UT’S STAKE IN SCHOOL FUNDING WAR
On Feb. 4, John Dietz, a state district judge from Austin, ruled in favor of more than 600 Texas school districts, claiming that the state does not adequately fund its public schools and therefore violates the “efficiency” provision of Article VII of the Texas Constitution. The ruling, which is expected to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, is a victory for public school students statewide, including those attending this University. We applaud Judge Dietz’s defense of Texas public schools, and we hope that the Texas Supreme Court justices will reach a similar conclusion.
In a statement on the ruling, Dietz enumerated the broad, societal benefits associated with a population that enjoys what he called “the miracle of education,” including lower crime rates and greater state income. Some of those benefits, though not explicitly mentioned by Dietz, have a real, positive impact on state universities.
Anemic K-12 educations prevent UT college freshmen from fully capitalizing on the resources UT offers.
David Laude, UT’s senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, names students’ failing courses in their first year as a significant hindrance to improving four-year graduation rates, one avenue the University has aggressively pursued in its search for greater efficiency. When students from impoverished school districts are admitted to UT, often under the state’s Top Ten Percent rule, the University must devote ever-scarcer resources to helping them adjust to a more demanding college environment, with varying degrees of success. A recent plan proposed by Laude, for example, will allocate $5 million in financial aid to incentivize at-risk students to graduate in four years. We have yet to see how effective the plan will be. But investing in those same students’ education at an earlier age will reduce the need for remedial efforts, made at the University’s expense, once they reach college.
Inadequate state support is a familiar problem on this campus. UT-Austin has had to make difficult decisions in response to decreases in state funding, evident most recently in UT President William Powers Jr.’s report on measures to improve “efficiency” at the University by means of consolidation and outsourcing. UT has to figure out how best to allocate its limited resources, which can be used more effectively if the state of Texas does a better job of educating its students before they get here.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...
On Jan. 22 we called out several Texas state representatives — John Otto, Jim Pitts, Jimmie Aycock, Drew Darby and Tony Dale — for filing a bill, H.B. 553, that declared any federal regulation of guns to be unconstitutional, asserted that Texas, therefore, doesn’t have to comply with it and proposed the prosecution of any law enforcement officer who attempted to enforce said federal laws. The bill openly defied the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which declares any act of Congress or executive order to be the “supreme law of the land.” Whatever the Texas Legislature seems to believe, states simply don’t have the authority to invalidate federal law.
Unfortunately, it seems state Representatives Matt Krause, Scott Sanford, Allen Fletcher, Giovanni Capriglione, Pat Fallon, Dan Flynn, Bryan Hughes, Rick Miller and Ron Simmons have forgotten that message. On Feb. 4, these nine lawmakers co-authored and filed a bill that proposes almost the exact same provisions as H.B. 553. The only difference between the bills introduced in January and February is that the more recent one acknowledges the ability of the federal government to make laws, before declaring that Texas doesn’t have to cooperate with their implementation.
The text of the two bills is nearly identical, but on Krause’s website, a press release attempts to distinguish this bill from its predecessor: “H.B. 928 is different from any other bill protecting Texas gun owners that has been proposed in the State Legislature thus far this session, as it creates a legal framework for state-directed cooperation, or noncooperation, putting Texas in control of the issue ... The federal government cannot possibly enforce intrusive regulations without the aid of the state. H.B. 928 will deny them that aid.”
We fail to see how this is anything new. From the battlefields of the Civil War to the bus stations and public schools of the 1960’s Deep South, states have attempted similarly rebellious measures throughout this nation’s history. They’ve never succeeded, and they won’t succeed now.
These bills will likely die long before they reach Gov. Rick Perry’s desk, but they are symptomatic of a much greater problem. Almost ten percent of the Texas House of Representatives has authored — not just voted for — bills openly flouting the authority of the U.S. government. Even more worrisome, this Legislature has turned the debate over gun rights and federalism into little more than an arena for childish one-upmanship. It’s a contest over which conservative reactionary can scream the loudest, and the prize is the approval of the Tea Party constituency. How long will our state leaders continue to fight for the privilege of filing blatantly unconstitutional and wrongheaded legislation when they clearly know better?