Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American-Statesman. May 27, 2024.

Editorial: Texas schools are hurting financially. Abbott should call a special session

Abbott denies a special session to address Texas’ school district funding crisis and ties relief to passing school vouchers. That’s not how government for the people should work.

After four special legislative sessions pushing a failed school voucher plan, Gov. Greg Abbott is ignoring Texas students. Across the state, school districts, including Austin ISD, are in financial distress. But this month, when 39 House Democrats requested a special session to help, Abbott refused. In doing so, the governor denies Texas students their constitutional right to quality public education.

The Democrats’ ask was reasonable: 30 days to hash out more state funding per student and for school safety needs. Numerous districts are reeling from inflation, campus safety costs, and a basic per-student funding level that’s been stagnant since 2019. Austin ISD, struggling with a n $89 million deficit, announced plans to shrink it to $59 million with cutbacks such as 42 layoffs in the central office, and trimming overtime, contracts and other costs.

The school board also is mulling a request for a tax hike that could bring $44 million into the district’s budget of $956 million, enabling a three percent pay raise for teachers along with other needs. The tax hike would need voter approval.

The focus in this crisis should be Texas kids. Instead, Abbott lambasts schools for the deficits, citing overdependence on temporary federal COVID funds and lower enrollment. He blames the funding freeze on lawmakers who rightly balked at sharing their voters’ public education funds with private schools. In truth, under Abbott’s influence, legislation for public school funding was pulled from a vote after House members voted to strip out an attached voucher plan.

The school budget crisis has been a long time coming.

“The biggest reason that schools are in financial trouble now is because the state legislature was unable to pass a bill for public school funding,” said David DeMatthews, a University of Texas associate professor specializing in education policy. Like districts in other states, Texas school districts are grappling with inflation in goods, utilities, and technology, wage competition and the academic and mental health fallout of COVID. AISD additionally has been slammed by lower-than-expected property tax growth, and cost of state and federal special education requirements.

Districts overall are shouldering unique new expenses. After the mass shooting of Uvalde elementary school students, H ouse Bill 3 required each school to hire an armed guard, allotting $15,000 per campus plus $10 per student, or about $2.5 million for AISD. But AISD estimates that the new hires will cost $8 million plus related costs, leaving an unfunded state mandate of about $5.5 million a year.

Underlying the school emergency is years of underinvestment. An American-Statesman analysis found that once adjusted for inflation, Texas’ per-student funding from state and local sources has dropped by 12.9% since 2020. Texas ranks 42 nd in the country for per-student public education funding. The state’s share of ISD funding dropped from 44 percent in 2011 to 31 percent in 2022, education consultant Paul Colbert said.

“Other states are dealing with the same problems and taking steps to remedy them,” DeMatthews told the Editorial Board. “But they don’t have the history that Texas does.”

Also distinctive to Texas: the backdrop of a history-making budget surplus of $32.7 billion last year. The Legislature tapped existing revenue for $4 billion in school funding. But under Abbott’s sway, these funds were tied to voucher approval, a package repeatedly rejected by House members. Among them were 21 Republicans, many from rural districts where public schools are cherished community centers.

Texas has $5 billion in unspent school funds, Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, wrote Abbott, who is still stinging over the defeat of vouchers at the legislature. To access that money, Abbott wrote back, lawmakers need to “muster the votes to get it passed.” In short, they must vote for a program their voters don’t want, or Abbott holds billions of school dollars hostage.

Texas has a constitutional obligation to provide free public schools

This isn’t how government should work. As the Texas Constitution states, “It shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State, to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

If Abbott valued Texas students as much as he does vouchers, he would call a special session so lawmakers can help Texas students. The need is urgent. The money is there. And Texans have a right to adequately funded public schools.


Dallas Morning News. May 29, 2024.

Editorial: As storms devastate, Texas must work toward clean energy future

We need more power, but we can’t keep getting it the same old way.

The heartbreaking loss of life in Valley View over the weekend, as well as in Oklahoma and Arkansas, was a reminder of the terrible power of nature.

Preparing for a tornado is difficult, and especially so for those who live in structures like mobile homes. As so often happens after such a tragedy, communities quickly came together to distribute aid and to provide such help as they could even as more threatening weather began to form in our region. The goodness of neighbors and communities is heartening in such times.

As we sit writing this now in a dark room in Dallas with the power out yet again, it is important to reflect on the reality that what happened to our neighbors in areas north of Dallas is not an isolated event but part of a broader pattern.

It is hard to connect any single weather event to our changing climate. But we know that weather events are becoming more severe. From heat waves to hurricanes to tornadoes, we are living through changes in our planet that are related to human use of fossil fuels. This remains a point of political difference but not a scientific question.

The increase in severe weather is creating more tragedy and more consequences. That includes not only loss of life but such serious risk to property that finding affordable insurance, or sometimes any insurance at all, has become all but impossible in some parts of our country.

It is not alarmist to state what should be clear: Human societies must work toward developing and implementing power sources that rely less on burning fossil fuels. The state of Texas has done important work in this area for years. We are now a world leader in wind power and a national leader in solar power.

These forms of energy are excellent and deserve to be subsidized to foster their development. Their drawback is obvious, though. They don’t work when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Battery technology is a promising bridge to a future when we can get our power from carbon-free sources, but it is not advanced enough at this stage to supply power over multiple days without wind or sun. Nuclear power conceivably could make up the difference but it comes with its own risks and at a prohibitive cost.

Texans need dispatchable power that has traditionally come from burning fossil fuels. In extreme heat and extreme cold, having power is a matter of life and death.

But we also need a political focus on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels as quickly as technology permits. In a state where oil and gas interests continue to exercise outsized control over politics, we are moving in the wrong direction.

State lawmakers, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, seem determined to put a hand on the scale for natural gas generation. They excuse this by citing the federal government’s incentive preference for solar and wind energy.

It’s true that for Texas to provide the energy we need in the short run, we must rely on natural gas generation. But state government should not incentivize natural gas production as a reliable, instantly dispatchable power source over emerging technologies or even nuclear power.

Former Public Utility Commission chairman Peter Lake wisely advised Texas to adopt a reliability standard to ensure that power not only remained available in extreme weather events but that we have the power we need over time.

But the plan the commission advocated was neutral on the source of that power, or as Lake put it, “as long as it has an on and off switch.”

Skewing the market toward natural gas might provide short-term relief, but the long-term consequences will be devastating. This should not be a political question. It should be a question of science and technology.

We have made great strides as a state toward cleaner sources of energy. There is more we can do, and we should do it together.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 29, 2024.

Editorial: Texas GOP runoff takeaways: Vouchers are coming. Maybe a bloodbath in Austin, too

The final battle for control of the Texas Republican Party may be paused after mixed results in Tuesday’s primary runoffs.

But it’s coming. It’ll inform everything about governing Texas for the next two years, including what could be a messy 2025 legislative session. And it could eventually risk the long-term governing conservative majority in the most important Republican state in the union.

Business-friendly Republicans — we can’t really call them “mainstream” any more, given where the bulk of the party is — notched a few important victories. The survival of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan despite an onslaught that included everyone from Donald Trump to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, was one.

In Fort Worth, Craig Goldman’s victory and likely ascent to Congress to replace Rep. Kay Granger ensures a responsible hand will be in place for the city’s economic priorities. In southwest Texas, Rep. Tony Gonzales beat back a hard-right challenger in the closest thing Texas has to a swing congressional district.

But a handful of Texas House incumbents lost, including some who had attained valuable leadership positions. Fort Worth’s Rep. Stephanie Klick is a prime example. When she first ran a decade ago, she was instantly one of the most socially conservative House members. The idea that Klick isn’t conservative enough for typical Republican voters or her district is laughable.

Definitions are getting difficult here, whether it’s “MAGA” Republicans or certain varieties of Christian conservatives.

The real problem seems to be that Klick actually worked with leaders and forged compromise to pass legislation. That made her “establishment,” and opponent David Lowe was able to tie her to Phelan as part of the “swamp.”

It happened to several other House veterans, including Rep. Lynn Stucky in Denton County. Perhaps their votes to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton mattered more in the smaller voter pool of primary runoffs.

Their vanquishers face a choice: Get little done in Austin other than tormenting those actually trying to improve or do the work of legislating that will, in this GOP, get them targeted as traitors in just a few years. It’s a smaller-scale version of what’s happened in Congress, and we see how well that’s working.

The best-case scenario in Austin come January is that the blood-letting has eased some of the pressure and that there’s enough common ground among Republicans on issues such as school vouchers — and enough surplus cash to make several priorities achievable — that the Legislature avoids meltdown.

Gov. Greg Abbott put considerable political capital on the line to elect voucher-friendly Republicans, even over several incumbents. While he wasn’t able to save members such as Klick or Stucky, his cause didn’t lose ground with their losses, either. Abbott claimed victory Tuesday night, and he’s probably poised to get an even more robust school-choice policy than seemed possible in last year’s legislative session.

Activist Republicans seem, though, more focused on purging the party of heretics than growing and sustaining a conservative governing coalition. At the GOP state convention in San Antonio last week, delegates voted to close the party’s primaries to all but declared Republicans. They adopted platform positions that, while not likely to become legislation, place the party far outside the mainstream on issues such as abortion.

Republicans have led Texas so long that some can’t see a day when that might change. Yes, Democrats here have been down for decades and are likely to remain that way for some time. But Republicans should note that in the last two presidential campaigns, Trump has struggled to match previous GOP nominees here. They should remember how close Sen. Ted Cruz came to losing in 2018, largely due to a Trump backlash.

If Trump wins again this year, 2026 could suddenly be a lot more competitive than Republicans currently imagine.

All of this is why more Republicans and independents should be voting in party primaries. They might be able to save the party from itself, and in so doing, keep Texas on the track of smart, business-friendly growth and governance.


San Antonio Express-News. May 30, 2024.

Editorial: And the winner of Tuesday’s runoff is ... Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wasn’t on the ballot for Tuesday’s primary runoff election, yet he was the overwhelming winner.

Abbott has been relentless in his support for school vouchers. He has spent millions of campaign dollars to support pro-voucher candidates, traveling across the state during the primary and runoff elections in an effort to oust nearly two dozen Republican House members who opposed his voucher plan last year.

That effort paid off. In Tuesday’s primary, Abbott-backed challengers won four of six races, and the governor declared, “The Texas Legislature now has enough votes to pass school choice.”

We don’t support vouchers, but we don’t disagree with Abbott’s assessment. Whatever Texans think about vouchers, which supporters describe with the euphemism “education savings accounts,” it’s unlikely Democrats can flip enough seats in the general election to change the political calculation. This speaks to the power of gerrymandering, which often makes the primary election decisive.

Vouchers are often couched in the rhetoric of “choice” and “freedom,” but “giveaway” would be a better word. We see no reason why tax dollars should be given to families, often wealthy, to help cover tuition costs at private schools, often religious.

Beyond this, to the degree students leave public schools for private schools, vouchers threaten to further erode school funding, already inadequate and unconscionable for a state as wealthy as Texas.

Time will reveal the implications of Tuesday’s primary results, but it’s clear Abbott is a resounding political force whose influence, be it on vouchers or immigration, extends far beyond Texas’ borders.

While vouchers are a priority for far-right lawmakers, Tuesday was not an all-out win for this dominant branch of the Republican Party. House Speaker Dade Phelan won a bruising runoff election against Orange County Republican Party Chairman David Covey, who had the backing of former President Donald Trump, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Phelan oversaw the House’s impeachment of Paxton on corruption and bribery charges a year ago. He has proved a moderate force in Austin, which arguably makes him defiant.

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, also navigated an intense primary against YouTube star Brandon Herrera, “the AK Guy.” This was for the better. Gonzales has been an effective lawmaker who has represented this sprawling border district well.

Gonzales is pretty darn conservative. Nevertheless, he has shown the kind of independence that has served his constituents in Congressional District 23 well but rankled the state GOP. The state party censured him last year for voting to codify gay marriage and supporting the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, modest reforms in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre.

Could you imagine someone who goes by the “AK Guy” representing Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were massacred in the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting? It is untenable.

Nevertheless, it is a sad reflection of these times that Gonzales, a U.S. Navy veteran, was even in a runoff with Herrera.

And we now know just whom indicted U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar will be facing in the general election. U.S. Navy veteran Jay Furman won the Republican primary for Congressional District 28, which stretches from San Antonio to Laredo. Furman likely faces long odds (again, we see the power of gerrymandering), but Cuellar’s indictment shortens the odds a bit.

In other races of note, Precinct 1 Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores romped to victory against Amanda Gonzalez in a race that took an ugly and contentious turn. First elected in 2020, Clay-Flores is the first woman of color to serve on Commissioners Court, and she has been a strong advocate for her South Side precinct, especially on matters related to health care.

And Elizabeth Martinez, a staff attorney for the Bexar County Civil District Courts, won the Democratic runoff for the 73rd judicial district. There is no Republican seeking this bench. Martinez impressed us with her varied experience and moxie.


AIM Media Texas. May 29, 2024.

Editorial: DNA testing of immigrants more trouble than it’s worth, shouldn’t even be necessary

Former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores wants mandatory DNA testing of all immigrants and favors a return of the much-denounced policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

The Donald Trump administration utilized both practices and likely would resume them if he is elected in November; Trump has said he plans to resurrect all of his previous immigration policies and impose new ones that would be more severe, including “the largest domestic deportation operation in America’s history.”

Flores, who is running to regain the congressional seat she lost in 2022, defends those policies, although family separation has roundly been denounced as inhumane. Some of the children were mere infants. Worse, many of those children have not been reunited with their parents half a decade later.

Until recently, our stated immigration policy was to keep families together. Federal law prohibits keeping immigrant children in detention for more than 20 days. The Trump administration bypassed that law by reclassifying separated children as unaccompanied minors in order to detain them indefinitely.

Obviously the law was violated in spirit and it doesn’t seem to matter to Flores, who seeks to return to Congress to enact such laws. In fact, Republican lawmakers have filed legislation that would mandate genetic testing of immigrants. Our own Sen. Ted Cruz submitted the bill in that chamber.

“I don’t care if these children are with us for months,” she said at a February gathering of the conservative youth group Turning Point USA in Brownsville.

Flores said longer child detentions might be necessary to allow time for the DNA testing, which she says is needed to verify that the children in fact are related to the people who brought them.

Genetic testing shouldn’t be needed for such evaluations; it shouldn’t be hard to see a difference in a child’s comportment with a parent or guardian as opposed to a total stranger.

It’s also obvious that any DNA testing that was done in the past didn’t work. Thousands of families remain separated and might never be reunited; records of those tests and related detentions — if kept at all — were so shoddy that officials continue looking for detained children’s parents and can’t find them.

Moreover, laboratories across the country that would perform such tests would have difficulty handling the burden — not to mention the expense. Labs currently are so backlogged with forensic testing that criminal cases are being delayed while they wait for evidence.

Widespread testing during the Trump term was slowed down further because the demand for the tests outpaced the supply. Trump and his supporters constantly throw out the term “family values” in their campaigns. Shredding families, regardless of their nationality or legal status, obviously clashes.

Keeping migrant families together isn’t just the right thing to do, it seems the most practical and efficient. Processing them together should speed up the process and ensure that they receive visas together if they qualify, or are deported together if they don’t.

Republicans’ penchant for punitive measures increasingly is defying not only practicality, but morality.