AUSTIN - The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance continues to look at new methods to fund Texas schools. Currently Texas school districts rely heavily on local property taxes, and many can no longer raise those taxes when additional funds are needed.
Today's first witness was Bob Corker, the Mayor of Chattanooga Tennessee. He told the committee members that his city faced the problem of recruiting and holding competent teachers by instituting a one-half cent sales tax. Corker said that money matters to teachers, but that an even greater incentive is that they work in an environment where their skills are appreciated and they see that the students are learning. He said that while such a program might be difficult to institute on a statewide basis in Texas, the principles remain valid.
Tom Luce, president of Just for Kids, followed, saying the Legislature should use the information it has to help local communities improve their schools, and that it's important to use data to see what works. Luce says that based on national tests Texas students have made tremendous progress on the past 20 years, far above their national rankings when education reform was begun in 1983. He told the committee that education after high school had become essential, saying: 'When I went to school if you didn't go to college and had a strong back, you could get a good job. That's no longer true."
Four Texas school officials made up the next panel. Nancy Blackwell, Principal of Aldine's Hambrick Middle School, reported on the challenges she and her teachers face. She said that at her school one out of five children are not native English speakers and by the end of the year, almost nine out of ten will be economically disadvantaged. Blackwell said flexible schedules at her school allow students to spend more time studying subjects in which they need more instruction.
Bill Johnson, the Principal of Crowley High School, said that the establishment of clear goals for the school was essential in their effort to show that every child can learn. He testified that Crowley was extremely successful in math and writing, two areas where students traditionally need help.
Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent of the Hidalgo School District in the Rio Grande Valley, said that even a property-poor school district saddled with students who, when entering, speak little or no English can succeed. Over the past ten years, Hidalgo has moved from low-performing to an exemplary district by state standards. King said this is due to quality staff development, early identification of students who need help and holding everyone in the system accountable. King stated that none of this would have been possible without an increase in state funding.
Carmyn Nelley, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction in Dallas, testified that while her district faces the same problems as the other three, she felt that the recruiting and training of qualified personnel in areas such as science and math is especially critical. She said that over the past sixteen months the district has delivered clear academic standards for content at each grade level, so that each teacher will know what each student should know at all times.
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 Teel Bivins, Eddie Lucio, Steve Ogden, Todd Staples and Leticia Van de Putte along with 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.