A legislative supporter of more than $5 billion in reductions to public education in 2011 says those cuts had to happen but that he later played a lead role in restoring most of the funding.
State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, the 2014 Republican lieutenant governor nominee, said in an Aug. 28, 2014, campaign press release: "As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I led the charge to restore most of the education cuts from last session."
The 2013 Legislature boosted school spending by $3.4 billion. But Patrick was among four senators who voted against the final version of the budget later signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.
The restoration of aid occurred two years after majority Republicans, faced with a multibillion-dollar projected revenue shortfall, tweaked finance formulas and took other steps resulting in schools getting more than $5 billion less in 2012-13 than if the formulas and other commitments had gone unchanged.
We knew Patrick chaired the Senate’s education panel. We didn’t recall him leading the charge to restore most of the cut funding.
As it turned out, there's no convincing evidence he did.
Patrick’s backup information
By email, Patrick’s campaign spokesman, Alejandro Garcia, noted that in the 2013 session, Patrick led the budget-drafting Senate Finance Committee’s workgroup on public education, which included four other senators, according to a Senate web page.
Also, Garcia said, Patrick voted twice in favor of increased funding. Minutes of the finance committee’s March 13, 2013, meeting indicate all 15 panel members voted for a revised version of Senate Bill 1, the body’s 2014-15 budget act providing for $1.5 billion in additional state education aid, according to news accounts.
A week later, Garcia said, Patrick voted on the Senate floor for the same partial restoration; the Senate Journal entry for that day shows Patrick and 28 other senators voting to advance the Senate version of the budget to the House. Two senators (but not Patrick) voted "no."
Garcia also guided us to video of Patrick summarizing the Senate version of the budget. Patrick, addressing colleagues on the Senate floor, made no mention of rolling back the 2011 reductions. He did say he and the other workgroup members decided "as a team" to put most of $1.5 billion in additional state revenue allotted to the group into school funding formulas with funds also going to extended-day pre-Kindergarten and other programs. No school district would end up with less money than it was already getting from the state, Patrick said, while many would get more.
No signs of Patrick leading charge
Without success, we looked for independent confirmation of Patrick leading the charge for reversing most of the 2011 cuts.
Just before the legislative session, Patrick joined with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in issuing a press release declaring their "education reform" agenda. Patrick’s Dec. 19, 2012, press release called for changes in the state’s accountability system and more charter schools and pathways to graduation. The release did not mention general education spending. A Statesman news story posted online that day said Patrick was seeking to create tax credits enabling children to attend private schools.
On the first day of the 2013 session, Patrick told the Houston Chronicle that while lawmakers cut the budget in 2011, the new session was "an opportunity to do big and bold things for the future of Texas -- school choice and major education reform being at the top of the list."
In February 2013, after a Travis County state district judge agreed with school districts that the state’s education funding system was underfunded and unconstitutional, Patrick told the San Antonio Express-News he didn’t know where the Democratic judge, John Dietz, "pulled his numbers from -- out of the sky, I think -- that we might need to spend $2,000 more per student, which equates to $10 billion. That might freeze us on doing anything significant because there are only so many dollars." Patrick said any expenditure would be made "strategically," the newspaper said.
As the session proceeded, according to news stories and advocates for education groups, House members including Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Democrats including Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, propelled the final budget (which Patrick voted against) to increase education spending by $3.4 billion -- more than double the original Senate hike.
In a May 30, 2013, public interview with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, Patrick said he voted against the budget in the end because certain education initiatives -- including funds to pay for students to take the SAT -- weren’t in it.
Some education groups including the Texas Association of School Boards and the Equity Center, which represents property-poor school districts, declined to comment on whether Patrick led the charge to restore dollars.
Josh Sanderson, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, told us education groups didn’t find Patrick receptive to reversing the 2011 cuts. "He never responded positively," Sanderson said by phone.
Sanderson and Lonnie Hollingsworth, who advocates for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said pressure to escalate education spending mostly came from House members, among them Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton. By phone, Hollandsworth singled out Pitts and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, and Democratic Reps. Turner and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio.
"It’s really not any one individual who led the charge for the partial restoration of funding," Hollingsworth said.
Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said by email Patrick’s vote against the final budget "is what counts. If the final budget doesn’t pass, it doesn’t matter how much a legislator put into the budget for education or any other program." Patrick, Robison said, "didn’t convince me or TSTA that he cared any more about adequate education funding than he did in 2011."
Bonnie Lesley of Waco, a retired teacher and co-founder of Texas Kids Can’t Wait, which describes itself as a bipartisan group, credited House members for the ultimate aid boost. By phone, Lesley called Patrick’s claim a matter of laughable chutzpah. The group previously issued a "report card" rating legislators based on votes on education measures; Patrick was among legislators rated "unacceptable."
Garcia, informed of what we were finding, stressed Patrick’s chairmanship of the education panel. "The chairmanship says it all," he said.
Patrick said that in the 2013 session, "I led the charge to restore most of the education cuts from last session."
In the session, Patrick voted twice for a version of the budget elevating education spending by $1.5 billion, or less than a third of the earlier reduction. He later voted against the final budget driving up such spending by $3.4 billion, a decision he didn’t clarify to us. On balance, it’s not clear to us how someone can lead in putting money back by voting against putting money back.
This claim grades out as incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
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