Setting the Record Straight on the Death of a Good School-Finance Bill in Regular Session

A recent, hard-hitting article from Fort Bend ISD board president Kristin Tassin tells how a poison pill administered by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick killed a good school-finance bill, HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), in the regular session of the Texas Legislature that ended last month. We reprint Tassin’s widely published article here for your edification as we head toward a July 18 special legislative session where the issue is likely to be revisited.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims he is appalled that the Texas House would reject the Senate’s version of House Bill 21, a major piece of school finance legislation. What’s really appalling is how the Senate mutilated the school finance bill as soon as it had the chance.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, authored HB 21 to address the school funding system, which the Texas Supreme Court called an “ossified regime ill-suited for 21st-century Texas.” HB 21 may not have been perfect, but it did provide significant additional funding to help schools through the next two years — until the system could, hopefully, be “upended” by the Legislature, as suggested by the court.

But in the hands of the Senate and Patrick, HB 21 became nothing more than a vehicle for passing school vouchers, a major political item on Patrick’s “to do” list this session. He claims to be appalled at the final result — but is he really surprised that the House is rejecting his version of HB 21?

I personally heard him say before the legislative session started that there would be no more money for public schools. How can he now act as if he bears none of the responsibility? Let’s set the record straight. Patrick claims:

·  The reason the House is rejecting the Senate version “is simply because it included a program that might allow some disabled child somewhere in Texas to attend a private school that his parents believe would be better for him or her.”

The fact is, a voucher will likely provide a child with a disability an education in a segregated, disability-only school since the majority of regular private schools will not accept them. Vouchers for students with disabilities allow the Legislature to continue to shirk its constitutional responsibility of ensuring adequate educations for all Texas children, especially those who have been denied adequate educations for so long. A better focus this session would have been on fixing the broken system.

·   The “House members who voted against HB 21 ignored the needs of disabled children.”

The fact is, the House stood up for my disabled child as well as others — and I thank them. I have worked too long and too hard for her education with her typical peers for us to slide backwards into another form of state-funded schools for the disabled.

·   Vouchers are “supported by a strong majority of Texans in every demographic group and both political parties.”

The fact is, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released in February, 44 percent oppose vouchers, while only 35 percent support them.

·   Instead of supporting Texans who want vouchers, “those House members buckled under the demands of education bureaucrats.”

The fact is, supporting public education — where 95 percent of Texas children are educated — does not make us bureaucrats, nor does it make us wrong. It is disheartening to hear a leader in Texas continue to speak so derogatorily about those of us who work for Texas’ 5.2 million children every day. My message to the House is, thank you for standing up for what’s right and best for all kids instead of for what’s politically expedient.

It appears that the lieutenant governor was unwilling to listen to the many ideas shared by voices from throughout our state, but instead plowed forward with his own political agenda. We went to Austin and offered solutions that would help all kids.

Lt. Gov. Patrick refused to listen — and now that HB 21 is dead, he has no one to blame but himself.