Category Archives: school finance

School children are pawns in the governor’s game

 

This being an election year, Gov. Abbott is playing a game of deception with the voters, and Texas’ vulnerable school children are the pawns. Actually, he has been playing a version of this game during his entire term, but now he is revving into overdrive.

Within a matter of a few days, Abbott has tried to convince the parents of children in need of special education services that he can provide what their families need and cut their taxes at the same time. He can’t.

To be clear, Abbott wasn’t responsible for the illegal cap that the Texas Education Agency imposed on special education enrollments in 2004, a limit that deprived tens of thousands of Texas children of the services to which they were entitled. Then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority ultimately were responsible for that insensitive act because the cap was prompted by their failure to adequately fund special education and other public school programs.

Abbott, however, is responsible for correcting the problem, and so far he is doing a lousy job. After news of the cap blew up on his watch, Abbott and the Legislature made sure last year that the cap was removed and wouldn’t be reimposed. But the governor refused to demand that the Legislature provide what special education families really need, more state funding for their public schools. And he turned his back on Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority, when they offered legislation to increase education funding. Instead, he endorsed another study – the umpteenth – of school finance by a commission that was to hold its first meeting today.

When the U.S. Department of Education formally notified Texas a couple of weeks ago that the special education cap had violated federal law, the governor quickly blamed school districts for the fiasco and ordered state Education Commissioner Mike Morath to immediately start correcting the problem.

Then, a few days later, Abbott unveiled a campaign proposal that, were it to become law, would squeeze special education services and all public education programs even harder. This is the governor’s “plan” to set an unreasonably low limit on local property taxes, including those levied by school districts, in order to allegedly provide “relief” to local taxpayers.

Because Abbott has allowed the state’s share of education funding to continue to drop to below 40 percent, his new political scam to limit property taxes would force more cuts in school funding for all students, including special education kids. Local property taxes are high, not because local school districts are wasting money, but because the governor and the state Senate majority refuse to provide adequate state funding for public education, period.

As a result, local property taxpayers now bear 60 percent of the cost of the Foundation School Program and will see their share increase to 62 percent next year. The remedy for high property taxes is more state funding for education, not election year gimmicks.

Morath, who wasn’t commissioner when the cap was imposed in 2004, has come up with a plan to address some of the special education issues. But it will fall short of meeting the needs of all special education students because Morath and the Texas Education Agency don’t have the authority to appropriate money and must act within the limits of the restrictive state budget signed by Abbott.

Abbott’s office has asked for public “feedback” on the TEA plan. Tell the governor to quit playing games with school children’s futures and demand that the Legislature adequately fund all school programs, including special education. Then, remember that elections have consequences, and we have been living through them. Go to the polls and Vote Education First.

 

 

 

Abbott’s tax plan disaster is another reason to Vote Education First

 

For now, Gov. Abbott’s latest property tax proposal is little more than a campaign pitch. But it raises the stakes on this year’s elections because if the governor were to muster enough legislative votes to enact something like this, it would be a disaster for a host of important local services, beginning with public schools.

If you are paying high property taxes – and many Texans are – the primary culprits are Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies, not your local school board, your county commissioners court or your city council. And here is why.

The main reason local property taxes continue to increase is because the state refuses to adequately fund public education, and the situtation has grown worse under Abbott and Patrick’s watch. No amount of denial or attempted buck-passing from Abbott or Patrick is going to change that fact.

In 2014, the year Abbott and Patrick were elected to their current jobs, the state paid 45 percent of the Foundation School Program, and local property taxpayers paid 55 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board. This year, the state’s share has dropped to 40 percent, while property taxpayers have seen their share increase to 60 percent. Next year, the state’s share is expected to decline even further to 38 percent, while local taxpayers will be paying 62 percent. Meanwhile,enrollment in Texas public schools will continue to increase by more than 80,000 students every year.

The state paid $2,555 less than the national average per student in 2016-17, ranking Texas 36th among the states and the District of Columbia in that important category.

Two times last year, once during the regular session and again in the summer special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House approved legislation to increase state funding. But each time, Patrick, aided and abetted by Abbott, led the Senate to reject the House plan in favor of ripping off state tax dollars for private school vouchers.

Now, as he did last year, Abbott proposes clamping down on the ability of local governments to raise property taxes to pay for needed services. This proposal, however, is worse. It would place a 2.5 percent cap on annual revenue growth from property taxes and, this time, it would apply to school districts as well as cities, counties and other local governments.

It would lead to a reduction in critical local services, particularly in fast-growth areas, and it would worsen the plight of already under-funded school districts, forcing cuts in instructional programs as school enrollments climb.

Abbott made vague references about exceptions for law enforcement and teacher pay raises, and he said his plan may require the state to increase its share of education funding. But he offered no state funding plan, and he has a history of fighting against school finance improvements. As TSTA President Noel Candelaria has pointed out, the governor needs to “show us the money.”

Instead, Abbott is more likely to use his anti-government, anti-public education allies to try to force Republican legislators and legislative candidates to pledge their support of Abbott’s plan in the Republican primary, where many critical legislative races will be decided.

It will require political courage for some Republican candidates who truly value their public schools to defy the governor and his well-funded allies, and that makes it essential for educators to make an adequately funded public education system their top voting priority. Vote Education First!

Remember, elections have consequences, and not only in the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices. With Straus’ decision to retire, the election of a new speaker is at stake in the House elections. Under Straus’ leadership, the House tried to increase education funding last year and has repeatedly shut the door on private school vouchers.

The upcoming elections, beginning with the party primaries, will determine what kind of speaker succeeds Straus and whether this half-baked proposal by the governor will become law.

“We must rein in property tax growth,” Abbott said.

Let’s do it, governor. But let’s do it the right way, with more state education funding. Tell the governor that – with your votes.

 

 

 

Abbott talks tough while passing the buck on special education

 

Give Gov. Abbott some credit…but not too much. When the need arises, he can talk tough, especially on the eve of a reelection campaign. But most of the issues that cross the governor’s desk require more than talk, and that includes special education. And that’s where he still falls short.

When the federal government announced Thursday that Texas had violated federal law by denying tens of thousands of Texas children access to special education services, Abbott promptly issued a sternly worded letter blaming school districts for a “dereliction of duty” and directing Education Commissioner Mike Morath to begin preparing an “initial corrective action plan” within seven days.

“Parents and students across our state cannot continue waiting for change,” he wrote.

But then what, governor?

The Texas Education Agency shares blame for the special education fiasco, but it isn’t the real culprit. Neither are school districts. TEA quietly imposed an arbitrary cap on special education enrollment years ago, before Morath became commissioner or Abbott became governor. The cap, which was removed last year, was a symptom of a deeper problem – the inadequate state funding of special education services and other public education programs.

Abbott couldn’t do anything about education funding back then, but he can now, and so far he has refused to do so. During three legislative sessions as governor over the past three years, Abbott has shut the door on efforts to give public schools the level of state resources they need for special education and a host of other services.

Most recently, during last summer’s special session, Abbott’s “answer” for special education families was a plan to take tax dollars away from public schools and turn it over to private schools in the form of tuition vouchers. Fortunately, the House killed that idea, which ignored the fact that many private schools don’t provide comprehensive special education services and don’t want to. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, slammed the door on legislation passed by the House to increase public school funding.

In the wake of the new federal report, Morath plans to beef up special education support staff and take what other steps he can – within budget constraints set by Abbott and the Legislature.

And Abbott will continue to talk and blame everyone else for the problem.

Feds say Texas illegally failed to educate students with disabilities

 

 

 

Governor says January is “School Board Recognition Month.” How hollow is that?

 

In case you haven’t heard, Gov. Abbott has proclaimed this month “School Board Recognition Month,” but please hold your applause. The proclamation is a political offering worth more to the governor than to any school board member or anyone else associated with public education in Texas, including about 5.4 million school kids.

Sure, the document, embossed with the state seal and suitable for framing, says a lot of nice things about school board members and the “vital role” they play in helping to “secure our young people’s bright and precious futures.”

The resolution is fine if you appreciate that kind of thing, and most school board members certainly deserve the kind words and attention. But the words, by themselves, are hollow, coming from a governor who has persistently refused to advocate for the one thing that school boards need more than anything else, a dependable stream of adequate state funding.

As attorney general, Abbott fought in court against school districts seeking more funding, and now as governor he continues to fight against them, letting Texas lag about $2,500 behind the national average in per-student funding. Adequate and equitable state funding could make it a lot easier for school board members to tackle the “challenges” the governor’s resolution praises them for tackling.

In fact, the biggest challenge most school board members face is doing their jobs despite the obstacles thrown up by a governor and a lieutenant governor more interested in privatizing public schools than supporting them with something more than lip service.

 

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