Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Kent Grusendorf: Smarter School Funding

Bill provides incentives and accountability

06:47 PM CST on Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Those wise words go to the heart of House Bill 2, which I call a "Road Map to Results."

To paraphrase Einstein, it would be insane to think that spending billions in school tax money the same way, over and over again, will lead to better results and unprecedented excellence in our schools. Yet that's what many critics of House Bill 2 seem to want.

We should put more money into our education system, and HB 2 does that by adding $3 billion. The state would begin paying for college readiness tests like the ACT and SAT, and it would spend more on technology and instructional materials.

We should pay our best teachers more, and HB 2 does that, too.

But we don't simply need more money for education – we need more education for our money. HB 2 applies that principle by linking some school funding to incentives and accountability standards.

The plan's biggest incentive program zeroes in on a challenge facing many districts: how to retain star teachers. HB 2 rewards excellence with financial bonuses. In every district, the teachers will help design the performance pay programs that recognize outstanding members of their profession.

HB 2 includes an additional incentive program for districts in which more than half the children are economically disadvantaged. Teachers who help at-risk students achieve will be eligible for bonuses of up to $7,500.

Under new accountability standards, we will more closely monitor the progress of students striving to become English proficient. We'll protect students in consistently low-performing schools by allowing the commissioner of education to move more swiftly to take over failing campuses.

We'll get more bang for our buck with online testing. Our legislation cuts printing costs by replacing some pencil-and-paper exams, and gives teachers immediate feedback on where students need help.

If the state is going to increase education spending – which is what HB 2 will do – then a school district's financial report must be transparent and easy to understand. HB 2 empowers parents by requiring districts to clearly disclose how much money reaches the classroom and how much is spent on administrative costs, lobbyists and attorneys who make a living suing the state.

This legislation also gives voice to overburdened families by permanently cutting their school property taxes a full third.

The public needs to know: HB 2 provides children with the best, perhaps only, hope of new school money this fall.

Texas education is at a crossroads, and our "Road Map to Results" provides steady direction. Not by defending the status quo but by allocating more dollars and carefully targeting how they're used.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, has been a member of the Texas House of Representatives since 1987. He is chairman of the House Public Education Committee and the author of House Bill 2. His e-mail address is kent.grusen

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