Oveta Culp Hobby

Bill Hobby made a presentation on the remarkable career of his mother, Oveta Culp Hobby to the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas on October 4, 2012.  To view the presentation, click here http://bit.ly/WPH-OvetaCulpHobby

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A View on Education

In 2007 Congress named the building housing the U.S. Department of Education for President Lyndon B. Johnson.  The legislation was sponsored by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democratic Congressman Gene Green and signed by Republican President George W. Bush.

LBJ was an education President. “More than sixty education laws were part of the vast number of legislative measures that made up the Great Society,” said Lynda Johnson Robb. “But Daddy wasn’t as interested in the number of laws he helped enact as he was in the number of lives those laws help enrich.”

“My father believed education is the best passport out of poverty and a quality education is mankind’s greatest hope for tomorrow,” Luci Baines Johnson said. “No honor would have meant more to Lyndon Johnson than to be remembered for improving educational opportunities for all Americans.”

LBJ taught in Texas schools in South Texas and in Houston.  Were he a teacher today he might be fired to save the Rainy Day Fund!

During the last legislative session war was declared on public education—secondary and higher.  Maybe that doesn’t matter since Texas already ranks 50th –dead last—among the states in percentage of high school graduates.

The last session cut more than $4 billion dollars and about 20,000 jobs from our public school system while enrollment is increasing.

Higher education was cut by $1.5 billion, a 10 percent cut from current levels and $2 billion below what is needed to maintain current services. More than 43,000 students, including 29,000 students who will lose their TEXAS Grants, will lose financial aid. Many of them will never graduate from college.

Texas will become less competitive in the nation and the world as its workforce becomes less educated. By 2040 the percentage of Texans without a high school diploma will jump from 19% to 30%.  These people are virtually unemployable in industry. Many will go on welfare or to prison.  Try supporting a family on $33.000 a year.  Half the high school dropouts will me making less.

College graduates will drop from 18% of the population to 13% and most of those denied opportunity will be Hispanic.

If you wanted to disable an enemy country or an economic competitor you might start by attacking its school system.  Your foe would soon be reduced to Third World irrelevance. If another country tried to do this to us it would be an act of war.

The job of government—any government at any level anywhere in the world— is to provide infrastructure.  There is physical infrastructure like streets and highways, sewers, prisons and football stadiums.  There is social infrastructure—institutions that provide education, public health, law enforcement, and national defense.

Without infrastructure neither people, states, nor nations can prosper.  Governments that are more concerned about ideology than infrastructure fail.

Communists were more concerned about Marxism than markets.  Did you ever hear of a prosperous Communist country?  We used to hear a lot about Communism—before it was tossed onto the dustbin of history—right on top of Nazism.  Talk about third world irrelevance!

Money spent toward education is an investment in our future, plain and simple. Let’s return to LBJ’s vision of greatness for our state and nation!  Let’s have a Great Society!





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A simple truth: 22-1 classroom ratio works

When a family hits a financial rough patch, they are forced to prioritize by separating the wants from the must-haves. State government is no different.

This session, the Texas Legislature will wrestle with how to close a record-breaking $27 billion budget shortfall. In an effort to reduce spending, numerous critical state services will face the chopping block, including education, criminal justice, and health and human services.

As the Legislature weighs unprecedented budget cuts, it too must prioritize: What areas of state funding should be reduced before others? What are the moral priorities for the state, and how can they best be pursued given the severe limitations?

We believe the education of our children is priority one for most Texans. After all, the achievement of our state depends on our ability to educate future generations.

Part of Texas’ educational success is attributable to reforms passed in 1984, including a statewide requirement to reduce kindergarten through fourth-grade class sizes to no more than 22 students per teacher. Unfortunately, there is a concerted effort in Austin to weaken the 22-1 cap with a 22-student class size average. While that sounds like a minor change, it would actually gut the landmark kindergarten-fourth grade reform that has served as a foundation for Texas’ educational improvement. It would also inevitably lead to teacher layoffs, crammed classrooms and, eventually, poorer student performance.

The simple truth is that the 22-1 ratio has been on the books for a quarter-century because it works. In fact, despite the rhetoric of those trying to jettison this cornerstone of Texas’ school reform, study after study has proven that smaller class sizes lead to better results. The reason is simple: Smaller classes give teachers more one-on-one time with students and allow them to create more customized instruction and assignments to meet individual students’ needs. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Education concluded that smaller classes in early grades have significant positive effects through grade eight and help to close the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving students. The more kids in a class, the more difficult it becomes for teachers to know their students better and recognize problems and special needs early.

The impact of replacing the 22-1 limit with a 22-class-size average would be immediate and touch every family with a child in elementary school. Undoubtedly, many kindergarten through fourth-grade classes would grow significantly, as some classes, particularly those with special needs students, are notably smaller than 22. In order words, one class could have 10 school kids, while another could be jammed to the gills with 34 students, yet the school would meet the requirements of the “reform.” Is that what we really want for our children?

Eliminating 22-1 would likely force almost 12,000 teachers to lose their jobs. With Texas’ unemployment rate already higher than 8 percent, the loss of such a dramatic number of jobs would be felt in communities throughout the state. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves that only the so-called “bad teachers” would be the ones given pink slips. Changing 22-1 is about budget savings first and foremost, so the incentive will be to lay off the more experienced, higher paid educators.

The truth is school districts truly struggling with the 22-1 limit can already request a waiver from the Texas Education Agency. Some 3,000 waivers have been granted, while only five requests have been rejected since the law was implemented in 1984.

Times are tough and the budget crisis is real, but throwing out what we know works for our children for short-term savings is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Smaller class sizes are an important, proven part of a quality education, and the state should work to strengthen them, not gut them.

Ellis, D-Houston, has represented Texas Senate District 13 since 1990; Hobby served as Texas lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1991 and currently serves on the board of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

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Letter to Texas Business Leaders

In a letter sent Tuesday, February 1, 2011, to the chairs of the board of directors and the president/CEOs of approximately 500 chambers of commerce in Texas, I joined Center for Public Policy Priorities Executive Director F. Scott McCown in urging business leaders to help address a challenge facing Texas that imperils our economic recovery and future prosperity—how to cope with a devastating state revenue shortfall.
Click here to read the letter.

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University of Houston Moment

UH Moments have been running weekly on Houston PBS. These vignettes from students, faculty and administrators tell stories of the innovative research, programs and successes that make up the story of the University of Houston. The Hobby Center for Public Policy was recently the focus of the UH Moment. Please click here to watch the video.

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Book Fair

Join us this weekend at a book fair hosted by Humanities Texas. It will be from 10:00am – 1:00pm at historic Byrne-Reed House on Saturday and they have a great line up of authors for the event. You can find more details at www.humanitiestexas.org.

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Video Clip

Missed the talk “An Evening of Conversation” at the University of Houston on October 14th? View the entire presentation online at Hobby Center for Public Policy website . (The QuikTime player is needed to view the video.)

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Don’t Give Up On Medicaid

State Senator Rodney Ellis and I co-authored the following column:

Some Texas elected officials recently suggested that our state should consider dropping out of the federal-state Medicaid partnership. Opting out of Medicaid does not make economic sense or for good public policy.

With the state facing an estimated $18 billion to $24 billion budget shortfall, the state should rightfully seek cost-saving measures and revenue generating initiatives.

What Texas should not do is shoot itself in the foot by opting out of Medicaid. That would mean losing more than $20 billion in Texas taxpayers’ federal tax dollars every year, so that other states can spend them. Medicaid is the No. 1 source of federal funds in every state budget — Texas is no exception.

Texas already has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest uninsured population in the country. It is estimated that providing care to the uninsured costs the insured family $1,500 dollars annually in increased premiums.

Massive-scale projects, like abolishing the Medicaid program, usually require a well developed plan that includes stakeholder input, pilot projects, staggered implementation and a funding source. If Texas has a viable state plan to cover its 3.1 million Medicaid beneficiaries, it has yet to be seen. In late 2007, Texas proposed a Medicaid waiver to then-President George W. Bush. The waiver was not approved by the Bush administration because its benefits were lacking and annual limits were too low. Three years later, that waiver is still pending.

If history is any indication of our states’ ill-laid plans with good intentions: the budget crisis of 2003 would be a prime example. Texas decided to balance the budget by scaling back benefits and eligibility in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid. Hundreds of thousands of children lost state-sponsored health insurance, which has taken seven years to return to its 2002 levels.

Meanwhile, in a bid to save money, the state also embarked on a privatization of it benefits system, which was projected to save $389 million dollars. The project was a disaster; riddled with technical issues, insufficiently trained contractor staff, delays in application processing, and improper benefit denials. Before 2003, the Texas food stamp program won awards from the federal government for its efficiency, but afterward our program lost bonuses and faced penalties because of the failed initiative.

Beyond the lack of a viable plan for dropping Medicaid, there are no funding sources available to replace the loss $20 billion annually in federal matching funds which Texas gains because 60 percent of our Medicaid program is paid for with federal dollars. The Texas economy would then suffer the loss of $60 billion in economic activity. Prominent Texas economists have estimated that for every one extra federal matching Medicaid dollar spent $3.25 worth of local economic activity is generated.

If lack of a plan and funding are not reason enough to throw out that deficit solution, opting out of Medicaid has the potential to affect a large percent of our state’s population. Medicaid pays for care for seven out of 10 nursing home residents, and for virtually all Texans with disabilities who get care in residential settings, 55 percent of all births in Texas, and for the health insurance for more than 2.3 million Texas children. By reducing or eliminating Medicaid these individuals would be forced to seek care in local hospital emergency rooms, which are already struggling to cover the cost of the uninsured as are Texas taxpayers.

Without additional funds to cover the cost of the uninsured, local taxpayers would inevitably pay for their care through higher property taxes, as public hospitals are forced to take up the slack to pay for their increased costs for the uninsured, and without the benefit of federal tax dollars. Health care providers would then be forced to shift even more of their costs to the privately insured market which would, in turn, drive up insurance premiums for Texans.

Health care is a valuable investment for our state and one that is essential to ensuring a quality work force and a vital economy. Opting out of Medicaid would only hurt our state economy and devastate our vulnerable populations.

Hobby served as lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1991. Ellis, D-Houston, represents state Senate District 13.

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Questions & Answers

We have held book signing events and discussions around the state over the last two months. We appreciate those of you who have been able to join us and especially those of you who purchased copies of How Things Really Work. At most events, people have had an opportunity to ask questions about the book and about my tenure in public office. Below are some highlights from these Q&A sessions.

Q: You were a successful businessman before entering politics. What made you decide to run?

A: A genetic flaw. My family has a long tradition of public service and I was interested in government. After serving as the Parliamentarian for Lt. Gov. Ben Ramsey, I was even more interested in serving. I decided to run when I did because the seat was open (Ben Barnes was running for Governor) and I thought with it being an election after redistricting, there would not be many Senators seeking the job. I was wrong; about two-thirds of the Senate ran for the position, but I was happy to prevail.

Q: Do you think things are more partisan in today’s political environment than when you served, and do you think that is better or worse?

A: Absolutely, today’s environment is more partisan. When I served, we didn’t have Democratic or Republican Caucuses in Texas. I think that the “party line” and expectations that exist at both ends of the political spectrum get in the way of making policy decisions that best serve the needs and interests of all Texans.

Q: What was the toughest legislative challenge you faced as Lt. Gov?

A:  We faced many contentious issues during my tenure – taxes, redistricting, education, budget shortfalls – but the most challenging was workers compensation.  

Q: What was your greatest accomplishment as Lt. Gov?

A: As Lt. Governor, I did not pass the bills, but rather worked with the Senators to craft policies and negotiate compromises within the Senate and ultimately with the House and the Governor to pass legislation. I am proud of the work we did to improve education, both public and higher, as well as the progress we made with health and human services.  

Q: What was your greatest disappointment?

A: The biggest mistake I made was in trying to change the date of the Texas presidential primary resulting in the Killer Bees.

Q: Do you have any advice for the next Texas Legislature?

A: Yes – The Legislature will consider thousands and pass hundreds of bills. The bill that really counts is the general appropriations bill. In that one bill, Legislators will decide how well Texans will be educated, regulated, imprisoned and medicated for the next two years. Spend every nickel you can on education. Every nickel you don’t spend now will cost dollars in the future for welfare and prisons.

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How Things Really Work has been getting positive reviews and we have been busy with events. Please visit the news page to read the latest.

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