Now that the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that it is the responsibility of the Legislature to address the shortcomings of an “imperfect, Byzantine” school finance system, what does that mean for the nearly 5.3 million Texas public education students? And what can we expect from the Legislature in the way of a response and subsequent action? More importantly, how can we heighten the discussion so that public education becomes a focal point of funding discussions?
It seems to me that there are essentially three separate, yet intertwined, issues here. One is the overall level of funding and how the State’s share of public school funding has declined over the years. I recently read an article in TribTalk by Tracy Ginsburg, Executive Director of TASBO, in which she highlighted and discussed public education funding. The link to her article can be found here.
A second issue is trying to anticipate how the 85th Legislature will respond to what the Courts have said is the legislators’ responsibility. This response will be interesting to follow given the conversations today about school choice and school reform. There has been little indication to this point (with the notable exception of HB 1759 that was introduced and then pulled down by Chairman Aycock) that both chambers are willing or even ready to tackle this challenge. They certainly have been given the latitude to respond as they see fit but there is a great deal of uncertainty about what that will mean.
The third and perhaps most important issue is how we, as public education advocates, respond to the Court’s ruling. Are we going to discuss how unfair the ruling is in our opinion or are we going to use the ruling as motivation to come together and create an even stronger public education “lobby”? My hope is that the myriad of groups, many with a single purpose, will come together to create an education “brand” that forms the cornerstone of discussions with all elected officials. My hunch is that the legislators would prefer that we not do so, that is easier on their part to parry the thrusts and platforms of individual advocacy groups. I believe that we cannot let that happen. Now is the time for us to come together and define the 5-7 issues on which all of us who advocate can agree, then tie our individual platforms to that common message.
Voter turnout during the recent runoffs and primaries suggests that the voting populace is not engaged or interested in the outcomes of this discussion. It is up to each of us and to all of us to start to change the discussion, to focus on engagement and messaging that begins to alter the discussion among those charged by the Supreme Court with addressing the failings of our school finance system, failings that impact our students every day in the classroom. We must all come together to Make Education a Priority.