Monday, June 27, 2005

House Bill 2 Remains Alive

Great commentary below of who the true beneficiaries of HB2/HB3 are. -Angela

Conservative groups demand more accountability in school spending


AUSTIN — Several conservative leaders on Friday urged the Legislature to keep schools accountable for money they spend as they consider education reforms.

Careful not to comment on Gov. Rick Perry’s tax proposal he announced earlier this week, representatives from two business groups and a conservative policy group said they support another Republican proposal, House Bill 2.

House Bill 2, if passed in conjunction with the tax-changing House Bill 3, would add about $3 billion to education spending. The House and Senate passed the bills during the regular legislative session but have not been able to reconcile their varying versions.

The additional money is needed for schools, but not unless the reforms for district accountability in spending and performance in House Bill 2 are preserved, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.

"It is absolutely essential that reforms be enacted," Hammond said. "It is not acceptable that $3 billion (or another figure) be put into schools without reforms."

Hammond, along with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texas Businesses for Educational Excellence, demanded complete transparency in district spending, a campus-based system for rewarding successful teachers and a "swift and sure" way to allow the state to take over the schools when they fail.

The group refused to comment on whether House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 should be unlinked to allow education reforms to move forward in the event that an agreement on the tax bill stalls.

"That’s something the leadership will have to deal with, but our preference would be that both will pass," Hammond said.

House Bill 3 is stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee without enough votes to move it forward following criticism by committee member Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, that the business tax would leave out many businesses.

The bill would decrease property taxes, expand the business tax and raise sales tax.

Parents and taxpayers should be able to easily peruse a breakdown of expenditures for each campus, they said.

"This is one of the finest pieces of education legislation being considered in any state in America," said Sandy Kress, an Austin attorney and former adviser to President George W. Bush on his No Child Left Behind legislation.

But a spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, who is considering running for governor on the Democratic ticket next year, was at the announcement and said the reforms are designed to line the pockets of companies that sell testing materials.

Spokesman Jason Stanford agreed with transparency in spending, but not with measuring students at the expense of their success, he said.

"(Transparency) is a good idea," Stanford said. "But it’s all so companies can make more money on testing materials."

Bill Summers, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, said businesses in the Valley agree that any more money to schools should be accompanied by more accountability.

"I bet you we wouldn’t even have to be talking about taxes if (schools) would go back and streamline their budgets and use only the money that is needed to educate the children," Summers said.

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