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January 22, 2004     (512) 463-0300
Quest for New School Finance System Continues

The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is looking for new ways to fund public education in Texas. Many members of the Legislature have said that the current system, which relies primarily on the property tax and state funding, is not adequate to meet the state's needs and places an unfair burden on property owners.

At today's committee meeting, members heard from directors of various charter schools on best practices, that is teaching methods that seem to be effective or cost less, and how these methods might be adopted by the public schools.

The first panel said that paperwork from the state for all schools, be they public or charter, is stealing teachers' and administrators' time, and every minute spent filling out a form is a minute that cannot be spent in the classroom. Social promotion came in for criticism as well. Leroy McClure from Focus Learning Academy in Dallas, Rosemary Perlmeter of LIFT Education and Mike Feinberg of the KIPP Academy in Houston said that when public schools promote students who cannot read they are more likely to develop behavior problems as well as fail academically. They also added that teachers need to be accountable for the performance of their students.

The second panel included educators from other charter schools. Jo Ann Gonzales of the IDEA Academy in the Rio Grande Valley said it is essential to recruit teachers that believe every student is college material. Tom Torkelson, also of the IDEA Academy, testified that their students may not be high-achieving on the first day of school, but "with lots of homework, personal attention and long school days, they become the best and brightest students". Frances Teran from La Escuela de las Americas Charter School in San Antonio said that parental involvement is essential in encouraging students. Teresa Elliot from the NYOS Charter School in Austin described their fundraising efforts.

A major question facing the committee is a definition of what makes an "adequate" education, that is, what kind of education should the state provide. Dr. Lori Taylor is one of the researchers studying the question, and she testified that preliminary findings show that there is not a single solution for all school districts, as costs and demands vary across the state. Co-chairman Senator Florence Shapiro questioned the term "adequate", saying that the very use of that word improperly indicated that Texans thought an "adequate" education was all that was needed.

Also scheduled to testify today were Susan Barnes, Anita Givens and Lisa Chandler of the Texas Education Agency.

The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is Co-chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Kent Grusendorf. Members from the Legislature include Senators Eddie Lucio, Steve Ogden, Todd Staples and Leticia Van de Putte as well as Representatives Talmadge Heflin, Fred Hill, Vilma Luna, Ken Marchant and Ron Wilson. Public Members include Carolyn Bacon, Caroline Hoxby, Jack Ladd and Don McAdams. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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