The Cost Of Tax Cuts

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Public Schools, Taxes at 3:58 pm by wcnews


It’s becoming pretty clear what the cost Lt. Gov. Patrick’s “no matter what” tax cuts will be. There’s public education of course, a favorite punching bag of conservative Republicans, Early tax cut promises have education advocates worried.

The starting budgets of the state House and Senate, released last month, are similar on many fronts, but not with respect to education. Faced with $4.5 billion in additional revenue from increasing property values, the House has chosen to reinvest a portion of that in public education while the upper chamber is focusing on tax relief, a decision not sitting well with educators.

“I don’t know how you could say that budget prioritized public education,” Lonnie Hollings-worth, governmental relations director at the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said of the Senate budget. “We think the priority should be to fund our public schools and not to do tax cuts.”

A cursory glance at the Senate’s document indicates the upper chamber wants to provide billions more this biennium for public education funding. But the promises of many senators, including new Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, to provide $4 billion in tax relief leave only around $200 million available for schools.

Here’s the interesting thing about the property tax cut that Lt. Gov. Patrick is proposing. The reason property taxes are out of control is because the state hasn’t increased revenue in a long, long time. Without increased funding from the state cities and counties have been forced to raise local taxes to keep up with needs.

City and county officials say they will work to educate lawmakers on the problems caps could bring. The messages vary across the state.

The Texas Municipal League has argued that cities and counties don’t deserve the blame for growing property tax bills. City taxes make up only 16 percent of the taxes levied across the state, while schools account for 55 percent of all property tax bills statewide, the organization says.

“Our message is that we are not the problem,” Sandlin said.

And leaders of fast-growing cities and counties say they need property tax revenue growth to pay for new roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Caps on how much appraisals grow could simply force cities to increase the tax rate, opponents of the bills say.

And the schools need that money because of the cuts to public education the state made during the budget “shortfall” in 2011. Which was not restored once prosperity returned in 2013.

The most egregious part of this is who will benefit and who will pay for these purported tax cuts.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he worries that the caps would mostly help the rich. Property values tend to rise faster in the wealthier parts of town, he said, so those homeowners are the ones who would benefit most from a cap on appraisals.

“It is disguised as a tax break for all, but it is actually a shift from the upper class to the rest,” Jenkins said.

It’s the age-old story. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

The cost of these tax cuts are not just to our pocket books.  But they are to the future of Texas.  The needed investments in education and infrastructure will be forsaken so the wealthy, who already have more then they need, can have even more.


Senate Districts, Public Pensions, Kansas & Corporate Lawyers

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Public Employees, Public Schools at 2:54 pm by wcnews

Are Texas Senate districts too big (800,000 plus), and therefore making Senators out of touch with their constituents? This statement from state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) when talking with Evan Smith about the likelihood of vouchers passing this session.

House members are closer to their public schools and closet to their trustees then their Senators. A more involved discussion goes on in the House about all those issues.

Too much ground to cover and Senators are out of touch.

Moody’s “warns” about public pensions in Texas. EOW reminds about Moody’s failings in the past.

Kansas is failing after right wing governor cuts taxes.  Likely what’s in store for Texas if Patrick and Abbott get the tax cuts they want and oil stays low.
To Make Up For His Massive Tax Cuts, Kansas Governor Proposes Cutting Schools.

Rather than retreat from the massive tax cuts that are crippling his state’s finances, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) wants to cut classroom funding for Kansas schools by $127 million and push pension fund payments off into the future.


All that short-term thinking in Brownback’s budget doesn’t even produce long-term solvency for the state, according to the Star’s editorial board. The paper criticized Brownback’s promise to “continue our march to zero income taxes,” noting that his cuts have not produced job growth in exchange for starving the state of resources. Brownback’s “proposals leave the state barely able to meet its statutory obligations, much less invest in its citizens and the future,” the editors wrote.

Ideology trumps sanity.

Corporate lawyers toss whistleblower under the bus, Fired TCEQ Investigator: Law Firm Triggered Dismissal.

Kent Langerlan, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigator, is suing Houston-based Baker Botts. After he asked the firm to represent him in a possible whistleblower claim against the TCEQ, he says, Baker Botts let the agency know about the request. The agency later fired him.


“When you contact an attorney with information, even if the attorney initially rejects the case, that initial contact is privileged,” said Josh Davis, the fired staffer’s attorney. “I mean, that’s ethics 101.”

I’d take a trial lawyer over a corporate lawyer any day. Go talk to a lawyer at Baker Botts and they’ll sell you down the river.


The Neglect Of Public Education In Texas Will Not End Anytime Soon

Posted in Commentary, Education, Public Schools at 9:53 am by wcnews


Texas is not a state known for being proactive when it comes to public education.  Neglect and procrastination is the strategy.  Texas, almost always, does nothing on this issue until the courts force The Lege to act.  And we’re in the middle of that process once again.

This post from Quorum Report paints a pretty dismal picture for the future of education funding in Texas, Road to school finance solution looks bleak.

Session after session, lawmakers have avoided adding new money to the school finance system and even limited school district tax increases. Now the hole is so huge that it is impossible to find a solution in the state’s typical bag of tricks. The proceeds from the tobacco settlement or additional vice taxes won’t be enough.

The target revenue solution of 2006 was a temporary agreement between state leaders and education leaders, but District Judge John Dietz noted in his opinion it has done nothing but widen revenue gaps between districts. The excess of the state’s Rainy Day Fund would barely prop up the system for a year. And Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, continues his drum beat during hearings in which he insists that Texas cannot bond its way to economic prosperity. Bonding is finite, not infinite.

This is not a $3 billion Medicaid shortfall or $5 billion infusion for TxDOT, which almost seems doable. This is $10 billion plus growth, plus allotment formulas that haven’t been updated in decades. In essence, what lawmakers are doing is creating a budget log jam.

As it stands, a real solution seems a bigger problem than either the Democrats or Republicans can handle. It is one thing to talk about restoring a one-time $5.3 billion cut. Economic growth can cover that. It’s another thing to recognize the state has no obvious revenue source to prop up schools to the tune of $10 billion a biennium.

There’s is no one in office or currently running for office that is proposing a real plan to fix public education in Texas.  All candidates are proposing to do something, but nothing that will significantly change public education funding.

To fully understand what happened and why, the GOP tax swap scheme of 2006 must enter the conversation, Understanding the budget and Texas’ structural deficit.

The driving factor is a decision by Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature in 2006 to reduce property taxes by $14 billion every two years and raise only about $9 billion to replace that money. In other words, the Legislature committed $5 billion every two years to holding down property taxes instead of spending that money on education, public safety or other priorities.

Then the state’s new business tax brought in drastically less than projected, and that $5 billion gap turned into a nearly $9 billion gap. Lawmakers from both parties did little to address that reality when they met in 2009, and in fact they made the gap a little wider by exempting 40,000 small businesses from the new tax.

It’s disingenuous to blame Democrats for what happened in 2009, they held no real power in state government then. Where Democrats are to blame, then as now, is not offering a clear and different solution from the GOP. There’s a reason for that. The only solution to this problem involves raising taxes and making them fair, which means a state income tax. It’s not likely the public education finance issue in Texas will ever be solved without a state income tax.

The QR story never mentions an income tax, and it would have been a surprise if it did.  The issue also cannot be solved as long as our state government is run by right wing ideological extremists that have it out for public education.

More from the earlier post:

Essentially what all of this shows is that much of Texas’ deficit was pre-determined, no matter how the overall economy in Texas and our country overall has been functioning. And while our governor is on TV telling us how many times he “cut” taxes, he won’t say anything about the structural deficit he signed into law in 2006. And Perry’s GOP opponents are quick to chastise him for the 2006 tax swap scheme because it raised taxes on corporations and some business, they don’t mention the fact that it created structural deficit. Probably because if they did they would have to say what the would do to fix it, and they don’t want to debate that.

As another CPPP report points out, “..Texas is a low-tax state, with a structural deficit.” If we want to educate our children it’s going to cost money. And it’s untrue, no matter how many times that guy with the good hair on TV says it, that Texas can provide the essential services to it’s people, do what’s morally right, allow them to live with dignity and have tax cuts too.

Texans have to realize that to fix this mess we can’t keep electing the same folks that created it. To fix it those in office would have to admit their ideology is failed, and that won’t happen. Only defeat at the ballot box can do that. And, unfortunately, it seems we’re still years away from enough Texans figuring that out.


Putting some money back into public education is unlikely to end school finance case

Posted in Around The State, Education, Public Schools at 12:40 pm by wcnews

The money The Lege put back into public education is unlikely to end the legal case, Analysis: Lawmakers not out of the woods on school finance.

But will a $3.4 billion increase in funding and a sharp reduction in high-stakes testing be enough to sway Dietz and ultimately the Texas Supreme Court?

Closing the chasm between districts may help with the issue of equity. The second issue, adequacy, is hotly contested, as education groups and others note that funding is, at best, where it was four years ago. And lawmakers did little to address the third major component of the case, the ruling that districts are locked into what is essentially an illegal statewide property tax.

Legislative leaders are nonetheless optimistic, while the plaintiff school districts see only a small impact.

“This should influence the final decision that Judge Dietz is going to write,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. “With the combination of the reduction in STAAR testing and this infusion of cash into our schools, I believe the judge needs to revisit the issue. At the least, it could mean that the state may want to ask to reopen the case.”

In addition to the extra $3.4 billion in the coming two years — which erased a good chunk of the $5.4 billion funding reduction over the past two years — lawmakers also slashed the number of high school end-of-course tests required for graduation.

While some money was put back there are still huge problems with public educaiton in Texas.

The judge’s point was driven home in the National Education Association’s annual comparison of school spending this spring, which showed that Texas had slipped to 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in spending per pupil.

Patrick played down Dietz’s funding estimate as “a number he pulled out of the sky.” He also noted that the state Supreme Court will ultimately decide, factoring in what lawmakers did this year.

Thompson, who has been an attorney in the last two school finance cases and is a former general counsel for the Texas Education Agency, compared the new arguments of the state to someone deciding how to salvage an ailing vehicle.

“What they did was like fixing a 20-year-old car. They spent a significant amount of money on the repairs, but they’ve still got a 20-year-old car,” he said.

“They made no changes in the structure of the funding system,” he added. “All they did was put money into an outdated system that is not designed to help our neediest kids, the ones who are struggling and who are now the majority of students in our schools.”

As the Morgan Smith points out we’re still waiting on the judge’s final decision, Whatever Became of That School Finance Ruling?

When John Dietz issued an oral ruling declaring the state’s school finance system unconstitutional in February, the state district court judge said he would release a more detailed, written decision by mid-March.

It’s now June, and there is still no final decision in the sweeping lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of Texas school districts that arose after the Legislature eliminated roughly $5.4 billion from state public education funding in 2011.

Dietz, who did not return a call for comment, has not formally communicated any reason for the delay to the parties in the lawsuit, according to David Thompson, an attorney involved in the litigation.

Many believed, before the legislative session began, that there would be a special session on public education once the courts were finished, in the Spring of 2014. It’s still looks likely that public education will need to be addressed before the next regular session in 2015.

Here’s what the issues are in the court case (from DMN article linked above):

The three major issues on which the state lost its school finance case:

EFFICIENCY: Districts argued that the finance system distributes money to school districts inequitably, giving some districts thousands of dollars more per student than other districts despite having similar property tax rates.

Ruling: The inequities violate the state constitutional requirement that the system be efficient. Said state District Judge John Dietz: “The Texas Constitution states a shared truth that education of all is necessary to preserve our rights and liberties.”

ADEQUACY: School districts complained that they were not receiving enough money to pay for programs required to meet higher state standards for students.

Ruling: Dietz agreed, saying that the constitution’s requirement for adequacy of funding was violated in part because the state was demanding more without a boost in funds.

STATE PROPERTY TAX: School districts lack discretion to raise enough funds because they’ve maxed out what they can tax property owners under state law.

Ruling: Many poor districts have hit the cap of $1.17 per $100 valuation “merely to fulfill state mandates and no longer have meaningful discretion in setting their tax rates,” Dietz wrote. That is in effect a statewide property tax, which is unconstitutional, he ruled.



Testing HB 5

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Education, Public Schools, The Lege at 9:09 am by wcnews

The best run down of what happened on Tuesday when the Texas House debated HB 5 come from Kuff, House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements. (Be sure and read the post it has many links).

Like I said, I’m still thinking about all this. To say the least, it’s a big and complicated subject, and I don’t claim any particular expertise. I am certain that there will be differences with the Senate bill, and there will be much horse-trading in conference committee. Reducing the number of exams, and aligning them with college admissions makes sense to me. Providing viable alternate paths to high school graduation that prepare kids for a professional career and aren’t viewed as lesser achievements is a good idea, too. I feel confident that whatever we do this session, we’ll be revisiting it next session, and likely again after that.

From Burka it seems to be that this is a fight between two (monied) factions.

There are two competing visions of the future of public education in Texas at stake in the debate over HB 5, which begins this morning on the House floor. One side is a group of industries calling themselves Jobs for Texas. Foremost among this group is the Texas Association of Manufacturers. The other side is Pearson, the testing company, and the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce, led by Bill Hammond.

And, as Diane Ravitch points out, the teachers are who will have to deal with the consequences, How Texas Legislators Debated Graduation Requirements.

I couldn’t help but think back to my own experience in Texas public schools many years ago (to be exact, I graduated from San Jacinto High School in 1956). To the best of my knowledge, the Legislature set minimum requirements and left the details to educators.

These days, legislators in Congress and the states seem to think they must decide everything in education and tell educators what to do. When I was in North Carolina last week, the dean of the UNC education school told me that the legislature passed laws requiring that students learn cursive writing and memorize the multiplication tables.

It is a good thing the legislators are not telling doctors how to make their diagnoses and conduct surgical procedures.

This is nowhere near over, and there was no discussion of poverty, hunger, and making sure students are showing up ready to learn.


Opportunity of a lifetime

Posted in Around The State, Education, Public Schools, The Lege at 11:44 am by wcnews

A resolution filed by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) yesterday, which addresses the need to take up school finance sooner rather than later, is making early session news.  Kuff does a good job of wrapping up the latest, School districts are still a long way from getting relief.

As expected, Rep. Martinez-Fischer filed HR 408 yesterday to encourage the Lege to appropriate the money it had cut in 2011 without waiting for the Supreme Court to rule. You can read the press statement from MALC here. In his oddball iconoclastic way, Republican Rep. David Simpson is with the Dems on taking action now. More than half of that $8.8 billion in surplus funds from 2011 that resulted from Comptroller Combs’ gross underestimation of available revenue has now been marked to pay our outstanding Medicaid bills, so a full restoration of public ed money would need to involve the Rainy Day fund and/or current revenues, at least in part. That doesn’t make the debate any less worth having, of course. I don’t expect this to actually happen – the Lege will fund enrollment growth, and there may be some funds restored for things like pre-K – but the more we debate it, the better. We can help schools now, we don’t have to wait. It’s our choice.

Any talk of where The Lege stands on defunding public education since 2011 must be looked at in context.  It must be looked at through the lens of a conservative movement that has always found public education distasteful at best, and unconstitutional at worst.  That’s why last session, for them, was seen as the opportunity of a lifetime to gut public education funding in Texas.  And once this issue is understood in that context, it’s easy to see whey they are in absolutely no hurry to reinstate funding for publie education.

It is also why the Texas GOP seems just fine with the fact that Texas Comptroller Susan Combs missed the mark so badly on the revenue estimate in 2011 – opportunity of a lifetime. Here’s how that is stated in HR 408 by Martinez Fischer:

The 2011 revenue estimate was inaccurate and, as a direct result, public schools received an unjustified $5.4 billion dollar budget cut and there is nearly $8.8 billion unspent from last biennium, some of which could be used to help our Texas schools

It certainly can be. But only if enough members of the GOP in The Lege thought there was actually a need for this money to be reinstated. And their words and actions prove they don’t, Democrats file resolution on school finance, House doesn’t vote on it.

Republicans, who took to the House floor Monday to say they will make public education a priority, want to wait until the Supreme Court rules before they tackle any school finance changes.

Rep. Brandon Creighton, a Republican from Conroe and chairman of the GOP Caucus, said in a press release that the Democrats’ idea to address school finance before a final court ruling would be like “putting a Band-Aid on a ‘45-year broken leg.’”

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said Democrats don’t have the numbers to force a vote.

“They won’t be able to stop the Republicans,” Jones said, but they could score political points by trying to force Republicans to vote in opposition to quickly restoring funding to K-12 education.

What’s also going on is Speaker Joe Straus is doing his best to protect his members from what is seen to be a politically damaging vote before the 2014 GOP Primary.

The Republican leadership recognizes the trap and will do its best to side-step it. The GOP will also use parliamentary procedure to block votes and argue that rewriting school finance laws while there is ongoing litigation is foolish.

Privately, Republicans say they want to delay any action on school finance for as long as possible and are considering stalling tactics. Abbott can do Republican lawmakers a favor and slow-peddle the appeals process to make sure the lawsuit lasts well into 2014. Then Gov. Rick Perry can call a special legislative session after the 2014 primaries and before the 2014 general election.

Such a special session would allow Republican lawmakers to vote for a school finance overhaul that boosts spending after they’ve made it past the notoriously conservative Republican primary voter. They would also solve the school finance problem before Democrats could attack them for not taking care of public schools, one of the most important issues for the general election voter.

That’s right the GOP sees no need to hurry and fix the problems that were put in motion by Combs’ bad revenue estimate, which are continuing to hurt public education in Texas.  This shows clearly the difference between the two parties on public education.  It’s almost like the GOP doesn’t care about public education.  Opportunity of a lifetime.


Improving Texas economy does not mean cuts from 2011 will be restored

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Public Schools, The Budget, The Economy at 3:51 pm by wcnews

No matter how much money the state of Texas brings in our current state leaders, and the Texas GOP have no intention of ever restoring funding for public education. Texas’ GOP budget writers are in no hurry to restore billions cut from schools.

Republican leaders heading into the new legislative session say they are in no hurry to undo billions of dollars in cuts to public schools made two years ago.

Despite pressure from teacher groups and others, top lawmakers cited holes they must patch in the current budget, a general caution about higher spending and a desire to see how courts rule in the latest suit over how the state funds education.

Many school districts, pointing to an improved Texas economy, are seeking relief. But key budget-writers say the initial two-year plan they’ll unveil soon won’t replace the $5.4 billion the last Legislature sliced from state maintenance and operation aid and discretionary grants.

That means no substantial help to handle bigger classes and no restored grants for half-day prekindergarten and remedial instruction, decisions that are expected to rekindle tensions with school advocates calling for more money.

“The introduced bill won’t have that,” though it may include an additional $1 billion or so to cover student enrollment growth, said Rep. Jim Pitts, the Waxahachie Republican who heads the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Pitts said he expects Comptroller Susan Combs’ two-year revenue estimate, which limits what lawmakers can spend, “to be pretty conservative, and so we’re being very conservative.”

Sen. Tommy Williams, who recently became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he’s skeptical of claims by teacher organizations that the cuts have “devastated” schools.


Some Republicans’ patience with superintendents and district officials may be wearing thin.

“I don’t like it, I’m not crazy about the school districts’ suing the state,” Williams said. “They’d be a lot better served if they’d come down here and try to work this out.”

Linda Bridges, president of the Texas AFT teachers’ union, said the education lobby decided not to sue before the 2011 session and was hammered with budget cuts.

She said some classrooms today have as many as 40 children, and grants have been eliminated for programs to improve student success, even as lawmakers demand reductions in dropout rates and higher test scores.

The Legislature, whether run by Democrats or Republicans, rarely has boosted spending in great numbers without a court edict threatening the unthinkable, such as closure of the state’s more than 9,000 public schools, Bridges said.

“It doesn’t seem they know how to respond to issues like this without being forced to by a court,” she said.


Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said GOP leaders probably are posturing, comparing it to the initial House proposal two years ago for $9 billion in school cuts.

“The story became the restoration of some of the cuts instead of focusing on how can we cut $5.4 billion from education in a school system that we’re holding to higher and higher standards,” said Strama, a member of the Public Education Committee.

“That was actually a smart political strategy to sell a dumb public policy.”

Strama said Republican leaders may ease up some when a final budget starts taking shape.

Don’t count on it, though, said Rep. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican who, with tea party support, upset an ally to Speaker Joe Straus two years ago — and then beat him again in a primary rematch this year.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “We’re not going to do any restoration.”

Strama is right about the ploy from last session – propose deep cuts at first, and then lessen those cuts in the end to make them look better.  But the GOP has no intention of ever putting that money back.  It will take another party in power to put that money back.

The Texas GOP haven’t spent decades gaining control of our state government, starting to implement their agenda, just to start rolling it back once the economy improves.  The only thing that will restore public education in Texas will be changing who we elect in Texas.


Vouchers are the wrong choice

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Public Schools, Vouchers at 4:19 pm by wcnews

Pimentel at the Express-News on what vouchers will do to Texas public education, Choice program is a suicide pact for schools. Suffice it to say that the jury is still out on vouchers, as far as whether they’re a solution or will just cause more problems. No matter how they’re structured they are likely to take money from public education. And, as noted below, an accountability mechanism will need to be setup.

But the main thing he points to is this:

The Texas Constitution. Here’s what Article 7, Section I says, after a brief preamble about the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people: “It shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

It’s hard to make the case that public funds to private schools constitute an “efficient system of public free schools,” particularly since it’s an open question whether these private scholarships for low-income children will cover full tuition at these private schools.

Of course, some schools may simply write off the balance but others may not. If they don’t, how is this “free?” And if there is a balance to pay, how is this a program for low-income children?

And as he points out any “pilot program” is just a wedge for further expansion of vouchers in the future. The point is, putting government money into a private system, is unlikely to make our system of public free schools more efficient.  And it’s not clear the votes in the Texas House will be there, Clash over vouchers comes down to vastly different views on Texas schools.

Democrats in the House and Senate will likely line up against all private school voucher and tuition tax credit bills, but they are in the minority in both chambers.

Rural GOP lawmakers also have also been cool to vouchers in the past.

In 2007, the House voted overwhelmingly to ban use of state funds for private schools — an action that halted all discussion of vouchers in Texas until now.

While Perry and Dewhurst, leader of the Senate, have signaled their support for expanded school choice, House Speaker Joe Straus is taking a more cautious approach, citing previous battles in the House over vouchers.

“If there is not a broad consensus on the issue, then I don’t see a House voucher bill coming” up for a vote, said Straus, R-San Antonio.

“That’s not to say there isn’t a possibility that we can work on an expanded school choice program of some sort. But I want to avoid a scene on the floor over a voucher bill that is not broadly supported.”

One reason vouchers are being pushed so hard, more than likely, is that people already sending their children to private school would like some of their tax money to go to their children’s tuition. What’s lost in all of this is that “vouchers” or “choice” still does not solve any of the problems with public school finance. And the issues with how the public is being educated has more to do with poverty, then anything else.

Most private schools don’t want public school cast offs – like special needs or poor kids filling their schools. They would, more than likely, just take from the cream of the crop from public education.  And public education is the only entity that has the means to deal with the masses.  What this will likely lead to is a class based education system.

Which leads us back to what public education should be. Public education takes a commitment from the public – parents, teachers, grand parents and those without children in school. It’s something we choose to do today as a society, educate all children, so everyone we all have a better future.  Vouchers are the wrong choice.

Further Reading:
The Coalition for Public Schools.


Thoughts on the upcoming session

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Public Schools, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, The Budget, Transportation at 1:18 pm by wcnews

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst recently said that The Lege should consider dipping into the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka Rainy Day Fund, to pay for water and transportation needs.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday that Texas should consider dipping into the state’s multi-billion dollar rainy day fund to address pressing water and transportation needs.

Dewhurst, speaking before the Dallas Regional Chamber, proposed using $1 billion from the fund, which could reach $8 billion by the end of the year, to create a new water infrastructure development bank to help cities and other municipalities build reservoirs. [Emphasis added]

Joining House Speaker Joe Straus and other state leaders in focusing on the major challenges surrounding Texas’ brisk population growth, the lieutenant governor said it might also make sense to develop a similar bank for highway construction projects.

[You can watch it here.]  The business community has been signalling for a while they their willing to give the Texas GOP a pass on raising taxes for either of these issues. They all understand that they need water and roads for their new developments. And they prefer Texas taxpayers to pay for it.

But don’t expect public education to get the same treatment, School districts suing the state point finger at Texas Legislature.

John Folks, former president of the Texas Association of School Administrators and former superintendent of the Northside school district in San Antonio — the state’s fourth-largest district — placed much of the blame for current problems with state lawmakers. It started with the “structural deficit” they created in 2006 when they lowered property taxes and replaced the lost revenue with a new business tax that never produced enough money, he said.

Folks, named Texas superintendent of the year in 2011 by the Texas Association of School Boards, said the Legislature miscalculated by billions of dollars how much revenue the new business tax would raise. Lawmakers were let off the hook when they were able to use federal stimulus money to make up the shortfall in 2009, but the huge financial hole came back in 2011, according to Folks.

Mr. Folks gets most of that right. What he gets wrong is who let lawmakers off the hook. The people of Texas did. There’s has been little – and what there was has been wiped out by the tea party wave of 2012 – electoral punishment for those who voted for the structural deficit that has decimated public education. It should also be noted that The Lege knew when they passed the GOP tax swap scheme of 2006 that it would come up short.

The plan has always been to defund public education (and the safety net), and they’re are not going to allow it to be refunded as long as they hold power.  Anyone who thinks they will is just fooling themselves.

One more thing.  A report was just released by Good Jobs First called, SELLING SNAKE OIL TO THE STATES: The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity. It tells basically how the Texas economy is a hoax.

A new study finds that state tax and regulatory policies recommended by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) fail to promote stronger job creation or income growth, and actually predict a worse performance.

Since ALEC first published its annual Rich States, Poor States study with its Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007, states that were rated better have actually done worse economically.


“We tested ALEC’s claims against actual economic results,” said Dr. Peter Fisher, primary author of the study. “We conclude that eliminating progressive taxes, suppressing wages, and cutting public services are actually a recipe for economic inequality, declining incomes, and undermining public infrastructure and education that really matter for long-term economic growth.”

Texas has been able to paper over quite a bit of this because of the oil boom. Which is the history of Texas’ economic success. When oil isn’t booming either has Texas, most times. While Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running around squawking about what be believes he’s done to help the economy, the truth is much different. What he’s done has just made the rich in Texas richer and kept the rest of us struggling.

Of course what’s not, and hasn’t been discussed for a while in all of this, is what’s best for the people of Texas.  This is still the best way forward, The Best Choice For A Prosperous Texas.  But nothing close to that will be on the agenda in January.  There’s is little if anything good that will come out of the upcoming session for average working Texans. And little will until we change who governs our state.


Poverty and public education

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Poverty, Public Schools at 12:12 pm by wcnews

As the school finance case over public education funding in Texas continues, we need to take a reasoned look at the root cause of problems for public education.  To do that I would recommend watching this conversation between Evan Smith and Diane Ravitch.  In listening to the conversation it’s not that anything is wrong with the education system.  Ravitch says that, “The great lie is that our public education system is failing”.  She says the main problem is the fact that 25% of children live in poverty, and schools are no to blame for that.

She  discussed poverty in the context of improving test scores and learning, and the best way to do that  is to make sure children show up ready to learn.  But for that we must go back to the beginning.  She stated that while we need to spend more money, it’s more important what we’re spending the money on. She singled out three things:  early childhood education, pre-natal care, and having a school nurse and health clinic on site.  Being healthy and prepared is necessary for quality learning once they get to public school.  But the need to reduce poverty was evident she said, “To the extent we can reduce poverty we will see test scores go up”, and that, “Test scores mirror socio-economic disparity”.  And last that, “Kids aren’t learning because they’re sick, homeless, hungry, or a parent is in jail…we ignore all those problems and blame the schools”.

In Texas  26% of children live in poverty and Texas ranks 44th among the states in overall child health and well-being.  So it’s no wonder that we are having problems educating our children in Texas.  Ravitch’s overriding point was that the problem isn’t with our public education system, but it’s with the rising number of our citizens that are living in poverty.  It’s a societal issue, rather then an education issue, and that’s much harder for Texans and Americans to admit and fix then just blaming schools.

She goes on to discuss how test scores and graduation rates are higher then they’ve ever been.  And that most of the reason people think that the education system is failing is because the “echo chamber” has been repeating that for 20-plus years, and that too many have now come to believe that falsehood.  She also pointed out that teachers are overworked, and for the most part under paid.  And that where the education is the best in our country is where the teacher’s unions are the strongest.

On the subject of choice and charter schools, which she was once for, she now is against. Here are her reasons:

  • They don’t on average get better results than public schools.
  • They keep out special education students and the disabled.
  • They keep out English language learners, skimming.
  • It’s developing an dual school system based on class.

She goes on to say that choice advocates are the biggest proponents of the system if failing lie.  And some are in it to make money, and others for ideological reasons and/or idealistic reasons.  But her strongest argument was that school privatization can destroy public education which is an “essential democratic institution of our society”.

This is an extremely large amount of information, and maybe new information for some, to take in.  It really lays out the extent of the societal problems we face in educating our children.  And poverty is rarely talked about when discussing the problems with education in our society.  While taxes and per student spending need to be fixed, fixing poverty is the most important issue, and needs to be fixed first when discussing the problem we face in public education.

Further Reading:
The Myth of Charter Schools.

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