Despite budget woes, state's commitment to public education must remain strong
By Sen. Carlos Uresti
As Texas families look forward to the beginning of a new school year, it is an article of faith among many parents that their local school district will always have the resources it needs to be successful and prepare their children for the future.
That would be a dangerous assumption, particularly this year.
When state lawmakers return to Austin in January for the 82nd Legislature, we will be facing numerous challenges – an $18 billion shortfall foremost among them. Painful cuts, new sources of revenue and strict adherence to basic priorities will be necessary to balance the next budget.
One such priority is public education. Regardless of the budget pressures we face, education must be viewed as an investment in the future, and lawmakers must not waiver in our commitment to providing both the resources and the public policies needed for it to thrive.
From San Antonio to San Elizario, from Pecos to Eagle Pass, public schools are the heart and soul of communities all across Senate District 19. They are economic engines that provide jobs and spur economic development, a source of pride and the center of community spirit. Just check out the local football field on autumn Friday nights.
Reducing state funds for public schools would have enormous consequences for our communities.
Like others across Texas, the 62 school districts in Senate District 19 rely on state money to supplement local property tax revenue; those with the lowest property values receive the largest percentage of state funding. In District 19, 70% of the school districts are below that average, many of them by a significant amount. Increasing local property taxes would not provide much additional revenue, even if local home and business owners could shoulder more of the burden.
School districts have some amount of discretion in levying property taxes, but 69% of those in District 19 are already taxing at the maximum allowed without voter approval. Another 18% have obtained voter approval in the past, with the majority of those taxing at the highest rate allowed by Texas law.
So clearly, the state must not reduce its share of funding for public schools. Indeed, to attract and retain talented teachers and maintain high educational standards, the Legislature should provide even more resources to public education, particularly the poorest districts.
And our commitment to education must not end there. It takes more than money to ensure that our system of public education is successful.
Recently, the State Board of Education voted narrowly in favor of diverting $100 million from the Permanent School Fund for charter school facilities. This is not an appropriate use of the PSF, and lawmakers must make sure the board does not proceed with this misguided plan.
The Legislature must also make sure that the Texas Education Agency develops and implements a fair and accurate accountability system for public schools. First of all, we must do away with the Texas Projection Measure – a formula that counts a student as passing the writing test, despite missing all the questions, if they marginally pass the tests for reading and math.
The TPM does not give us an accurate measure of students' progress, but rather false hopes and misperceptions about what they and their schools have achieved. We need an accountability system that gives students a chance to make good, not one designed to make education bureaucrats look good.
As your children head out the door on that first day of classes this year, consider how crucial your local school is to their future. I think you'll agree that nothing the Legislature does is more important than keeping our commitment to public education.