Unfunded State Mandates - School Business
- Editorial: Those underfunded mandates
Friday, June 01, 2007
Steroid testing for student athletes. Seat belts on school buses. Cardiac defibrillators near athletic venues.
All are likely to save lives. So, the Texas Legislature is requiring them. Good.
The question to ask at every turn, of course, is "How to pay for them?"
If the state doesn't do that, what it requires is an unfunded or underfunded mandate. That is nothing more than a cut in school funding.
Coming into this session, the subject of unfunded mandates was discussed by the Texas Task Force on Appraisal Reform. Gov. Rick Perry has assailed property appraisal creep as a "stealth tax." The task force acknowledged grudgingly that unfunded mandates are even stealthier. They allow lawmakers to say, "We held down taxes," while foisting expenses onto local governments that force them to raise their taxes or to get by with fewer resources. No institution gets hit harder in this arena than schools.
To their credit, lawmakers this session were considerably more deliberative about this matter than in previous years. But serious questions remain. The height of fiscal responsibility was an amendment written by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. It puts a hold on the requirement of seat belts on school buses until the state has a way to pay for them.
The seat-belt measure could save lives, but it is costly. Not only would it require retrofitting buses while bearing on the purchase of new ones, it also would lower bus capacity in some cases where small children have sat three to a seat.
The state should fund this requirement and not dump it onto local school districts.
The legislation calling for steroid testing includes funding of $3 million a year in the next biennium, but not beyond. After that, the state will consider options like hiking the price of tickets to sports events. Texas won't find much gold there. Football and basketball are the only events with significant gate receipts. Another thing: Funding this state mandate shouldn't be the University Interscholastic League's problem. It should be the Legislature's.
The bill to have automatic external defibrillators ready whenever and wherever student athletes compete is a noble matter, but implementing it could be difficult, not to mention costly.
Likely, the courts will have to determine what the Legislature means with the words "available during any University Interscholastic League athletic competition held on the campus."
One school administrator projects that the requirement ultimately could cost $50 million, considering all the athletic activities going on in every school day.
This is one more example of wishing for the moon but not being willing to pay for the moon shot.
With all of these bills, remember one thing: Mandates are forever.
Source: Waco Tribune
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