Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Meets the Minimum Requirements"

(Note: Barry Haenisch, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Schools, recently posted an article that I find very relevant to our discussion about the need to address our school finance system.  With Barry’s approval, I am posting this below.)
“Meets the minimum requirements.” Now that is a phrase that has become more important to Texas school superintendents in the last month since the Texas Supreme Court found in favor of the state in the school finance case that lingered in the courts for years! At least we have an answer about the constitutionality of the Texas school finance system, but, at best, it is an answer that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Josh Brodesky, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News had some thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision that I found to be humorous, thoughtful, and on-target.

While Josh offered several examples of things that meet minimum standards, I particularly liked this example, “…the often-overlooked gas station hot dog, greasy as one of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s ‘work’ trips, that become a shining metaphor for our low threshold for public school funding. The two have a lot in common, upon reflection. They are cheap, and they might give you indigestion. While one might qualify as a ‘meal’ and the other as ‘equitable’ public funding, these are really just technicalities in the minimum sense.”

The decision left school leaders wondering, “So now how will the legislature approach school funding during the next session?” While that question remains unanswered, last week we began to get a glimpse of the possible answer. On June 2nd Speaker Straus issued two additional interim charges, and both relate to school finance. With the statement, “We can improve educational quality while making our school finance system more efficient. Ignoring some of the problems in our current system will only make them worse…”, the Speaker charged the House to (1.) review how the loss of ASATR funding would impact school districts and (2.) recommend ways to reverse the state’s increasing reliance on recapture to fund public education in the state.

Those two interim charges are in addition to two earlier requests the Speaker had made. At the completion of the 84th Legislative Session, Speaker Straus required the House to study the Cost of Education Index (CEI) and the debt and facility needs of fast growth school districts.

Of course, as he often does, Lt. Governor Patrick saw the Court’s decision in another way. In a response to the Speaker’s new interim charges, the Lt. Governor responded with, “…I have learned a great deal about school finance and how difficult it will be to solve the issue. I look forward to working with him (the Speaker) on this issue and I am sure he looks forward to working with me on my priorities. Everyone knows education policy reform and school finance reform must go hand in hand.”

Back to the question; so how will the legislature approach school funding during the next session? From my perspective the answer can be found in the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Apparently, nothing will move in the Senate unless it is tied to vouchers and/or other school choice options!

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