Texas already has gaping holes in its social safety net, holes that will only grow larger – and more dangerous – with the spending cuts ordered last week by state leaders, including a governor who isn’t willing to set the example by giving up his $10,000 a month, taxpayerfinanced rental mansion in suburban Austin. This is the house with five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, three dining rooms, one $700 clothes rack and several bodyguards, all covered by your tax dollars.
The governor and other leaders who advocate cuts in important state services in the face of a huge revenue shortfall instead of gutting up and admitting Texas needs an adequate, more equitable tax system are playing politics with more than their reelection opponents. They also are playing politics (potentially) with people’s lives, including schoolchildren and educators.
The Dallas Morning News had two stories over the weekend illustrating what happens when society’s safety net is neglected.
One story notes that about 650 portable classrooms in Dallas ISD lack fire alarms. Why? The basic problem is an underfunded and inequitably funded school finance system that often forces school administrators to stretch resources, sometimes overlooking important needs, in this case, safety.
The second story – much more troubling – is how a violent, mentally disturbed 17yearold student named Byron repeatedly fell through the holes of Texas’ safety net before stabbing a teacher, Todd Henry, to death in a Tyler classroom last September.
“Bureaucrat after bureaucrat seemed bent on making a deranged child someone else’s problem,” the newspaper noted, recounting Bryon’s journey among schools, mental health treatment facilities and Texas Youth Commission juvenile prisons. Were more than budgetary concerns involved here? Maybe. But state facilities for people like Byron are notoriously understaffed and overpopulated.
As a spokesman for the Texas Youth Commission noted: “We’re getting more violent kids and kids with more specialized needs. We do the very best we can.”
Remember these stories, folks, the next time an elected official in Austin calls on state agencies to “tighten their belts.” Tightening is reaching the point of strangulation.
Here are links to the two stories: