Texas AG, Governor Take the Feds to Court Over Edujobs

By Sean Cavanagh — September 23, 2010 2 min read
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Texas officials want their share of $830 million in federal money for schools—and they’re willing to go to court to get it.

The state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, filed a legal challenge Thursday against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the agency is wrong to deny the state that share of federal cash, which was part of the congressionally approved Education Jobs Fund.

When that fund was approved by Congress in August, a number of Texas Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, supported the inclusion of an amendment written with their home state in mind. It sought to ensure that state officials would not cut the state’s share of school funding and plug that hole with federal dollars. That move outraged Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who labeled the measure “anti-Texas.” Perry claimed that he did not have the legal authority to guarantee school funding in future years. Only the legislature, he said, could set spending levels.

Texas applied for the money, anyway, but its proposal was rejected by the U.S. Department of Education, which took a dim view of the state’s “conditional assurances” about future school funding.

The legal petition, filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, says Texas has a right to the money. Abbott asserts that a congressional amendment can only force state officials to do what they can, legally. Any other interpretation of the amendment “leads to absurd results,” the Republican AG argues. The requirements established by the Doggett amendment violate the equal protection guarantees of the constitution, the petition says. Gov. Perry said he agreed, in a statement applauding the legal filing.

“Texas taxpayers are footing the bill for the education jobs fund, and Texas’ hardworking teachers deserve their share of that money,” he said.

U.S. Department of Education officials suggested that they hope a solution can be worked out with Texas, but not through the courts.

“Filing a lawsuit is not the most productive way to resolve this right now,” Sandra Abrevaya, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We’re eager to get this money working for school children and stand ready to work with the state of Texas to make that happen.”

Rep. Doggett offered a sharper critique of the legal action.

“The bottom line is this: Federal aid to education should actually aid education in our local Texas schools,” he said in a statement. “It is almost as if the governor felt he was entitled to his own blank check federal bailout and now he has the lawsuit to prove it.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.