Dallas Morning News. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Ken Paxton’s end zone celebration dance overshadows an immigration ruling. Tipton’s ruling was fair

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could learn from the old football cliché: when you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.

On Tuesday, in response to a Paxton-led lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton granted a 14-day temporary restraining order against a Biden administration moratorium on deportations. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office which gave a 100-day pause on deportation of illegal immigrants with final deportation orders. The court ruling was a fair one, and not a surprise. Neither was Paxton’s overblown victory lap. His TRO was more touchback than touchdown.

The justification for Biden’s executive order was to give the Department of Homeland Security a break to coordinate a reset of its priorities. In a memo from Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske, the administration cited limited resources and announced plans to “coordinate a Department-wide review of policies and practices concerning immigration enforcement.”

Biden and his team have every right to review policies and reset priorities. That’s expected for a new administration. But federal agencies don’t get to stop doing their work while they plan for the future. The Postal Service doesn’t stop delivering mail when postmasters hold an offsite meeting. The military doesn’t close bases when it gets a new commander in chief. Americans should expect DHS to be able to review internal policies without abandoning its post.

We weren’t surprised that Judge Tipton, a Trump appointee, saw it that way. Nor that Gov. Greg Abbott agreed when he tweeted support for Tipton’s decision.

“President Biden is trying to halt deportations of illegal aliens who already have a final order of removal from the U.S. This abandons the obligation to enforce federal immigration laws,” Abbott wrote.

We’d also note that you don’t have to agree with the policy results Paxton and others are calling for to recognize that the role of the federal judiciary here was to adhere to legal standards as the Biden administration sorts out its policy reforms. In any case, as of Jan. 16, there were about 1.2 million cases of non-detained immigrants with final orders of removal, and another 6,000 such cases for people in custody, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement said Monday.

Biden’s moratorium was poorly reasoned, but Paxton is the politician whose cynicism takes the cake. He immediately oversold his “victory,” blasting the news via Twitter and a press release, calling Biden’s order a “seditious left-wing insurrection” and claiming “WE WON.” Paxton, a staunch supporter of a president currently being tried for inciting insurrection, seems to have a twisted understanding of that word.

In reality, Paxton hasn’t won anything. Tuesday’s ruling was a temporary injunction and a minor achievement. Call it a first down. Paxton acted like it was a Super Bowl victory.

The courts will have to untangle the immigration mess. The Biden administration has four years to figure out how to adjust its policies while still enforcing immigration laws. And in the meantime, Paxton will continue his end zone celebration dances.

Let him dance. After all, after being indicted for fraud, facing whistleblower complaints from his staff and allegations of bribery, and trailing a colossal streak of losing efforts to challenge the 2020 election, any victory must feel good right now.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: After a spike in F’s, Fort Worth schools should focus on learning, not better grades

At first glance, the Fort Worth school district’s decision to give students a broad opportunity to make up for missed work or failed grades seems reasonable. Between the stresses of the pandemic and online learning and a range of unusual circumstances for families, school has been a challenge for all sorts of students. Why not give them every chance to rebound?

But the policy creates headaches for teachers and risks masking the very crisis it attempts to address: students falling far behind. Grades matter only if they measure learning and achievement.

The change has shed light on the difficulties posed by “asynchronous learning,” which essentially lets students go at their own pace or don’t go at all. They can follow along with a teacher at the typical class time or log in to do work later. Students can be counted as “present” if they have any contact with their teacher during the day, even a quick text message.

Flexibility is a good guiding principle in the unprecedented time of the pandemic, but loose rules invite mischief. A cynic might note that because school funding is generally tied to attendance, the word “present” has been defined way down.

Like attendance, grades must mean something. A failed grade generally indicates material that was not learned or not studied at all, and that’s the real problem. Students who’ve lost ground during the pandemic will feel the impact for the rest of their academic careers. Younger children will struggle in future classes; teenagers will face increased dropout risk.

Giving them a route to passing classes without mastering the material will only hurt them. There’s a reason that one of Texas’ pioneering education reforms was to curtail the practice of “social promotion,” or moving children along to the next grade because it was deemed in their best interest even if their academic performance didn’t merit it.

Allowing makeup work is not unusual, but reaching back through the entire academic year is a huge task. Teachers have adapted to online work, labored to track down children and helped them through obstacles such as technological hiccups, scheduling and myriad family dynamics. Their reward may now be months of backlogged work to assess as they finish the academic year.

The sobering state of grades and the burden upon teachers also demonstrates the urgent need to get students back in school. Evidence continues to mount that with proper protocols, schools are responsible for little transmission of the coronavirus, including a definitive recent assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There will continue to be exceptions, but the default needs to be in-person education, and quickly.

We’ve urged the Legislature to give schools every possible tool to fully open soon and make up for the impact of the pandemic, including steady funding that doesn’t penalize them for what was beyond their control. Businesses, philanthropies and engaged parents have roles to play, too. Unusual solutions will be necessary, and some, such as an extended school year or expanded summer school, may be unpopular. More children may have to repeat a grade than normal, and schools will need resources to accommodate that.

The fundamentals matter most, and it’s crucial that progress isn’t lost in core areas such as math and reading. The ultimate goal is to make up for lost learning, and that starts with honest assessments — including grades.

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San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Abbott notes the need, yet does nothing on bail reform

So often with public officials, it’s what they don’t say that proves more important than what is said.

It’s the absence of conviction, the lack of a firm commitment or stance that is the real tell, not some general acknowledgment of the obvious.

Consider Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent rhetoric about criminal justice reform. He drew attention during a news conference when he acknowledged that people languish in jail pretrial for low-level, nonviolent crimes “simply because they have no money” for bail. But he has offered little in the way of reform for this problem except the observation that it will again be the subject of debate this legislative session.

In other words, no outward endorsement of bail reform such as we have seen in Harris County and which is desperately needed here in Bexar County. What Abbott has endorsed is a revival of the Damon Allen Act to better ensure people accused of violent crimes — who pose a risk to the public — do not secure pretrial release.

“The fact is Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said.

Allen, a state trooper, was killed on Thanksgiving 2017 during a routine traffic stop in Freestone County. The suspect had been released at that time on a $15,500 bond for allegedly assaulting a county deputy.

To be clear, we don’t want defendants who are potentially dangerous to the public to be released pretrial, either. We share Abbott’s goal and frustration on that front, just as we share his anguish about Allen’s killing. But the governor’s focus on violent crime is woefully incomplete. Those accused of dangerous crimes who secure bail and those accused of nonviolent crimes who languish in jail because they are poor represent two sides of the same cash bail coin.

It’s a system that measures wealth, not risk. To underscore this point, once again we return to the stunning prose of Judge Edith Brown Clement of the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who in 2018 described two defendants charged with the same crime, one wealthy and the other poor.

“As a result, the wealthy arrestee is less likely to plead guilty, more likely to receive a shorter sentence or be acquitted, and less likely to bear the social costs of incarceration,” she wrote. “The poor arrestee, by contrast, must bear the brunt of all of these, simply because he has less money than his wealthy counterpart.”

This is the case for bail reform. It’s an inherently unequal form of justice.

Why should Abbott speak with equal force about about both sides of bail reform? Because his words matter. As we witnessed last session, the Trooper Damon Allen Act went nowhere partly because it lacked any language to address bail reform for those accused of nonviolent offenses. This would include underscoring the presumption of innocence and requiring bail conditions be as least restrictive as possible.

While violent crime is horrifying and grabs our attention, the reality is our criminal justice system is swamped with people accused of nonviolent offenses. Research has demonstrated that people who languish in jail pretrial become disconnected from their jobs and families, and are more likely to end up in jail again.

As a 2016 Harvard Law School primer on money bail makes clear: “Unnecessary jailing also undermines community safety. Statistical studies have shown that similarly situated, low-risk individuals are actually more likely to commit new crimes following release.”

In other words, reforming the bail system for nonviolent crimes is also a way to prevent future crimes. Acknowledging bail reform is not enough, governor.

END