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Why Republicans are Underfunding Education in Texas

The official Texas policy is misguided and short-sighted... and deliberate.

by STEVEN SCHAFERSMAN

Published on: Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Many people don’t understand why public education is being deliberately torpedoed in Texas by its own Legislature and Governor. One might think that conservatives would support a traditional, long-existing, honorable, and valuable state system; after all, isn’t that the definition of conservatism—support of traditional values? What is more traditional and valuable in the United States than public education?

But public education in Texas is heavily politicized by both the Texas Legislature and the Texas State Board of Education. The Legislature has allocated fewer state funds to public schools over the last 15 years, but this year for the first time it deliberately under-funded schools by $4 billion.

This deliberate under-funding could easily have been avoided by simply raising taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses in Texas or tapping the $10 billion “Rainy-Day Fund,” created years ago with the primary purpose to provide money to finance public schools at appropriate levels in case of economic hardship.

In 2006 a new business tax replaced part of state property tax in a way that state financial experts predicted would be insufficient to support Texas schools. This structural deficit could be corrected now by simply reconfiguring the new business tax to bring in the necessary amount of money, but again the Legislature deliberately refused to correct it.

Thus it is clear that the intention of the Republican majority of state legislators is to deliberately damage public education in Texas. The reason for this, however, is not well known: Public schools damaged by underfunding will be more likely to fail and thus create a situation—the sole situation—for which the Supreme Court legally permits private religious school voucher programs.

Many in the current crop of Republicans in Texas are radicals, not conservatives, and they have several reasons to defund public education. Perhaps the most popular is that under-funding will cause school districts to lay off teachers who have in the past financially supported and voted mostly for Democratic candidates, thus damaging the Democratic Party in Texas. A second is to damage the quality of public schools so more citizens will support private schools, the vast majority of which are religious. However, the least known but by far most important reason is that in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision for the first time allowed a private voucher program for private religious schools, but only when the local public school system is failing.

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