State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, District 26

For Immediate Release
January 25, 2006

OP-ED

Texas schools: an opportunity to move forward

My grandpa always said "only two things in life are certain...death and taxes." As a legislator for 15 years, I could change that saying to "In Texas two things are certain...school finance debates and taxes."

In light of another anticipated special session on public school finance, I want to share my thoughts on the crucial issues facing our state with you. These issues begin with three main beliefs: (1) guaranteeing equitable funding for all Texas school children regardless of where they live; (2) raising teacher salaries in the best interest of our future and (3) providing meaningful property tax relief.

I believe that the quality of a child's education in Texas should not be determined by where that child lives. It is important to understand that more than 90% of Texas schools, including almost every San Antonio school district, receive money under our "Robin Hood" system. Because most of our resources for schools is based on property tax values, wealthy areas are able to raise a lot more dollars to pay for their children to receive a higher quality education. Prior to "Robin Hood", wealthy school districts were able to spend around $7,000 more on each of their students. The "Robin Hood" plan reduced this difference to about $1,000. Thus, all children have a better opportunity to get a high quality education regardless of where they live.

In addition to equitable funding for all of our schools, a key component to providing our students with a quality education is attracting and retaining highly qualified school personnel. Texas ranks 31st in the nation in teachers salaries and yet we charge them with educating and encouraging the development of our most valuable resource - our children.

Equally important to improving the quality of education we provide our children is improving the quality of life for our taxpayers. Because the state has lapsed in its responsibility to be the primary funding source for public education, most communities have been forced to raise their local tax rates to the constitutional maximum. This has resulted in our local taxpayers shouldering more than their fair share of the cost of public education. Only 20 years ago the state of Texas paid over 60% of the funding for our share, today that share is 37%.

Recently, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the tax system used to finance public schools has evolved into a state-wide property tax which is prohibited by the Texas Constitution. The Court set a June 1, 2006 deadline to restructure our finance system. and Governor Rick Perry is expected to call another special session this spring.

Although I share my constituents frustration with the lack of resolution to this problem, we cannot settle for mediocrity. We cannot go back to the days when San Antonio was unable to afford the high quality education that our children deserve. Therefore, I pledge to continue supporting a school finance system that carries us forward and oppose anything that pushes us back. I encourage the continued dialogue with our school officials, school boards and parents. I hope you will remain involved in this debate by contacting me at (210) 733-6604 or by email at leticia.vandeputte@senate.state.tx.us.

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