EDITORIAL / Dallas Morning News
Friday, August 5, 2005
State lawmakers talk incessantly about focusing on basics when it comes to public education. Parents and students soon will have convincing evidence that their representatives in Austin have failed spectacularly to practice what they preach.
The evidence will come in the form of tattered and embarrassingly outdated textbooks – some 10 years old – that students will tote home after classes start this month. Other students will have no textbooks to take home because their school had too few to go around.
It's not because millions of replacement books don't exist. They do. But lawmakers have neglected the appropriation of money to get the books ordered and delivered from warehouses around the state.
The explanation for this debacle is that legislative leadership irresponsibly used textbooks as a bargaining chip during fruitless yearlong negotiations on reforming public education. Now in their eighth month and third legislative session, lawmakers show no willingness to agree on a package of reforms.
One hang-up has been a House concept to allow a district to use textbook money to buy computer-based materials instead. Involving more technology in education is inevitable, but differences ought not to be haggled over while textbooks are held hostage.
Republican leadership only yesterday showed interest in doing what should have been done months ago: breaking off the textbook issue from the endless list of other items and forcing a consensus. That would have given districts the weeks needed to make final orders and get books in place by August.
At least the governor and leaders now have agreed to co-sign a letter to publishers asking them to ship textbooks on the promise that the state will free the money – somehow, sometime.
State senators have been working on stripped-down education-reform measures to send over to House members, who have already given up. One plan's approach was described as "teacher raises, textbooks and get out of town."
Advice to lawmakers: Strip it down further to textbooks, period. Take care of the most basic of basics.
As for the teachers, lawmakers can reckon with them at the ballot box.
HOW MANY TEXTBOOKS?
The estimated number of books held hostage by the Legislature's failure to approve money in time for the start of school:
800,000 foreign-language books
1.6 million health books
3 million fine arts books, including music, visual arts, theater and dance