What good is a water fund without good schools?
House Bill 11 deserves a watery grave. Yes, that is a bad pun for the water bill that was shot down in the Texas House last night on a procedural point. And, yes, Texas needs to start spending more money developing future water resources, which HB11 would have done. But Texas also needs to start spending more money on its public schools, and HB11 would have failed to do that.
HB11 would have taken $2 billion from the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to establish a revolving account for future water-supply projects. But, ignoring the priorities of most Texas voters, sponsors refused to include any additional funding to complete the restoration of the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago.
What good would it be to spend money on water projects if you don’t have enough well-educated architects, engineers and managers to design, build and operate them?
Despite what Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Association of Business and other government privateers think, the answer to a quality educational system doesn’t start with standardized tests for third-graders. It starts with adequately funded schools, and proposed budgets in the House and the Senate still fall short of repairing all the damage from the education cuts inflicted in 2011.
The Senate has approved SJR1, a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want to spend $4.9 billion of the Rainy Day Fund for roads and water projects and $800 million for public education. But that amendment doesn’t seem likely to win House approval, and – with the regular session ending in four weeks – there is talk of a summer special session because Gov. Perry wants money for water.
If only he had the slightest bit of enthusiasm for funding schools as well, this problem could be more quickly resolved.
Without using the Rainy Day Fund, the House has approved a budget that would restore $2.5 billion of the lost $5.4 billion and has approved a separate bill that would add another $500 million. Without SJR1, the Senate’s budget would restore only $1.5 billion of the education funds, although Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams has pledged to add another $1.4 billion made possible because of increasing property wealth.
The final version of the new state budget – and how much money it includes for public education – will be negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee while legislators continue to disagree over the Rainy Day Fund.
State Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, a strong advocate for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for schools as well as for water, raised the point of order that torpedoed HB11 last night. And, according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA earlier this session, most Texas voters agree with him.
Some 66 percent of voters said lawmakers should use the Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. That includes 39 percent who chose education funding over water (5 percent) or roads (4 percent) plus 27 percent who believe Rainy Day money should be spent on all three needs.
As the poll shows, most Texas voters have their priorities straight. But they continue to be ignored by many of their alleged “leaders” in Austin.