FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 21, 2004
(AUSTIN) -- The Texas Legislature on Tuesday (April 20) began the Special Session called by Governor Rick Perry to discuss how Texas funds its public schools. At issue is how to revamp the current finance structure without decreasing the quality of education Texas children receive.
Although the Senate and House of Representatives adjourned until Tuesday (April 27), Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, remained in Austin for hearings of the Senate Committees on Education and Health and Human Services. She is Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which will hear testimony about public school finance on Monday (April 26).
"Many proposals and ideas are being discussed, including one that the Senate passed during the 2003 regular legislative session," Senator Zaffirini said. "My goal for this session is to pass legislation that does not simply recognize an adequate education, but rather provides access to an excellent education for all Texas children."
To provide more funding for public education, the Legislature is examining possible sources for generating more revenue. Several bills were filed to help generate more revenue, including a $1 increase in the cigarette tax. Senator Zaffirini first proposed this increase in 2003. Her goal, however, was to generate funds to help offset smoking-related health care costs and to reduce future costs by reducing the number of potential smokers.
"Using such a tax to fund public education is a very risky idea," Senator Zaffirini warned. "It is not a long-term revenue source that we could count on because increasing the cigarette tax probably would decrease the number of smokers and, therefore, decrease tax revenue generated in future years." The Senator urges everyone interested in public school finance to participate in the Capitol hearings.
Committee hearings should help legislators formulate a proposal that could eventually become law. Although various components have been discussed, as of yet there is no plan that either improves on or replaces the current education structure and is supported by education and business leaders in SD 21. Whether any plan can be agreed upon and passed into law during the 30-day special session remains to be seen.
"Public education and Texas children are the most important issues for the Lieutenant Governor and Texas Senators," Senator Zaffirini said. "Unfortunately, that appears to be the only matter for which there is a consensus. We continue to explore all options as we prioritize protecting the current and future students and interests of SD 21."
The Special Session caused Senator Zaffirini to cancel visits to several counties in her district. "I am confident my constituents will understand," she said, "that I must prioritize protecting their interests at public school finance reform hearings."