Doggett: Keep School Funds in Schools

Posted on from The Austin Chronicle in In the News

Last year, Gov. Rick Perry pulled a massive bait and switch, using dedicated educational stimulus funds to back-fill his incomplete budget. Now he’s complaining because Congress is moving to stop him repeating the same sin.

It all comes down to an amendment added today by the U.S. Senate to House Resolution 1586, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act. The measure, which is restricted to states with “Texas-sized Rainy Day funds,” orders that cash from the emergency education jobs fund be “used to supplement and not supplant State formula funding.” In other words, to prevent another bait and switch. Now HR 1586 heads to the House for approval, which is expected to be on the nod because they approved similar language, introduced by Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett, last month as part of the Supplemental Appropriations Bill.

Of course, to the Texas Republicans it’s all just another enormous federal intervention. Education Commissioner Robert Scott said that “congress has crafted legislation that will exclusively harm Texas public schools and our teachers.” Meanwhile Perry, claiming that it will deprive Texas students of $800 million in federal funds, said:

“This amendment mandates that the governor guarantee the Legislature will provide a certain level of state funding through 2013, a funding scheme prohibited by the Texas Constitution. It will be at least June 1, 2011, before the Legislature passes and the Comptroller certifies the 2012-2013 budget. That means Texas – the only state singled out with this mandate – might not be able to use any of these funds provided to states.”

Doggett has quickly fired back.

“There is no Constitutional limitation on doing right by our Texas schoolchildren. The only obligation that this amendment places on Texas is not to penalize our local school districts for receiving federal monies intended solely for education. Our schoolchildren deserve no less. And that is why my approach has enjoyed the support of the Texas Association of School Boards, statewide groups representing teachers, principals, and school administrators, from across the State to endorse this approach. Compliance is very easy, unless there remains a desire to engage in more of the shenanigans of last year, which replaced state education dollars with federal dollars, leaving our schools no better off than if we had done nothing.”

What’s important to remember is that it was Perry that triggered this by using a chunk of the $3.2 billion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the federal stimulus) to pay for regularly scheduled spending like text books.

This is also the same governor that made a very public (grand)stand against applying for federal Race to the Top funds while waving a copy of the Tenth Amendment (should we be breaking out those secession signs again?) So while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called it the “Doggett Language” (because there’s nothing like beating up on Austin-type Demycrats), this stance in fact means that the lite guv, his boss and the education commissioner publicly oppose a measure that is backed by the entire Texas Democratic Congressional delegation, plus superintendents in the largest districts in Texas, as well as the state’s biggest education unions.

Brock Gregg, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, has already lambasted Perry in a statement, and wrote, “The reality is that the pledge the governor has been asked to make is no different in effect than the pledge he made when taking $16 billion in federal stimulus dollars during the last session.”

– By Richard Whittaker