Well, I never. I never thought it would come to this, but I guess I might have to let the Dallas Citizens Council make me a member. After that, I might even have to join the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce.
But let me promise you something right here. I don’t care how hard they beg. I don’t care if they point a gun at me. I will never agree to become a member of the Dallas Country Club. They might as well give up on that right now before they even start.
These thoughts come to me as I realize a bunch of things I never wanted to realize, for example that the private, muckety-muck, behind-closed-doors, elitist, white-shoe, silk-glove, spats-wearing, oligarchic business group that calls itself the Dallas Citizens Council has emerged as one of the city’s most important champions of better education for poor minority kids.
I could hate that. I could resent it. I could even view it as a form of political trespass. But then I would be a schlemiel. So I won’t.
I am talking about the emergence of the Dallas Citizens Council and the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce as major funders of the campaign for the “TRE” or tax-ratification proposal on the Nov. 6 Dallas ballot. If I suppress my own most violently schlemiel-like tendencies and force myself to look at this with any small measure of objectivity or fairness (not my favorite things), then I have to admit that what these two groups are up to here is a great social and moral good for the city. (Excuse me while I fan myself.)
The TRE is an attempt to keep the amazing momentum going in the Dallas public schools, where hard-fought reforms are achieving immediate substantial improvements in student performance. It’s a picture that gets better at both ends of the economic spectrum. DISD is attracting middle class and even some affluent families back into the public schools with special offerings that can’t be found anywhere else, while it also raises core achievement scores for the poorest, most socially beleaguered kids.
In Austin, where state government has been taken over by wingding Neanderthals and right-wing racist chuckleheads, officials are doing everything they can to kill public education. With one hand they throttle state funding. With the other they stab even local funding, seeking to make it illegal for communities to pay for their own schools.
What could be clearer? The obvious agenda is to extinguish public education and with it the heart and soul of the thing the chuckleheads hate most, democracy.
So do you see where this puts me? Do you feel my pain at all? I’m an aging, ex-hippie, commie, pinko, liberal wingnut. How can any self-respecting liberal wingnut be on the same side with the Dallas Citizens Council and the Chamber of Commerce and still sleep at night?
But it gets worse. According to The Dallas Morning News editorial page (not my favorite place), an alliance of North Texas chambers of commerce is preparing a joint campaign against … against … maybe you had better sit down like I’m doing and fan yourself … against the Republican Party.
No, really. It’s not a joke. They say that the last year has been the worst year for business in Texas ever, and they’re blaming Republicans. And I mean, on the one hand … YA THINK?
Doing every single thing we can think of to anger, wound and offend our most important trading partner, Mexico? No, that hasn’t been too good for business, has it?
How about the Texas lieutenant governor, the second-most powerful elected official in the state, going on a medieval cross-or-the-sword crusade against transgender people? Do we think it’s good for business in Texas to make the state look like an outpost of the Taliban?
God knows what we are facing when Trump gets his troops in place along the border. Sending the Army against hungry mothers and children: What could go wrong?
So, yes, it makes perfect sense for anybody with serious business interests in Texas to begin to view the current version of the GOP as a mortal threat. I could add my own two bits here and say that anybody with a daughter should feel the same way, but saying something like that would make me a schlemiel, so I won’t say it. You’re welcome.
But I don’t kid myself. There may be and ought to be a growing realization on the moderate right that it faces a mortal foe in the Loony Tunes right-wing. But that doesn’t mean kumbaya with the business community for people like me. There will always be serious disagreement over taxes and regulation.
But think about that. Remember those gauzy idyllic days when we used to be able to debate things like taxes and regulation instead of genitalia?
Listen, true story: I’m walking my dog. I run into this guy, and I wind up having a 20-minute debate about the political philosophy of a guy in Florida who lives in a van covered with photos of Hillary Clinton with rifle cross-hairs on her face and who sends people bombs in the mail. What “philosophy?” LOCK HIM UP!
So I think most of us would welcome a return to the things we used to be able to talk about, even though our differences will remain and will not be insignificant. The thing I can share happily with those chamber types and even those Citizens Council types is a commitment to finding a way for America to prosper, for the nation to provide justice and enable the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens, absolutely without reference to genitalia. Lord save us, where is my fan?
The tax proposition for the schools is a great place to start, and it’s about so much more than just schools. Most of us agree by now that our city is too divided between white and non-white, rich and poor, and that providing a better life for all its residents will require closing that chasm somehow.
I think most of us also realize by now that we’re not going to accomplish anything by sending government into people’s family lives to tell them how to raise their kids. We are way too libertarian a society for that.
Every time I think about a government program to tell people how to run their families, it occurs to me it would have to be run by something like the Dallas City Council. Saints preserve us. We’d be better off returning to the trees.
But we do have this one window into the lives of children, and it’s the public school system. The reforms the Dallas public schools have put in place in the last five years have been so brilliant and are already so effective, we almost have to wonder what we were thinking beforehand.
Under the old system, we paid the very worst teachers the same as the very best teachers, and we sent all the best teachers to the schools where the kids needed the least teaching. Under the reforms, we pay the very best teachers a good deal more than the worst ones.
The best ones are not leaving. They have a turnover rate approaching statistical zero. And they are going willingly to schools where children need the most help catching up with statewide standards.
And guess what? In five years, the schools considered by the state to be failing — no good, in danger of being closed under state law — have diminished from almost 20 percent of all Dallas schools system-wide to 1 percent. Meanwhile, the Dallas public school system leads all its peer cities in the state in the improvement of reading scores for young children.
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What do you imagine might be the reward that the wackadoodles in Austin have given to the Dallas public school system for these phenomenal achievements? Between 2015 and 2019, Austin has slashed state funding for Dallas schools from $304,357,334 to $82,247,998, a disastrous, crippling wound, and next year Austin will take more money directly out of the school district coffers on grounds that the Dallas school system is still too rich.
This is an animus that wants to inflict even greater pain on the public schools when they succeed than when they fail. A YES vote on the TRE proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot is a kind of desperate home defense, an effort to build a local bulwark against the forces of dissolution and chaos. That the Citizens Council and the Regional Chamber of Commerce see this clearly and want to join the home team is a great thing. Really.
But it puts me in the position of having to think about compromising my deepest held principles by agreeing to join their organizations. A word to the wise: the deal is off and I won’t do it if they’re going to use my joining for some huge embarrassing self-aggrandizing publicity campaign. I‘m a modest man. I won’t stand for it.
And, as I say, any thoughts of my joining the Dallas Country Club at this point are just totally off the table and not even to be discussed. Of course, if certain fees were to be waived, especially the dining fees, then I suppose we could have a chat. In that case, the best thing for all parties might be just to send the meals over to the house under hot cover, sparing us all discomfort. (No billboards about it!)