An Edujobs Fight in Texas as Politicians Square Off
When a Texas politician calls a fellow Lone Star politician "anti-Texas," I imagine that's meant as a pretty grave insult. But that was the charge the state's Republican governor, Rick Perry, recently levied at Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett in a bitter squabble over the state's access to a slice of the recently enacted $26 billion "Edujobs" bill.
Perry's criticism came in a recent letter he wrote to school administrators around the state, in which he said the congressman had undermined the state's ability to collect $830 million of the federal funding.
Doggett added an amendment to the federal spending measure that required Texas to maintain at least level education spending for at least three years to receive a portion of the federal money. The congressman, who is from Austin, says he simply is trying to ensure that the state spends "new education dollars on education purposes," as he explained in a statement.
The provision is meant to prevent Texas Republicans from engaging in "shenanigans," in which they replace state education dollars with federal dollars, "leaving our schools no better off than if we had done nothing," Doggett said. He accused Perry and lawmakers of pulling that budget switcheroo earlier in their decisions about how to use federal stimulus funding.
But Doggett's actions angered Perry, who argues that the state's constitution forbids one legislature from setting spending levels for future lawmaking sessions. The governor says he and state lawmakers have continually provided more funding for the state's schools. While he says he intends to apply for the $830 million in federal aid, he also predicts it is unlikely the state will be able to meet the requirements set out in the federal law.
The congressman is "ignoring our state's best interests," Perry writes in his letter, with an "anti-Texas amendment" that "victimizes Texas, and only Texas." The governor told school administrators that he will ask Congress to pass additional legislation to change the funding requirement. He asks them to call Doggett's office and let him "know your feeling" about the Texas funding provision.
The governor is locked in a re-election battle against former Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat. Perry has been a strong critic of the federal economic-stimulus program—though Texas has taken some money from the program—and Texas was one of the few states that did not apply for federal Race to the Top funds, which were awarded to 11 states and the District of Columbia.
Friction between the feds and state governments has loosed a spate of strongly worded letter-writing from officials in a number of states over the past couple weeks. I recently wrote about Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's unusual written request to state education officials, asking them to support a repeal of the recently enacted health care law. Before that, there was Alabama schools superintendent Joseph Morton's pained letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, questioning the Race to the Top scoring system and his state's low ranking in the competition. As federal Race to the Top funds flow to the winning states in the months ahead, we'll see if the federal-state friction eases or intensifies.