Capitol Update from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

August 29, 2005

Sen. Lucio Will Not Compromise On Public Education

On Friday, August 19, the Texas Legislature adjourned for the third time this year without reaching a solution to public school reforms. Like the public, I, too, am disappointed that an education bill did not move forward. I am heartbroken that teachers will work another year without a much deserved pay increase.

However, I strongly disagree with those who argue that South Texas, the Border and property-poor school districts across the state should compromise down just to get something passed and save face before the next election. I will not compromise the future of our children.

Economically challenged communities, including South Texas, have been historically subject to neglect by former state leaders. I want the leadership to know that I've rolled up my sleeves and I'm ready to continue working to solve the public school finance dilemma. I refuse to succumb to political pressure of any kind that focuses away from funding public schools equitably. Again, public education should not be a compromising issue.

Most education bills offered in the past regular session and two special sessions did not produce a benefit to South Texas schools compared to the current school finance system. I could not, and will not, support a mediocre bill that fails to address the true needs of our school children, needs that were upheld by a State District Court and are still being litigated in the Texas Supreme Court. Our school children deserve better. Our educators deserve better. Texas deserves better.

Since January, I have received over 500 letters and countless phone calls from constituents in South Texas opposing the various school finance proposals, mostly on the basis of three things: inadequate funding for education, especially for programs targeted at students with special learning needs, inequitable funding between students living in property-poor and property-wealthy school districts, and the lack of a meaningful pay increase for teachers that provides at least $4,000 more.

A band-aid approach was not acceptable to the students, parents, educators and administrators who wrote to me, and therefore, I was not willing to compromise down and sacrifice the needs of South Texas to support a 400-page piece of legislation that fell short and was loaded with meaningless reforms.

Throughout the process, I offered my own amendments and supported the amendments of colleagues that would have made each barely acceptable bill an easier pill to swallow. These amendments included additional increases to teacher pay, reinstatement of the $1,000 educator health care stipend, the funding of textbooks, savings methods like a later start date for school districts, a review of unfunded school mandates, and a $30,000 homestead exemption. Sadly, all these amendments were turned down by a majority of the Senate members.

Unfortunately, the majority of legislators would rather provide property tax cuts benefiting the wealthy than make responsible investments in the future of Texas. Our state demographer projects increases in the percentage of individuals without high school diplomas and households in poverty in the next 35 years. Texas' future isn't looking so bright. What are we doing about it?

The state has a certain amount of money with a growing school population. We have an antiquated tax system that is struggling to generate new revenue. It places the burden on homeowners while only one in five businesses pays franchise taxes. Manufacturing was the backbone of the old economy. Today, the service and high-tech industries are the new economic engines, but we are still primarily taxing the old-style industries, homeowners and the poor. We are trying to fix a 21st century education funding problem with a century-old tax system.

The Legislature has lacked the intestinal fortitude to change the tax structure so that we can increase spending in public education. We must stop re-dividing the same old piece of pie and start considering fair modifications to the sales taxes, franchise taxes, video gambling and yes, even an income tax.

For those who feel more funding is not necessary, they should consider the fact that the state is not keeping up with inflation and the explosion in population--the number of Hispanic children in public schools in Texas will grow by 200 percent between the year 2000 and 2040. These children face more challenges because many of them are from very low-income families and often face language barriers. Other considerations are the dilapidated buildings and portable classrooms, increasing prices of fuel for school buses, and the lack of technology in many districts.

I will continue to do my part in voicing the needs and conditions of South Texas and seek feedback from the public by holding town hall meetings with parents, educators and business leaders. Educators and superintendents working on the front lines are to be commended for their dedication to public schools. We must continue to press forward toward a meaningful conclusion for all communities and avoid harmful compromises. Staff member handling this issue is Perla Cavazos, senior policy analyst. As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Austin at 512-463-0127, Brownsville at 956-548-0227 and Weslaco at 956-968-9927.

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