A series of public opinion surveys, including two commissioned by TSTA and a new one by a pro- education group with business ties, make it clear that the vast majority of Texas voters want the governor and the Legislature to increase state funding for public schools. But, unfortunately, there is ample evidence that the Commission on School Finance will ignore the voters’ wishes when it makes recommendations to the Legislature.
A minority of commission members, including House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, are likely to fight for more state education dollars. But overall this alleged “study” of school funding may very well end up being a political charade, and here are some reasons why:
# Most of the commission members, including the chairman, were appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both of whom would rather spend our tax dollars on private school vouchers than on an adequate and equitable school funding system. Remember, they both rejected the House’s efforts to improve school funding during both the regular and special legislative sessions last year. So, don’t be surprised if the commission ends up promoting vouchers and squeezing more “efficiency” out of what is left of the existing education budget.
# As attorney general, Abbott consistently fought against lawsuits in which school districts and other plaintiffs sought better state funding. Abbott hired Ted Cruz as his solicitor general, and speaking on Abbott’s behalf, Cruz once argued before the Texas Supreme Court that the issue of how much to spend on education is a “political question that the Texas Constitution assigns to the Texas Legislature and not the courts.” Cruz’s political views, which mirrored Abbott’s, were as ideological and ill-informed then as they are now as a U.S. senator.
# Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, Abbott’s choice for commission chairman, was the only justice to dissent the last time the Supreme Court (in 2005) ordered improvements in the school finance system. That act alone may have won him the chair appointment.
# Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, a Patrick appointee to the commission, was quoted this week as saying, “We don’t have more money.” Not true. State government has several billion dollars in its Rainy Day savings account and a thriving economy. What’s lacking on the part of Taylor, Abbott, Patrick and too many other like-minded officials in Austin is the political will to do the right thing for the school children of Texas.
# And finally but certainly not least, Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, one of Dan Patrick’s top allies, is chairing the study commission’s subcommittee on revenue. Instead of advocating for more education funding, Bettencourt instead has a history, along with Patrick and Abbott, of promoting the falsehood that local officials are primarily to blame for high property taxes. This argument deliberately denies the reality that property taxes are high because the state does a poor job of funding public schools. The state’s funding effort is so poor that property taxes will soon account for 68 percent of the basic school finance program. Bettencourt has never seemed interested in pursuing the only realistic solution to that problem, which is increased state education funding. So why should we expect that now?
Not so coincidentally, Bettencourt also was an early participant in the campaign to intimidate educators from voting. He asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for the politically motivated, but non-binding opinion, wrongly suggesting it was illegal for educators to encourage other educators and students to vote.
The school finance commission’s deck seems to be stacked, and not for more school funding.