As he’s headed out the door, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is taking one last action to spoil efforts to improve public education.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rebuked Speaker Joe Straus for his refusal to honor state law and appoint members to the School Finance Commission by a mandatory December 14 deadline. In response, a petulant Straus showed his disdain for conservative reform efforts by appointing four obstructionists to the commission.
“Speaker Straus has so far failed to make any appointments to the School Finance Commission,” Patrick noted in a statement Monday afternoon. “The deadline for making these appointments was December 14. If the speaker is truly serious about working on this issue, he will announce his appointments soon.”
In the statement, Patrick also went as far as to call on Abbott to convene the commission with or without the Speaker’s appointees.
The School Finance Commission was a special session priority for Gov. Greg Abbott. Created in the final hours of the special session in August as part of a compromise on House Bill 21, an omnibus education bill, the Commission is charged with studying the methods by which the state funds public education prior to the next legislative session.
In response to Patrick’s statement, Straus, who has chosen to “retire” from the Texas Legislature rather than seek re-election, appointed four members who are certain to obstruct any potential improvements to the status quo in public education.
Straus’ first appointee, State Rep. Dan Huberty (R–Houston), was notoriously antagonistic towards the commission during the special session. In fact Huberty killed Senate Bill 2144, the school finance commission bill during the regular session by postponing it for 28 days when there were less than five days remaining in the session.
As Chairman of the House Committee on Public Education, Huberty championed a school finance bill which would have deferred $1.8 billion in school payments to the next biennium, creating a shortfall for the next legislature. When conservatives in the Senate stood up against the accounting gimmick, Huberty killed SB 2144 in retaliation.
Straus also appointed liberal Republican State Rep. Ken King of Canadian and San Antonio Democrat State Rep. Diego Bernal. A notorious opponent to conservative education reform, King has also proved himself to be a fiscal liberal, earning a 40 on the most recent Fiscal Responsibility Index. Bernal represents San Antonio along with Straus and serves as the vice chairman of the House Public Education Committee.
Rounding out Straus’ appointees is Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson. Austin ISD recently passed a $1.1 billion bond during the November election, despite reports that enrollment in the Travis County school district is actually declining.
Notably absent from the House appointees is State Rep. Phil King (R–Weatherford), who authored the Governor’s version of the school finance commission during the special session. King announced his intention to run for Speaker of the House shortly after the special session ended, and before Straus announced his intention to retire.
In contrast to the liberal appointees from the House, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appointed a pair of conservative education reform advocates to the commission, State Sens. Larry Taylor (R–League City) and Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston).
By appointing obstructionists from the House to the commission days after the deadline, departing Speaker Straus has proven once again he has no interest in meaningful conservative school finance reform.