Time for leg­is­la­tors to make larger in­vest­ment in schools, fix sys­tem


Last year, the Texas Supreme Court called our state’s school fund­ing sys­tem aw­ful, in­ad­e­quate and ba­si­cally a mess — yet still ruled that it met some min­i­mum stan­dard for Texas stu­dents. When I asked one leg­is­la­tor to ex­plain this, he said that only three or four people in Texas un­der­stood the school fi­nance sys­tem — and he wasn’t one of them. An­other leg­is­la­tor told me that it’s not about the fund­ing, be­cause if a teacher is good, he or she could just teach “un­der an ol’ shade tree.” Nei­ther con­ver­sa­tion in­spired con­fi­dence.

I’ve talked with many Tex­ans about school fund­ing, and here’s what they say:

We un­der­fund Texas schools.

The sys­tem for shar­ing it is to­tally screwed up.

Prop­erty taxes are way too high.

So let’s sit to­gether un­der the shade tree and ex­am­ine these points.

Not enough fund­ing. You need more than a shade tree to pre­pare stu­dents for to­day’s econ­omy. But if you get what you pay for, Texas is clearly short­chang­ing its fu­ture.

In 2011, Texas cut $5.4 bil­lion from pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion that was never fully re­stored. Since 2006, statewide en­roll­ment has in­creased by 16.8 per­cent, though fund­ing in­creases lag at 7.4 per­cent. In 2015, the state cut busi­ness and other taxes by $4 bil­lion, re­sult­ing in a self­made bud­get cri­sis this ses­sion. With pos­si­ble fed­eral bud­get cuts loom­ing, the sit­u­a­tion for Texas stu­dents is dire.

Texas is 43rd in the coun­try in per-pupil fund­ing, though it in­vests heav­ily in in­car­cer­a­tion. Mas­sachusetts is sim­i­lar to Texas in stu­dent di­ver­sity, im­mi­gra­tion and other de­mo­graph­ics, but its su­pe­rior in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion — sev­enth from the top — has paid off with the na­tion’s high­est aca­demic rank­ing and one of the low­est in­car­cer­a­tion rates. If we’re to stay com­pet­i­tive, Texas can and must do bet­ter.

Com­plex fund­ing for­mu­las re­sult in neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts re­ceiv­ing vastly dif­fer­ent amounts per stu­dent. And be­cause for­mu­las haven’t been up­dated for decades, a dis­trict like Austin ISD doesn’t qual­ify for ad­e­quate fund­ing to sup­port the greater needs of roughly 50,000 dis­ad­van­taged learn­ers. With over 3 mil­lion eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents statewide, Texas must up­date its fund­ing for­mu­las to pro­vide a fair shot at aca­demic suc­cess for all kids.

And then there’s the so-called Robin Hood re­cap­ture sys­tem. It’s a “share-thewealth” scheme that is out-ofwhack, caus­ing Austin ISD to sur­ren­der $406 mil­lion to the state this year — one-third of our school prop­erty tax bill. The goal is eq­uity, though the re­sult is any­thing but.

Prop­erty taxes are way too high. In 2006, af­ter Texas courts de­manded a fix to high prop­erty tax rates, the fran­chise tax rate was in­creased. This was sup­posed to al­low prop­erty taxes to be cut by a third, with fran­chise taxes mak­ing up the dif­fer­ence in rev­enue. Un­for­tu­nately, the fran­chise tax has fallen short of this goal by an av­er­age $5 bil­lion per year, cre­at­ing a struc­tural bud­get hole that con­tin­ues to grow. This gap has now forced prop­erty tax rates to peak lev­els to keep pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion afloat. Mean­while, the state has con­tin­ued to re­duce its share of school fund­ing and is now si­phon­ing off some prop­erty tax rev­enue to fill other bud­get holes.

In short, our sys­tem is bro­ken, in­vest­ing 10 per­cent less per stu­dent than 10 years ago. It’s time to de­mand change. No more “shade tree” talk. No rob­bing Peter to pay Paul with our prop­erty taxes. No un­funded man­dates or ex­pen­sive, in­ef­fec­tive stan­dard­ized test­ing. No cut­ting aid to uni­ver­si­ties and drown­ing young adults in tu­ition debt.

Don’t let the Texas Leg­is­la­ture put off the hard work of fix­ing school fund­ing. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, bud­gets are moral doc­u­ments that re­veal what we value. Join us on Satur­day from 10 a.m. to noon for a Save Texas Schools Rally at the Capi­tol and be part of so­lu­tion for all Texas kids.

Re: March 10 ar­ti­cle, “Michael McCaul holds low-risk ‘tele­phone town hall,’ takes 10 ques­tions.”

I lis­tened to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul’s lengthy dis­courses dur­ing the one-hour phone meet­ing, dur­ing which only 10 ques­tions were taken. Two slightly op­po­si­tional ones were ei­ther gar­bled or mis­un­der­stood. The calls were screened.

One caller said that the bor­der wall project was money ir­re­spon­si­bly spent; McCaul took it in the pos­i­tive and launched into a re­peat of his bor­der wall speech. An­other re­ferred to a pos­i­tive state­ment about im­mi­grants and asked if McCaul main­tains that po­si­tion. An­other long speech which did not an­swer the ques­tion fol­lowed. He did not ad­dress the ques­tion: “What do you have to say to Jews and Mus­lims who are tar­gets of hate speech and vi­o­lence?”

There was no chance for the caller to clar­ify if he or she was mis­un­der­stood or to ask fol­low-up ques­tions. Tele­phone town halls are a cost-ef­fec­tive way to reach a lot of con­stituents in a con­trolled, risk-free en­vi­ron­ment.

Re: March 12 ar­ti­cle, “Court voids 3 Texas con­gres­sional dis­tricts.”

The rul­ing il­lus­trates Ge­orge Or­well’s quo­ta­tion: “All an­i­mals are equal, but some an­i­mals are more equal than oth­ers.” The 2010 U.S. Cen­sus found that white, non-His­pan­ics made up 45 per­cent of the Texas pop­u­la­tion, while African-Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics made up about 49 per­cent. Yet, per a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups, whites held ma­jori­ties in 70 per­cent of Con­gres­sional Dis­tricts.

None­the­less, the rul­ing found very few dis­tricts il­le­gally drawn. It held that Texas should cre­ate one ad­di­tional dis­trict where mi­nori­ties had a good chance of elect­ing can­di­dates. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s dis­trict, although mi­nor­ity-ma­jor­ity, didn’t qual­ify be­cause it wasn’t com­pact and vot­ers didn’t en­gage in racially po­lar­ized vot­ing. The pack­ing-and-crack­ing prac­tice per­formed in Dallas was illegal solely be­cause the Repub­li­cans, lack­ing ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion about vot­ing pat­terns by party, re­lied on race in­stead. The same prac­tice in Hous­ton was per­mit­ted be­cause vot­ers were placed in dis­tricts by party reg­is­tra­tion.


White House coun­selor Kellyanne Conway has been an out­spo­ken critic of the news me­dia, say­ing it has been un­fair in its cov­er­age of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion.


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