I am blessed to have two young grandchildren, ages 6 and 8. While they get along (at least for now) fabulously, the question of fairness is often a central theme in their household, specifically as it relates to what the youngest sees as “not fair” if her brother gets to do something that she does not. Of course, the same could be said for the other way around but that is not yet a consideration in the eyes of my granddaughter. So I got to thinking about how closely that scenario is to discussions about school finance in our great state.
I read an interesting article in the Texas Tribune on Tuesday morning written by Ross Ramsey; the link to the article, “The Texas Legislature giveth - and taketh away”, can be found by clicking here. By the way, if you don’t read the Tribune or haven’t seen articles written by Ramsey, I encourage you to do so. The Tribune is doing a nice job of tracking the discussions about public education in Austin and often provides a very good analysis of both sides of the debate.
A topic about which I have written and about which there is a great deal of conversation relates to how dollars ostensibly collected in support of our public schools find their way into other parts of the Texas budget. I have heard Senate Education Committee chairman Larry Taylor and the Lieutenant Governor both say that this is not the case, that incremental dollars from increases in property values remain in the education budget. Reality (or at least perception) suggests otherwise.
Ramsey’s article provides a perspective on the pending discussions and the sharp differences between the position of the Senate and that of the House. There is no better example to support this than the differences in how school finance considerations are being approached in each chamber. The Senate Education Committee and budget authors are talking about funding enrollment growth but have said very little beyond that. The House Public Education Committee, on the other hand, under the leadership of Chairman Dan Huberty, has actually begun hearings on the Chairman’s proposal to allocate an additional $1.6 billion to public education.
Is it right that the dollars that businesses and community members believe they are paying for school taxes, an amount based on the levy approved by the locally elected school board, can be appropriated to cover shortfalls in the Texas budget? This doesn’t seem to be a concern in the Senate but thankfully has become a focal point of discussions in the House. As my 6 year old granddaughter would say, “that’s not fair” and, in this case, she would be absolutely right.
It is now up to all of us as public education advocates to ensure that our communities understand what is and could be happening with their tax dollars. It is up to us to ensure that the future of the more than 5.3 million students in Texas public schools is a focal point of funding and budget discussions, to make certain that we make education a priority. It is simply not fair to do otherwise.