Following the Texas Supreme Court ruling that the current school finance system meets the “minimum constitutional requirement”, both the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House issued charges to their respective bodies to look at how to address some of the shortcomings that the court defined. Yes, there has been some conversation but much of the discussion falls along party lines and is in line with personal agendas previously defined.
So when does the conversation actually start and how do the discussions become more fruitful than they are today? House and Senate public education committees have both had discussions among their members but there has been little output of substance to this point. However, I was encouraged recently when I read comments by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, in which he suggested three possible ways to address the issue. To read the article published in the Texas Tribune, click here.
Rep. Frank listed the following as considerations:
- statewide commercial property tax;
- consolidated funding districts;
- statewide property tax.
And while none of the ideas proposed will likely be the ultimate solution, at least someone has come forward with ideas on what to do next.
Each idea certainly has its pluses and minuses, and where you live, as well as current funding levels in your district, will certainly impact how you feel about each. And that’s where the challenges lie. Legislators are elected to represent their constituents and not necessarily to focus on the needs of citizens across the entire state. So there will always be a debate on “what’s good for me and what’s good for my constituents”.
I am okay with that. After all, that’s the way that our democracy was created and that’s why we have lively debate about how to approach opportunities and problems in our country. But I do wish that legislators would step back at times and, while supporting their position, take the time to consider the thoughts of their peers and how these might impact the continued vitality of the State of Texas. This is not say that some don’t do this (for me, House Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock is a master at this) but, in large part, the lines are drawn long before the discussion starts.
To Rep. Frank, I say “thank you” for at least starting the conversation. As I look at the charges and positions of the two chambers, I am much more hopeful that the House, under Chairman Aycock’s committee leadership, will continue to look at how to address the challenges faced in public education today. However, I also know that without strong advocacy by those who support public education, it will be very easy for legislators to stick with party lines and personal agendas. It’s up to us to ensure that the discussion continues.
Even with the positives of conversation initiated by Rep. Frank, however, I fear that this will not result in substantive dialog and action. In fact, during an interview with the Texas Tribune, he said, “Do I think we’re going to do something? No. But I think we’re going to talk about it.” It’s up to public education advocates to push for more than talk and to ensure that the discussion expands to how to Make Education a Priority.