Month: <span>December 2017</span>

Another failing report card for Texas government


U.S. News recently released its “Best States” rankings, and overall Texas ranked poorly, 38th out of 50, and even worse in education, 41st, even though our economy ranked sixth and our government was 11th. What happened?

The short answer is Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the legislative majority persist in squandering Texas’ resources and opportunities. And the government ranking is misleading.

The quality of Texas government was ranked primarily on process, not results. Texas got high marks for such factors as use of digital technology, balanced budgets, the state credit rating, auditing procedures and public access to information about political fund-raising and lobbyists.

Texas government wasn’t ranked on how poorly it uses the resources generated by the state’s highly-ranked economy (first in GDP growth and fifth in job growth) to improve opportunities for all its citizens. The Legislature always passes a balanced budget because the Texas Constitution requires it. All too often, though, those budgets are balanced by cutting corners.

You may remember that in 2011, during an economic downturn, then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority balanced the budget by slashing billions of dollars from important public services, including $5.4 billion from education alone, rather than raise revenue. Even with a strong economy now, Abbott and Patrick insisted on leaving billions of dollars in the state’s savings account this year rather than adequately funding services such as education and health care.

U.S. News’ researchers may have been impressed with Texas’ flush stash of cash, but they weren’t impressed with our educational or health care systems, our infrastructure or the opportunities afforded our citizens.

Texas ranked 41st in education, including 36th in pre-school enrollment, 43rd in pre-K quality and 29th in college readiness. Those  are indicators negatively impacted by poor education funding. Poor funding means larger classes, fewer opportunities for teachers to provide one-on-one attention to struggling students, inadequate classroom technology, etc.

In a separate study by the National Education Association, Texas ranked 35th in state education spending per student, $2,555 below the national average. In contrast, the four highest rated states for education systems in the U.S. News study – Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Connecticut – also ranked in the top 10 for per-student funding.

In other rankings, Texas was 50th (dead last) in health insurance enrollment, 47th in health care access, 49th in overall infrastructure, 21st in road quality, 50th in power grid reliability, 24th in housing affordability, 43rd in education equality by race and 42nd in gender equality.

Because of these factors and more, Texas ranked 45th in its capacity for providing opportunities for all its citizens. That’s the price of electing government officials who are less interested in promoting opportunity for everyone than they are in trying to dictate how people should live their lives.


The education consequences of electing Ted Cruz


As you may know, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is running for reelection next year, and he will claim to be representing your “best” interests in Washington on just about anything you want to hear, including education. Fortunately, of course, you don’t have to believe him, and you shouldn’t.

For one thing, Cruz voted for that awful tax bill the Senate passed last weekend. (So did Texas Sen. John Cornyn, but he isn’t facing the voters this cycle.) And to make the bill even worse, Cruz sponsored the anti-public education voucher amendment that was added to the measure.

Elections have consequences, folks, and if you are an educator who believed Cruz’s campaign malarkey and voted for him last time, you may want to avoid shooting yourself and your colleagues and students in the foot again next year.

Cruz’s voucher amendment, which passed on a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, would allow parents to spend as much as $10,000 a year from their special 529 college savings accounts to pay tuition at private K-12 schools. Cruz claimed his amendment would “expand options for parents” and “prioritize the education of the next generation of Americans.”


The new tax break, if it stays in the final version of the bill and becomes law, would primarily benefit wealthier parents while undermining public schools where the vast majority of children in Texas and other states will continue to be educated.

Another bad provision in the bill that could undermine public school funding would curtail the deduction of state and local taxes from the federal income tax returns that you file. The legislative majority in Texas already under-funds our public schools, and this added restriction on federal tax deductions could increase the political incentive of legislators to starve public education even more.

All in all, the Senate tax bill, like its House counterpart, is a blatant scheme to make the richest Americans richer and to heck with just about everyone else. Now, negotiators from the two chambers will meet, mostly in private, to try to reach a compromise to send to President Trump before the end of the year.

The overwhelming majority of Americans will be better off if the effort fails. But if there is going to be a tax bill, educators should demand that one Senate provision remain in the final bill. This provision would allow teachers to deduct as much as $500 a year from their federal income taxes for out-of-pocket expenses on school and classroom supplies.

The present deduction of $250 a year was wiped out in the House version of the bill.