An F for Leadership


It’s easy to forget that there are children involved in the ongoing special session on school finance. Talk by the leadership at the Capitol seems mostly focused on how to further shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor. It’s clear the main priority for much of the Texas GOP is property tax relief. In most speeches, it comes first and the kids trail second like an afterthought. The party’s suburban base and some of its biggest campaign contributors bet on lower property taxes back in the 2002 election, and payday has finally come. For the governor who called the session without the consensus he declared a prerequisite, this exercise appears to be all about spin for the 2006 election.

But before you can give to Paul, you have to rob Peter. The way it’s practiced in 2004, Texas school funding is like a balloon. Want to lower property taxes but can’t afford politically or legally to take money away from schools? Press down, and out the difference comes as regressive sales and gambling taxes. A perfect example of who could soon be paying for public education in Texas can be found in a House proposal to tax coin-operated laundry machines.

And what about those children? A July court date looms for a lawsuit against the state by property wealthy and poor school districts. They demand an increase in state education funding. And yet, despite the deadline, GOP leaders lack the will to provide more revenue to invest in the future of Texas.

Of course, they’ve been flunking that one for months. During the regular session, this Legislature slashed $350 million worth of education funding out of the budget. The cuts included money for at-risk third graders, the Reading/Math/Science Initiative, and a program that removes disruptive students from regular classrooms but still educates them.

The problem with taking money from the poor is that they don’t have much of it. That leaves business taxes. But these days, Texas corporations occupy a rarefied perch far removed from the GOP’s tiny revenue-raising universe. If only those working families just scraping by could collectively scratch up enough to donate generously to Gov. Rick Perry and hire a lobbyist like Buddy Jones—maybe then they would have a chance.

And those children? Nearly half of their teachers want to leave the classroom, according to a recent study by Sam Houston State University. Schools throughout the system are already understaffed. Estimates put teacher vacancies as high as 50,000. Add the stress of a single indicator test that determines the fate of both pupil and teacher. Throw in teaching to the test which demolishes the creativity in learning that makes the profession so attractive in the first place. If all of that wouldn’t motivate a teacher to flee the state, during the regular session this Legislature hacked the health insurance program for teachers too. It also helped push the teacher retirement system toward insolvency .

And those children? Well, when a proposal to tax pollution that is sickening kids across the state at this very moment is laughed off the stage, need we ask that question anymore?

The 78th Legislature has shown itself to be a lousy steward of the environment and to be partial to a stacked system of justice. The Lege declared war on low-income children, with 130,000 to date off the health insurance rolls. Now, it’s side-stepping a real crisis in education funding to shift the tax burden away from the rich and powerful.

That has to be at least a trifecta. If only it was taxable under the new plan. —JB