Public Education Subcommittee Hearings Continue in Brownsville
The Joint Interim Committee on Public School Finance continues to travel around Texas, listening to the public's ideas on how the state should finance public schools. Today, Thursday November 15, 2001, the subcommittee chaired by Representative Paul Sadler met in Brownsville to hear the concerns of South Texas Residents.
The subcommittee was welcomed by Valley Representative Rene Oliveria, who said "Public school finance is the most difficult thing we do...as Lieutenant Governor Ratliff has said, show us a better system and we'll adopt it...and that's our challenge."
The first presentation came from a group of school superintendents from South Texas. The first panel spoke of problems that affect not only the Rio Grande Valley, but all of the state. Roberto Zamora, President of the Association of South Texas Schools, told the subcommittee that despite everyone's best efforts, funding in the public schools is still not completely fair, that not every student has the same opportunity. Unique problems faced by South Texas schools include a changing migrant student population, which arrives well after school begins in August.
Danny King, the Superintendent of the Hidalgo School District testified that Hidalgo is a small town south of McAllen on the Rio Grande with a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students, only half of which are proficient in English. Despite these disadvantages, a majority of students in all five of his schools have achieved high ratings on standardized tests. That's a major turnaround from the early 80s, when all schools were considered below state standards. He told the committee this is a direct result of increased funding from the state and that their next challenge is to adapt to new tougher state standards.
A group of superintendents from small South Texas Districts all confirmed that finances are so tight that instructional personnel have been fired. The Rio Hondo District, for example, had to eliminate its entire fine arts program. They said raising taxes in these districts isn't an option either, since the lower income residents who live there simply can't afford the increased rates. Other districts said they were having to take out short-term loans just to meet the payrolls due to a lack of funding. Chairman Sadler said he was disturbed that districts were having to cut instruction. The superintendents said that property taxes alone can not fund Texas schools forever, that an income tax, additional franchise taxes, or increased sales taxes must be considered.
Representative Olivera said it was time for the poor districts to stop fighting the rich ones for the available funds, get together and come up with a way to fund the schools. "That football Friday night mentality won't work!", he said.
Brownsville school superintendent Noe Sauceda said given new demands that each student go through tough courses such as algebra and geometry, pupils deserve better facilities than the portable buildings that they are now forced to use. He told the subcommittee that Brownsville students are achieving not because of their facilities, but rather despite them.
Other witnesses who testified suggested various changes in the property tax system that they said would increase the total amount of funding available to Texas schools. Others said that if the state orders the schools to do something, then the state should pay for it.
The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is Co-Chaired by Senator Teel Bivins and Representative Paul Sadler. Members include Senators Steve Ogden, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh, Leticia Van De Putte and Royce West. Members from the House of Representatives include Harold Dutton, Kent Grusendorf, Scott Hochberg, Rene Olivera and Todd Smith. Public members include Kent Caperton, Will Davis, Craig Foster, Lyndon Olson, Mark Stiles and David Thompson. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.