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Congress wants education money spent on education

It sounds simple, but around here these things never are.

State leaders on Thursday threatened to sue the federal government over a restriction Congress is placing on $830 million in education funding for Texas.

Texas educators and Democratic congressional allies, however, say the strings are necessary because of the way Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature handled federal stimulus money last year.

The issue pits all of the state’s major education groups against state legislative leaders and involves Texas’ share of funding for emergency education jobs in a bill expected to get final congressional approval next Tuesday.

Texas congressional Democrats inserted an amendment they say is necessary to ensure the money goes to school children and Texas teachers. Educators remain unhappy that some $3 billion in federal stimulus money for Texas education last year was used to replace state money instead of increasing the investment in public education.

The bill moving through Congress would require Perry to certify that the emergency education money would not be used to replace state funds and that education funding would not be cut proportionally more than any other program.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said on Thursday the state would sue if the measure passes.

Litigation could hold up the funding and deprive school districts of funds needed to avert layoffs, said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, author of the amendment.

“This money could begin flowing to these school districts now,” Doggett said. “The only thing stopping it is Governor Perry’s decision on whether to certify that federal education dollars will get to the school boards for local purposes.”

More huffing and puffing from Dewhurst et al is here. Am I the only one who feels like we could settle this a lot faster and more cheaply if we simply handed everyone involved a ruler and pointed them towards the men’s room?

Jokes aside, there’s no question that the Lege used those federal stimulus dollars for their own purposes last year, which is to say they filled in the budget hole, including the five billion or so of structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut, and patted themselves on the back for being fiscally responsible. For Congress to insist that the money they’re allocating be spent on the purpose they intended for it should not come as a surprise to anyone. And if Governor Perry had spent the last 18 months acting like a grownup and not like a three-year-old coming down from a sugar high (not that I have any first-hand knowledge of what that looks like), maybe Texas wouldn’t have been singled out like that. Too late for that, unfortunately. Katherine, Phillip, and Martha have more.

By the way, the bill in question, which was passed by the Senate and will be passed by the House next week, included another $850 million in funds for Texas’ Medicaid program, all of which will put a nice little dent in the current budget hole. A press release from Rep. Garnet Coleman about that is beneath the fold.

The U.S. Senate today passed legislation that will send $16.1 billion to states for their Medicaid programs, and another $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs. Texas’ share of these funds is approximately $850,650,000 for its Medicaid program, and $813,645,000 that will go directly to school districts for teachers and educational support staffers.

“With an anticipated budget shortfall in Texas, the Senate’s passage of an enhanced FMAP extension will go a long way towards closing that gap and preventing cuts in essential state services,” said Rep. Coleman. “Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Texas never demonstrated an interest in being involved or in helping advocate for these dollars, despite the fact that they need those dollars to balance the budget next session.”

Representative Coleman organized a letter writing campaign to Texas’ two U.S. senators and congressional delegation, asking them to support the Medicaid relief. He also sent letters to leaders in Texas, requesting that they take a leadership role.

“I’m disappointed that our state’s two U.S. Senators voted no on legislation that would bring federal dollars back home,” said Rep. Coleman. “I’m thankful that Democrats and Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins understood the value of maintaining essential state services and balancing state budgets

The legislation now heads to the U.S. House, where Speaker Pelosi has scheduled a vote for Tuesday.

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