John Dietz

When excuses about school funding fail, some people lie


If you really want to do something, even if it is difficult, you try to do it. If you don’t want to do something, even if it is important, you try to avoid it with one excuse or another and hope it goes away. If you are publicly put on the spot about your procrastination, then you may squirm, mislead or even lie.

Clearly, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, doesn’t want to do anything to improve education funding for Texas’ 5 million public school students. So, the first sentence above doesn’t apply to him. He has chosen the second route.

When state District Judge John Dietz issued a strongly worded opinion declaring that the state’s school finance system was inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional, Abbott immediately made plans to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

With a little luck, Abbott figures, the Supreme Court eventually will overturn Dietz’s ruling, to the delight of the legislative majority and of Abbott himself, whose campaign promises to improve public education contrast sharply with the fact that he continues to defend $5.4 billion in school budget cuts. Or, an appeal, at the very least, would give Abbott some relief before Election Day from pesky questions about how he, as governor, would address a school finance issue he has no intention of trying to address.

When Democratic nominee Wendy Davis asked Abbott during last week’s gubernatorial debate whether he would try to settle the school lawsuit, Abbott replied that a law enacted by the Legislature in 2011 prohibited the attorney general from seeking a settlement.

In truth, that law simply provides that the Legislature would have to approve a settlement negotiated by the attorney general. The law does nothing to prohibit Abbott from seeking a settlement. Nor, does it require him to continue wasting tax dollars on an appeal while Texas school children continue to be shortchanged of the resources they need to succeed.

Abbott either deliberately lied during the televised debate, or he isn’t competent enough to know the state law governing his office.

Davis, as governor, will advocate for an adequate and fair funding system for all students and take advantage of increased tax collections in a strong economy to pay for it.

Last week, the comptroller’s revenue estimator told the House Ways and Means Committee that sales tax revenue increased by 5.5 percent last year and is expected to experience similar, strong growth this year. That means billions of additional tax dollars for state needs. Additionally, the Rainy Day Fund is at $8.4 billion and is expected to reach double digits within a few more months.

Financially, there is no excuse for the state not to begin working on a strong school funding plan now. Abbott lacks the political will to either lead on the issue or get out of the way.


Education commissioner needs to advocate for schools


You would expect Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick to want to appeal Judge John Dietz’s latest ruling that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional, inadequate and unfair to thousands of Texas children. You would expect that because neither Abbott nor Patrick gives more than a half pint’s worth of lip service for public education, even though they are running for the state’s top two offices.

Further appeal would spare both Abbott and Patrick from having to comprehend real solutions that actually would benefit students, and it would again delay the day of reckoning for a legislative majority that prefers to drag its feet than fulfill its responsibilities.

But what business does the state education commissioner have encouraging an appeal and a waste of additional millions of tax dollars? That is what Commissioner Michael Williams did very soon after Dietz had issued his decision on Thursday.

“Texas is committed to finding solutions to educate every student in every classroom,” Williams said, despite the obvious fact that many political candidates and members of the Legislature are anything but committed to that goal. He also said, “This is an issue that will again be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court.”

Williams is correct that the Legislature, not a single judge, should make school finance decisions. But nothing in the state constitution or state law requires the Legislature to sit back and wait on an expensive appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. The sole purpose of an appeal would be to buy time and hope that a Republican Supreme Court weakens Dietz’s strong ruling, while thousands of Texas school children continue to be shortchanged.

Williams should step up, be a strong advocate for school kids and admit that the trial judge and the 600 school districts that sued the state over funding are correct. The school funding system is abysmal and needs to be fixed now – not two or three years from now.

Just a few days ago, Williams had the gall to blame low STAAR scores on teachers, despite the fact the curriculum and the test aren’t fully aligned and the more-difficult test was introduced as the legislative majority was slashing $5.4 billion from school budgets, causing 11,000 teacher layoffs and thousands of overcrowded classrooms.

The education commissioner was making teachers the scapegoats for a problem he is helping to perpetuate. He, too, has become very good at lip service, and now he is encouraging the legislative majority to keep dodging its responsibility.

Abbott: Still making the wrong kind of news on education


Attorney General Greg Abbott loses so many lawsuits – while wasting your tax dollars – that still another loss barely rates as news anymore. Just yesterday, while a visiting state judge was strongly denying Abbott’s attempt to remove state District Judge John Dietz from the school finance lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court was rebuffing Abbott’s latest challenge of federal regulations of greenhouse gas emissions.

Abbott not only wants Texas kids to have to put up with an underfunded, unfair school finance system, he apparently also expects them to wear gas masks to school.

Abbott’s attempt to get Dietz removed from the long-running school finance case was newsy because it was so blatantly political. Dietz already has ruled against the current school finance system once and, more likely than not, he is about to hand Abbott his head (figuratively, of course) with a similar, follow-up decision that the funding law remains inadequate and unconstitutional.

Abbott was trying to delay the inevitable – and more negative publicity during his campaign for governor – by pulling an eleventh-hour political stunt to delay a final ruling from Dietz.

In his decision against Abbott, visiting Judge David Peeples of San Antonio said he “emphatically rejects any suggestion” that Dietz had intentionally communicated improperly with attorneys representing plaintiffs, including more than 600 school districts, trying to get the current funding system overturned.

As attorney general, Abbott continues to defend an indefensible school finance system, including $5.4 billion in school budget cuts. Imagine the political havoc he could wreak on public schools as governor.



Money to restore school cuts is there, backbone is lacking


Many of the legislators who voted two years ago to slash education funding by $5.4 billion – or more than $500 per student – continue to claim state government is poverty-stricken and refuse to take steps to restore the funding. The only thing poverty-stricken about the legislative majority, however, is its lack of political will to fully support local public schools and the children educated in them.

These legislators need some political backbone, folks, and the most effective way for them to attain that quality is with frequent reminders from their constituents that the cost of a strong public education system – and, with it, a strong economic future for our children – is a larger investment in under-funded public schools NOW.

In his school finance ruling last week, State District Judge John Dietz of Austin said state funding of public education clearly was inadequate and unfair. He had no firm dollar figures but suggested it may take at least an additional $2,000 per student to meet all state standards. Right now, Texas is spending about $8,900 per child, following the budget cuts. That puts Texas 45th among the states and the District of Columbia. Dietz’s suggested increase would carry an additional cost of $10 billion to $11 billion a year, and it would still leave Texas a few hundred dollars short per child of the national average.

That price tag is the main reason the state leadership will appeal Dietz’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, a process that will take at least a year. In the meantime, though, it is time for the legislative majority to restore the $5.4 billion cut two years ago. With an $8.8 billion surplus and $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund – more than $20 billion — lawmakers have enough money to address the education issue, as well as funding for Medicaid and other important needs.

But their constituents – beginning with educators and parents – need to keep demanding that their legislators do the right thing.

If you can, attend the Save Texas Schools march and rally at the Capitol on Feb. 23. Check this link for details.

Also, contact your legislators and make sure they know in no uncertain terms that you expect them to restore the cuts and that you will be watching. If you don’t know who your state representative or state senator is, click on this link and type in your address to find out who they are and how to contact them.

Then contact them – early and often. The future of your local public school depends on it.