Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Being Unconstitutional

FortBendNow is running a piece today about the $830 million that is coming to Texas via the feds now that the Doggett Amendment has been repealed and Texas state leaders no longer have to guarantee that education funding in Texas won’t go below the allocation that education got in the last budget.

Recall that this amendment, special to Texas, was so that Governor Perry won’t take the Texas allocation that goes to education, put it in the education budget, and then extract $830 million from it to be redistributed to places he likes.

Like he did with $3 billion last time Texas got federal dollars for public education.

Tracy Hoke, Chief Financial Officer of Fort Bend ISD is taking a wait and see approach to see if this infusion of federal money will affect the school district’s budget over the next two years.

From FortBendNow:
“It is our understanding that the federal education funds will be applied to the shortfall this biennium,” said Hoke. “The district is unsure of how the allocation of the award will impact the state funding allocation to public schools during the upcoming biennium—so it is just too early to tell.” 
My guess is that the CFO is not willing to bet that the federal dollars will do anything, anything at all to improve the situation that public education finds itself in, in Texas for some of the same reasons that I wrote about in this blog posting.

When there is that kind of free money out there, count on Rick Perry to perform an encore to his 2009 performance and play a shell game with this $830 million. Now you see it, now you don’t. Hey presto, 16,000 more teachers to the unemployment lines.

All of this because Rick Perry, a constitutional scholar, said that it was unconstitutional for him, as governor, to make any guarantees about how the education budget will look like in the next biennium.

Well, how about this, and speaking of the constitution. What about the part of the Texas constitution that speaks to funding of public education. Specifically this from Article 7, Section 1:

“SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE SCHOOLS.  A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

Yeah, that one.

Is what Governor Perry and the Republican-dominated legislature are doing unconstitutional? Why does Governor Perry cite the constitution for what he can’t do on one hand, yet blithely ignores the constitution in doing (or in this case, not doing) something else on the other?

Hypocrisy? Greed? A desire to end public education as we know it?

You know, there is precedence in the law about this. Judge John Dietz, who became the thorn in the side of the legislature in 2004 when he found the massive under funding of public education to be unconstitutional, was the main cog in the machine to change the way education was funded. However, because property values were on the rise, the taxation rate on property tax was decreased by the Republican-dominated legislature from $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.00 per $100, with school boards allowed to raise that rate to $1.04, which most of them did.

Then property valuation dropped after the great recession of 2008-2009. And so did revenue.

But no corresponding rise in taxation rates, because, oh no, can’t do that during a recession.

Judge Dietz, where are you now? Does someone need to file another lawsuit?

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