On June 2, House Speaker Joe Straus issued two additional interim charges, both relating to school finance reform, to the House Appropriations and Public Education Committees. This action is a direct response to the May 13 Supreme Court ruling and offers a ray of hope that at least one chamber in Austin will take this up in the 85th Legislature and fulfill the responsibility they have as defined by the Court’ ruling.
Sadly, as we all know, there is little if any movement in the Senate to discuss the issue or consider how to address school finance reform. In fact, the challenge in the Senate increased with recent primary wins by individuals who support the “school choice” discussions being orchestrated by the Lt. Governor.
The contrast between the Speaker and the Lt. Governor has never been more clearly evident than it is now. Even where the Court outlined that action on school finance reform to address a “Byzantine” system lies with the legislature, Senate leadership continues to channel the discussion away from the topic of school finance reform, choosing instead to focus on bathrooms and vouchers, not the kids in the classrooms.
Does that mean that there is no chance for a discussion about school finance reform in the Senate? That certainly could be the case if we, as public education advocates, don’t take the opportunity between now and the convening of the 85th Legislature in January to engage in conversations with senators, specifically those who advocate for shifting dollars out of our public schools. Our messaging should be fairly straightforward but we have to take the time to at least try to have a discussion with those who will likely serve in the next session.
So what are some of the key discussion topics? I could certainly use and welcome your input but here are a few that are top of mind:
- Programs that meet the needs of at-risk students;
- Full-day prekindergarten;
- Career and technical education programs;
- The Instructional Materials Allotment;
- School Facilities, including:
- the Instructional Facilities Allotment,
- Existing Debt Allotment, and
- New Instructional Facilities Allotment;
- Teacher salaries;
- TRS ActiveCare
We extend a sincere thank you to Speaker Straus for his leadership but it is now up to us to engage directly with our legislators and among ourselves. Now is the time to come together as we strive to Make Education a Priority. It is up to all of us.