No quick solution on school finance
Taylor Daily Press
Sunday, January 6, 2013 1:00 am
Gonzales expects lawsuits to delay action on funding issue
When District 52 State Representative Larry Gonzales steps on to the House floor Tuesday in Austin, it may only be his second term as a voting member, but he has been involved with the legislature for two decades.
He was first elected in 2010 to represent a district that includes Taylor, Hutto, half of Georgetown and most of Round Rock when he defeated incumbent Democrat Diana Maldonado. He worked through nine previous sessions as a staff member in various offices.
“I’ve seen a lot in the last 20 years,” he said. “The members come and go and the philosophies change but let me tell you, in 1993 when I first got there we were doing school finance. The issues do stay the same but it is interesting to watch philosophies change.”
Despite two decades of varying degrees of school finance talk and reform, Gonzales said the pending lawsuits over public school finance will likely mean it will be a quiet issue this session.
“Because of the lawsuits we will probably see very little to nothing done,” he said. “Everything is in litigation. I do not see any huge changes besides using Rainy Day Fund to pay for growth.”
Gonzales sees little being done on the issue until all of the lawsuits are resolved and exhausted in the courts.
“There will be a decision probably this month,” he said. “That will get played out in the courts, the Supreme Court so we will know something probably in January 2014 and we will go back and readdress education.”
The Rainy Day Fund, currently sitting at about $9 million, is something Gonzales was willing to tap into before and said he will support again to ensure schools can cover costs associated with growth in enrollment.
“I want to put that money back into public education and definitely pay for growth in public education,” Gonzales said. “I made some people mad when I said spend some of the Rainy Day Fund for education, but I still think I’m right and I would do it again,” he said. “If the criticism of me is going to be that I care too much about public education or I put too much funding in public education, I’ll take that criticism all day.”
The issue has been complicated by how differently the public school finance rules have impacted different districts across the state over the years.
“If you ask 150 members what happened in public education last year I guarantee you will get 150 different answers because quite frankly, it effected everyone differently,” Gonzales said.
He added that the revenue problems dealt with in the last session were facing school districts in the previous session, but federal stimulus funds were used to offset the gap. It was not meant as a source of funding growth but to soften the blow.
“We were very clear to the schools, the state agencies and other people, ‘this is one-time money,’” Gonzales said. “Unfortunately various agencies and districts hired new people, gave raises and what happens two years later? The money isn’t there and they made the investment in these jobs and pay raises.”
What complicates the process for legislators, according to Gonzales, is that over the last two decades different groups have fought against the funding plans and won, but even though funding formulas might be identified as unlawful by the courts, there is no clear solution provided.
“The court is not telling us what to do, which I think inherently is probably a good thing because we do not want that kind of activism in the courts, but the downside is we are left trying to find what they want without being told what to do.”