Thursday, June 9, 2016

School Finance … The Need to Unite

I recently had a conversation with the Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, about the state of public education in Texas.  This conversation took place shortly after the May 13 Supreme Court ruling that the “imperfect, Byzantine” school finance system met the “minimum constitutional requirement”.  I could write a whole blog on some of the words found in the ruling and how the Courts ruled but that is not my purpose here.

Instead, the conversation with the Chairman took a bit different tact than many of the discussions surrounding this ruling.  Instead of focusing on the need for public education advocacy groups to come together and to create a “brand” for public education, a reference point for all of us who advocate, the Chairman focused on the needs of school districts to come together and find a commonality of purpose.  I am still trying to wrap my arms around exactly what that means but am beginning to understand what he means.

As a ten year school board trustee, I know that much of our discussion as a board centered on what was good and right for us, and that’s as it should be … to a point.  We talked about the fairness of per student funding and how we compared to neighboring districts.  We even talked about how actions taken by our boards ten years prior set the tone for that level of per student funding.  Again, we talked about the fairness and strategized on how to address what we perceived as inequities.  Despite our concerns and differences, more than 600 school districts came together as plaintiffs in the school finance law suit.   

But is/was that enough?  Clearly, the Court didn’t align its ruling with concerns expressed by the majority of districts in the state relative to adequacy and equity of funding so I guess we can assume that it was not.  So what do we do now?  Do we sit and continue to talk about what we perceive as an unjust system and an unfair ruling or do we use the ruling as motivation to come together with a common focus and purpose?

Chairman Aycock strongly believes that districts themselves need to find a common ground and shared interests.  Whether a district is Chapter 41 or Chapter 42, whether they are large or small, whether they have a high or low percentage of at risk students, the ultimate goal is the same, namely to educate the nearly 5.3 million Texas public education students.  In a Facebook post shortly after the ruling, Chairman Aycock, when discussing HB 1759, legislation he sponsored and then pulled down, noted that “Even the proposed $3 Billion funding increase left districts divided about how to distribute the money. All wanted the dollars. None wanted the pain of the needed corrections. When added to those who wanted to wait for the court, and those who don't support school funding in general, there was simply no way to get the bill passed. I was probably foolish to try.”

To Chairman Aycock, all of us say “thank you” as he focused on how to address school finance challenges, an effort he made without waiting on the courts.  It’s now up to us, as advocates and as districts, to come together and define those areas that most directly impact our students.  We must then use that as the basis for communication with our elected officials as we continue to strive to Make Education a Priority.

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