Thursday, August 18, 2016

When Did Students Become Pawns?

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Education Committee met to discuss a number of items relating to public education, somewhat driven by a charge from the Lt. Governor to assess funding considerations given the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling on school finance.  Recall the words “minimum constitutional requirements” as words that should have triggered more fruitful discussions than what have transpired so far.  Admittedly, there is time until the Legislature convenes but the groundwork for these discussions during the session is being laid now.  The tone of the discussions, especially in the Senate, suggests to me that political agendas will continue to be the focal point, not the needs of the more than 5.2 million Texas public education students.
As I read a recap of a Senate Education hearing in early August, but admittedly not having attended the hearing, I struggle with one of the basic premises of the discussion, specifically that funding for public schools should be tied to academic performance of a district and campus rather than providing dollars per student.  If you read the “headline” and consider a sports analogy, it probably makes sense to most people.  If an athlete performs well, he/she is rewarded with a bigger contract … so why doesn’t that make sense for public education as well?  That really speaks to a challenge that we, as public education advocates, face as we try to educate the public on the ramifications of an underfunded (okay, the courts said it met the minimum requirement) public education system.
Students, however, are not like the professional athletes.  They are not “working” on behalf of their districts to achieve so that the district receives more funding.  The problem with this argument is that the focus is not on the student but continues to be on factors that do not directly impact student performance in the classroom.  If the funding model meets the “minimum constitutional requirement”, how do we ever get to the point where we invest to achieve the ROI noted in a prior blog titled TheValue of Investing in our Public Schools (click here to read)?  With few exceptions, nowhere does the investment generate a greater than the ROI summarized in that blog.  Yet we continue to ignore the basic premise of investing in what will surely be this country’s most valuable assets over time, the students themselves.
And how would a funding model like this extend into charter schools where there is no similar accountability for performance?  Does this suggest (I think I know the answer already!) a completely separate model?  I have no issue with accountability (story for another day) but we need to be balanced in how we approach funding for those entities who are intended to provide a similar outcome, i.e., creating opportunities for students to succeed and to become prosperous contributors to a global economy.
On the one hand, I am at least encouraged that the discussion has begun.  While disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court did not provide more guidance (and motivation) for the legislature to act, the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House have at least responded with charges to their respective members to consider the ruling and how to respond.  What troubles me, specifically in the Senate, is the approach. 
Students are not pawns in the game of school finance and their performance should not drive funding models.  Instead, we must find ways to address the challenges we face.  Those districts and campuses that require greater investment are typically not the higher performing districts.   While we must acknowledge their performance and continue to provide incentives for success, we cannot do so at the expense of those who need it most.  The focal point is the student; we all must work together to Make Education a Priority at all levels.  If we do so, academic performance will be the outcome.


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