Today, Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker Joe Straus signed by nine of his colleagues on the State Board of Education. In it, he said he had found the money — $2 billion — to save approximately 40,000 teaching jobs and fully fund new instructional materials for the state's public schools.
Its source? The Permanent School Fund.
The board manages the now $25 billion fund fed by revenue from state land and mineral holdings — like offshore oil-drilling leases — and whose interest goes to pay for textbooks and basic operations in public schools. The letter urges the Legislature to pass a resolution allowing the public to vote on a constitutional amendment that would transfer $1 billion each year of the biennium to fund public education. The board has already contributed $1.9 billion from the fund toward public education during 2012-2013.
Six members — the board's conservative bloc — did not sign the letter. One of them, David Bradley, R-Beaumont, called the proposal "insanity" and emphasized that letter did not represent official action from the board. "Mr. Craig is acting in a rogue capacity," he said, adding "[He] has delivered this letter without any due deligence and has used to the board's name as an endorsement."
Bradley said drawing $2 billion from the fund would "have an impact for generations."
"By spending the money today, we will not have the four billion [in interest] in seven years, or the eight billion in 15 years," he said, "It's extremely short sighted."
Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said that he signed on to the proposal after growing weary of telling constituents that budget cuts were in the hands of the Legislature. "This certainly isn't our first choice, but we have heard an overwhelming response from our constituents saying that public education can't stand the cuts that are coming its way," he said, adding, "We thought we'd take a little ownership and put something out there for discussion."
Late Friday afternoon, Dewhurst released a statement indicating that he did not support using money from the fund: "I want to protect the fund's current endowment and as we discuss this and other non-tax revenue to balance our budget with our Texas Senators, I want us to find ways to maintain or increase the current fund balance for our schoolchildren."
Shortly after, Straus issued a similar statement, saying that he was concerned that "using those constitutionally-protected funds in the short-term could threaten the future needs of our growing student population."
Here is the full text of the letter:
We, the undersigned members of the State Board of Education, express our support for allowing Texans the opportunity to vote for a transfer of $1 billion per year from the Permanent School Fund for the sole purpose of minimizing reductions in the Foundation School Program during the next biennium. This one-time funding mechanism would be in addition to our normal anticipated contribution to the Available School Fund during the next biennium.
In the spirit of Rosie the Riveter, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and do our part to meet the current funding challenge and support those on the “front line” of our public schools. We know our schools cannot provide the best education for our students without quality teachers and up-to-date instructional materials. This $2 billion equates to approximately 40,000 teaching jobs as well as full funding for the instructional materials allotment provided for in HB 6/SB 6. It is our hope that this will also help alleviate the need for school districts to raise local school district property taxes to meet this need.
We encourage the House and Senate to pass the necessary joint resolutions allowing Texas voters to stand with us and say “Together, We Can Do It!”
It was signed by: Bob Craig, Mavis Knight, Patricia Hardy, George Clayton, Marsha Farney, Thomas Ratliff, Lawrence Allen, Michael Soto, and Mary Helen Berlanga.