methodist Women of Texas to lobby the Legislature on several key issues affecting women and children. They came back and launched a letter-writing campaign that has produced more than 100 missives to eight elected representatives as they ponder these issues.

TAKING ACTION - Women of the First United Methodist Church in Alvord launched a letter-writing campaign asking legislators to restore funding to public schools.  From left, Martha Hancock Kandy Shelton, Alvord School Board Vice President Kevin Wood, Kim French and Suzette Munson sort letters Feb. 6. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

TAKING ACTION – Women of the First United Methodist Church in Alvord launched a letter-writing campaign asking legislators to restore funding to public schools. From left, Martha Hancock Kandy Shelton, Alvord School Board Vice President Kevin Wood, Kim French and Suzette Munson sort letters Feb. 6. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Two of us are staunch Democrats and two are staunch Republicans,” Shelton said. “This is a non-partisan group. Children are the concern, and we want to have an impact.”

The letters call upon the Legislature to “affirm its obligation to provide high-quality education for the benefit of all its citizens.” Measures called for include:

  • restoring the $5.4 billion cut from school funding two years ago;
  • funding enrollment growth;
  • eliminating the flow of public money to private schools; and
  • exploring alternatives to standardized testing.

The United Methodist Women, a worldwide group, has more than 100,000 members in Texas alone. The group is looking to get Austin’s attention.

“It’s the first year we’ve gone,” French said. “There were 220 women at this legislative event, focusing on five issues: water, education, predatory lending, Medicaid and criminal justice/mental health.”

The women talked with legislators, then came home last week and talked with Bill Branum, Alvord ISD superintendent.

They’re writing letters to local representatives Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) and Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) as well as Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), and House members Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Stefani Carter (R-Dallas).

“Our thing is, $5.4 billion was taken away, and our ‘Rainy Day Fund’ has $12 billion in it,” Shelton said. “The Legislature is approaching it as, ‘We’re not going to do anything until the court action is finished.’ That’s not acceptable. Taking the $5.4 billion was an austerity measure. We understand that. They took it away because we didn’t have it. They owe that money back to the schools.”

The group is “absolutely opposed” to public money going to private schools through vouchers, grants or scholarships.

“It’s all about money,” Shelton said. “There’s a bill right now that is looking at sending money into private schools through grants. The state would give money to a company, then they’ll issue grants to lower-income children. The company gets a tax break and a way around accountability. Then the school can find a reason to kick the kid out in two weeks, and he’s back in public school, but they get to keep the money for a year. The whole system is terrible on this issue.”

Vouchers continue to be one of Patrick’s key issues. Shelton finds it simply ridiculous.

“Texas has 330,000 or so children in private schools and 4.3 million in public schools,” she said. “The fact that we’re spending all this time even discussing it is very irritating to me.”

Dickens said another key issue is putting a stop to waivers that allow districts to exceed the 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

“That’s where the school districts have ‘saved’ a lot of that money,” she said. “They laid off teachers.”

Testing is another major topic of concern – particularly the millions of dollars Texas spends with Pearson Educational Co. to create and process state-mandated tests.

“It’s a business venture,” French said. “Pearson is making a ton of money.”

Shelton echoed that criticism.

“It just keeps going, and it’s a ridiculous system that we bought into, spent a ton of money, and it was designed for failure,” she said. “Studies show we’re not seeing any improvement from all this, in our children’s ability to get into college or to do well in college. It hasn’t improved. We’re spending our taxpayers’ money for something that’s gaining us nothing. It’s not helping our children.”

All four women are ready for the Legislature to stop “kicking the can down the road” and fix the public education funding system – which was just ruled unconstitutional by an Austin district judge.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got enough money for the kids to have a good education. We’re just not doing the things we need to do,” Shelton said. “We took it away, and we need to put it back.

“It takes money to run the schools, and the state has a constitutional responsibility to provide that money,” she added. “We’re not asking for something that’s not needed, and we’re not asking for something that’s not there.

“We’re not going away.”

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