01.28.13

The Lege is in a holding pattern on school funding

Posted in Around The State, Education, Health Care, Poverty, The Lege at 2:53 pm by wcnews

It’s not just education. There’s an inter-connectedness of education, poverty, and the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The GOP members of The Lege have a mixed message on school finance. From an article by Peggy Fikac over the weekend, GOP waits and sees on school funding. When reading this keep in mind that schools talked to The Lege and lobbied hard to keep their funding in 2011.

A state judge is expected to rule next week on whether the school finance system is broken, but lawmakers aren’t anywhere near ready to launch repairs.

Instead, Republican leaders plan to wait for an appeal and a final Texas Supreme Court ruling so they know exactly what they are forced to do.

In a twist, some of their rhetoric seems to suggest school districts have only themselves to blame for the postponement of hopes of restoring funds cut back from education two years ago.

The delay in acting is business-as-usual for the Legislature, which as an institution typically waits as education funding problems get bad enough to prompt a lawsuit by school districts. Then lawmakers wait some more, until the state’s highest court outlines the parameters of the mess they must fix.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said at a hearing last week that lawmakers should pay attention to those who want funding restored for key education programs.

But Williams also stressed the need to weigh that against other education-related funding demands, and he repeated his belief that the ongoing lawsuit makes it difficult for lawmakers to put in additional money for anything other than enrollment growth.

He also seemed to suggest that school districts used the courthouse as an alternative to discussion, odd to those who remember quite a school funding debate in the 2011 legislative session.

“I wish the school districts would sit down and talk to us,” Williams said. “It really ties our hands when they file a lawsuit.”

The reality is, and everyone involved knows it, is that The Lege will not act on school finance unless they’re forced to by the courts. One only has to go back to 2006, the last time they acted on this issue.  It’s not in their political interest to act unless they can use the excuse that they were forced to by the courts.

And not taking care of education will just exacerbate the problem, Poorer Texas kids lead to higher education costs.

Texas’ high child poverty rate is beginning to make demands on the state’s budget, and experts warn the state needs to spend more on education or the state’s economy could slow.

About 60 percent of Texas children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census, and many of those children are unprepared and need extra attention when they start school. If they do eventually get into college, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board says they are relying on a shrinking pool of financial aid.

Public schools and state universities are calling for more money as the state’s Republican leadership pledges to dramatically limit government spending. In 2011, the Legislature reduced funding for public education by $5.4 billion, cut pre-Kindergarten programs and cut funding for college scholarships.

Conservatives argue that low taxes and low government spending have helped the Texas economy grow by leaps and bounds since 2000, but the percentage of Texans living in poverty has grown also. According to 2010 Census data, 15.3 percent of Texans live in poverty and most are under 40 and Hispanic, the fastest growing segment of the Texas population. The poverty rate among Hispanics is 26.8 percent.

Hispanics account for 38 percent of the population and 48.3 percent of Texas children. This same group has the highest percentage of people aged 25 years or older without high school diplomas, at 40.4 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of poor students has gone up 45.9 percent to 2.85 million children.

Poverty and education inextricably linked.  There’s also a report out today on the positive effects Medicaid expansion would have in Texas, New Report Shows Local Tax Impacts from Offering Medicaid Coverage to Low-Income Adults.

A report issued today provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the costs and benefits to local taxing authorities (including cities, counties and hospital districts) and state government if the Legislature chooses to extend Medicaid benefits to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Click here to read the full report.

Billy Hamilton Consulting prepared the report, titled Smart, Affordable and Fair: Why Texas Should Extend Medicaid Coverage to Low-Income Adults, for Texas Impact and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. An Executive Summary of the report is also available.

Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead said, “Our analysis shows conclusively that extending Medicaid to low-income adults is the smart, affordable and fair choice for the state–and that passing up this opportunity will place local taxpayers, low-income Texans, and the entire state health care system at a significant disadvantage going forward.”

The report demonstrates that local property taxpayers and hospital charity programs already spend about six times as much on low-income health care as it would cost the state to extend Medicaid coverage to adults who have incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL)–$15,415 for a single adult and $31,809 for a family of four. Under the Affordable Care Act, Texas could cover adults aged 18 to 64 whose incomes are below 138 percent FPL, with the federal government paying an average of 90 percent of the cost of coverage for low-income adults over the next ten years.

“For years, Texas has had the highest uninsured rate in the country, with 6 million Texans lacking health insurance. Now we have a chance to change that, and there is no excuse for any other course of action than extending Medicaid to low-income adults,” said Kevin C. Moriarty, President and CEO, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Certainly bringing down the amount of children, and adults, without health care would lower the number of Texans in poverty. Which will in turn improve the education of Texas children.  It’s time for Texas, for all it’s boasting of prosperity, to make sure that all Texans are prospering.

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