Texas education needs more than a Band-Aid

GARY G. GODSEY

By GARY G. GODSEY

Special to The Eagle

When the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from school coffers in 2011, school districts and other interested parties filed suit claiming that, as a result of the cuts, the state is failing to live up to its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate public education to all students.

After several weeks of arguments, state district Judge John Dietz agreed. In a ruling from the bench in February 2013, Dietz determined that the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional, but he did not make a formal, final ruling.

Since then, the 83rd Texas Legislature restored $3.4 billion of those funds. And during that same session, lawmakers passed legislation greatly reducing the number of end-of-course exams required in high school. Beginning Jan. 21, Dietz will hear from all sides regarding the impact of restoring those funds.

You can expect the state to argue that because testing requirements have been loosened, educational standards have been lowered, and thus the current funding level is adequate. Nothing is further from the truth. If we are to prepare students for college and the workforce, academic rigor must be increased.

Texas ranks in the lower 20th percentile among all states in per-pupil spending for public education. Some say Texas ranks 49th, others claim it's closer to 40th. Either way, one could argue that even before the 2011 cuts, schools did not have the sufficient funding necessary to prepare students for college and careers in a highly technological age.

The argument about what is adequate and what is equitable has been waged since the state first gave serious scrutiny to the inequalities in the cost of educating children in 1949, under the Gilmer-Aikin Law. At the time it was an attempt to address the dire straits schools were in following the Depression and World War II. The law's chief architect, State Sen. A. M. Aikin Jr., once said of his days as a legislator, "I came here thinking a child ought to get an equal educational opportunity whether he was born in the middle of an oil field or in the middle of a cotton field."

Despite considerable progress in the past 50 years, Aikin's vision has not been realized fully. And it will not be as long as the quality of a child's education and available resources is determined by the ZIP code in which he or she happens to be born.

At one point, the state's share of public education funding was 87 percent. Today it is a paltry 44 percent. This is simply unacceptable. As a state we must invest in public education. It would be misguided to suggest that, because fewer tests are given, the curriculum somehow will become less rigorous.

The notion of giving all children access to the best resources is even more critical given the state's changing demographics. For more than a decade now, urban school districts largely have been composed of minorities. A few years ago that demographic shift became the reality in Texas public schools as a whole: Ethnic minorities have become the majority.

Conversely, it is those same minority students who all too often are taught by the least experienced teachers and have much less access to technology and other advances necessary to prepare them for the careers of tomorrow.education need

Texas needs to find a long-term, reliable solution to public school funding. The time for management by crisis -- placing Band-Aids on problems to buy a few years between lawsuits -- long since has passed.

Texas can do better, and it's time we did.

• Gary G. Godsey is executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

(5) comments

roy g

Someone posted that student enrollment is up by 17% in the last decade but spending is up by 50%. The poster seems to think that all outside factors that change over time are now frozen in order to make his fallacious point. The fact is that expenditures do not vary linearly with enrollment.

From the comptroller's own site, we have a simple graph comparing per-student appropriations vs enrollment for the decade of 1997 to 2007. Granted it's about 6 years behind the present time, but the point is still valid. Per-student appropriations have DECREASED over time, adjusted for inflation, while enrollment has increased.

http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/workforce/images/exhibit3-13.png

This can be broken down further into components. The following shows a more current timespan from 2002 to the present. Funding sources are broken down by federal, state, and local contributions and are again adjusted for inflation, this time using 2004 dollars.

http://www.genefortexas.com/docs/lbb_public_ed_email.jpg

As can be seen again, per-student appropriations have been steadily DECREASING over time. Furthermore, the chart shows the results of Perry's disastrous tax swap in 2006-2007 where he presumed a change in the franchise tax structure would make up for making himself look more electable by helping to decrease local property taxes. As predicted by Carol Keeton Strayhorn, the plan was a colossal failure and put Texas in an even worse condition when the Great Recession hit and the 82nd legislature had to cut the now legendary $5.4 billion from education.

This cut has NEVER been fully made up, and even if it had, per-student funding would STILL be at near record lows due to the continued loss of local funds and starvation-level funding by the state.

Nunya Bidness

I just now saw it! This was written by a union thug! NOW it makes sense.

Okay, they're not "unions", they're "associations". But their thug-like tactics are the same. My daughter was coerced by a union, er "association" thug, who used scare tactics like, "You won't be covered by insurance if you're not in the "association", and the like.

This piece was your typical pro-union piece written by a union thug. Shame on The Eagle for not offering a balanced view.

Nunya Bidness

How convenient. Much discussion about the "cuts" in 2011. Somehow, time has stopped. Apparently the last legislative session didn't happen. In it, if it happened, education funding was restored, because we had more money.

Moreover, this piece was just a snapshot in time. How about looking at the long term? Funding to education in Texas has grown by more than 50% in the past decade, while the enrollment has increased by only 17%. That little nugget is IGNORED by the public education advocates that believe that more money means better education. It does not. The test scores during that period during which funding grew 4 times faster than enrollment didn't move up one iota. More money does NOT mean better education.

The legislature is right to hold the line, demand better results for the money WE are spending. Parents should too. Taxpayers should as well. Moreover, the oversized, overpaid administrators should.

roy g

Looks like "all knowing" missed this line:

"Since then, the 83rd Texas Legislature restored $3.4 billion of those funds."

The poor quality of education as evidenced by reading failure is thus demonstrated.

Janice Williamson

Amen!! Well stated.

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