On November 30, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by the 912 Project in Ft. Worth with Lt. Governor Patrick as the guest. From that meeting, I have a few observations.
In his opening comments, he referenced the fact that one of his accomplishments from the 84th session was to address concerns about transfer of gas tax receipts to the general fund instead of being used for roads and transportation. Legislation was passed that ended the transfer to the general fund. An interesting comment since that same issue now faces the education sector with the increase in recapture payments being transferred to the general fund. It looks like we need to push for legislation similar to that for the gas tax in the last session.
Second, he mentioned that almost 50% of the state’s budget is allocated to education. Later, during the Q&A, an individual correctly noted that this amount includes higher education as well and that the portion for public education is about 35%. To quote the Lt. Governor, “we have to be efficient with our money”. Sounds to me like this suggests a reduction in funding.
He spent time outlining his top priorities, including property tax relief (cap at 4% increase tied to population growth), school choice, and the bathroom bill. While he offered commentary on property tax relief and the proposed bathroom bill, he did not expound on school choice, simply stating the priority and then moving on.
School choice was a topic that generated several questions. I posed a question to him about how his voucher (by any name) proposal would ensure accountability for dollars transferred to a parent and ensure that the entity potentially receiving funds is held to the same standards as public education. After about a 5-minute response and suggestion that the cost of education goes down with school choice, it was clear there was no intent to respond to the accountability question. As an aside, when I had an opportunity for a photo op, he offered to me that he had not addressed my question but that it was too complex for this setting. He added that he was “happy to have input on school choice and issues relating to accountability”.
Reflecting on the meeting, it was obvious that he had no intentions of addressing school choice at anything below about 30,000 feet. Prior to the meeting, I had the opportunity to talk with a number of home school parents and it’s clear that they and the NE Tarrant Tea Party do not support vouchers (by any name) given the likelihood of government oversight of their efforts. Each acknowledged that the idea sounds like a good one until you understand the implications of a voucher (by any name) program.
Meetings such as this are a great opportunity for us to share our concerns about some of the legislative priorities. Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to talk with those impacted by current proposals and to redouble our efforts to make education a priority.