The 85th regular session proved to be an opportunity lost for public education despite the best efforts of House leaders and some in the Senate. What should have included a focus on addressing the “minimum constitutional requirements” of the school finance system turned into a bartering endeavor by “leadership” in the Senate. To suggest that either the Lt. Governor or chair of the Senate Education Committee were even remotely interested in solving the school finance challenges would be a stretch; their interests lie much more in trying to garner headlines that tug at the emotions of people, especially parents of children with special needs. What a sad day when headlines are more important than the well-being of more than 5.3 million students.
And now the governor, largely missing during the 85th, has decided to weigh in on what he sees as critical items to address during the upcoming special session. To me, this is largely another headline grab largely fueled by being outflanked by Senate “leadership”; he had to do something and the easiest (and seemingly least risky) thing for him to do was to align with the LG and committee Chair. But if things go as they should given the level of dissatisfaction and angst in the public education community, perhaps the governor’s plot to “steal” back the headlines will backfire; candidly, shame on all of us if it doesn’t!
While certainly disappointed but not surprised that the LG chose to hold school finance hostage for a voucher (by any name) program, what is even more galling right now is the inclusion of a $1000 teacher raise as one of the priorities of the special session. But it sure does make a good headline! After all, who wouldn’t agree that teachers are due more than the current salary structure in Texas public schools? But to suggest that this raise must be funded not by the state but by district budgets is not only shortsighted but an insult to districts and teachers themselves.
With the percent of funding by the state falling each year, where does the governor think districts can find the funds to provide these raises? Does he have any concept of what goes on in a public school district and how districts are challenged to manage enrollment growth? Speaking of enrollment growth, statements that the legislature is funding enrollment growth also make for a great headline. But do we want to tread water and not provide enhanced programs and other offerings to all students? Why do we focus on sub-groups such as kids with special needs or kids new to the system? Oh, yeah, great headlines.
What the governor and LG are doing is to basically divert attention from the issues that they are unwilling to address. And they are using headlines to move the ball down the field. So now the hard part begins, not for them but for the kids and all of us who support public education. Public education advocates have to speak out (and vote) by letting all stakeholders (and that’s all of us whether we have kids in schools or not) know that public education is at risk if nothing changes. Imagine the headline when schools close or districts consolidate; the state will take no responsibility but the LG will use it to reinforce his support of vouchers (by any name).
It’s truly a sad day when headlines are more important than kids, when responsibility for funding public education continues to shift more and more to the districts themselves. All of this while the argument is made that we need property tax reform, another great headline. Let’s pull together as we are starting to do to make education a priority in the State of Texas. Our kids deserve better. Now that makes a great headline!