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It's getting personal--the fight for more federal influence in Texas public education


AP Photo/LM Otero, File

Since shortly after President Obama took office, the federal government has been trying valiantly to insert itself into the Texas public education system against the strong objections of Governor Perry.  The latest attempt, this time in a bill passed by Congress, is no different.

The Obama Administration’s Department of Education first tried the carrot and stick approach with Race to the Top (RTTT), a national public education reform effort in which states would be given federal dollars for participating in reforms the federal government deems necessary.  When Governor Perry refused, saying that Texas was already in the process of adopting new standards and reforming Texas public schools on its own, President Obama announced a district Race to the Top competition to circumvent the governor of Texas specifically

The latest attempt to muddy the state's rights waters came from the United States House of Representatives Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010 (HR 4899) which passed on July 1st.  Even in a war appropriations bill, space was found to address Texas’ public education spending.  In an article titled "Washington Targets Texas, Usurping State's Rights" , Texas Republican Representative Ken Paxton wrote on Friday:

Through amendment, Congress is trying to bypass our State’s authority for setting our own education standards by offering money directly to school districts to hire additional employees.
However, there is a catch.
In order for school districts to receive this money, Governor Perry would have to guarantee that the Legislature would appropriate school funding that would equal or exceed current funding for the next three fiscal years (through 2013).
Not only is this amendment an attempt to infringe on our State’s right to set our own education standards, it also makes demands that violate the Texas Constitution.
Texas governors do not have the authority to set appropriations in our State’s budget, nor do they have the authority to require the Legislature to allocate appropriations in future budgets for specific State programs.
Governor Rick Perry has twice rejected federal funds to participate in the Obama Administration “Race to the Top” program.  This program is designed to provide funding to states that adopt national education standards. 

Going back to the federal stimulus funds given out last year, money was not only given to ensure that states would not have to lay off public school employees, it also called for the creation of more public education jobs (even though states were having difficulty paying existing state employees).  The state of Texas chose to not further extend itself by creating positions it could not pay for on its own after the stimulus funds were exhausted. 

According to a recent Houston Chronicle article, nearly 40 Texas school superintendents wrote a letter to Congress asking that the funding not be allowed to be diverted from job creation by Texas yet again. 

The question is not that Texas schools might benefit from more public school positions being created.  Rather, the question ought to be: should the state of Texas take money it cannot repay and cannot sustain on its own with many strings attached. 

We are in a time of economic crisis; does creating government jobs for which there is no real money to pay really make sense for any state? 

Time will tell how this battle of wills plays out.


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