Perhaps the best and most recent example of Texas legislature buck-passing is the newly approved bill forcing school districts to outfit new buses with seat belts. In 2007, they passed a similar law but with the provision that districts must comply only if the legislature allocated money for that mandate. Now in 2017 the legislature has shifted that expense to school districts.  Local school boards must either agree to the unfunded mandate or hold a meeting to declare they don’t have the money.   Here in Pearland ISD, our Transportation Department has calculated  an additional $8,000 cost for each new bus purchase. Furthermore, retrofitting our existing buses (once parents realize that some have them and some don’t) will cost approximately $3 million.  Meanwhile the state’s school funding formula  “robs” approximately 2.9 million dollars of our local property taxes to pay for the state’s current school funding scheme.

During the 2017 legislative session, there are heroes and villains. After the Supreme Court in 2016 ruled Texas School funding as barely constitutional and in need of significant reform, the House made an honest attempt at reform in HB 21.  This was especially critical for Pearland ISD which receives approximately $1,000 less per student than the average school district.  We were most hopeful this bill would pass.

However, the Senate said no. Instead they insisted on giving government money to private schools and on lowering the property taxes necessary to comply with the public school mandates they passed! So the Senate killed the House bill as the legislative session ended last week.

The Senate’s own funding scheme robs local property wealth increases to help pay for the state’s share of education spending. This leaves many districts no other choice but to raise tax rates or cut services.  Yet these same Senators portray themselves as secular saints dedicated to lowering YOUR property tax bill – and to improving your child’s education!

Some may argue that over-regulated and under-performing public schools are  doomed to failure. This can become a self fulfilling prophecy. So Senators claim public education is rescued by handing out government money to private and Charter schools.  And in order to assure private schools that the government won’t interfere, they’ve promised NO accountability for educational results in those schools.  Meanwhile, the legislature just passed a new A-F accountability system to measure student achievement – but ONLY for public schools!  Remember these are the same Senators who want to expand Charter Schools despite a dubious record for student achievement gains in most of those schools.

The state continues to pass unfunded mandates inevitably leading to the public schools collapsing under their weight.  Private schools are then hailed as the only remaining answer.

But does anyone really believe that the state and federal governments will not then sink their talons into private schools, curtailing their religious and economic freedom?  Where government money flows, regulation soon follows. Having served as the principal of a private school many years ago, I remain leery about private schools depending on the government’s “favor.”

Here in Pearland ISD, we’ve continuously received a Five-Star Rating from the state for financial efficiency and student performance. Our top students go to the best universities in America. Ninety of our 2017 graduates just left high school with an Associate Degree (i.e. 2 years of college completed!) Hundreds more have significant AP college credit, dual college credit, and/or certificates in high paying career fields. The list of student achievements goes on and on.

So when the state refuses to do its part and instead adds new regulations to our public schools, they are Pharoah telling us to make bricks without straw. Our teachers are underpaid. Our facilities are aging and in need of expansion to accommodate the enrollment growth spurred by our educational successes.

Our  local citizens are doing more than their share. For example, in the absence of state help, they recently agreed to more bond debt in order to meet  facilities needs.

Meanwhile, the Texas Senate adds mandates and subtracts funding. 


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