Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Say It Here and It Gets Done There

No, I’m not so full of myself that I think that what gets written here ever influences a single solitary person, even among my 6 readers, but isn’t it great that the question I asked over a year ago in this blog post gets some serious discussion on the state school board this week?

In that posting I was noting some ominous trends in what has become a daily reality now that the legislature is busily doing its business of not fully funding education for the next two years. I was noting some school closures around the state. And I noted the existence of the nation’s largest public trust fund, the Texas Permanent School Fund, and how it was being managed by the State Board of Education, and how it was being used to invest in – of all things – real estate for the very first time. And I asked this question:
“So on the one hand, the Texas Permanent School Fund grew by over $4 billion last year, but this year schools in Texas are closing and teachers are being laid off because they are running budget deficits in the millions. Is it just me or does anyone else see that there is something seriously, seriously wrong here?”

The Texas Permanent School Fund was established in 1854 for the benefit of public education in Texas. But today, public education is under fire and 4.7 million schoolchildren (and 100,000 of their teachers) are being given the short shrift.

So imagine my surprise today when I read this in the Austin American-Statesman:

“Several State Board of Education members have backed a proposal to seek voter approval for taking $2 billion more from Texas' public school endowment to mitigate budget cuts.”

“‘In the spirit of Rosie the Riveter, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and do our part to meet the current funding challenge and support those on the 'front line' of our public schools,’ according to a letter delivered to state leaders on Friday.”
The letter was signed by 9 of the 15 members of the SBOE. None of the conservative bloc on the board signed the letter.

And then it came as a complete shock to me to find out that to get this done, there would have to be a constitutional amendment to do this, and a 2/3 majority vote to get the issue on the ballot in November.

What? You have to be kidding. It takes a constitutional amendment to allow the Permanent School Fund to fund schools?

Never mind.  I’ve given up trying to see the logic of how things are run in this state.

But here is a modest proposal. The House bill is going to short the school districts by $8 billion (the number keeps jumping around but I think this is the number everyone has settled on). The Senate version does this, too, but by $6 billion. Why not split the difference and boost the funding from the Permanent School Fund from $2 billion to $7 billion? Why not do the right thing and fully fund the school districts as the legislature is constitutionally mandated to do anyway? Keeping it at $2 billion is an admission that it won’t fix the problem, at least temporarily, and losses will still be suffered in terms of class size and public and private sector unemployment.

Fix the problem. Plug the hole.

And then fix the way that the state gets enough revenue to pay its bills.


Kenneth D. Franks said...

There is 6 billion sitting in the Economic Stabilization Fund (The Rainy Day Fund.) The resistance to use it and also to fix the structural deficit shows that Republicans are not serious about funding public education in fact it shows the exact opposite.

Kenneth D. Franks said...

I do think it should require a constitutional amendment to access The Permanent School Fund. I am although a regular reader of your blog and there are a lot more than 6 of us. I also put links to your blog on mine Red Dirt & Sand. Legislators would already raided it if it didn't take a constitutional amendment.