Operation Education: What about that Rainy Day Fund?




Posted on February 21, 2011 at 8:39 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 22 at 2:16 PM

Should the Texas Rainy Day Fund be used for education?

The Dallas district could be ground zero for the budget blast hitting public schools.

In the worst-case scenario, Dallas would lose $253 million in state funds, and that could result in nearly 4,000 jobs lost.

One way to ease the pain would be to tap the state's Rainy Day Fund for public education.

But as schools across Texas brace for the pain of unprecedented budget cuts, Gov. Rick Perry's office told News 8 his stance remains the same: The Rainy Day Fund should go untouched.

Perry outlined his philosophy in the State of the State address on February 8. "That approach would not only postpone tough necessary decisions, but also leave us ill-equipped to handle bigger emergencies in the future," he said.

But is that a firm belief or political bluster? Perry struck a softer tone when he appeared on "Inside Texas Politics" during his last reelection campaign.

"You could use some of that, and the legislature will have that discussion," Perry said last year. "But remember: One time. I highly recommend to the legislature don't use Rainy Day money for continuing expenses."

The state constitution says nothing about the parameters of spending money from that fund except that it can be used when there's a deficiency in general revenue and lawmakers agree.

The legislature has tapped the Rainy Day Fund four times in the past, with Perry signing the budgets in 2003 and 2005.

Teachers say it's time he do it again in the name of education.

"Quality education cannot take place if you've got 35 or 36 students in one classroom," said Rena Honea of the Dallas Alliance/AFT teachers union.

Some Senate Democrats say the fund can help, but only to a point.

"The cuts are very, very real if there are no new taxes and we can't tap into the Rainy Day Fund for more than $3 or $4 billion," said State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio). "I think the schools need to expect some cuts."

Even in the conservative House, some Republicans say the fund should be spent.

Without saying Rainy Day money should specifically go to education, Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) — chairman of the powerful appropriations committee — told the Texas Tribune that the fund could close the $4 billion gap in this year's budget.

Instead of worrying about recurring expenses covered by the Rainy Day Fund, some critics think Gov. Perry and lawmakers should solve the recurring budget gap from the 2006 school property tax swap that leaves the education balance sheet billions short every year.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com