Thursday, March 01, 2012

Lawmakers, Texans focus on school funding

This is just a start. We can study adequate funding all we want but at the end of the day it boils down to who is going to be there to fight and ensure that what we know needs to be invested is budgeted for. This is not just the responsibility of the people but of legislators that go into communities campaigning on education yet expend very little capital taking on the hard issues when they're on the table.

On September 24, 2011 at the Texas Tribune Festival there was a panel called "How to Pay for Public Education" where a very important exchange between Senator Dan Patrick (co-chair of the Senate Public Education Committee) and Representative Scott Hochberg (co-chair of the House Committee on Public Education). That conversation went something like this:

Sen. Patrick argued that what it costs to educate a student has yet to be defined, especially given the number of "different" students (i.e., 4.8 million students) with "different price tags"

Rep. Hochberg rejected that notion saying that the state had spent $1 million to "study," prior to Sen. Patrick's time, examining what it costs to educate based on those districts that are successful with the kids across the groups that were identified (e.g., low-income group, the kids with different language ability, etc.).

The findings showed that adequate funding and weights were much greater that what the state was currently spending. The legislature's response, according to Rep. Hochberg was: "we [legislators] frankly looked at it and said we don’t have the money to do that."

Rep. Hochberg's following argument was that it's not enough for the state to prioritize putting dollars into education (backhanding Sen. Patrick's comment that public and higher education combined account for 50% of the state budget with a quick "so what!?") but that attention needs to consider how dollars are being prioritized within education.

In this framing, questions such as where, or to who, public education dollars are going to can now be part of the discussion. Many of you who are familiar with the House Public Education hearing on House Bill 500 during last year's session know that Rep. Hochberg was trying to air some of this out.

A lot to unpack when it comes to these issues, friends.


by Gary Scharrer | San Antonio Express-News

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced the creation of a joint interim committee to study the public school finance system, which likely will be meeting later this year as a state district court hears another school finance lawsuit.

The committee, created through Senate Bill 1 last summer, will study the state’s public school finance system and make recommendations to the 83rd Legislature, which will meet starting in January.

In a statement, Dewhurst said: “The future of Texas is being forged in our classrooms every day. That is why the Texas Legislature remains dedicated to continuing our investment in public education, directing more resources to the classroom and improving the quality of learning for every student in every school and every district across our state.”

Straus said: “Nothing will make a greater difference in the future of our state than the willingness of all Texans to put education first and truly make it our top priority in Texas, and I’m pleased to appoint members to this Select Committee to do so.”

Critics, however, contend that lawmakers have not made public education a priority. The GOP-controlled Legislature last year cut $5.4 billion from public education, which public schools would have gotten under existing law.

A Save Texas Schools rally featuring parents, teachers and students is scheduled March 24 at the Capitol.

“Statewide we’ve seen larger class sizes, lack of instructional materials, and loss of programs to help struggling students succeed,” said Linda Bridges, Texas AFT president. “Parents, students and teachers on March 24 will again send a loud message that we plan to fight for our kids and that we can do better for them and our state’s future. Last year we gathered by the thousands to protest these cuts but were rebuffed by some politicians who claimed that schools would do just fine, that the planned cuts would be absorbed outside the classroom. That story line didn’t fool us then, and it doesn’t wash now as we look at what thousands of school employees and hundreds of superintendents have told us in surveys.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, will seve on the committee. Van de Putte’s district includes the Edgwood ISD, which is the name plaintiff in the 1984 landmark school finance case.

“I’ve had to learn a thing or two about school finance. I’ll be glad to put that knowledge to good use,” Van de Putte said.

“It is my sincere hope that this interim’s committee will take meaningful action, rather than simply going through the appearance of acting for our public schools and waiting for the courts to tell us what to do,” Van de Putte said. “We must not just have more conversations about how we fund our schools. We need solutions. What we are doing now is not working and, for our students’ sake, we cannot waste any more time.”

About 92 percent of respondents in a recent Texas AFT survey noted layoffs in their district, with a large percentage reporting loss of teachers (85 percent) and teacher assistants (79 percent). A subsequent survey of 241 superintendents released in January reported actual numbers of layoffs, indicating the loss of more than 30,000 teachers and other school employees statewide by conservative estimate.

“This isn’t just about cutting band trips or football awards banquets,” Bridges said. “Laying off teachers means cramming more kids into each class and the loss of the individualized attention our diverse population of students requires. Eliminating pre-K grants means that kids don’t get the foundation in learning that they desperately need. Wiping out tutorials and services like the Student Success Initiative means more kids won’t meet increasingly rigorous achievement standards, or will simply drop out altogether.”

Four lawsuits have been filed in recent months by various school groups, alleging the state is shortchanging education.

Dewhurst appointed Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, as joint chair of the school finance committee. Members include: Sens. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Dan Patrick,, R-Houston; Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Royce West, D-Dallas; Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and Van de Putte.

Straus appointed Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, as joint chair of the committee. The committee members include: Representatives Alma Allen, D-Houston; Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Donna Howard, D-Austin; Dan Huberty, R-Houston; Susan King, R-Abilene; Todd Smith, R-Euless; Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

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