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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

It Is Never the Time to Let 'Improvements' Set Texas Kids Back

By Carlos Guerra, San Antonio Express-News

Yet again, the current crop of Austin big shots is saying they will make major improvements to the school funding system.

But will they really?

Or will it be another smoke-and-mirrors scam in which meaningless new standards are set but no new money is provided for schools to meet them, while money once taken through one tax is replaced with an equal sum taken with another tax but divided up in a new, more inequitable manner?

This is really about GOP leaders who won on promises of eliminating the recapture provision in the school funding system that takes tax revenue from Texas' 137 richest districts and redistributes it among the other 897 districts.

Now that it's put-up-or-shut-up time, they know that letting those 137 districts keep all their money just for their kids will require cutting billions from the other districts' funding or raising taxes.

In other words, it's time to obfuscate things and confuse everyone.

When Rep. Kent Grusendorf's House Bill 2 was released, it surprised few that it wouldn't eliminate the "recapture" provision entirely but would let the wealthy districts keep 65 percent of what they now share with others.

HB 2 also guarantees that all school systems will get what they are getting now, plus 3 percent.

But it also would change "enrichment funding" — extra money determined by how heavily a district taxes itself — in a way that, together with the changes to the recapture provision, would dramatically increase the difference between what rich and poor districts would spend per kid.

Additionally, the bill would change the funding mechanism for "special population programs" for bilingual, compensatory and special education students who cost substantially more to educate.

The current "weighting" formula that provides extra resources for these students would be replaced with set dollar premiums that subsequent Legislatures would have to reset every two years.

Altogether, these measures would immediately widen the funding gap between rich and poor districts, and, over time, the disparities would grow even more.

Let's quit playing around. Everybody knows what this is about.

Texas has had one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing school-age populations for years but the state's share of school funding has dropped to less than 40 percent of the total.

"The state of Texas defaulted in its responsibility to fund education, and that has forced higher local property tax rates and created the crisis we now face," says María "Cuca" Robledo, head of Intercultural Development Research Association, an education think tank.

Texas' 288,286 teachers are already teaching 4.2 million schoolchildren, of which 52 percent are economically disadvantaged, 15 percent speak limited English and 60 percent are minorities.

The percentage of kids with special, costlier educational needs is growing, not shrinking. How well these kids do now will determine Texas' economic future.

Most disturbing about HB 2 is that it would establish "accreditation-based funding," a radically different system that would provide only the funding sufficient for schools to meet a lowered standard of an "adequate" education.

"Just as there is no such thing as 'separate but equal,' there is no such thing as 'unequal but adequate,'" said former Texas District Judge F. Scott McCown.

And he's right.
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To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail cguerra@express-news.net.
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http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/columnists/cguerra/stories/MYSA030105.01B.Guerra.f36be2e2.html

1 comment:

  1. It should be quite obvious to everyone involved by now that the GOP leaders in Austin have no idea how to fix education and serve their rich contributors at the same time. What is doubly disturbing is the fact that a lot of people who voted our current "leaders" into office will get slammed by the GOP's lack of compassion for anyone but their largest donors. Anyone who is interested in this phenomena should read Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?"
    But I digress, the real issue is that Texas schools, Texas teachers and Texas students are being left out in the cold by a system that got elected promising to make things better knowing full well that they had no intention of doing anything remotely resembling effective, equitable education reform.
    They, the Feds, call the law No Child Left Behind, but as it turns out, more children will be left behind than before the law was enacted. Now the state wants to get in on the action and make sure rich districts continue to get the best and that the poor districts continue to suffer. We do this at our own peril, someday these under educated children will be the majority of people our state has to depend on to keep things running. These so called patriots hide behind the flag (most of whom have never served in the military defending that flag) seem to be doing everything to deny the citizens of this great state and country the basic rights that they wouldn't think of denying themselves. It's not only unAmerican, it's criminal. I for one am tired of being pissed on and told that it's raining.

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