Last year, just after state lawmakers had finished cutting $5.4 billion from Texas' public education system, voters passed a constitutional amendment intended to put $300 million back into schools by allowing the General Land Office to put a portion of its real estate earnings into the Available School Fund.
That's what was supposed to happen, but Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said his agency wanted to protect the funds for upcoming investment opportunities, according to the Texas Tribune. Lawmakers said Patterson had previously promised to use the money for schools. Patterson insisted that he said no such thing. And there things stood until the the legislature reconvenes in January.
The issue, however, has re-emerged. Progress Texas, a liberal political action committee, sent out an email blast accusing Patterson of hoarding $300 million and urging supporters to visit its website to send an automatically generated email of opposition. Patterson received some 3,200 emails and was not amused.
OK, maybe he was a little amused.
"Dear Concerned Texas," he wrote in response. "Thank you for clicking "TAKE ACTION" on www.progresstexas.com and emailing the auto generated letter to me. I appreciate your interest in Texas public education finance."
He goes on to explain that, since his office's School Land Board has already approved sending $500 million to support Texas schools, "sending an additional $300 million could be financially irresponsible and damage the future of public school funding."
He goes on in that vein for some time, then basically calls all the people who emailed him dupes of "slacktivists."
"By participating in Progress Texas' 'slacktivist' campaign, you allowed them to put your name on a letter that is erroneous, misguided, and pointless. I encourage you to dig deeper, get involved, and don't let some third-party organization do your civic duty for you."
Progress Texas in turn sent out a press release titled "Republican Jerry Patterson Continues to Hoard $300 Million from Texas Students."
All of which is very entertaining, but squabbling over $300 million seems to be missing the forest for the trees. Sure, it would help, but it won't come close to healing the wounds left by the legislature's budget.