Settling for Less: The New Normal

The funding of public education comes to a vote on May 11 (early vote April 29-May 7) with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) Bond Propositions 1-4 that, if passed, will provide schools with $892,245,000. I usually vote to approve bonds to help improve public education, since I’ve been to public school along with almost everyone I know. What bothers me about this bond package is that it feels a bit like double taxation. I’ve already paid into a kitty that could be used for public education: the State’s Rainy Day Fund. Before I head to the ballot box, I ask myself “Why am I agreeing to raise local taxes, when the State has already collected taxes that could be used for this purpose?”

Governor Perry has stated that he doesn’t want to use the Rainy Day Fund for routine spending (April 30, 2013, 10 News: “How Much is Enough for Rainy Day Fund?”). Fine. Use the Rainy Day Fund to upgrade schools’ technology and for new schools, which is what part of the AISD bond package proposes. The funds wouldn’t be used for salaries or routine maintenance, but instead as an investment. This is just as important as the investment Perry wants to put into water and transportation using $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

My own State Senator, Kirk Watson, was disappointingly agreeable to the state budget passed by the Senate on March 20, which restored only $1.4 billion of the $5.4 billion in public education cuts made in the 2011 budget. After the March 20 vote, Senator Watson sent out a form email to his continuants that called the budget “A Down Payment, Not a ‘New Normal’”. His sad attempt to spin his vote as positive rallied me to call him out on his lip service to public education. There is no way the budget will not be seen as a new normal, especially with the support of prominent Democrats in the Senate. He wrote me back, stating:

“I believe public education is the state’s most important priority…Please know that I am fighting for education funding and for transparency and accountability in our budget and finances during this 83rd Legislative Session. I am hopeful that with the help of my fellow legislators, we can create a more stable future for our children and state. Texas can do better for our schools, children, and teachers.”

There has been some progress since March, with Senate Joint Resolution 1, which passed unanimously and puts $800 million into public education from the State Budget and $1.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. It’s a tiny step in the right direction, but it also proves that Texas is willing to settle for less, just like Senator Watson.

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