Recently Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath appeared before a state budget panel to lay out the Texas Education Agency’s budget request through 2021.
In his testimony, Commissioner Morath projected a drop in the state’s general revenue request for public education by more than $3.5 billion for the next biennium due to increasing revenue from local property taxes. Local property values are expected to grow by about 6.8 percent statewide the next couple of years and existing state statute requires the state to use that money first before factoring in state funding.
What this means is local property taxes continue to provide the bulk of the funding for public education and school districts continue to struggle to make ends meet. The current funding formula is insufficient to meet the needs of all of our children – average, gifted and talented, special needs, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged.
This poses a troubling problem for our state and nation. Texas educates 5.3 million schoolchildren in its public schools, fully 10 percent of all the schoolchildren educated in public schools in the country. Over 3 million Texas students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Texas currently has a lot going for it in terms of economic growth but we should stop to consider where our state would be 20 years from now if we cannot provide the majority of our children with a quality education.
Our children need to graduate from high school ready to enter college, trade schools or the military to continue their education. Texas needs an educated work force earning a living wage that allows them to marry, buy a house, raise a family and contribute to our common welfare.
All of our children deserve a quality education. The legislature has a constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in this state (Texas Constitution Article 7, Section 1). State statute imposes a further duty upon the legislature: “The mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic and educational opportunities of our state and nation” (Texas Education Code §4.001).
Just as we hold our school districts accountable for student achievement, we should also hold the State Legislature accountable for supporting a public school system that provides a quality education for all students as the state constitution requires.
The Legislature needs to uphold its constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in Texas, and fund it adequately and equitably. Let us not squander this legislative session with arguments over how schools are funded; rather let us focus our efforts on improving our public schools, which have and always will educate the majority of our students. If you agree, let your legislators know.
(Jim Rice was elected to serve on the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees in May 2010. These comments are his alone and he is not speaking on behalf of the board.)