EDINBURG, February 15 - Our nation is rooted in the belief that all Americans deserve an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.
In today's world, a quality education is crucial to the realization of that dream. We are blessed to live in a country that promises every child access to a free public education. However, despite the great achievements of the past, our state can still do better.
In 2011, the Republican-led Legislature, over the objections of Democrats, cut $5.4 billion from Texas public schools, even though the state’s population growth was adding more than 80,000 new students statewide per year.
Hundreds of school districts, including many from the Valley, joined forces to sue the state. They claimed the budget cuts violated the state’s constitution, which guarantees an equitable and adequate education system.
On Monday, February 4, District Judge John Dietz of Austin, the presiding judge in the lawsuit, ruled in favor of the school districts. The decision forces the Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry, and Attorney General Greg Abbott to come up with a fair way to help pay for public education.
I believe that Judge Dietz is absolutely correct when he stated, “We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don't.”
According to the Texas Constitution, legislators cannot normally hear any bills on the House floor for the first 60 days of the legislative session. However, the governor in Texas has a constitutionally given power to declare certain important bills as emergency legislation so we can take up that legislation in the first 60 days.
I call on Gov. Perry to declare education finance a legislative emergency so we can immediately take up the most important issue in Texas: properly educating our children. Texas children, parents and teachers deserve this prioritization.
On February 6, 2013, I along with other Democrats sent a letter to the Governor, unequivocally stating that we urgently need a school finance bill that takes care of our children and we need it now.
The letter references Judge Dietz's ruling, and asks Gov. Perry to meet with his close friend and colleague, Attorney General Abbott, to urge him not to pursue an appeal. The time and money an appeal and subsequent special sessions would take are not in the best interest of our children, nor are they fiscally responsible.
Gov. Perry did respond to our letter and stated he would forward our correspondence to the Attorney General, but the Governor can do more.
I would like to remind Gov. Perry that an equitable system of public education is vital for business and economic development for the entire state.
Gov. Perry has often criticized the federal government for creating a “climate of uncertainty” for businesses. Texas leaders should be held to no less of a standard.
After the cuts last session, the public schools responsible for over five million children deserve confidence that they will be adequately funded. By making school finance an emergency item, Gov. Perry will help set the tone for the remaining 110 days, and alleviate much of the uncertainty surrounding school finance.
I am respectfully asking Gov. Perry to please join us in making the 83rd Legislature one in which we can say we truly did something for our children.
Terry Canales is Texas state representative for District 40. A Democrat, he resides in Edinburg, Texas.