At the dawn of the 84th Legislative Session this year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did something pretty brazen, which isn't entirely out of character for the talk-show host turned-most powerful officeholder in the state. First, he tapped a slew of millionaires, billionaires and heavyweight GOP donors -- over half of whom donated directly to his campaign -- to form official "advisory panels" to help his office tackle economic, oil and gas, water and tax policy. The move essentially formalized the incestuous "fund my campaign and I'll help you make laws" nature of this biennial shit-show we call the Texas Legislature, making influence-peddling a formal, recognized component of Texas's governing body. (We guess you can call that transparency?)
But it wasn't just moneyed interests that catapulted the Houston Republican to the lieutenant governor's seat. The Tea Party darling had to thank his base, too. So Patrick established another panel of advisers, a so-called Grassroots Advisory Board. Yesterday, we got a lesson in how weird things can get when the lieutenant governor invites a group of hard-right, Tea Party faithfuls to the table to debate state-wide policy priorities -- like, say, the better funding of pre-kindergarten programs.
Yesterday, that Grassroots Advisory Board fired off a letter to the Texas Senate decrying one of Gov. Greg Abbott's top priorities for the session -- funding quality pre-K programming -- as a socialist, godless plot to break up Texas families.
Abbott championed funneling more money to pre-K programs during his run for the governor's office, and House Bill 4 and its companion Senate Bill 801 are largely modeled on those campaign promises. The measure wouldn't expand pre-K eligibility beyond what the state already funds -- half-day pre-K for 4-year-olds from poor, military, or non-native English speaking families. Instead, Abbott's plan would throw an extra $130 million, or about $1,500 per eligible student, at districts that adopt certain curriculum, accountability and quality standards.
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And Patrick's hand-picked Tea Party-infused advisory team just took a big, self-righteous dump all over that plan. On letterhead bearing a state seal declaring "Lieutenant Governor's Grassroots Advisory Panel," the group wrote that instead of providing incentives to grow quality pre-K programs, government should "look out for ways to help at least one parent remain in the homes with children." The letter continues:
"[W]e are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers' day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade. ...
Texans are endowed with 'certain unalienable rights' which include the rights and duties of parents to rear their children with minimal intrusion from the State. This intereference by the State tramples upon our parental rightrs. The early removal of chlidren from parents' care is historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights."
The letter then goes on to criticize the "Welfare State," and the "breakdown of the American family," which, according to Patrick's advisers, are apparently worsened by funding quality pre-K programs.
See also: Dan Patrick Gives Rich People an Official Seat at the Table Dan Patrick Gathers His Very Own Tea Party