The House Democrats on Ending Robin Hood
Statement by the Texas House Democratic Caucus in response to HB 604, passed out of the Public Education Committee on Feb. 4, 2003
Feb. 5, 2003
Read by Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus
In Texas yesterday morning, a young girl, a young girl who might well be the next Jonas Salk, the next Barbara Jordan, or maybe the next Laurel Clark, went to school.
She went to school in a system where every child, not just that child, but most importantly every child was provided and guaranteed -- guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of Texas -- an adequate education and just opportunity to learn.
There is one overriding principle -- tell the truth. And the truth is simple.
Yesterday reveals that, in Texas today, it is politics, not policy, that controls the Republican agenda.
Yesterday, on a day when the Texas House of Representatives was in recess; on a day when many of the members of the Texas House, including our speaker, were in Houston; in just a few hours the Republicans began quietly dismantling the foundation of every Texas child's education and future -- and they did it just so they can have a "re-election" vote.
One committee, after hearing less than four hours of public testimony, after a warning from the new chairman that chilled public testimony; a committee composed of four members who were attending their first legislative committee meeting ever;
This one committee voted to eliminate and abolish the most fundamental program and responsibility in all of Texas state government -- and they provided no alternative.
The most fundamental role of Texas government is to provide an adequate education to the children of our state.
Never in memory has the Committee on Public Education taken such an action with such haste, with such little discussion, on such a major issue.
Regardless of the street where a child lives, our Texas Constitution guarantees that each and every child shall receive an adequate and just opportunity to be educated.
The president of the United States of America has held up our state and our educational system as the model for all the nation -- "Leave No Child Behind."
How is it that -- at the very first committee hearing, of the very first Republican Legislature in over 100 years, in a Republican House that was built by George W. Bush -- the foundation of No Child Left Behind is to be abolished, and abolished while our national attentions were elsewhere, and with no alternatives?
A constitutional educational system for our children is to be eliminated, with no alternative recommended.
For the last decade we have known that Texas had such a constitutional system.
Today, what do we have?
The Republicans say we must eliminate our constitutional system of educational finance -- but they propose no alternative.
They suggest no solutions.
To dismantle our school tax system, destabilize our system, with no alternative is irresponsible. The function of the Legislature is to solve and not create problems. This action creates instability in too many areas to name -- in school bond ratings, in our ability to bring industry and jobs to Texas -- because above all, business and industry need predictability in taxation.
My 11-year-old can tell you that leadership builds, does not just tear down. And Sam Rayburn said, "Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it."
We were elected to solve our state's problems, not pass them on to the next Legislature.
We are told by the Republican leadership and our governor that education shall be our priority and saved from the cuts to come; yet the first cuts to our budget are a freeze of TIF funding, which went to 4,000 public school campuses last cycle.
And the first bill out of committee for the 78th Legislature in the Texas House is the elimination of over 50 pages from the education code -- eliminating everything from local bonding authority to public education grants to funding for special education and senior homestead exemptions;
And they offer no alternatives, replacements or solutions.
Yesterday morning, our children went to school in Texas, and we did not think to warn them what might happen to them in committee while the Legislature was away in Houston.
What should we tell those children now?
On a day when the future of our space program is uncertain, we do not need uncertainty in the future of education and the future for those children in Texas.
We stand ready to work together to remedy the problems in our school finance system. We stand ready to help the districts approaching the cap, the fast-growth schools and the Chapter 41 schools who are in a budget crunch.
But this week Speaker Craddick said this -- "Almost every member I'm talking to, their basic deal is they've got to have a vote on Robin Hood to go home and run for re-election." They don't need to fix the system to get re-elected; they just need a record vote against Robin Hood. And they are willing to destabilize our state for that purpose.
We do not believe in destabilizing our tax structure, economy, and our entire school system just so some members can have their political cover in a symbolic re-election vote.
That is not the leadership our children deserve.
From zero-based budgets to zero-based policy, this is not a tradition of the Texas Legislature that should be established.
What Do We Propose?
We propose we spend more than 3-1/2 hours discussing the merits of the issue.
We propose we work as we did under Gov. Bush in 1997, in an open public hearing with a large and diverse committee. (The 5 urban House member "working group" is not subject to the House committee rules, which means no notice of meetings, no public disclosure, no open meetings and records, etc).
We propose we work exactly as Gov. Bush worked with us in 1997; that we put every idea on the table; that we build the best system the collective minds can build, and that we let the members vote. And if it is a better system than what we have now, we implement it. If not, we come back and try again.
We propose we give every member the opportunity for meaningful input.
We propose giving the members options other than shutting down the schools.
But we reject taking political votes at the expense of our school children.
Statement by Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco and Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, Feb. 5, 2003