Update on Federal Education-Jobs Funding

The delivery of $830 million earmarked for Texas school districts by Congress last month, as part of the new Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, is still on hold. Gov. Rick Perry insists that Texas cannot under state law provide assurances required by Congress that the state won’t cut its own future spending effort in response to the arrival of the federal aid. Members of Congress from Texas, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Austin, say that sort of substitution of federal for state dollars is what happened in Texas with federal aid last year, and they don’t want it to happen again.

Texas AFT agrees with Doggett and company about what happened last time and the need to avoid it with this new batch of $830 million. We don’t buy the argument that the federal legislation requires the state to do something in violation of the state constitution. However, if that’s the real concern, all Gov. Perry needs to do is to say that he is making the required assurances to the full extent of his powers to do so under the Texas constitution. Unfortunately, his September 3 application for the money went beyond that, watering down the language of the required assurances and all but guaranteeing rejection of the Texas request.

Last week Perry and his allies continued to fulminate against the federal law, capping their effort with a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott against the U.S. secretary of education. Abbott claimed the suit was essential to prevent federal officials from reallocating the money to other states. But the U.S. Department of Education already had said the money will be held in reserve for Texas and delivered as soon as the governor submits a proper application.

Gov. Perry’s appointee at the Texas Education Agency, Commissioner Robert Scott, has suggested that an acceptable application meeting federal requirements could be submitted after the legislature deliberates next spring on the state budget for 2012-2013. The education-jobs money can be used any time through the end of September 2012.

So it would seem that sooner or later Texas school districts will get the education-jobs money. With local school budgets in a tight squeeze, though, it’s a shame Texas schoolchildren and educators have to wait longer than necessary for this aid while the governor postures as an apostle of states’ rights.

By the way, even as Perry loudly denounced the federal government over the education funding, it seems the governor was quietly submitting an application for the Medicaid assistance Congress included in the same August legislative package. To be sure, Perry criticized this health-care aid, too–but he finally went ahead and made the required request for the money.