Like several of her budget-cutting allies, State Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston’s House District 134 would rather be reelected than tell the truth. So, in a new mailer in which she tries to confuse voters with a jumble of misleading charts and figures, she claims falsely that the Legislature increased funding for public education last year. The truthful bottom line is that Davis voted with the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets.
In a preposterous stretch of political imagination, Davis also blames President Obama for school funding problems that were created by Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority. It is the same false argument that State Reps. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs and Dee Margo of El Paso, among others, also have been trying to peddle in denial of their education-cutting votes.
Gov. Perry and the legislative majority dug Texas’ public schools into a deep budget hole in 2006 by ordering cuts in school property taxes without raising enough state revenue to repay local school districts. By 2009, with the school deficit growing, Perry and the Legislature refused to raise state taxes. Instead, they used several billion dollars of federal economic stimulus money to close the gap. President Obama championed the stimulus money to help states through the recession. Perry and the legislative majority chose to use the one-time-only money to temporarily relieve themselves of a school finance burden.
The federal stimulus money was no longer available in 2011, but the education deficit had grown to $5 billion a year, and the responsibility for addressing it belonged to the governor and the Legislature, not the president. Davis says the Legislature spent $1.6 billion in state funds that it hadn’t spent in 2009, but it didn’t come close to fully funding public education. Instead, the legislative majority, including Davis, changed the law and, for the first time in more than 60 years, approved a budget that failed to meet the state’s responsibility for funding enrollment growth.
With school enrollment increasing statewide by 80,000 to 85,000 students a year, the shortfall in district formula funding over the two-year budget period amounted to $4 billion. Add to that another $1.4 billion that Davis and the legislature majority cut from pre-kindergarten, dropout prevention and other public school grants and the cuts for the two-year budget period totaled $5.4 billion.
As were most school districts throughout Texas, Houston ISD and Spring Branch ISD in House District 134 were hard hit. According to Legislative Budget Board estimates, HISD lost $126.9 million for this school year alone, or about $490 per student. Spring Branch lost $20.8 million, or about $512 per student. Those losses were in addition to more than $36 million combined that the two districts lost, according to Texas Education Agency estimates, during the last school year.
This means lost educator jobs, overcrowded classrooms and weakened educational opportunities for thousands of young Texans. At least 25,000 school employees, including almost 11,000 teachers, have lost jobs so far. To make matters worse, the cuts could have been avoided by tapping into $6 billion that was available last year in the Rainy Day Fund. But Davis voted with Gov. Perry and the legislative majority to leave that money untouched. Now, the Rainy Day Fund has swelled to $8 billion while school districts continue to cut programs.
The Texas State Teachers Association is supporting Ann Johnson against Davis because Johnson truly values public schools and, apparently unlike Davis, knows how to add and subtract. Johnson has attacked Davis over the budget cuts, and Davis has responded by falsely accusing Johnson of spreading “fiction.”
But Johnson is telling the truth. Davis isn’t.