In the midst of our current legislative session, there is a blizzard of confusing and contradictory reports about the important issue of school funding. Attempting to report on each daily development is like trying to end a locust plague with a can of bug spray. But let me hit a few highlights and (in answer to parent requests), give some recommendations on advocacy:
- Within the two legislative bodies (House and Senate) there is a distinct difference about public school funding. In the Senate, the focus for the first half of the session was on Education Savings Accounts, vouchers, Charter Schools and other avenues for providing state funding to private schools and individual families. The House, on the other hand, has essentially labeled such Senate efforts as “dead”; therefore, it appears unlikely the corpse will re-emerge.
- In terms of the total amount for public school funding, it appears the Senate and House are now somewhat close in total dollar amounts. The major difference seems to be over the origin of their too small funding increases. The House would allow dipping into the “Rainy Day Fund”; the Senate would prefer to essentially “borrow” money from revenue receipts two years in advance. In both cases, Pearland ISD’s projected funding falls far short of what is needed to provide raises to teachers – and resources to our growing student body.
- Both the House and the Senate proclaim the reason they can’t do more for public schools is because of the downturn in oil prices and other sources of revenue. (However, this hasn’t stopped the Senate from trying to find a new way to give funds to non-public schools and individuals.)
- Final decisions on school funding are generally not made until the last few days of the session in May. This is caused by the necessity of compromises and the whimsical nature of politics. Unfortunately, it can leave the public little time to assess and undo any damage done.
- There are two main problems with school funding: Adequacy and Equity. Adequacy means having enough money to fund needs including all of the unfunded and partially funded mandates of state and federal law for public school education. Equity is ensuring that students receive somewhat equal funding regardless of what zip code they live in.
- Unfortunately our Texas Supreme Court “took a pass” last year by declaring that our state’s funding system was badly flawed BUT constitutional – and essentially kicked the ball back into the legislators’ realm. In turn, this can provide an excuse for doing little or nothing. (See my previous blog entries for more commentary on that.)
Here are my recommendations for those who have asked about contacting/ influencing the state legislature:
- Arm yourself with facts: Before initiating or forwarding advocacy positions on social media or with a legislator, you may want to contact our Communications Office or my office to get factual information on the latest development, rumor or concern.
- Adequacy: Concentrate on the funding “big picture” rather than on any special interest. The best way to defeat better school funding is to get everyone looking out for their own program or special interest. For example, over the past few days, misleading information on the elimination of categorical funding for particular programs (like Gifted/Talented services) has people upset. That portion of the proposed bill is merely a simplification, not a funding decrease within the state’s ridiculously complex school funding formulas. When special interests dominate, legislators often express frustration at the dissimilar positions taken by school districts. In turn, that can lead to inaction. It is the grand total of state funding for school districts that is important. In short, Pearland ISD needs more money to continue to produce excellence, hire and retain the best educators – and to keep up with the yearly barrage of new and old state/federal mandates.
- Equity: Pearland ISD receives approximately $1,000 less per student than the average Texas school district. This has gone on for more than a decade. It has resulted in the loss of tens of millions of dollars – and (again) is due to a “byzantine” funding formula that is a series of tacked on special interest “reforms” during each legislative biennium. The House and Senate need to get serious about school funding fairness such that it meets their rhetoric, their regulations and our realities.
Both Senator Larry Taylor (Chair of the Senate Education Committee) and Representative Ed Thompson favor additional funding levels for public schools. Rep. Thompson has also previously filed bills that would provide a combination of tax relief and additional funding for Pearland and Alvin ISDs due to our “fast growth” student enrollment.
Both our legislators are honorable men. Remember they have to listen to ALL sides. Therefore, your interaction with them is best done with empathy, graciousness and respect for the difficult position they are in. Both men are fortunate to serve an area of Texas with stellar educational accomplishments – helping them make a strong argument for both adequacy and equity here in Pearland ISD!