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.