Gov. Perry, Feeling the Heat, Applies for State Education-Jobs Funding

One day after Gov. Rick Perry issued a letter to Texas school administrators simultaneously denouncing the federal education-jobs funding bill and announcing that he would ask for the money, the Texas application for the funding was formally submitted to the U.S. Department of Education today by Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott on Perry’s behalf.

Perry’s letter of September 2 recapped all of his objections to the federal legislation passed last month, which he insists is an “anti-Texas” measure even though it earmarks $830 million in much-needed aid for Texas school districts.

The law does to be sure contain several provisions that apply uniquely to Texas. Language added by Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Austin–with the backing of most every statewide educator organization–requires the governor to say in writing that Texas won’t use the federal money as an excuse for disproportionate cuts in its own state expenditures on education, relative to other parts of the state budget. The Doggett language also says the money must be distributed to schools based on their population of economically disadvantaged students.

Perry denounced both of these requirements as unfair and improper restrictions of state discretion. But the distribution formula has been praised by the Texas Association of School Boards president because it will “benefit districts with the largest populations of disadvantaged students, which are also the districts that employ the greatest number of teachers.” And the requirement of a vow not to use federal aid as an excuse to reduce state aid is simply a reaction to what transpired in 2009, when that’s exactly what happened with part of the federal economic-recovery money for Texas public schools.

As for Perry’s claim that the Doggett language would force him to violate state law by “binding” future legislatures to pre-set spending totals, the short answer is that it just isn’t so. As Doggett himself has made clear in a statement responding to Perry’s September 2 letter, “All the Governor need do is make an assurance to the full extent of his Executive power.” In other words, the governor doesn’t need to promise to do anything that is beyond his constitutional powers; what’s called for is a good-faith statement of intentions.

Against that backdrop, today’s application by Perry’s appointee as education commissioner–once you get past all the continuing resentful attacks on Congressman Doggett–boils down to exactly the kind of assurance Doggett called for. The application states:  “Assurances by the Governor in this application are provided so long as no assurance conflicts with the powers conveyed and limitations imposed by the Texas Constitution or other applicable laws or regulations….”

It’s understandable that the Republican governor of Texas has found it galling to be faced with this requirement imposed by Congress at the urging of a Texas Democrat. But today’s application for the funds, we hope, is a signal that a little common sense has finally prevailed over political posturing. There is no good reason why Texas school districts, their employees, and the schoolchildren they serve should have to wait a minute longer for this assistance.