Published 12:00 am, Saturday, June 24, 2017
Photo: Tom Reel /San Antonio Express-News
The use of public education funding to advance a political agenda during the last legislative session was shameful. School financing will return for a special session on July 18 — the governor has requested that a committee be formed on the topic — but that does not alter the failure.
Particularly disturbing was an opinion piece distributed to Texas media in the past few weeks by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The piece, “The truth about education spending,” was published in the Express-News on June 9. It claims “education bureaucrats” have been pushing misinformation insisting that the state cut funding for public schools.
We’d like a pair of the rose glasses through which Patrick is viewing the state’s budget. To arrive at the same conclusion and implications as Patrick, fuzzy math and ignoring the facts are required.
Patrick goes to great lengths to explain why education funding measures failed in the regular session. But we note that the proposed public education legislation was declared dead after House members rebuffed his attempts to pass a private school voucher program — for special-needs children — in return for his support of increased school funding.
Opponents credibly suspect that this voucher proposal is a Trojan horse for future expansion of such a program to include all Texas public school students.
The point is, the need for Texas’ public schools is for more money generally.
A strict look at the numbers makes it appear more money is allocated for public education, but some of that is to cover costs for an expected influx of 80,000 new students in the next biennium. There is no new money for schools. The state is, in fact, shifting more of the financial burden for public education on school districts.
Most analyses of the state budget, approved May 30 in the waning days of the 85th Legislature, calculate more than $1 billion in state funds was stripped from public education. The Texas Tribune reports that funding for schools fell by about $1.1 billion and growing local property tax collections are expected to add about $1.4 billion to school funding.
While ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for increased prekindergarten funding, lawmakers passed legislation requiring school districts to use $236 million in existing funding to implement strict, high-quality standards for pre-K programs.
In an interview with Texas Public Radio, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez laments the Legislature’s failure to reach a consensus on public education funding. His inner-city school district will have to spend about $10 million that it would have been allowed to keep if House Bill 21, the House’s school finance legislation, had passed.
Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods told TPR the district has set its budget with the anticipation there would be no revenue increases.
“Going forward, however, there will be impacts,” Woods said. “After the last big round of cuts in 2011, when some of the those cuts were restored in 2013 and 2015, we did not put everything back. And we’ve been kind of setting money aside for this anticipation that we could continue not to get any additional revenue.”
We should not have to remind lawmakers that figures compiled by the National Education Association for the 2014-15 school year indicate Texas ranks 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia on spending on public education.
As they head back to Austin in July, legislators need to focus on the education needs of Texas schoolchildren. Regrettably many of the items on the 30-day special session agenda will be manipulated by those who like to use their bully pulpit for political reasons.
Forming a commission on school financing has merit if it comes up with a formula that eliminates the inequities among the state’s districts. But it will likely do nothing to address the funding gaps in the next biennium.
And that’s where the Legislature generally — and Patrick as the Senate’s leader in particular — failed.