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The Free Market Party

The Texas chapter of Americans for Prosperity celebrates Milton Friedman's 99th birthday.

Milton Friedman may have died in 2006, but don’t tell that to the economic conservatives at the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. To celebrate the father of free-market Reaganomics, the group joined others around the nation to mark what would have been the Nobel Laureate’s 99th birthday on July 31.

The meeting place, Zax Restaurant & Bar in Austin, hardly felt like the best location for a gathering of a group closely aligned with the Tea Party. It seemed more like a place for yuppies seeking salmon salad and Pinot Grigio. About 30 celebrators milled around the restaurant, taking advantage of free drink tickets and a table full of bar food. There was no birthday cake.

It was the group’s second “tweet-up,” aimed at bringing online conservative activists together in person. “The last one was younger,” said Brittany Eck, a legislative staffer who frequently attends the group’s events. “It wasn’t Milton Friedman [-themed].”

No one spent much time talking about Friedman’s policies, though. Instead, the group’s director, Peggy Venable, transitioned quickly from a personal remembrance of Friedman’s 2003 visit to the Texas Legislature to the inefficiencies in Texas education.

Americans for Prosperity—with the like-minded groups EmpowerTexans and Texas Public Policy Foundation—successfully pressured Republican legislators this session to slash billions from education and health and human services budgets rather than use money from the state’s piggy bank, the Rainy Day Fund. But even after a win—the state cut almost $5 billion from education alone—AFP is hardly slowing down. “We don’t have unlimited resources,” Venable said after her talk. “We can’t sustain the spending that we’ve been doing” in education.

Attendees were offered big yellow stickers proclaiming “More Education for our Dollars BEFORE more Dollars for Education.” Venable yielded the floor to Chris Covo, a new graduate heading Americans for Prosperity’s group for young people, America’s Next Impact. The group is focused on cutting costs in higher education to reduce the burden on students. Covo told the crowd about his own struggles with student debt and pushed for reform. Covo later explained that he is planning a tour of Texas cities to produce “Generation Debt Happy Hours.”

“A toast to our outstanding payments,” he calls it.

Covo was a hit with the Friedman-loving attendees. But few probably heard his confession: He told me he’s never finished one of the economist’s books. He owns four or five, but he’s never made it past the first 20 pages. 

SEATS OF POWER!
 

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Hightower's CarJIM HIGHTOWER’S CAR

AUCTION STARTS TOMORROW, 9/2/11, AT NOON 

Texas Observer former editor and famous populist Jim Hightower has taken many a left turn in this all-American, union-made car. Now he’s driving a 21st-century hybrid and he graciously handed his beloved ’97 Ford Escort over to The Texas Observer and for auction.

If you’d like to sit in Jim’s place behind the wheel of this illustrious vehicle – make a bid tomorrow! And thanks to Jim for his generous donation!

Jim’s ’97 Ford Escort
• exterior and interior – good condition
• mileage – 79,341
• automatic transmission
• good mechanical condition
• union made, of course
• no frame damage
• AC, power windows and locks in good shape

PLEASE NOTE: Winner is responsible for picking up the car in Austin, TX.  All funds go to benefit The Texas Observer, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Amount paid for the item is tax-deductible minus its estimated fair-market value of $3,000.

 

Bob Bullock's deskBOB BULLOCK’S DESK

AUCTION STARTS TOMORROW, 9/2/11, AT NOON 

Bob Bullock’s boot-scrape marks are still on the edge of this storied desk from his 1994 campaign for Lieutenant. Governor. It’s an L-shaped cherrywood-finished desk with a glass top on the short side.

Bullock, one of the giants of Texas political history, served two terms as Texas’ 38th Lieutenant Governor from 1991 to 1999. His career spanned nearly 40 years, and he was credited as being the principal architect of modern Texas government.

But if you’re eying this desk, you already know this and much more about this famous Texan. And you’ll be interested to know that after the campaign it was used by former Texas Observer board president and current board member Jim Marston in his Environmental Defense Fund office, then the desk went on to serve at Texas Progress Council for Director Sandie Haverlah before donated to the Observer.  Next – your home or office?

PLEASE NOTE: Winner is responsible for picking up the desk in Austin, TX. All funds go to benefit The Texas Observer, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Amount paid for the item is tax-deductible minus its estimated fair-market value of $400.

Layoffs and Cutbacks: Rick Perry’s 2011 Education Record

Rick Perry helped make unprecedented cuts to public education. So why is no one talking about it?

Once upon a time, Rick Perry was all about public education. In his 2006 re-election campaign, he devoted an entire ad to his commitment. “I’m proud of Texas schools,” he says to the camera as he wanders through a classroom. “Since I became governor education funding has increased $9 billion.” He beams and stops next to a teacher. “Education is our future and my highest priority.”

This year, Perry helped cut that “highest priority” by an unprecedented $4 billion. Facing a $23 billion shortfall for over the next two years, the governor was adamant that the state budget get balanced through cuts. He pressured the Legislature against tapping Texas’ Rainy Day fund—around $9 billion the state saved up—to help soften the blows to services. When the House Appropriations chair offered his first draft of the budget, school districts were shocked at the proposed $10 billion cut. 100,000 public school employees could face layoffs warned one education expert.

Perry wasn’t concerned. He sent representatives from his office to encourage the House’s austere budget. He shrugged off the worries about mass firings and school closure. “The lieutenant governor, the speaker, their colleagues aren’t going to hire or fire one teacher, as best I can tell,” Perry told reporters. “That is a local decision that will be made at the local districts.” A local decision based on the state’s decision to underfund schools.

School districts across the state opened this week $4 billion underfunded. (The extra funding came thanks to a push from concerned senators.) The cuts are still unprecedented. It’s the first time since 1949, when Texas implemented its modern school finance system, that the state has decreased funding for education.

To cope, some districts are implementing fees for riding the bus or attending pre-k. Many are considering tax increases. At middle schools and high schools, many classrooms are more crowded. None of this is good news to parents. 

Yet almost no one in the Republican field seems eager to criticize the cuts or Perry’s support for them.

In a Tea-Party-dominated GOP it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to earn points talking about the need for more spending and more programs. But in the past, education has always held a special status. Despite concerns about government spending and entitlement programs, free and quality education is rarely considered welfare or a hand-out—most have approached it as a right. 

Additionally, the education cuts have serious job implications. Perry has cast himself as the “jobs candidate.” He points to incredible growth in Texas. But generally left unsaid is almost half of the job growth in the last two years came from education, health care and government sectors. With unprecedented cuts across the board, don’t expect to see that continue. 

Furthermore, Texas already has a serious dropout problem and leads the country in residents over 25 without a high school diploma. Many of the cutbacks come to programs specficially geared to at-risk students, like initiatives to help test performance and mentoring programs. This isn’t a great recipe for employers looking for highly skilled workers. Texas already leads the country in minimum wage jobs.

It’s hard to imagine Perry’s support for such cuts won’t be a campaign issue, but of course it all depends on whether someone will actually raise the point.

In the meantime, I’m hoping the teacher in Perry’s 2006 ad still has a job. 

Why the GOP Field Should Steal A Page From Rick Perry’s 2010 Playbook

In 2010, Rick Perry and his team rewrote the book on campaign strategy. Fortunately for them, it looks like almost no one noticed.

When people heard that Rick Perry’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign wouldn’t have yard signs, political wonks considered it a form of heresy. Supporters could buy yard signs for $7.99, just like they could buy buttons ($2.89) and bumper stickers ($1.99). But the campaign hardly cared if supporters chose to give a a few dollars to show some support.

Instead, from beginning to end, the entire race focused on turnout. Rather than making phone calls and wearing Perry t-shirts, would-be supporters were asked to do something very, very specific: turn out 12 Perry votes from their friends and family.

Only two years before, Barack Obama’s campaign revolutionized politics, using its website and social media sites like Facebook to gain support and promote fundraising. Instead of making very specific requests, Obama’s site allowed supporters to set their own fundraising goals. The campaigns pushed supporters to help with get-out-the-vote efforts and offered a multitude of ways that people could do so. Compared to Obama’s a la carte options, Perry’s campaign was prix-fixe.

Both strategies were ultimately successful, destroying a lot of the common wisdom around campaigns. But while Obama’s techniques have a lot of copy-cats, few people seem to have noticed Perry’s playbook. It’s especially odd because Perry’s strategy may have some particular advantages in presidential primaries.

Back in 2010, Perry was in the toughest race of his career, running in a primary against the wildly popular and well-funded U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Politicos had assumed Perry could only win if turn-out was low; if more people came to the polls, it would mean more moderates were coming to the polls—presumably to vote against the more extreme candidate, Rick Perry.

But his chief strategist, Dave Carney, had already hatched an innovative plan based around bringing more voters to the polls not less.

As I wrote in my recent profile of Carney:

Heading into Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign, Carney picked up a book to read on a plane—Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. When he finished reading he promptly ordered copies for everyone he worked with. Then he called one of the authors, Yale political scientist Donald Green. Like many others who read the book, Carney was shocked by its findings: That old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning is the most efficient way to turn out voters. Volunteer phone calls are pretty good too. But television ads, mailers and robocalls—the mainstays of modern campaigns and moneymakers for political consultants—have virtually no impact on voter turnout.

Carney invited the two authors, along with a couple other professors, to run experiments on Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. When they returned with the same findings, Carney and the Perry team decided that in 2010, they would try something totally new. All the usual political tools were ignored; the campaign ran few television ads, had virtually no phone banks and barely sent out mailers to supporters. Instead, Perry’s website asked supporters to sign up as “Home Headquarters.”  Those who signed up agreed to identify 12 Perry supporters and get them out to early voting. To add incentive, the campaign offered door prizes like lunch with former quarterback Troy Aikman or tacos with country music star Pat Green. (You can still see the old page at Perry’s current website.) Through reaching out online, the campaign continued to build supporters, and then quickly got them recruiting others. The website functioned as its own headquarters of sorts, offering tips on reaching out and giving luddites lessons in using Facebook and Twitter. Unlike the Obama campaign’s famous website, the Perry campaign focused not on fundraising but getting people to turn out to vote. 

The entire effort was a resounding success. Almost 1.5 million voted in the Republican primary, more than had voted in 2008 when GOP presidential nominees were still battling it out. The unprecedented turnout carried Perry to a decisive victory over Hutchison.

The plan is easily scalable—after all, Texas is a big state with both rural, urban and suburban communities. Furthermore, it does not require each town have its own campaign headquarters or official organizers. Instead, community leaders can take a role, working somewhat independently to determine the best ways to appeal to their social network. It also takes some of the burden off the candidate and the campaign; instead of getting introduced the Rick Perry through an ad, you can learn about him through Mrs. Johnson down the street.

In small towns in Iowa and New Hampshire, where local political leaders have outsized influence, the strategy would seem to work particularly well. Win over some big-wigs and they’ll start turning out their friends. Who in turn, will turn out their friends. And perhaps most appealing, the plan makes a very specific request—deliver 12 votes—which means that everyone signs up knows exactly what they’ve committed to.

It’s too early to tell if Perry will use the same strategy in the national election. His website is currently pretty bare—it doesn’t even have an issues section. But if he does choose to revive the plan, we’ll get to see the pros and cons of his plan compared to Obama’s. That’s because Mitt Romney is shamelessly borrowing Barack Obama’s web strategy.

Obama had the unfortunately named social network “myBO”; Romney has the even worse-sounding “myMitt”. Just like “myBO”, supporters create an account that functions much like a social media site. They can set fundraising goals and show the different ways they were supporting the candidate. They can even link their campaign work with sites like Facebook and Twitter and even AOL (for those 12 people who never made the switch.)

Romney’s site does have a few kinks, however. Click the button for “Action” and you come to a page with four options: fundraise, gear up, donate and volunteer. Unfortunately, not a single one of these options has a link. You may want to volunteer but there’s no clear way to do it. MyMitt doesn’t really have a lot of instructions or explanations. Plus, you have to set your own goals.

Undoubtedly both strategies have some drawbacks—while Perry’s 2010 plan was very straight forward, there was little emphasis on fundraising. (In Texas, there’s no cap on campaign contributions, so he could rely on a few mega-rich donors.) Obama’s 2008 approach garnered unprecedented sums, particularly from small donors. But giving supporters specific tasks and goals, a la Home Headquarters, offers particular advantages. Using the web to orchestrate more local, in-person networks may especially suit places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

There’s also a chance that some campaigns choose to combine some of Perry’s 2010 strategies with Obama’s plan from 2008. There are some indications that campaigns are far less wedded to political dogma. These days a Mitt Romney yard sign goes for $15—coincidentally the same price as Barack Obama’s.

Three days into his official presidential bid, and Rick Perry’s website isn’t much to brag about. It doesn’t even have a section on issue positions. Just the basics—who he is and how to give money.

But don’t worry. Rick Perry already ran one of the most innovative campaigns in recent memory last year, combining old-school grassroots organizing with social media. His website was a key piece in the strategy—a strategy that seems particularly well suited to running in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I outlined the story in my profile of Perry’s general consultant and chief strategist, Dave Carney:

Heading into Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign, Carney picked up a book to read on a plane—Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. When he finished reading he promptly ordered copies for everyone he worked with. Then he called one of the authors, Yale political scientist Donald Green. Like many others who read the book, Carney was shocked by its findings: That old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning is the most efficient way to turn out voters. Volunteer phone calls are pretty good too. But television ads, mailers and robocalls—the mainstays of modern campaigns and moneymakers for political consultants—have virtually no impact on voter turnout.

Carney invited the two authors, along with a couple other professors, to run experiments on Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. When they returned with the same findings, Carney and the Perry team decided that in 2010, they would throw the playbook out the window.

For the 2010 primary against the popular and well-financed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry’s team created “Home Headquarters.” (You can still see the old page at Perry’s current website.) Those who signed up agreed to identify 12 Perry supporters and get them out to early voting. The campaign offered door prizes like lunch with former quarterback Troy Aikman or tacos with country music star Pat Green. The campaign held off on television ads until just before election day, and they even charged for yard signs. Through reaching out online, the campaign continued to build supporters, and then quickly got them recruiting others. The website functioned as its own headquarters of sorts, offering tips on reaching out and giving luddites lessons in using Facebook and Twitter. Unlike the Obama campaign’s famous website, the Perry campaign focused not on fundraising but getting people to turn out to vote. The entire effort was a resounding success.

Perry’s team would be well-situated to take their strategy national. It has a natural connection to states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where small town politics rule the day. Having a well-organized network of supporters, each of whom operates somewhat independently, would almost certainly give the campaign an advantage, but few campaigns have been willing to try such a tactic. Perry’s 2010 campaign was, in many ways, unique. “Putting quite a lot of money into grassroots organizing, especially early grassroots organizing, is something that was not done in years past,” said Donald Green, one of the Yale professors who studied Perry’s 2006 campaign and considers the 2010 strategy a “bold new model.”

And should the Perry team recreate their home headquarters for a national audience, they’ll have plenty of people to turn to. For over a year now, wherever he’s been, Perry has asked audiences to text “FIRED UP” to a phone number. At this point, having criss-crossed the country recruiting businesses to move to Texas and speaking as the head of the Republican Governor’s Association, Perry’s bound to have talked to a lot of people in a lot of cities. And that means a lot of cellphone numbers.

Meanwhile, his chief competitors are hardly innovating online. Michele Bachmann’s site has the requisite links to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links. You can sign up to get email updates or click to donate money. But outside of a few web videos, the site is hardly what you’d call interactive.

Romney’s site has a promising icon for “Action.” Click it and you come to a page with four options: fundraise, gear up, donate and volunteer. Unfortunately, not a single one of these options has a link. You may want to volunteer but there’s no clear way to do it. You can start an account under the dorkily-named “myMitt” program shamelessly taken from Barack Obama’s also poorly named “myBO.” But unlike Obama’s social networking site, this has barely any instructions. Once you log-in, even the site’s donate button goes away. All you can do is create fundraising goals for yourself.

All three candidates have time to unveil innovative strategies for winning the primary, and right now, Perry’s path is possibly the least obvious. experience, combined with his campaign’s willingness to take risks, has already yielded   has been running in enormous state, against tough candidates

Rick Perry Takes The Lead – In Predictions Market

InTrade prediction market shows Perry as a frontrunner—which matters even if it's not true.

Despite a whole lot of chatter, Gov. Rick Perry has yet to actually announce that he is running for president. That means he can hardly fundraise at full capacity and he isn’t moonlighting in Iowa and New Hampshire. So you might not expect to see the headline: “Rick Perry To Be The Republican Presidential Nominee.

The banner comes from InTrade, a predictions market that takes odds on whether different things will happen. It allows you to buy and sell stocks on different predictions. And right now, the prediction that Perry will be the nominee is leading the way, currently valued more than such predictions for any of the actual, announced candidates. The news is particularly striking in light of the recent Rasmussen poll, which has Perry in a virtual tie with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and within striking distance of former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

By InTrade’s measure, Bachmann is slipping. The extreme Tea Party conservative peaked in early July, and even then, the site only showed her with an 18 percent chance of becoming the nominee. Now it’s down to 5.9 percent. Meanwhile Perry’s currently shown with a 35 percent chance, beating out Mitt Romney by almost five points.

Perry’s chart is striking. His stock value has more than doubled since the beginning of July. Except for a slight downturn last week, the governor’s value has been climbing pretty steadily. Despite taking some heat for his prayer rally and its advocates, Perry has plenty of people convinced that he’s the guy to beat. 

The news is important not because it’s necessarily accurate, but because it’s validating. Much like the polls, InTrade helps feed the notion that Perry can win, despite how long he’s waited to announce. The waiting is certainly a gamble—he’s avoiding some of the scrutiny the other candidates face and he doesn’t have to actually take anyone o head-on. But he’ll have to raise money fast and ingratiate himself quickly with Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who like to meet their candidates face-to-face. To raise enough money and initiate the necessary level of organization, Perry needs to remain a credible threat. The more Perry receives accolades, the more attention his non-campaign campaign gets, and the better his actual chances will be.

And predictions from InTrade can only help him. 

Is Tea Partier James White Under Assault From His Own Party?

Says establishment Republicans "had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again."

Rep. James White, the East Texas freshman and staunch Tea Party Republican, just discovered he will face a primary challenger—in the form of his current colleague, Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

Hamilton is in the midst of moving to Hardin County. Thanks to the new district lines that the Legislature just passed, that means both Hamilton and White, who lives in Tyler County, will face each other in a Republican primary to battle out who will represent District 19. Both men have confirmed they plan on running against one another. 

Hamilton says he’s been planning the move, and knew for certain before the House voted for the new districts. “It was before we voted for the maps and after the maps were already out,” he said. 

When the state House redrew district lines in the spring using the 2010 U.S. Census data, most newspapers reported that Hamilton had been “paired” with Rep. Allen Ritter, R-Nederland, meaning under the new lines, the two incumbents were now living in the same district. Redistricting is an inherently political process, and those in control (in this case the Republicans) are always trying to make the draw a map that will magnify the impact of their voters and minimize support for the opposition. It’s also an opportunity for the leadership to punish those members who have fallen out of favor.

That’s why the Ritter-Hamilton pairing was a bit of a surprise. “Pairing” was bound to happen with the Republican 101-seat majority; it would be very difficult to draw a map that protected all the incumbent Republican seats. But Ritter had helped give the Republicans their supermajority when he and another member switched parties before the Legislative session began. Meanwhile Hamilton has been a pretty consisten supporter for Speaker of the House Joe Straus. 

White, on the other hand, threw his lot in with the anti-Straus crowd. White, who’s African American, ran as a Tea Party candidate, and won an unexpected victory against longtime lawmaker Jim McReynolds. I actually profiled his race back in October. Upon arriving at the Capitol, joined 14 of the most conservative members of the House in voting against Straus for speaker (despite there being no opposition). Throughout the session, he was one of the most extreme conservative votes.

Hamilton has had a much longer tenure in the House than the neophyte White, and that will likely give him a campaign advantage when it comes to fundraising. On a more disturbing note, during White’s previous race, many speculated that he would have trouble overcoming racial prejudice in the district. While he won in the midst of a Republican wave, such prejudice could be more of an issue in a GOP primary against opponent. White, however, is optimistic about his chances. “I think we’ll be alright,” he said. 

Hamilton says for his part, the race will be a positive one, focused on what he can for constituents, and that Speaker’s race politics have nothing to do wtih his decision. He says he’s been planning on moving to Hardin County for a while now.

Hamilton says he thought his move was pretty public. But turns out White never got that memo. “I thought I was the only incumbent!” White said. 

He also says House leaders didn’t like having a supermajority because it “increased the level of responsibility and accountability.” Many moderate members referenced the unprecedented level of power that Tea Party groups and anti-tax groups like Empower Texans had around the Capitol. Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, could inspire fear in moderate Republicans with the threat of negative blogposts.

White argues that because the leadership disliked such scrutiny, the ultra-conservatives like him are under attack, rather than getting protection. “The establishment Republicans in the House, I do not think they like having 101 Republicans,” he said. “They had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again.”

This could get exciting. 

Interested in interning at the Texas Observer? Our interns assist in every part of the magazine process, from on-the-ground reporting to attending our weekly editorial meetings and monthly story meetings. They also assist in research for staff writers, helping with information requests, interviews etc. With a small staff like ours, interns quickly become part of the team and have a tremendous amount of flexibility to shape their experience at the Observer based on their own interest. Interns are free to pitch their own ideas for stories and online features. While there’s no guarantee of writing, almost all of our interns leave with clips. Many become freelancers for the magazine.

Ideal candidates have journalism experience, a basic knowledge of Texas politics and some familiarity with social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Any experience with computer programming or multimedia production is plus. While the internship is unpaid, we pay a freelance rate for those items appearing in the magazine. Intern hours are flexible, through no less than 15 hours per week. We are more than happy to help arrange academic or work-study credit when possible.

Our internships, roughly correspond with the school year—fall and spring semesters and the summer. We will happily take internship applications at any time, however we prefer to receive applications by the following deadlines:

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Monday was a rough day at the Legislature for education advocates trying to protect teacher contracts and assuage the $4 billion cuts to public schools. They lost on both fronts. But largely unnoticed were some minor victories contained in the school finance language of Senate Bill 1, a must-pass piece of legislation that the chambers must vote on by Wednesday, when the session ends. 

In broad strokes, the school finance deal contained in the bill barely differs from the deal that the House and Senate negotiated during the regular session, before it was derailed by a Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Despite the woefully unequal funding structure already in place, the plan cuts approximately 6 percent from all districts in the first year of the bienium and in the second year, takes three-fourths of the cuts from wealthier, “target revenue” districts. (For more on the plan, see here.)

Most importantly, however, the new plan represents a shift in funding philosophy. Instead of funding school districts automatically, based on how much our formulas say they need, the new system introduces a new factor into the equation that allows the legislature to fund districts based on what money is available. The shift would mean that for the first time since 1949, school districts could not count on the state to fund them fully year to year. Furthermore, in the first version of the bill, if a district’s needs changed during the year (for instance, if more students entered than were expected) the state was no longer obligated to settle up such costs.

State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that limited the changes to the next two years, after which school financing would revert back to the current system. After that, schools would once again get automatic funding. Furthermore, her amendment required the state to settle up with school districts that did not receive as much as they were entitled to. 

The final version of the bill—which will very likely pass today—includes the settle-up language and a watered-down expiration date. Instead of expiring in 2013, as Patrick’s amendment originally dictated, conference committee agreed to let the new school finance plan expire in 2015. That may not sound like much of a victory, but it’s one of the few areas where the special session has offered improvements to what would likely have passed during the regular session.

In other areas, there’s much less for education advocates to be excited about.

Monday the House and Senate both passed Senate Bills 2 and 8. Senate Bill 2 had once been a source of great hope for Democrats. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that said if the Rainy Day Fund exceeds $6.5 billlion, up to $2 billion of surplus money would go toward public education. The maneuver earned Republican support because it did not actually spend Rainy Day money currently available. But the victory was short lived. Pressure from fiscal conservative groups soon scared many formerly supportive Republican members. The House ultimately asked negotiators to strip out the measure. When the bill came back from conference committee, the Howard amendment was gone, and the bill passed both chambers without the extra funds. It now seems like the $4 billion cut to the state’s school districts is all but written in stone.

Meanwhile, Democrats also saw one of their few legislative victories in the regular session go down in flames. The House and Senate passed Senate Bill 8, the so-called “mandate relief” legislation that makes it both easier and cheaper to fire teachers, as well as allows school districts to distribue furloughs and pay cuts. The bill, which was carried by Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro and House Public Education Committee Chair Rob Eissler in their respective chambers, gives greater power to school administrators and according to proponents, it will give school districts various options for cutting costs. It’s only fair, they say, given that the state is cutting funding.

During the regular session, however, teachers groups worked feverishly in a successful effort to kill the measure. For them, it represented an assault on contractual protections that teachers fought long and hard to gain. Shapiro never found the requisite two-thirds support to consider the bill on the Senate floor, while Eissler’s attempts to pass the thing fell victim to a series of technical points of order. The session ended without either chamber passing the measure, one of the few victories Democrats and teachers groups could claim. During the special session, however, the bill flew through both chambers and came out of conference committee without a hitch. 

In the face of losing the Howard amendment and seeing “mandate relief” passed, the victories in Senate Bill 1 will likely be cold comfort to many in education. But it may be the only comfort they get for a while.