Sen. Dan Patrick is so interested in shoving Texas into reverse, you would think he could remember at least what happened in our state’s recent past. But his memory apparently is as bad as most of his ideas.
The Republican senator from Houston was on that city’s Fox TV outlet (Channel 26) yesterday blaming teachers’ unions for the teacher layoffs now plaguing Texas’ public schools. His reasoning, if you want to call it that, went something like this. Teachers’ groups convinced the Legislature a couple of years ago to enact a law prohibiting school districts from lowering teachers’ pay. So, now, budgetstrapped school districts have to lay off many teachers because they don’t have the option of saving money by forcing all teachers to take pay cuts.
It is a moral crime to fire teachers, even in the current budgetary climate, and it is a moral crime to cut their pay, since Texas teachers, as a group, already are vastly underpaid. Texas ranks a miserly 31st in average teacher pay among the states, with average pay here trailing the national average by $6,941.
And whose fault is that? It belongs to the same folks who dug much of Texas’ current budgetary hole. That would be the governor and the Republican legislative leadership, the same people who would like everyone else to think that only the recession is to blame.
The state has been underfunding the public schools for years. Texas ranks 37th among the states in average expenditures on perpupil instruction. The problem was compounded in 2006, when Gov. Perry and the Legislature ordered large reductions in local school property taxes without fully paying for them. That “structural deficit” in the public education budget – the fault of the state leadership, not teacher unions – amounts to $10 billion for the upcoming budget period and is a significant part of the state’s overall revenue shortfall.
Granted, Patrick wasn’t yet a member of the Legislature in 2006, but he was on his way, knew all about the property tax cuts, and, had he been in charge, probably would have made the shortfall even worse.
Now, though, it’s easier to blame unions than to make the difficult choices – raise more state revenue – necessary to straighten out the mess. Instead, Patrick wants to sacrifice educational quality by passing legislation to make it easier for school districts to fire teachers, as well as cut their pay, and cram thousands of kids into overcrowded classrooms.
And, as if this budgetary crisis weren’t bad enough, Patrick has other legislation pending in the Senate that would all but guarantee that the public schools, health care and other critical state needs remain underfunded for years to come.
His SJR12, awaiting action by the full Senate, would require a twothirds vote of both the House and the Senate to increase the rate of any existing state tax or create a new state tax. That would make it next to impossible for the Legislature to deal effectively with future budgetary crises. It would shut the door on Texas’ future, leaving Patrick to find someone else to blame.