In other Texas education news…

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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19 Responses

  1. M.A. says:

    Texans violating a constitution.

    “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
    “Your winnings, sir.”Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    Based on the story and a quick look at the cited passage of Texas’s constitution, this decision looks very subjective and hand-wavy to me.

    Nor am I aware of any evidence that a majority of Texas’s state legislators even claim to be strict constructionists.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Basically, the constitution has a very vague outline of what the education system should do, and this judge has decided that it’s not good enough. Now, there may be good arguments for that concluson, but there’s really no clear-cut answer. It seems to me that this is the sort of thing where judges should defer to the legislature, since there’s no demonstrable violation of the constitution.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Oh, I’m sorry. You just wanted to call the Texas legislature and/or strict constructionists a bunch of hypocrites, didn’t you? I’ll let you have your fun, then.Report

      • The Lobato case in Colorado is working its way up and down through the state courts to decide on the meaning of the original sentence in the state constitution that says: “The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously.” The case was originally brought by a group of poor rural districts that, in part due to poverty and in part due to the newer constitutional restrictions on raising local tax rates, can’t cover the maintenance costs of their buildings or provide the sorts of enriched curriculum that richer districts can. At least one consultant who has testified sets the additional spending required to meet “thorough and uniform” at $4B per year — which would take the K-12 education share of the state’s general fund from its current 40% to a little over 92%.

        Colorado’s constitution is an outstanding example of what can happen when it’s easy to get proposed amendments that sound good in isolation onto the ballot, with few people bothering to think about how the different bits work together (or not). I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way we can fix it is to toss the whole mess and have a convention write a new one.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Michael Cain says:

          You could have Texas’ Constitution. It was written as a big F-U to Reconstruction. It’s got a ludicrous number of amendments because of it. (So much is written into the Constitution that abolishing things like a rural commissioner might require an amendment rather than an act of the Legislature).

          Honestly, about 2/3rds of the oddities of Texas Government’s structure can be explained as an F-U to Reconstruction. Like the fact that our Governor has virtually no power, and our Lt. Governor holds most of the powers normally associated with the Governorship.

          Governor’s were appointed by those darn yankees during Reconstruction.

          As for Colorado — they could always abolish local funding of core school features (basic infrastructure, core classes for graduation requirements) and allocate the same money on a per-capita basis to districts, and let them add a subsidiary taxes if they want nicer things.

          You can get equal facilities with local tax revenues. Squaring that circle is why Texas does Robin Hood.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Morat20 says:

            As for Colorado — they could always abolish local funding of core school features (basic infrastructure, core classes for graduation requirements) and allocate the same money on a per-capita basis to districts, and let them add a subsidiary taxes if they want nicer things…. You can get equal facilities with local tax revenues. Squaring that circle is why Texas does Robin Hood.

            The last two sentences make more sense if the bolded “can” is replaced with “can’t” — is that what you meant?

            Any statement about changing tax structures in Colorado is problematic, to say the least. TABOR says that creating a new tax or increasing the rate of an existing tax must be approved by a popular vote. Sometimes local governments have been able to get mill-levy increases, but that’s getting more difficult. TTBOMK, no state-wide tax rate increase has ever passed. The Gallagher Amendment fixed the ratio of commerical-to-residential property tax revenues and fixed the commercial assessment rate at 29% (as a consequence, I pay less property tax on my house on an inflation-adjusted basis than I paid 25 years ago when I bought it). Amendment 26 mandated specific annual increases in classroom spending in K-12, which has occurred at the expense of maintenance. A single amendment that tried to restructure all of this in some sane fashion would fail the constitutional requirement that amendments address a single subject (under the supreme court’s interpretation of how to define “single subject”). The single-subject limit was a citizen initiative intended to stop the passage of anything as broad as TABOR in the future; the TABOR folks supported it vigorously because it made things very difficult if someone ever wanted to take the TABOR provisions back out.

            Inability to raise local property taxes, combined with the constitution putting the state on the hook for funding, has created big changes in the traditional funding structure. State dollars (and federal dollars delivered to the state) account for about 60% of K-12 funding state-wide now. In some poor districts, state dollars account for more than 80% of the school district budget. K-12 spending is 40% of the state’s total general fund spending, and increasing, so that it’s crowding out other programs.

            The General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee has been trying to band-aid over the problems for years. I see no way to actually fix the mess except to scrap the current constitution and start over.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Yeah, I mean’t “can’t”.

              And yep, it’s a big ole’ problem here in Texas as well. It boils down to something simple: Our Constitution (the state one) flat out says it’s gonna create a public school system for everyone. Access is a right. It also says, elsewhere, that you can’t treat people differently.

              the state says each child MUST have access to the same basic level of education. While even the strictest courts allow serious wiggle room — it’s not like they’re insisting on exactly equal per-capita amounts but instead defining equality by access to the core requirements the state sets on schools, whether it costs a lot or little — it’s not nearly enough to encompass a state where the poorest districts lack sufficient desks, books, basic school materials, and teachers.

              In short, there’s a basic minimum that’s not being met.

              But nobody wants to give up local school funding either, and nobody ever wants to raise taxes.

              The only way out for Texas is (assuming we stick solely with property taxes) just flat-out carve out a chunk of what is now local-school property tax income and redistribute that state-wide to hit those minimum support levels (books, buildings, sufficient teachers, desks, etc) and then tell the locals “Tax whatever you want on top of that”.

              In short, define a minimum, tax the entire state to provide it, and then allow school districts (locally) to tax more for themselves if they want.

              Which won’t ever happen. Which is why the courts keep running the system and have enacted it anyways, basically by taking tax proceeds from richer districts and sending them to poorer ones to subsidize their schools.Report

  3. Morat20 says:

    This has been an ongoing problem in Texas for decades. This was an issue back in the 80s. It’s never been fixed — the Leg is constantly losing court battles over it, again and again, and any wins tend to be very…minimal.

    In the end, it boils down to the following: Texas schools are overwhelmingly funded by local property taxes (there is very little, percentage wise, coming from the state’s overall coffers). Which leads to a massive disparity in spending between rich and poor districts, and the state has been unwilling or unable to offset that through state money.

    So you have what amounts to an access problem — an overwhelmingly bad one. (Seriously, the difference between top and bottom is enormous.). Judges have — for decades now, and through several sets — basically said “You can’t do this, between the education and bill of rights sections of the Texas Constitution, you’re giving out what amounts to a good and a bad education here” (Texas has an equal rights and equality under the law provisions).

    Robin Hood was merely the latest attempt for the leg to fix the problem without actually fixing it (equalizing funding in some way). The last round of budget cuts really just exacerbated it.

    The article calls it a 5.4 billion dollar cut, but it was actually twice that — school population growth alone called for another 5 billion in spending, so between actual cuts and more students, Texas schools ate about a 10 billion dollar loss. (And it’s affected even the rich districts).

    Texas’ state government is notoriously cheap (check our taxes and per capita spending, you’d be surprised) and the Leg is simply unwilling to fix this. They don’t want to raise taxes to subsidize the poorer school districts — it has nothing to do with strict constructionism and everything to do with the hard realities of taxing and spending slamming into the actual words of the Texas Constitution.

    Just to give you an idea of how bad the Leg is — Texas has a rainy day fund. A large one. Rather than tap it during the last budget session (when, as noted, schools were short-changed about 10 billion dollars from an already tiny state allocation) — which is what a rainy day fund is for, you know, covering spending during things like recessions when tax reciepts fall massively due to temporary economic problems — they left it alone.

    Now that the recession is ending, our illustrious Governor has suggested tapping the rainy day fund for tax cuts. The same has been suggested for the surplus (Texas’ economy has recovered a bit faster than projected, so they have more money than they allocated). Actually restoring funding to the school districts has not crossed anyone’s mind.

    At least not in the Legislature. Except for maybe some Democrats — they may have considerd it, but they’re more screwed than California Republicans so no one cares.Report

    • M.A. in reply to Morat20 says:

      That is… incredibly disturbing. They haven’t fixed the budget and they’re talking about tax cuts instead???Report

      • Morat20 in reply to M.A. says:

        Oh, they fixed the budget two years ago (Texas has a two-year budget) It’s nice and balanced. Schools are still screwed. They’re starting to ramp up to the next two year budget.

        They’re not restoring lost school funding (they might, if we’re lucky, bump to handle new students) — and it really is lost. Texas has a formula for determining funding on a per-student basis. They had to alter it to first avoid bumping it, then again to cut 5 billion.

        So they might go on with the new, lower rate as the new status quo.

        It’s just the sheer asinine idiocy of Perry going on about using the rainy day fund to pay for tax breaks (Texas’ tax rates are the lowest in the nation, save Alaska I think) when we just slashed school budgets and wouldn’t touch it.

        Although that’s probably just a desperate attempt to change the subject — there was this big cancer research setup that’s run into…trouble. The sort of trouble that happens when public money flows to a private organization to fund research and there’s no oversight.Report

        • M.A. in reply to Morat20 says:

          There are no words to be phrased politely that could explain how the majority of a state got so dumb as to vote for Rick Perry.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to M.A. says:

            It’s not a majority of the state, most likely, it’s a majority of the voters. This isn’t limited to Texas.

            Here in California, public education is underfunded and has serious problems. People who go to public school, in California, are much more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, minority, etc.

            Here in Pasadena, for example, in 2009 the mean household income was $61,298 (per capita, $36,772). That’s above the California mean, and about the 62% nationally for per capita income.

            Almost 70% of the kids in PUSD are on free/reduced lunch.

            I can see some mis-aligned incentives, there.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              But there is still plenty of moving to the suburbs for good public schools. The wealthier towns around San Francisco like Lafayette, Orinda, Marin County, and the tony Silicon Valley suburbs all seem to have decent to excellent public schools.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to NewDealer says:

                I guarantee you Palo Alto’s population of free and reduced lunch kids is lower than ours.

                And I guarantee you that the total expenditure, per student, on the ground, at Palo Alto’s average school is a lot more than the total expenditure, per student, on the ground, at Pasadena Unified.

                If this is correct, it’s significantly higher.

                But the question of access is still an open one in California. Texas done went and shot themselves in the foot by not letting themselves screw the poor.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to M.A. says:

            He flat out owns a giant chunk of the GOP. They’ve tried to ditch him more than once. It’s a testament to his political skills that he’s as powerful as he is. The governor is very much an empty hat in Texas (the real power is in the Lt. Governor).

            Perry just flat out owns so many people, politically speaking, that he’s got far, far more leverage on the party and the Texas State government than anyone has in a long time.Report

        • Nob Akimoto in reply to Morat20 says:

          The worst part of it is who the benefiaries of the tax plan would be….Report