Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Is “Minimum Constitutional Requirement” Acceptable?

Much has been and will be written about the Supreme Court ruling on school finance.  After reading most of the ruling (and rereading certain parts) and reflecting on the analysis and conclusions drawn by the Court, a couple of thoughts come to mind.  As conveyed immediately after the ruling, I am very disappointed by the Court’s decision that existing school finance meets the “minimum constitutional requirement”.  I will say, however, that the ruling is a good primer to understand the history behind school finance litigation; please take time to read it as well as the concurring opinions.

The decision clearly expressed the Court’s belief that their role is not to rule on process but instead to look to the Legislature to act in a manner consistent with the requirements defined in Article VII, Section 1, which states, “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“.  But the ruling also calls into question what the terms “suitable provision” and “efficient system” mean.  We cannot leave that definition solely to legislators who by their own admission have limited knowledge of the public education system.

So what do we do now?  First of all, picking up on the ruling that defining adequate funding and then allocating that funding falls to the legislature, there should be heightened awareness on our collective part to increase our level of advocacy.  And that starts with casting votes at the ballot box for those who support public education.  As part of our efforts, however, we must show empathy for the difficult challenges to be faced by legislators in the 85th Legislative Session.  With state revenues down and increasing pressure from health and human services and transportation, among other key topics, this will be a battle for the dollars.

I don’t happen to be a person who believes in criticism alone without offering possible solutions, notwithstanding my challenge of the phrase, “minimum constitutional requirement”.  Any suggestion that we should accept “minimum” as a standard, however, should cause great concern for all of us.  Perhaps this is technically legal but is this the message we want to send to our kids?  Do we accept minimum performance by them or from those that represent us in Austin?

Make Education a Priority is working closely with a number of advocacy organizations to focus on the key messaging to all of our stakeholders, including communities, businesses and elected officials.  We will continue that effort as we strive to help create a consistent “brand” for Texas public education.  Ultimately the measurement of the success of our public education system should be the abilities of the student that are crafted and honed during their enrollment in our schools, and how well they are equipped to be contributing members of our society.  This is not just about process; we must focus on outcomes   For our part, we will continue our efforts to Make Education a Priority.  Won’t you join us?

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