Rainy Day Fund

Trying to undermine, not “reform” public schools


Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond is at it again, pretending to advocate for strong public schools while doing his best to undermine them. His latest effort is an oped in today’s Dallas Morning News, in which he complains about District Judge John Dietz’s recent ruling in the school finance case that public schools are inadequately funded.

He particularly takes issue with Dietz’s suggestion that it will require an additional $2,000 per child, at least, to fully fund all the state’s requirements for the public schools.

Not only is Hammond’s reasoning wrong, but so are his alleged “facts.”

He claims Texas already is spending $10,000 per student and claims that Texas has been “spending more money on education for a decade, even including last session’s cuts.” Both parts of his assertion are flat wrong.

In the 2010-11 school year, Texas spent $9,446 per child in average daily attendance. Following the $5.4 billion in budget cuts imposed by Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority in 2011, spending per child plunged to $8,908, placing Texas 45th among the states and the District of Columbia, according to estimates and rankings by the National Education Association (NEA). That was a cut of more than $500 per child while school enrollment across Texas was growing by about 80,000 a year. Adding another $2,000 per child, as Judge Dietz suggested, wouldn’t even bring Texas up to the national average of $11,463 per child.

Adding insult to his factual errors, Hammond and the Texas Association of Business have been longtime political supporters of Gov. Perry and many of the legislators who voted for the cuts, which cost 11,000 teaching jobs in the 2011-12 school year alone and crammed thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms. TAB continues to support Perry and many of the other education-cutters today.

Now that the Legislature has an $8.8 billion surplus and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $11.8 billion – more than $20 billion – to help write a new state budget, Hammond and TAB should be joining with the Texas State Teachers Association and other public school supporters – real as opposed to pseudo – and demanding that their buddies in the governor’s office and the legislative majority restore the school funding.

Hammond reminds us that tax dollars – no fooling — are our money. But regardless how the Texas Supreme Court eventually may rule on an appeal of Judge Dietz’s ruling, the 2011 school budget cuts can be restored right now without raising one extra dime of taxpayers’ money.

TAB apparently isn’t interested in restoring school funding. Instead, Hammond was first in line with his hand held out when the governor proposed that some of the $20 billion could be spent on special interest tax breaks instead. Hammond proposed cuts in the business franchise tax, which already is under-performing and was a major cause of the financial problems that resulted in last session’s budget cuts.

TAB’s idea of strengthening the public schools is to demand that students, beginning in third-grade, continue to be subjected to a battery of high-stakes standardized tests that do little more than rob students and their teachers of valuable classroom learning time. TAB also insists that schools be more “efficient” as if efficiency can be manufactured out of thin air as school budgets are cut and teachers are fired.

Hammond proposes at-will employment of teachers and classroom size flexibility. School districts already have both. What they don’t have, as Judge Dietz has soundly concluded after weeks of hearing evidence, is enough money to assure that all of Texas’ children will have enough resources to succeed.



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.

Which is the biggest emergency: education or tax relief?


Now that Gov. Perry has manufactured a new use – tax relief – for the Rainy Day Fund, you can be sure his special interest political supporters will be all over themselves trying to get their hands on it. Technically, the constitution allows spending Rainy Day money for anything the Legislature decides to spend it on, including tax relief. But I say “manufacture” because the voters of Texas, when they approved the Rainy Day Fund more than 20 years ago, didn’t have tax relief in mind. They approved it as a savings account to be used to help state government bridge temporary, financial emergencies.

The governor and his allies in the legislative majority started trying to redefine the fund two years ago, when trying to explain why they left several billion dollars of taxpayer money sitting in it while inflicting $5.4 billion in cuts on public schools. The savings account should be reserved for hurricanes or other natural disasters, Perry claimed, while presiding over the biggest political disaster to befall Texas’ public schools in his lifetime.

Now, the fund has a balance approaching $12 billion, and Perry isn’t talking about hurricanes anymore. But he still intends to shut out the school children. He wants to use $3.7 billion from the fund to begin playing catch-up on highway and water needs and $840 million to help pay for about $1.8 billion in tax relief. Perry has indicated that at least part of his proposed tax relief would be to ease the business burden of the under-performing franchise tax. In other words, the franchise tax, which already falls several billion dollars short of meeting the schools’ needs each budget cycle, would contribute even less.

The Texas Association of Business, one of Perry’s biggest political supporters, already has its hand out for the lion’s share of any tax reductions. This is the same group that claims to be a strong supporter of education but has not said a word about restoring school funding, even though its members have much to gain from strong public schools. The business group’s leadership, instead, is more interested in imposing standardized tests on children than in repairing the damage to classrooms.

If you believe a quality education is more than a test score, and if you want the Legislature to restore the school budget cuts, you have to tell your own legislators. The money is there. In addition to the Rainy Day Fund, the Legislature is operating with a general revenue surplus of $8.8 billion. Combined, that is enough to meet the governor’s priorities, meet other pressing needs and repair education funding – now.

There is no need to wait for a final ruling in the school finance lawsuit, which is at least a year away, although that is a favorite excuse of some legislators who don’t want to do the right thing. Make sure your state representative and your state senator hear from you. If you don’t know who they are, click on this link, http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.

Then type in your address, and you will get their names and contact information. Let them hear from you – early and often. You can bet they will be hearing a lot from the “tax relief” crowd.