I can say at least one positive thing about the proposed Texas School District Security Act that was outlined yesterday by three legislators, including Senate leaders Tommy Williams, a Republican, and John Whitmire, a Democrat. The positive part is this. It would bolster the presence of licensed peace officers at school campuses instead of attempting to arm teachers, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was proposing a couple of weeks ago.
Although it is an improvement, this proposal, however, may not put an end to Dewhurst’s half-baked idea.
Since the actual legislation has yet to be drafted, there still are many unknowns about the proposed school security law. But I sense a couple of potential problems. The first is equity and fairness. The plan, as explained by the senators and State Rep. Dan Huberty, would allow voters in school districts to raise local property or sales taxes to pay for enhanced security.
That may make it easier for some wealthy districts to increase security for their students. But what about property poor districts, which for years have been struggling for more equity in school funding? Their students are no less worth protecting from potential danger, but the reality is those districts and parents may not be able to afford the greater tax burden. Maybe the sponsors can figure something out.
The second problem with this proposal is that it strongly signals that the legislative majority still is unwilling to increase the state’s commitment to public education funding, beginning with a restoration of the $5.4 billion cut from school district budgets two years ago. The new security plan would be paid for with local tax dollars, not state money.
Let me make clear that the legislative majority doesn’t include Sen. Whitmire, one of the proposed security act sponsors. Whitmire voted against the school cuts last year and has been a long-time advocate for public education and educators. But his co-sponsor, Sen. Williams, the new Senate Finance Committee chairman, voted for the cuts and now is sponsoring a proposed budget that would fail to restore the money.
“I know just how tight state and local budgets are these days,” Williams said.
Most local school district budgets are tight, thanks in large part to the cuts in state aid imposed in 2011. But the Legislature is sitting on an $8.8 billion surplus and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $11.8 billion. That is more than enough money to restore the education cuts and take care of other pressing state needs.
The only thing “tight” about the Legislature’s budgetary outlook is the unwillingness of the legislative majority to do the right thing for the education of Texas school children. The quality of that education will go a long way toward determining their future economic security.