- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

DALLAS — The No. 1 goal of the Texas Legislature for the past three years has been revamping the so-called “Robin Hood” school-funding system.

But this past week, after a 140-day session in which legislators argued about lewd cheerleading routines, whether or not a TV weather reporter must have a degree in meteorology and what constitutes animal cruelty, the two state bodies wound down Monday evening without any action on school funding.

Gov. Rick Perry, facing expected competition from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, said he and House and Senate leaders are still trying to iron out details. If all three sides reach an agreement, Mr. Perry said he will call for a special legislative session in the summer.

“Don’t do it,” the Dallas Morning News editorialized. “We’d like to be more optimistic that Austin can crack this nut,” the newspaper’s lead editorial went on. ?But the state’s elected leaders have given Texans little room for hope.”

“They failed us. Big time,” wrote Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders.

Seldom has there been as much adverse publicity about the Legislature. Columnists, editorialists, talk-show callers, school and city officials all focused on what they termed the “failure” of the lawmakers to bail out the Texas school system — which now looks to the courts for solutions.

For a decade or more, there has been an outcry to do away with the current school-financing system — a strange system nicknamed ?Robin Hood? because it has forced wealthy school districts to share millions with poorer districts.

To do so — and try to keep their schools even close to respectable — cities and school districts have taxed property owners higher and higher, and today, many are at or near the limits allowed by state law. Property taxes have become the primary means of funding schools and, commented the Dallas News editorial, “like worn-out pack mules, they’ve carried this burden as far as they can tote it.”

A state district judge ruled several months ago that the current system is illegal, and the state Attorney General’s Office has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to take it up in early July.

Politicians have been aware of the dire situation for several years — and in January, Mr. Perry called it a “crisis,” vowing that the Legislature would handle it with a new, fair plan. But a few hours before adjournment, a conference committee of Senate and House members declared they could not agree on how to pay for the billions in funding educators and specialists claim the school system overhaul would require.

Sources claim it was House Speaker Tom Craddock, a Republican, who refused to budge, with Mr. Perry and Senate leader and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst willing to ease on some specifics to iron out a bill the governor could sign.

Both bills from the House and Senate agreed on the basic framework: a series of tax increases for businesses and consumers that would amount to more than $2 billion to fund the school program statewide, giving teachers often-promised raises and supplying state-of-the-art technological equipment.

They couldn’t agree on how much should come from which area.

Mr. Perry, with a wary eye toward Washington and Mrs. Hutchison, refuses to call the session a failure, reminding detractors that the Legislature passed a $129 billion state budget, enacted stricter abortion laws, overhauled the workmen’s compensation insurance program and enacted a strict law (dubbed “the Hamburger Act”) that prohibits overweight and obese people from suing fast-food restaurants for their weight problems.

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