A three-and-half-week special session of the Texas Legislature ended Tuesday with no plan in sight for reforming education.
The House passed a plan that didn’t include enough funding to pay for itself. The Senate adjourned two days early without voting on a bill, after leaders concluded there wasn’t enough time to devise a plan that would both cut taxes and raise billions of new dollars for schools.
Legislators stripped out of the House bill a proposal by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to introduce video slot machines at race tracks and on Indian reservations. Texas Baptists were among groups opposing the plan.
“We must provide excellent education to the children in this state, and we must fund it in ways that do not put heavier burdens on the middle and low income people,” said Phil Strickland, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission. “To gamble the future of the education of our young people on gambling is wrong.”
Legislators said they would continue working on a bipartisan plan both to reform education and increase funding for schools. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddock said they would appoint two panels, each with six House members and six senators, to move forward on progress made during the special legislative session.
Perry said at a press conference that after a consensus plan is developed he would call the Legislature into another special session.
“It is more important to get this issue right than to get it right away,” Perry said.
Perry said there is already consensus to do away with the current funding plan, nicknamed Robin Hood because it requires tax revenues from districts with high property values to be shared with poorer school districts.
Lawmakers at the special session had hoped to reduce property taxes for schools, which are now capped at $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation, by a third or even half.
Perry’s proposal called for raising additional revenue for schools from “sin taxes” on tobacco and night clubs featuring adult entertainment. He also projected $2 billion over the next three years from 18,000 Video Lottery Terminals to be placed across the state.
The House voted down Perry’s proposal 126-0 before cobbling together a compromise plan, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The paper said legislators stripped the gambling revenue because rank-and-file members opposed it.
Legalizing the machines would require amending the Texas Constitution. Perry said he believed there is still time to push a plan through in order for a constitutional amendment to be on the ballot in November. Some lawmakers hoped that Perry wouldn’t call another special session immediately, preferring to wait and see how a number of lawsuits pending about the state’s education system turn out.
A Scripps Howard poll said 67 percent of Texans favor a proposal to generate revenue for schools by allowing video gambling at dog and horse tracks and three Indian reservations. Thirty percent oppose it.
Perry said he wasn’t surprised the Legislature adjourned its special session without approving an education plan. While solving the problem in a single 30-day session “would have been a coup,” he said, the odds of doing it “were longer than you would find for beating Smarty Jones at the Belmont.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.