Improving School Finance in Texas

By Ken Paxton
State Representative

In January, the Texas Comptroller released the initial Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) report showing how local school districts allocate their finances to achieve results. The report examines many criteria that reveal how school districts utilize local and state resources to educate Texas’ schoolchildren. Here are some of the highlights of the FAST report:

· Since the 1998-1999 school year, total school spending in Texas has increased from $28.0 billion to $54.7 billion per school year; which amounts to a 95% increase in spending.

· During the same period, enrollment growth in public schools has increased from 3.95 million students to 4.73 million students; which amounts to a 20% increase in enrollment.

· On average in Texas, school districts spent $11,978 per student in 2008-2009, which is nearly double the spending per student from 1998-1999. By contrast, McKinney ISD only spends about $7,600 per student.

· In the 1998-1999 school year, payroll and operating costs were the highest expenditures in school district budgets by percentage. In 2008-2009, the highest expenditures by percentage were debt service and capital expenditures.

· Most school districts built up fund balances to offset economic downturns as property appraisals increased.

· In 2008-2009, payroll expenditures, as a percentage of total expenditures, ranked last in district spending instead of first, as they had in 1998-1999.

The Comptroller’s report comes at a time when many school districts are facing budget shortfalls as a result of the recent economic downturn. As a result, many school districts are currently asking the Legislature for assistance. In order to help school districts address their needs, I support initiatives that remove many of the unfunded mandates on public schools, provide additional financial flexibility for school districts, and equitably fund public schools. Each State requirement needs to be carefully evaluated to ensure that education quality improves while administrative requirements are reduced, which will save school districts bureaucratic costs.

Additionally, I believe that funding teacher salaries and purchasing and maintaining classroom resources should be the top priority when spending scarce education dollars. The evidence from the Comptroller’s report shows that even though the Legislature has increased state spending to local school districts above and beyond enrollment growth and inflation over the past dozen years, many local school districts have increased administrative overhead costs and capital expenditures faster than teacher salaries and classroom instruction expenditures.

Finally, the school districts that received high ratings in the FAST report should be used as a model across the State for improving student performance, supporting teachers and utilizing resources for classroom instruction. I am pleased to say that McKinney ISD and Frisco ISD were given the highest rating by the Comptroller for maintaining high student performance while keeping costs low. Allen ISD, Prosper ISD and Celina ISD also scored very high.

For more information about the FAST report, please visit http://www.fastexas.org.

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Governor Perry’s emergency items

By Ken Paxton
Capitol Steps
This past Tuesday, Jan. 11, marked the first day of the 82nd Legislative Session. The Legislature has a number of high priority issues to address this session, such as redistricting and passing a balanced budget with a multi-billion dollar projected budget shortfall.
Additionally, Governor Perry added two emergency items to the list for the 82nd Legislative Session: 1) Protecting the private property rights of Texans / addressing eminent domain issues; and 2) abolishing sanctuary cities in Texas. Additionally, he reiterated his commitment to balancing our State’s budget without raising taxes by prioritizing and cutting government spending.
Including eminent domain issues and the ban of sanctuary cities on the list of emergency items allows members of the Legislature to consider these issues during the initial 30 days of the legislative session.
Balancing the budget while strengthening Texas’ job-friendly climate (maintaining low taxes, implementing predictable regulations, providing a fair legal system and offering a world-class workforce) is a priority I share with the Governor and is vital to the future of our State.
In order to ensure state agencies continue to use taxpayer dollars prudently, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House have already directed state agencies to identify savings of five percent in the 2010 – 2011 biennium, an additional 2.5 percent for the 2011 fiscal year, and 10 percent for the 2012 – 2013 biennium.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature and the Governor on these important issues this legislative session.
Attorney Ken Paxton represents McKinney and Collin County in the state legislature.

Paxton: Capitol Christmas Tree

By Ken Paxton
State Representative

Like last year, the Texas Speaker of the House provided each Representative a plain, clear-glass ornament and requested us to have the ornaments decorated in a manner that represents our districts. The ornaments from the 150 House districts in Texas will adorn the Christmas tree at the Capitol building in Austin until January 4, 2011.

This year, I commissioned Natalie Clark, a fifth-grade student at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, to create the ornament for my district. Natalie was recommended by her teachers, Mrs. Dyer and Mrs. Mayberry. I asked Natalie to use her creativity to illustrate the true, historical meaning of Christmas. She decorated the ornament with a cross to represent Jesus Christ and flowers to represent all people. She was inspired by a garden she had seen at Easter time.

Natalie’s favorite subject is, of course, art. She has loved to draw, paint and engage in creative activities since she was able to hold a crayon. Natalie was awarded a gold medal at the Association of Christian Schools International Art Festival in 2009 for drawing and in 2010 for painting.

Natalie is thrilled that she was given this special opportunity to represent the 70th district and glorify God with her artwork. She really enjoyed creating the ornament and is looking forward to visiting Austin to see the state Christmas tree decorated with ornaments from around Texas.

Glendy Valdez of Frisco, Texas, made the ornament for District 70 in 2009. These ornaments are seen and enjoyed by thousands of visitors who enter the Capitol during the holiday season, and every ornament helps showcase the diversity and grand history of Texas. The ornaments from 2009 and 2010 have been photographed and catalogued so that visitors to the House Chamber and House website will learn about each ornament’s story, and a permanent record of each year’s tree will be maintained. To view all of the ornaments on the Capitol Christmas Tree this year and for 2009, please visit http://www.house.state.tx.us/resources/holiday-ornaments/.

Ken Paxton’s Capitol Steps: TxDOT accepts input on 380

Regarding the widening of Highway 380:

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held a public hearing this week to discuss the proposed widening of U.S. 380 from FM 2478 (Custer Road), to Bois D’ Arc Road, a length of about 4 miles. Anyone interested in the social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed improvements to U.S. 380 are encouraged to submit written comments by December 10, 2010.

The proposed project is needed to accommodate the projected increase in traffic demand in the area. The proposed plans show U.S. 380 widened from a four-lane median divided roadway to a six-lane roadway divided by a 16 foot wide raised median with 10 foot wide outside shoulders. This project’s improvements are designed to reduce congestion and improve mobility without the need for additional right of way. TxDOT planners and engineers are listening carefully so the plans and projects they develop will closely address the needs and reflect the values of the communities and public they serve.

The environmental studies, maps, drawings and project designs are available for viewing and copying at TxDOT’s Dallas District Office, located at 4777 East Highway 80, Mesquite, Texas 75150; at the City of McKinney, 222 North Tennessee Street, McKinney, TX 75069; and at the TxDOT Collin County area office, 2205 S. SH 5, McKinney, TX 75069. The tentative construction schedule can be also be obtained at the TxDOT Dallas District office.

Written comments can be submitted to the following address:

Mr. Robert Hall, P.W.S., CFM
TxDOT Dallas District Environmental Coordinator
P.O. Box 133067
Dallas, Texas 75313-3067

For additional transportation related information please visit the TxDOT Web site http://www.txdot.gov.

Ken Paxton is running for Speaker of the House. The state representative votes for Collin County. To contact Rep. Paxton by phone, call 972.562.4543 or his capitol office at 512.463.0356.

Protecting Patients with the Texas Health Freedom Act

By Ken Paxton
Capitol Steps

Last March, when Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare,” I committed to work on passing a bill in Texas to reject this over-reaching federal legislation. And so last week (the first week we were able to file bills for the upcoming legislative session, I filed the Texas Health Freedom Act as my first bill for the 82nd Legislative Session.

The power of the federal government to require an individual to purchase health insurance coverage is not found in the United States Constitution. Additionally, the federal government should refrain from imposing unjustified conditions and federal requirements that should be decided by state legislatures, rather than the United State Congress.

My legislation, (House Bill 97 and House Joint Resolution 24) would accomplish the following:

· Guarantees that individuals in Texas have the right to choose or decline to choose health insurance coverage without penalties or sanctions or threats of penalties or sanctions;

· Limits the power of the state agencies, public officials, employees, or political subdivisions from imposing, collecting, or enforcing a penalty or sanction intended to punish or discourage the right of the individual to choose their own private health insurance coverage; and

· Givers the Attorney General the authority to seek injunctive relief against the federal government and defend the state of Texas in court to uphold our state sovereignty.

The U.S. Constitution sets forth the framework of government that limits the power, authority, and ability of the federal government. When the government steps beyond the boundaries of their constitutional limits to require individuals to purchase private products under threat of penalty, then the freedoms of individuals are threatened. The Health Freedom Act, which has been passed by a resounding margin in other states throughout the year, gives Attorney General Abbott the ability to defend our state sovereignty while allowing Texas to determine an appropriate course of action to develop health care delivery methods that maximize the rights of individuals.
State Representative Ken Paxton is in the running for Speaker of the House in Texas.

Tracking Legislation

By Ken Paxton, State Representative

Tuesday, January 11, 2010 marks the first day of the 82nd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. Each legislative session, constituents ask me how to track legislation important to them. The Texas Legislature Online has a number of tools available to make bill tracking easy.

Bills may be searched online by bill number, author or sponsor, committee, subject, action, or a particular date (filing date) at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Reports/BillsBy.aspx. Pre-filing of bills has already begun, so you can see what bills have already been filed for the upcoming session. Additionally, I will discuss here in the coming weeks the bills I have already filed to be considered during the 82nd Legislative Session.

Interested parties or individuals may also create a personal list of bills for tracking purposes and can even receive electronic notification when there are actions affecting particular legislation. One may also receive e-mail notification when selected calendars, committee hearing notices or committee minutes are posted. These services are free of charge. To create a “My Texas Legislature Online” personal list, go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/MyTLO/Login/Register.aspx.

The Texas Legislative Council House Document Distribution section distributes hard copies of bills, as well as other house documents and copies of general information and legislative reference publications to members of the legislature as well as to the general public. For more information on obtaining copies of any of these documents, visit their website at http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/.

Finally, vote information on bills is included in the House or Senate journal if a record vote is requested at the time the vote takes place, or if a member registers within a specified time limit to request that his or her vote is recorded in the journal. This allows constituents to keep track of how their legislators voted on a particular bill. For more information on tracking legislative votes, visit http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Help/findvoteinfo.aspx. To learn who represents you in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, visit http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/ and enter your address.

I hope these resources will prove to be useful for people living in Collin County. I believe it is important for voters to know the issues being discussed and considered by their government, and I strongly believe that constituents have the right to know how their elected officials voted on any particular issue. I look forward to serving you in Austin, and I welcome your feedback during this time.

Representative Ken Paxton is running for Speaker of the Texas House.

Paxton: Winter 2010 Appliance Rebate program

Winter 2010 Appliance Rebate program
By State Rep. Ken Paxton, Capitol Steps
Texas Comptroller of Public Account Susan Combs announced that Texas will offer a new appliance rebate program starting in the Winter of 2010 using unclaimed rebate funds. There are approximately $10 million of unclaimed rebates from earlier this year and Texas residents with a valid Texas residential address qualify for a rebate if they follow all program rules.
Eligible appliance categories will include ENERGY STAR refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, washing machines (but not dryers), dishwashers, central air conditioners, air-source heat pumps and water heaters. To qualify for the ENERGY STAR label, an appliance must meet rigorous energy efficiency and water efficiency standards set by the federal government. These appliance use less energy and less water than regular appliances and thus help consumers save money each month of their utility bills. To view a list of ENERGY STAR qualifying models, go to http://www.ENERGYSTAR.gov.
Appliance rebates will be available on a first-come, first-served basis through a purchase and mail-in rebate program; not a phone or on-line reservation system. The rebate amounts for this program have not yet been determined but will be released when the program launches.
The goal of the appliance rebate program is to stimulate the Texas economy and provide savings to Texas residents. To learn more about this program or to sign up for email alerts, please visit http://www.texaspowerfulsmart.org/rebate/.

Rep: Ken Paxton: Keeping Texas’ economy strong

By Ken Paxton, Capitol Steps

Texas has built one of the strongest economies in the nation based largely on relatively low taxation and generally limited government interference in the private sector economy. Our business-friendly and family-friendly policies have helped Texas weather the economic downturn better than every other state and have made Texas the economic envy of the nation.

In 2007, for instance, the Legislature voted to devote more than $14 billion to property tax relief over two years. This followed on the heels of the action taken in the third special session of the 79th Legislature, in which a one-third reduction of school district property tax rates by 2008 was ensured through the creation of the Property Tax Relief Fund.

In 2009, my colleagues and I resisted attempts to spend the State’s Rainy Day Fund, which has helped to maintain a high bond rating. This is critical because it keeps borrowing costs low and therefore allows the State to fund costly infrastructure projects over the long term.

While the central challenge of the 2011 Legislative Session will be to again balance the budget without raising taxes, legislators must keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Fiscally-responsible policies are what have kept Texas’ economy head and shoulders above the rest of the nation. Continuing on this path is crucial.

At its core, the system of school district property taxation remains outdated and inefficient. Continued reform and reduction of the school district maintenance and operations property tax is imperative if Texas is to remain an attractive place to own a home and start or expand a business.

Ensuring that the State’s tax climate remains strong is imperative and can be achieved by reducing the negative effects of the business margins tax. At minimum, the Legislature must make the $1 million revenue exemption permanent for small businesses and seek to protect all businesses from the worst aspect of the tax, namely high compliance costs.

In short, while Texas’ economy is among the strongest in the nation, there is still much work to be done to keep our State competitive. I look forward to beginning this process when the next Legislative Session begins in January, 2011.

Ken Paxton represents Collin County in the Texas House of Representatives.

Washington targets Texas

By Ken Paxton, State Representative
Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 4899). While the American public has become accustomed to Congress adding unrelated riders and pork spending to federal bills, Texans may be surprised to learn that congressional members added an amendment that specifically targets Texas by making particular demands on our State while simultaneously circumventing our State’s process for funding public education.

Through this amendment, Congress is trying to bypass our State’s authority for setting our own education standards by offering money directly to school districts to hire additional employees. However, there is a catch. In order for school districts to receive this money, Governor Perry would have to guarantee that the Legislature would appropriate school funding that would equal or exceed current funding for the next three fiscal years (through 2013).

Not only is this amendment an attempt to infringe on our State’s right to set our own education standards, but it also makes demands that violate the Texas Constitution. Texas governors do not have the authority to set appropriations in our State’s budget, nor do they have the authority to require the Legislature to allocate appropriations in future budgets for specific State programs.

Governor Rick Perry has twice rejected federal funds to participate in Administration Race to the Top program. This program is designed to provide funding to states that adopt national education standards. Rather than adopting federal standards, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, members of our State Board of Education and other education leaders in our State have spent the last four years rewriting standards for core subjects, including English, Language Arts, Reading, Science and Social Studies, to improve the quality of education for our students in Texas.

Our State continues to lead the country in economic prosperity and job growth while declining offers for federal stimulus dollars with strings attached. However, Congress is demonstrating its thirst for power by this effort to bypass our State’s authority. The U.S. Senate will consider H.R. 4899 next week. Hopefully, Senators will strip this amendment from the bill and show appropriate respect for our State’s Constitution and authority to set our own education standards.
Ken Paxton represents McKinney, Allen and Collin County.

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