This being an election year, Gov. Abbott is playing a game of deception with the voters, and Texas’ vulnerable school children are the pawns. Actually, he has been playing a version of this game during his entire term, but now he is revving into overdrive.
Within a matter of a few days, Abbott has tried to convince the parents of children in need of special education services that he can provide what their families need and cut their taxes at the same time. He can’t.
To be clear, Abbott wasn’t responsible for the illegal cap that the Texas Education Agency imposed on special education enrollments in 2004, a limit that deprived tens of thousands of Texas children of the services to which they were entitled. Then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority ultimately were responsible for that insensitive act because the cap was prompted by their failure to adequately fund special education and other public school programs.
Abbott, however, is responsible for correcting the problem, and so far he is doing a lousy job. After news of the cap blew up on his watch, Abbott and the Legislature made sure last year that the cap was removed and wouldn’t be reimposed. But the governor refused to demand that the Legislature provide what special education families really need, more state funding for their public schools. And he turned his back on Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority, when they offered legislation to increase education funding. Instead, he endorsed another study – the umpteenth – of school finance by a commission that was to hold its first meeting today.
When the U.S. Department of Education formally notified Texas a couple of weeks ago that the special education cap had violated federal law, the governor quickly blamed school districts for the fiasco and ordered state Education Commissioner Mike Morath to immediately start correcting the problem.
Then, a few days later, Abbott unveiled a campaign proposal that, were it to become law, would squeeze special education services and all public education programs even harder. This is the governor’s “plan” to set an unreasonably low limit on local property taxes, including those levied by school districts, in order to allegedly provide “relief” to local taxpayers.
Because Abbott has allowed the state’s share of education funding to continue to drop to below 40 percent, his new political scam to limit property taxes would force more cuts in school funding for all students, including special education kids. Local property taxes are high, not because local school districts are wasting money, but because the governor and the state Senate majority refuse to provide adequate state funding for public education, period.
As a result, local property taxpayers now bear 60 percent of the cost of the Foundation School Program and will see their share increase to 62 percent next year. The remedy for high property taxes is more state funding for education, not election year gimmicks.
Morath, who wasn’t commissioner when the cap was imposed in 2004, has come up with a plan to address some of the special education issues. But it will fall short of meeting the needs of all special education students because Morath and the Texas Education Agency don’t have the authority to appropriate money and must act within the limits of the restrictive state budget signed by Abbott.
Abbott’s office has asked for public “feedback” on the TEA plan. Tell the governor to quit playing games with school children’s futures and demand that the Legislature adequately fund all school programs, including special education. Then, remember that elections have consequences, and we have been living through them. Go to the polls and Vote Education First.