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March 29th, 2004:

Progress yes, consensus no

Over the weekend, our only Governor reported that progress has been made towards a consensus that would allow for him to call for a special session on school finance reform.

Perry, a Republican, said his meeting with about 50 members of the House Republican Caucus at a retreat in nearby Boerne was constructive and “moved the ball forward.”

He didn’t discuss specifics but said he believes a consensus is developing on how to tackle the state’s school finance problem.

One area of agreement among lawmakers, Perry said, appears to be in what he calls his “excellence initiative,” which would provide financial rewards for schools that meet certain testing and dropout standards. He also said Republicans and Democrats want property tax relief.

“I have had no Democrats that have come up to me, and send any messages to me, that they want to see property taxes rise,” he said. “So, I think there’s some clear agreement there.”

However, there is no agreement among Perry and the two Republican leaders of the Legislature — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — on how to replenish money lost through potential property tax valuation caps. The three also do not agree on how to come up with additional money that might be pumped into the school system.

Legislators are divided over whether to overhaul the school finance system now or to make smaller changes with an eye toward replacing it in the future.

I’m giving up trying to read the tea leaves on this one. I have no idea if there’ll be a special session or not, and I have no idea if the intent of a special session would be radical overhaul or incremental tinkering. Just keep in mind that even though after all this time nobody has any clue, last year at this time some Republicans were proposing to eliminate the current Robin Hood plan by 2005 without having a replacement plan in the pipe. You may consider working without a net to be a good way to focus on the issue at hand. I consider it a good way to wind up dead on the floor.

More people seem to be thinking that there will be no special session, and some of them are just fine with that idea.

A spokesman for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has been modeling the impact of tax changes on the Texas economy, said: “Be careful.”

“As upset as any of us may be about taxes and education, we don’t want things to be made inadvertently worse,” Michael Sullivan said. “Simply not calling a special session shouldn’t be a bad thing.”

School districts, many of them suing the state, fret that lawmakers intent on lower taxes — including Perry’s proposal to require voter action if local governments want to outspend inflation and population growth — will neglect education aid.

Catherine Clark of the Texas Association of School Boards favors “the plan where the special session never happens.”

Of course, waiting in the wings, is another force to be reckoned with:

Districts have a July 26 trial date for their lawsuit charging a failure to adequately support schools.

They say a World War II-era law limiting local taxes for school maintenance and operations to $1.50 per $100 valuation amounts to a restrictive, unconstitutional statewide property tax.

As of 2003, nearly 500 of the state’s 1,000-plus districts were at the cap, including 13 Bexar County districts: Alamo Heights, East Central, Edgewood, Harlandale, Judson, North East, Northside, San Antonio, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City, Somerset, Southwest, South San Antonio and Southside.

Like others, the judge hearing the suit awaits Perry’s decision.

“Are they going to address it?” state District Judge John Dietz of Austin asked. “If the Legislature doesn’t speak, then the judiciary is going to have to.”

I’m not sure which we should fear more.

Boo Boos in Paradise

Well, thanks to my enforced silence this morning, pretty much everyone else has beaten me to the punch on this excellent deconstruction of David Brooks. I guess I don’t have a whole lot more to add to what’s already been said (see here, here, and here for a sample), but I will say that I’ve never quite understood the appeal of arguing by sweeping generalization. Maybe it’s just me, but my first reaction whenever I hear someone state a “fact” about a group of people that includes me is almost always “no, that’s not what it’s like for me”. As such, I have a hard time relating to any of the people that Brooks writes about. Of course, since he appears to have made most of it up, perhaps the fault is his and not mine. Anyway, check it out.

UPDATE: Okay, I just said I don’t like generalizations, but this is too funny to resist. From CrispyShot’s comment here about the difference between Minnesota friendliness and Texas friendliness:

The folks here are very helpful and friendly, but in a more reserved, Germanic, respect-your-personal-space kinda way, at least compared to Texas. Minnesotans say, “Hi, nice to meet you, how do you like it here?” Texans will take you for their best friend immediately: “Hon, how’d you get that scar?”

Naturally, Minnesota was a Blue State in 2000, while Texas is redder than a peck of unpickled peppers. Someone get me Brooksie on the line, I’ll bet he can get a whole column out of this.

Pledge the Preamble!

This is my preferred solution to the whole Pledge of Allegiance “under God” situation.

The best solution to this problem — one that respects both the community’s desire to instill patriotism and the conscience of religious dissenters — is to end recitation not just of the words “under God” but of the entire Pledge of Allegiance. In its place would go a much better statement of our national values: the Preamble to the Constitution.

Damn straight. Extra bonus points to any school board that proposes singing it, which as all of us who grew up in the 70s know is the One True Way to recite the preamble.

Seriously, I love this idea. I’ve never liked the Pledge (with or without any “ceremonial deism” thrown in), I don’t like loyalty oaths, and I think we don’t spend nearly enough time in our schools teaching the Constitution. Who could object to this?

And as long as I’m wishing for things that’ll never happen, how about teaching the younger kids what the words in the Preamble mean so they’ll have some idea what they’re saying? (Even growing up doesn’t always help those of us who have problems understanding the Pledge.) I don’t know about you, but I’d been reciting the Pledge for many years before I even knew what the phrase “I pledge allegiance” meant. Surely we don’t still consider rote memorization to be a virtue these days.

Thanks to Hope for finding this.

Wonkiness

Apparently, my webhost is having some mySQL problems today. Slow response and an involuntary morning hiatus are the symptoms, but it appears they are finding a cure. Obviously, since here I am. Right, then.