Friday, May 22, 2015

Who is prioritizing public education?

The 84th Legislative Session started out with at least a glimmer of hope that both chambers would address the needs of public education.  Well, they did … but in totally different ways.  The House public education committee, under the leadership of Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, focused a significant amount of dialog on how to increase funding to the required level; HB 1759 (before withdrawn) would have increased public education funding by as much as $3 billion (over the biennium) on top of the $2.3 billion required to support enrollment growth.

The Senate public education committee, on the other hand, spent more time discussing alternatives to public education and funding considerations that support what they characterized as “school choice”.  The dialog among committee members ultimately resulted in SB4, among others, legislation that is characterized as being about taxpayer savings grants but is, in reality, still a voucher proposal that moves funds from public education to other options.

While the House clearly understood the requirement defined in Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution that  “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”, the Senate chose a different path, one that fails to fulfill the requirements imposed by the Constitution.

There is still some hope as the conference committee led by Sen. Nelson and Rep. Otto seems to be leaning toward an increase to public education funding equal to $1.2-1.5 billion (in addition to enrollment growth funding).  While well short of the House proposal, this does at least offer some hope that legislators understand the importance of adequacy in our system.  What is not clear yet is how these funds will then address the equity issues that are also a part of litigation currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

So what can you do as a trustee?  First and foremost, don’t give up the fight!  Public education is and always has been a “school choice” consideration.  It’s critical that the voices of public education students be heard; the most impactful mouthpiece for that voice is through locally elected public school trustees.  This is not just an opportunity for trustees to be stronger advocates; it is a requirement that those elected to serve students in their communities step up to the responsibility imposed by election to their role as trustees.  Remember, you are doing this not for yourselves but for the more than five million students (and growing) who rely on you to represent them.

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