Author: Josh Haney

Three Reasons Why a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment Is Conceptually Flawed

With every economic slowdown in recent history, calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution reach a fever pitch. Many times, this sort of “common-sense” governance is presented with hokey populist rhetoric equating the budget of an average American family with that of our federal government. This can—at least to a naïve observer—be made into a compelling case, as there are endless soundbite-worthy ways to illustrate just how much more our federal government spends than what it takes in. You could scoff about the fact that the federal budget has only been balanced six times in the past 50 years. Throwing around dizzyingly large figures is also a popular strategy, such as the fact that the past budget alone added $1.3 trillion to the debt, bringing total U.S. debt to around $15 trillion. If you like your arguments for a balanced budget mixed with a touch of jingoism, perhaps you could fret about China holding about $1.1 trillion in U.S. debt (despite the fact that the Federal Reserve and other intra-governmental holdings dwarf that amount by about 6 times over). To be clear, we should be engaged in a sustained, determined effort to reduce U.S. debt. However, this can—and has—been done perfectly well under the current Constitution. Gimmicky strategies like balanced budget amendments may sound good on the campaign trail, but they are fundamentally flawed methods for...

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Public Schools Have a Revenue Problem, Not a Spending Problem

With school districts across Texas rallying against drastic budget cuts, many elected officials and critics of public schools have tried to cast educators as being responsible for the situation they’re currently facing. These critics charge that schools need to learn to be more efficient with the resources they have and that more competition and accountability is the only way to ensure that educators feel the pressure. However, when you look closely at the primary tax structures that are supposed to prop up our schools, a different picture emerges: one of shortsighted, politically motivated decisions that have undermined public education in this state for years. One of the most significant revenue problems within the current school funding system centers on a reworked franchise tax — commonly referred to as the margins tax. This new tax was originally conceived in 2006 as a way to offset a one-third reduction in school district property tax rates. This $14.2 billion loss in local revenue to schools would be recuperated by expanding the franchise tax so it would also apply to all businesses other than corporations and those with similar legal structures. A $1 increase in cigarette taxes and changes in the calculation of the taxable value of used cars would also help make up the difference. Though analysts at the Legislative Budget Board and the Comptroller’s office repeatedly warned legislators that these revised...

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Homophobia Still Alive and Well in Texas Politics

This has been a landmark year in gay rights.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, New York became the seventh state or territory to legalize gay marriage and key public figures like Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama threw their weight behind the It Gets Better campaign.  Although these are significant strides toward equality, homophobia still lingers in our domestic policies, and Texas’ Rider 19 embodies the kind of bigotry and bias that gay teens still face. Rider 19 is the Texas Department of State Health Services’ sexual abuse reporting policy for minors.  Created in 2001, it requires all DSHS-funded doctors to report cases of statutory rape, nonconsensual sex, or any intercourse involving children under 14 to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. While it does work to protect teens from harmful or abusive situations, it also has a bigoted and potentially dangerous special provision for same-sex couples.  If a medical, mental health or family planning doctor discovers that a patient under 17 slept with someone of the same sex, regardless of his or her partner’s age or consent, they must file a child abuse claim and report them to DFPS within 48 hours.  If it is discovered that they did not file a claim, the doctor faces financial sanctions and could potentially lose their job. This discriminatory treatment of gay or questioning teens can...

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The “Other” Tragedy in Public School Funding

  We’re all aware of the beating public education took this past legislative session. A total of $5.3 billion was cut, representing the first time Texas deliberately underfunded its schools. As a result, thousands of teachers lost their jobs and hundreds of innovative programs were ended. However, a less familiar, but equally unfortunate reality of our school finance system is how inequitably the reduced amount of money schools did receive was distributed. This problem is not the result of the most recent legislative session (though actions taken this time around did little to correct it), but has been built into our school finance system over decades of lawsuits, lobbying and legislation. Taxpayers across the state are not able to raise similar amounts of money for their schools at comparable tax rates. Property wealth varies wildly across the state, and while Texas does account for this to some extent through what’s commonly referred to as “recapture” or “Robin Hood”, other parts of the school finance system allow wealthy districts to generate tax revenue that is exempt from these provisions. This allows property-wealthy districts to take advantage of this disparity and charge lower taxes, yet receive more money per student. For example, this past school year, the bottom 10 percent of districts in terms of money received per student — $5,221, on average—had a high average property tax rate of $1.15....

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Texas’ Charter School Movement Shows Growing Pains

  Charter schools are quickly becoming an important piece of both national and state-level education reform efforts. They’ve been praised in movies like “Waiting For Superman” as one of the few hopes for improving inner-city education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made boosting charter school enrollment on criteria for the Race to the Top grant program. And Texas is right in the thick of it. KIPP, a poster child for this movement, started in Houston, and has since expanded to a network of over 100 schools. Harmony, another popular charter organization, educates more than 16,000 students at 36 campuses across the state. In 2010, Texas ranked 4th in the number of students enrolled in charter schools, and another 56,000 students are currently on waiting lists. Though Texas may be a leader in charter expansion, the narrative of charters’ exceptionalism is beginning to be undermined by the most recent generations of charter schools. A recently released report conducted by the Texas Center for Educational Research (TCER) found some alarming things about the most recent rounds of charter schools authorized by the Texas Education Agency (full disclosure: I was employed at TCER for several months while this study was being conducted, though I only had a very minor role in this project). They concluded that, of the open-enrollment charter schools (i.e. not district-affiliated) that launched over the past four school years, many...

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