Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lawmakers Need to Face Up To Real Costs of Good Schools

Lawmakers Need to Face Up To Real Costs of Good Schools

by Carlos Guerra
Web Posted: 02/15/2005 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

After years of warnings, how can so many lawmakers refuse to adequately fund public schools and cling to the fantasy that today's kids will be prepared for the increasingly demanding world they face?

In 2000, U.S. Department of Education tests showed that 23 percent of Texas fourth-graders and 32 percent of eighth-graders were behind in math, and 71 percent of fourth-graders lagged in reading.

And though a high school diploma now is required for many more jobs, our lawmakers still want to keep taxes — and expectations for students — far too low for anyone's good.

Texas already ranks 45th in high school completion rates and 46th in the percentage of people with high school diplomas. How can leaders define it a "success" when only 55 percent of students pass high school-exit exams?

And after all those tests lawmakers foisted to create the illusion of accountability, our education miracle's phantom nature is being revealed in comparisons of Texas students with those of other states.

After scores in state tests "improved" each year for more than a decade, Texas scores in nationally normed measures have not, and in some cases they have worsened.

National SAT test scores rose from 1,010 in 1995 to 1,020 in 2002, for example, while scores in Texas — which ranks 47th — dropped from 996 to 991.

"Businessmen will tell you that you have to spend money to make money," muses Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

State Demographer Steve Murdock issues more dire warnings.

"Texas may add 3 million kids between 2000 and 2040 to its public school population, a 70 percent increase," Murdock says. "Minority children are already a majority in our school systems, and we project that two of every three kids over the next 30 or 40 years will be Hispanic and about eight of every 10 will be non-Anglo."

This high growth of minority students demands that we reconsider school funding adequacy.

"To argue that you will hold districts accountable for programs which you do not provide the resources to achieve is a cruel joke," says Paul Colbert, a former lawmaker who has closely tracked school funding for 30 years. Colbert, who sponsored Texas' first student assessment measures, likes districts being held accountable for their students' performance.

"But you have to provide the resources necessary, and study after study indicates that it costs at least 40 percent more to appropriately educate an economically disadvantaged kid, and at least 40 percent more to educate a kid who has limited proficiency in English," he says. "And if a kid is both, it costs the combined effect of those two."

House Bill 2, that chamber's school funding bill, would end supplemental funding for gifted-and-talented students entirely and slash special education funding 40 percent.

"Currently, we provide $877 for economically disadvantaged kids, and it would cut it to $665," Colbert says. "But the (state's own) study says that you need $1,960 and they want it set at a fixed dollar amount, so if it's adequate this year, it will be more inadequate the next year and the next year."

The state's study also pegged limited English proficiency costs at $1,248 per student in 2004. HB 2 would fund it at $450.

"That is better than the $438 it's currently funded at," Colbert says, "but if it's inadequate this year, it will be inadequate the next year and even more the next year."

And when will we face reality?

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail
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