Legislation bad for education of Texas children
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, recently defended his work in cutting what he derisively called an educational «entitlement.» According to Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution, the Legislature is required to make «suitable provision» for an «efficient system of public free schools.»
That sounds like a constitutional entitlement to me, an entitlement and a duty that the Legislature is abdicating with a new state budget that slashes $4 billion from school district finance formulas and another $1.4 billion in discretionary grants for programs such as full-day pre-kindergarten.
So, why has the Legislature produced Texas’ worst public education budget in 27 years?
It is not, as Gov. Rick Perry and the overwhelming Republican legislative majority insist, a matter of «living within our means.» That is an artificial restriction imposed to advance an ideological agenda to shrink state government and, with it, the public schools.
State government has billions of dollars in potential, untapped revenue, and its «means» are limited only by the ideological viewpoints and political will of those in charge. It is true that Texans don’t like tax increases, a sentiment Perry and other GOP leaders milk to the extreme. But it also is true, as polls repeatedly have shown, that most Texans value the public schools and don’t support the deep budget cuts being inflicted upon them.
«Our means» also include $6 billion of taxpayer money left in the rainy day fund, instead of being spent to soften cuts to the schools, health care and other important services.
The Legislature has a history of under-funding the public schools. Perry and lawmakers deepened the problem in 2006 by ordering big cuts in local property taxes without adequately paying for them. And, this year, they did nothing to close a $10 billion structural school finance deficit stemming from that 4-year-old failure.
Instead, they worsened the problem by passing a budget that, for the first time in 27 years, doesn’t fully fund school finance formulas and keep up with anticipated enrollment growth.
Clearly, the governor and his allies in the Legislature are more interested in passing the buck — and the blame — for school finance problems than they are in solving them. And school superintendents and school board members played into their hands this spring when, instead of demanding that the Legislature adequately fund the public schools, they waved a white flag and asked for budgetary «flexibility» to help see them through the latest crisis.
By «flexibility,» they meant legislation allowing school districts to raise class sizes in elementary schools, furlough teachers, cut teacher pay and weaken teachers’ employment rights.
Legislative leaders were eager to accommodate them, even if it meant repealing important standards of employment fairness and educational quality, including the time-tested 22-to-1 class size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade.
That anti-education legislation, if it passes in the special session, will ensure that teachers and their students suffer the brunt of the budgetary failure.
But the biggest outrage is the fact that the state leadership’s alleged commitment to the public schools has become so bankrupt that the anti-education legislation was even given a hearing, much less promoted by school administrators.