Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You're (Gov. Perry) Doing What?

Also check out this related editorial titled Candidate Perry Changes the Subject in the Austin Am-Statesman. Perry really can't legislate the 65% rule. -Angela

Wed, Aug. 24, 2005

You're doing what? editorials
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Hand it to Gov. Rick Perry and his advisers: They know how to run an election campaign.

Got a tough election ahead? Come out swinging, early and often.

Got legislators who won't cooperate? Make them scapegoats.

Don't have the laws on the books that you want? Write them yourself.

Wait a minute. Exactly where in the Texas Constitution does the gov-ernor get the authority to make laws? Perry assumed that authority Monday when he announced that he was ordering school districts to spend 65 percent of their money on "direct classroom instruction."

That might make dynamite campaign material. (Perry and Comptrol-ler Carole Keeton Strayhorn are in a slug match for the gubernatorial nomination in the Republican primary next March.) For months, part of the rhetoric about school funding in Texas has been an allegation that too much money goes to non-classroom expenditures -- an issue raised in many other states as well.

In fact, the Legislature considered setting classroom spending requirements during its regular session and two failed sessions on school finance this year. But that's the point: The Legislature did not act. Perry wants to take over from there: "Even though the Legislature did not act, I will."

It's not a good thing for a governor in the heat of a re-election campaign to bypass the Legislature.

Says Perry: "I will continue to use my constitutional authority to ensure that the education reforms mandated by the people are implemented according to their will."

It is regrettable that the state senators and representatives elected directly by the people haven't found their way to a better school finance system, but that's no clear sign that the governor knows better than they what their constituents want.

And Perry's claim of constitutional authority is a sham.

The Texas Constitution's Article 2 divides state government into executive, legislative and judicial branches and says that "no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others."

Article 7 directs the Legislature to "establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools" and gives the Legislature authority "to pass laws for the assessment and collection of taxes in all school districts and for the management and control of the public school or schools of such districts."

No mention of the governor there.

Robert Scott, deputy commissioner of education and Perry's right-hand man on education issues, says that the Legislature ceded authority to the governor on education spending requirements in 2001 when it directed the education commissioner to devel-op and implement a financial accountability rating system for school districts.

But that law only discussed a reporting system for how money is spent, not requirements as to how it must be spent.

On average, Texas school districts spend about 60 percent of their money in the classroom. But that figure can vary according to how classroom spending is defined, and some people put the current figure closer to 50 percent.

There are valid questions about setting a single spending figure to be met by the 1,000-plus diverse school districts across the state, and the Legislature heard many of them when it considered this requirement.

School leaders point out, for instance, that expenditures for counselors, librarians, food service, transportation and teacher training typically aren't classified as part of direct classroom instruction, but all are essential in a well-run school. Spending on school security also is not counted, but it is a huge cost for large urban districts.

What Perry says he is ordering may sound good, and it undoubtedly will resonate with the people whom he counts as his core voters. But the Texas Constitution does not rest lawmaking power in the hands of one person -- and, importantly, not one who is fighting for re-election.

Lawmaking power rests in the Legislature's deliberative process. There is good reason for that.
© 2005 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


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