02.12.13

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.

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