A little history, a lot of politics
Dr. Howell Wright

A few years ago Texas Lawmakers created a buzz word that flew around the capital and was aimed directly at public schools...transparency. This year they forgot all about transparency when a conference committee of a few members forged out a school funding plan that most legislators and the public were not allowed to know about until after the plan was developed behind closed doors. Because they forgot the meaning of transparency and some of the members called their hand on it they had to go to summer school in the form of a special session because they failed to pass a school funding plan.

The plan they developed in the final days of the regular session has been duplicated and is currently being fast tracked into law in a very partisan manner. The school finance plan they want to adopt will change public school funding in the future. The current plans are in the form of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) and House Bill (HB1) and they will relinquish the state’s responsibility from funding public schools at the per student rate that is required by current law. SB 1 and HB 1 will give legislators permission to cut public school funding during any future session. The message they are sending is that public school funding is no longer a priority in Texas.

What makes this school finance plan alarming? The plan does not meet the requirements of the Texas constitution (the same constitution they said they would support when they were sworn in back in January). In fact Sen. Dan Patrick from Houston publicly claimed that the plan was “a true cut to an entitlement”. “I think it is a change that is needed as we move forward. We need to have real cuts,” Patrick said.

I can assure Sen. Patrick that public schools across Texas and Rockdale ISD have been making real cuts. The Texas budget and public school budgets are not like the federal budget. We have lean budgets in comparison to other states and spend less per pupil than almost every state in the nation.

Public education is not an entitlement program as described by Sen. Patrick, it was fought for by Texans during the war of Texas Independence. When Texas declared war on Mexico one of the reasons provided was Mexico’s refusal to provide a school system for the children of Texas. When Texas first became an independent nation providing public schools was a part of the Republic of Texas Constitution.

Upon becoming a state in the United States, the Texas State Constitution (the one we still abide by) was written and describes “a general diffusion of knowledge” to be “essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people” and assigns to the state and not local districts, the “duty to establish and make suitable provision for the support and the maintenance of an efficient system of free public schools.”

SB 1 and HB 1 are not just about making cuts during tough economic times, they are also about not adequately funding public education in the future. School districts have braced for this time of poor economics and have made painful cuts in every district. Texas lawmakers have taken the stance that local districts should bear the brunt of funding their school districts, not the State of Texas as described in our constitution.

If this law is passed and Texas legislators in the future continue to cut funding to public schools, money in schools will eventually run out. It is a simple math concept, as expenses continue to go up and funding continues to decrease then something will have to give. There will not be many choices for school districts, schools can generate more revenue in the form of taxes, significantly increase class size in grades 5-12, drop all extra-curricular programs or eventually close their doors.

There are other choices that lawmakers could have used to fund schools, but they were told by state leadership that those choices were off limits. I suppose there is another choice, the public can elect lawmakers that support public education and the Texas Constitution.

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2011-06-09 digital edition

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