Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Investment in defense editorials

Wed, Aug. 31, 2005

Investment in defense editorials

Gov. Rick Perry reached for the headlines last week with his executive order aimed at forcing schools to spend at least 65 percent of their money on "direct classroom instruction," but there was more to the order than that.

He also wants school districts to report how much they spend on dues to organizations, including money spent for the purpose of lobbying, and how much money they devote to legal services, "including legal fees spent on lawsuits against the state."

These issues were considered but not passed during the many recent legislative debates on school finance. Unlike the "65 percent solution," they're things that the governor might have some authority, through the commissioner of education, to require. They would add to the information provided to taxpayers about how their money is being spent, and that's a good thing.

The negative that they carry, of course, is an implication that school district spending for lobbying or for lawsuits against the state is inherently wrong. It's spending taxpayer money on things that end up costing taxpayers more money, some say.

But when public schools are being abused or neglected by the Legislature, who is more suited to put up a fight than the districts themselves?

Anyone who thinks that the Legislature is not fully capable -- even inclined -- to abuse the public schools need only look at recent history. The long string of Edgewood lawsuits in the 1990s detailed that abuse as a Texas Supreme Court-certified fact.

And neglect? Look at the West Orange-Cove lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court. School districts filed that suit when the Legislature and the state's top political figure wouldn't pay any attention to their complaints that they were being forced to collect an unconstitutional state property tax. The case has blossomed with detailed proof that Texas does not provide adequate funding to meet education mandates.

Yes, report school district spending to parents and other constituents and let them decide whether it's right. But assume that spending on lobbying and lawsuits is wrong? Let's not stick our heads in the sand.

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