PTA Mom’s Budgeting Advice for Texas Legislators: Being a Deadbeat isn’t Good for Education

By PTA Mom

Like many PTA moms, I also serve as the chief financial officer for my household. Now, if you’d ever seen my SAT math scores, you might question why my husband and I made that decision. Yet under my watchful budgeting eye, we earn more than we spend, developed a healthy savings account, and maintain an enviable credit score. In short, I’m pretty good at this budgeting thing if I do say so myself.

As for the Texas legislature, I’m sorry to say that despite their suggestions to the contrary, as well as a constitutional balanced budget requirement; they don’t come close to sharing my budgetary savvy. Let me tell you why.

In 2011, the Texas comptroller drastically under-estimated state revenue. Based on faulty projections, school funding was cut by $5.4 billion in the last session. Fast forward to 2013 – it turns out the comptroller was way off and Texas actually had enough revenue to fully fund education two years ago. It turns out the Texas economy is healthy and in addition to strong revenue receipts, we’re sitting on a rainy day fund somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 billion. Economic times are good at the state level, yet the Texas legislature has proposed to restore only between $1.4 and $1.5 billion – a mere 28% of the funding it cut needlessly two years ago.

So, as family CFO, allow me to compare what Texas is doing to my kitchen table budgeting. Imagine that my husband was laid off from his job. (Since 12,000 educators lost their jobs since 2011, this isn’t really a stretch, but fortunately didn’t actually happen. Nevertheless…) In anticipation of our reduced income, I call my bank and tell them that I need a mortgage reduction due to financial hardship. Together we work out a hardship program that drastically reduces my typical monthly mortgage payment.

Good news! In this hypothetical continuing drama my husband gets a new job within a year. This time he leaves education for a job in private industry making 50% more than he did as an educator. I call my bank and let them know that our income has been restored, but I suggest that I can’t return to my full mortgage payment. Instead, I’m only going to send an additional 28% on top of the reduced hardship mortgage amount I was paying.

Once the banker stops laughing at me, he points out that my income has been restored and I am required to pay my full mortgage payment. I tell him I have other competing priorities, so an additional 28% is as high as I can go. The banker reminds me that I have a contractual responsibility to pay my full mortgage amount. I contend that I have constraints and choose not to pay my full obligation despite the fact that I have the money. The banker marks my mortgage as at risk for foreclosure, calls me a deadbeat, and hangs up on me.

Would you ever suggest such a brazenly asinine plan? Your Texas legislature has. If a banker won’t accept such financial irresponsibility, why should Texans accept such financial irresponsibility from their elected officials?

I’m sorry, legislators, your budget proposal makes you a bunch of deadbeats. You have a constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public education. According to the ruling in the Texas school finance trial this winter, you have not. While sitting on healthy revenue receipts and an obscenely large rainy day fund, you claim you can’t restore funding to education? Shame on you!

The deadbeat legislature offers many excuses, yet few real solutions for public education. Let’s look at their excuses:

Truth: There is a lean spending cap that was self-imposed when the legislators, on a political whim, chose the second lowest spending cap presented to them. They chose that cap despite the fact that they were fully aware at the time that they had many unpaid bills from last session to pay. By the way, that cap can be suspended with a simple majority vote (last done in 2007), but politicians like Dan Patrick prefer to uphold bizarre ideological pledges rather than Texas’ constitutional responsibilities and refuse to take that vote.

Truth: The rainy day fund is an economic stabilization fund that was developed for exactly this purpose – to help Texas fulfill its budgetary responsibilities while riding out turbulent economies. The $12 billion rainy day fund can restore education cuts with a two-thirds vote. While the fund has been tapped regularly (in 12 of the last 22 years), political pledges and ideology again trump the needs of Texas’ schools as few conservative lawmakers will entertain using the taxpayers’ own savings to fund taxpayer needs.

  • Deadbeat legislature says: “We’re going to wait for the ruling in the school finance trial to force us to do the right thing.”

Truth: Aside from being spineless, the Texas Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling on the school finance suit is irrelevant to this year’s budget. While most legislators are fully aware that a total re-write of school finance formulas and mechanisms is in their future if the lower court’s ruling is upheld, there is absolutely nothing that prohibits them from restoring the funding they cut now.

Pretending they need to adopt a-wait-and-see approach is actually the most pathetic excuse offered, forcing educators and students to endure the needless cuts for years. My kindergarten son will likely be entering fourth grade before funding is restored under this approach – and that’s unacceptable. Remember, restoring education funding to 2010 levels in this year’s budget is completely unrelated to next year’s ruling. Frankly, if the lower court’s ruling is upheld, they’re going to have to dig a lot deeper than $5.4 billion next session, so PTA Mom CFO recommends the legislature begin preparing the budget for that expectation now!

Sorry, legislature, but I expect more. As a Texan, I expect you to uphold your constitutional responsibility to our children. As a Texan, I expect you to be embarrassed that despite the state’s great economic growth and development, you’ve fallen to #49 in the nation in education funding. As a Texan, I expect you to do your job instead of digging up deadbeat excuses to avoid fulfilling your obligations to public education.

I expect more and my child deserves more.

If you, like the majority of Texans polled, support restoring the full $5.4 billion to education this session, contact your legislator immediately. Joint budget proposals are expected to be negotiated next month and your representative needs to know that you don’t approve of Texas’ deadbeat ways. Contact your legislator today!

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