The never-ending school finance battle flares anew

Bill Hammond

Bill Hammond

Special to the Star-Telegram, by Bill Hammond, 09/18/14 –

Here we go again. Another fight over the way we fund our schools and the amount we spend on our students is heading to the Texas Supreme Court.

By the time the issue makes it to the Legislature again, the current funding system will have been in place for 10 years.

I guess that’s a good run for a school finance system, but I still question the need for wholesale changes.

First, state District Judge John Deitz wrote in his Aug. 28 ruling about schools being underfunded, considering they are under more pressure to meet tougher standards.

What tougher standards is Deitz talking about? Maybe those standards that were rolled back last year at the behest of Texas superintendents?

We also have candidates running for office who promise to eliminate more tests and roll standards back even further this coming legislative session.

That undercuts the argument that schools need more money to meet tougher standards.

And, what about the new numbers from the Texas Education Agency? The agency says 90 percent of school districts and 85 percent of campuses are meeting state standards.

If we are really that successful, then it would seem that our students are flourishing under the current system.

The state constitution talks about a funding system that ensures a general diffusion of knowledge. If 85 percent of schools and the students that go to them are meeting state standards, that says to me “mission accomplished.”

Of course, we all know that those numbers are overblown, considering only about 20 to 25 percent of our students graduate career- or college-ready, which should be the standard by which we hold our schools accountable.

There is also the fact that surprised many lawmakers in a recent hearing: We have not increased the passing score for the STAAR test in the last four years.

To put that another way: We have never increased the passing scores for STAAR, some of which are as low as 37 percent. That also takes away from the argument that schools are struggling to meet tougher standards, because the standards have never been toughened.

It’s ironic at least and hypocritical at worst that many argue that since schools are struggling to meet standards no one is expected to meet, they need more money.

The truth is, we have been throwing more money at the system for years and results are still low.

Yes, the Legislature made cuts in 2011, but most of those were restored in 2013. The point is there has to be some other answer out there, because money alone will not solve the problem.

It is my hope that the Supreme Court will not look favorably on this ruling as a whole. I believe we have enough money in the system to educate our children.

What we must do is spend it smartly and hold schools accountable for results.

That means adopting an accountability system that will give us a true and accurate snapshot of the job we are doing, not turn our campuses into a glorified kid’s soccer league where everyone gets a trophy.

The future of our economy depends on students who get a great public education and graduate with a diploma that means they are ready for a career or college, not a diploma that might as well be a participation ribbon.

Bill Hammond is chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business.


2 responses

  1. Great article! My favorite line… “The future of our economy depends on students who get a great public education and graduate with a diploma that means they are ready for a career or college, not a diploma that might as well be a participation ribbon.”

    Dawn King Parker County Realty, LLC 817-360-8702

    Thank you Lord, I’m so blessed to be a TEXAN!

  2. Senator_Blutarsky

    Our best candidate for Governor has a better approach –

    We can produce better education at a lower cost by ending school property taxes and “Robin Hood” transfers and fighting cronyism and federal subversion of our curriculum. This will eliminate the need for expensive, time-consuming, frustrating, crony-enriching testing while protecting our right and ability to own property and growing the economy.

    Texas faces two critical problems: 1) our government education system with its byzantine financing structure is broken and needs a complete overhaul, and 2) property taxes — especially school property taxes — are out of control and should be abolished. These two issues vitally important to Texans are so inextricably intertwined that they should be addressed together.

    For too long, federal and state courts have improperly dictated how Texas schools are run and tax dollars spent, with disastrous results. In addition, cronyism and federal interference (C-Scope) has all but destroyed Texas public education.

    In order to preserve “the liberties and rights of the people,” our Texas Constitution mandates a “suitable provision” for an “efficient system of free public schools.” The State of Texas currently sends about $8,000 per capita from the Permanent School Fund and other sources, to school districts to meet this mandate.

    By restricting taxpayer-funded services including schools to citizens (the misrepresented Supreme Court case of Plyler v. Doe does not prohibit this), the per capita payment would greatly increase to perhaps $10,000 or $12,000. This would satisfy our Constitution and suitably provide for efficient public schools.

    Texas tax monies should not fund crony projects such as Taj Mahal-like offices and buildings, “TajMahStadiums,” or interest on debt. Nor should any Texas taxes fund “FedLedEd” (such as C-Scope/Common Core). We should allow local supplementation of the State of Texas per capita payment with up to a penny sales tax if approved by the voters.

    Using this approach, we can end school property taxes and “Robin Hood” transfers, fight cronyism and federal tyranny, protect our right and ability to own property, and grow the economy.

    An essential part of this educational overhaul is a return to local control. Government education worked far better in years past when key decisions were made by parents (the consumers), local school boards, and voters. We must remove obstacles to the re-establishment and effective use of this local control, but bar surreptitious influence over curriculum, instructional methods, and testing by the federal government.

    One size fits all does not work for a state as large and diverse as Texas. Vigorous expansion of local control will unleash teachers, parents, and local board members to craft the educational experience that they think best for their students and that they are willing to pay for. Experimentation will thrive as one district tries vouchers, another institutes on-line learning, and so on.

    With this approach, the barrage of tests — the only value of which is to comply with some bureaucratic mandate from Austin or Washington — will end, as will the other administrative nightmares and paperwork.

    We can abolish truancy laws, which exist to maximize revenue from the state, and allow students of a certain age and their parents to choose whether they continue to accept free public schooling or not. As every teacher knows, a teenager who does not wish to be in school is very disruptive — depriving other students of the ability to learn and denying the teacher the ability to teach — and can even be dangerous. It is time for our teachers to be able to return to being teachers and not be conscripted to serve as babysitters or wardens.

    Property taxation is a liberty issue as well as a financial issue. If you can lose your home, farm, or ranch due to unpaid property taxes, you are really a renter from the government, not a landowner.

    Bottom line: we will have better educational services at a lower cost, and more freedom and prosperity.

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