The state legislature concluded another special session without a fix to the state’s school finance system. The media blames the Governor and other top officials for their inability to get a deal done. But everyone at the Capitol knows otherwise – the real culprit is the public school lobby.

From the very beginning of the 78th Session in 2003, legislators have been subjected to intense lobbying by the teachers’ organizations, principally the Texas Federation of Teachers (TFT), as well as school district superintendents and various front groups, like the Texas School Alliance.

One of the worst kept secrets at the Capitol this session is that some legislators say they can’t vote for HB 2 or HB 3 because school officials oppose it. Legislators are told they won’t be re-elected if they don’t vote “right.”

The fact that government employees derail every serious attempt to provide property tax relief and improve public schools is shameful.

Money is the motive and legislators simply aren’t coughing up enough, according to TFT and the Equity Center.

The facts say different. In the latest version of HB 2:

  • Every teacher gets a pay raise of $1500 this year;
  • Plus, overall average teacher pay increases an additional $500, with this money going to the best teachers – an amount that will increase another $500 in 2006-07;
  • Plus, teachers at campuses with high percentages of economically disadvantaged and at-risk students have the opportunity to earn up to $3,000 more as incentive bonuses;
  • Plus, teachers will benefit from property tax relief just like every other homeowner.

    If fiscal estimates by the Legislative Budget Board are correct, HB 2 would benefit teachers and school administrators more than any other group of Texans. Not even the so-called “rich” would earn as great of a windfall from the tax reforms now debated at the Capitol.

    Yet, education groups continue to derail the process in hopes of getting even more money. Their insatiable greed denies tax relief for homeowners and better schools for children.

    SB 1 Conference Report (79R) indicates the Legislature would have increased public education spending another $2.2 billion – a 6.5% increase. The fiscal note for HB 2 (79-1) calls for another $7.8 billion in spending on public education, with about $1.5 billion in new funds beyond what it costs to pay for property tax cuts.

    In short, the Legislature continues to heap new money on public schools. Yet, as is the nature of unchecked interest group politics, school groups keep demanding even more.

    Claims that schools are flat broke ring hollow. In the 2004-2005 state budget, legislators dedicated 58.4% of all general revenue dollars to Texas public and higher education. In fact, appropriations for public education increased $1.19 billion over the previous biennium. Currently, Texas ranks 3rd in the nation for the percentage of total state expenditures devoted to public education.

    Public school teachers have pocketed an average salary increase of nearly $9,300 since 1999, according to the Governor’s Office. Additionally, qualified teachers earn a $5,000 bonus from the Master Teacher Program that Governor Perry helped create in the fields of reading, math and science.

    While demanding ever-increasing funds from the Legislature, the public school lobby has succeeded in stripping some of the very best education reforms from HB 2 – reforms that are critical to improving student performance. Wanting more money and less accountability, the lobby has blocked end-of-course exams, minimum standards for school accreditation, and ISO certification of school operations.

    Every reform stripped from HB 2 is one less chance for a Texas student to get a better education and every new dollar spent to placate school groups is one less dollar for property tax relief. Property tax relief and school reforms are held hostage by political interest groups. This is appalling and must be confronted.

    There’s no time to waste. Texans must tell school districts and their associations to stop spending tax dollars on blast faxes, shotgun emails, phone banks, trips to the capitol, and lobbyists. Texans must encourage legislators to pass the reforms needed to improve classroom learning and lower property taxes.

    John Colyandro is executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition; Chris Patterson is director of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.