Uphold Texas' prerogatives in public education

September 30, 2010

Austin American Statesman

Reps. Leo Berman; Wayne Christian; Rob Eissler; Dan Flynn; Kelly Hancock; Phil King; Tan Parker; and Ken Paxton

As state legislators, we are disappointed that Texas schools will miss out on $830 million in federal funding because of an overt political attempt to embarrass the Texas Legislature and the governor in the form of an amendment inserted into federal law by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The Doggett amendment requires the State of Texas to maintain education funding at current levels for each of the next three budget years 2011, 2012 and 2013 to receive the federal dollars under the emergency school aid funding authorized by Congress last month.

The language added by Doggett required the governor to guarantee these levels of funding when he applied for the federal education aid. However, since the Legislature writes the state budget every two years, Gov. Rick Perry was unable to make that guarantee, noting that "surely Congress did not intend to require states to violate their own constitutions and statutes in order for schools to receive this money. I am sworn to uphold state laws and our constitution, which prohibit binding commitments about future budgets or funding levels."

Texas' state budget for 2012 and 2013 will be drafted and voted on by legislators when we convene in Austin in 2011. Perry clearly is unable to guarantee to the federal government that the 82nd Legislature will appropriate certain, specific levels of funding to public education in good faith because the governor does not write the state budget and, in any event, the 2012-13 state budget does not yet exist.

However, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott wrote the U.S. Department of Education confirming that Texas would be able to "legally make the assurances you are requiring" once the 2012-2013 state budget is enacted next year. Despite those facts and assurances, Texas' application for the federal funding was rejected by the U.S. Department of Education.

Doggett's amendment language imposed requirements on Texas that do not apply to other states. The other 49 states, for example, are only required to guarantee their education funding level for 2011. Singling Texas out for special (and more prohibitive) treatment does not serve the best interests of our students, teachers or schools. It is precisely this type of gross over-reach that has spurred the tea party movement and has driven congressional approval ratings close to an all-time low.

Top Republican leaders are united in their opposition to the Doggett amendment. In addition, Texas' U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have announced their intention to file legislation overturning the amendment.

Together with our colleagues in the Legislature and Perry, we have a strong record of providing increased funding and other necessary resources to the public school system in Texas. Between 2000 and 2009, state spending on public education increased from $11 billion to $20 billion, an increase that underscores our commitment to public education. It is noteworthy that it was achieved without the federal government attempting to bribe the state to increase its public education appropriations.

The amendment language added by Doggett is just the latest in a line of federal attempts to take control of Texas' public education system. Earlier this year, and with our support, Perry rightly rejected federal "Race to the Top" funds because the Obama administration attached strings that required misguided changes to state education policy.

The U.S. Constitution does not mention education, let alone grant the federal government authority to attempt to gain influence over states' public education systems.

Indeed, even the section of U.S. code that established the U.S. Department of Education clearly states that "the establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States."

The Texas Constitution holds that "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."

U.S. code and the state constitution are clear: The State of Texas is responsible for its own public education system and the federal government has no basis for attempting to influence or control that system. Congress' misguided attempts to force Texas to violate its constitution to guarantee future funding, or to attach strings to federal education dollars, undermines the spirit and the letter of U.S. and state law.

http://www.statesman.com/opinion/uphold-texas-prerogati...

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