Monthly Archives: January 2019

What real school finance reform is…and isn’t

 

Gov. Greg Abbott sounded ambitious in his welcoming remarks to the state Senate on the opening day of the legislative session. “We are going to solve school finance reform and property tax reform this session,” he declared.

Maybe they will. But if legislators don’t realistically address school finance and property taxes while they are in Austin, much of the blame will rest on Abbott. So, the governor better quit being an obstacle and start being a leader.

Abbott has been a major hindrance to school finance improvements and property tax relief during the first four years of his administration. He and legislative allies have squeezed state funding of public education while the local, property tax share of the Foundation School Program has steadily risen to 62 percent. And the governor’s only answer so far has been to try to impose arbitrary tax limits on local elected officials that, if enacted, would lead to crippling cuts in important public services.

The governor can start leading by coming up with a new plan, a real plan that starts with a significant appropriation of new state dollars into the public education budget. That’s the way you begin to reform education and provide property tax relief.

“Reform” is a tricky word and maybe one of the most over-used and mis-used words in the political dialogue. Most of the definitions I have read for “reform” include imposing change with the intent to improve, not imposing change merely for change’s sake or for political advantage and certainly not imposing change for the worse.

Property tax “reform,” as I suggested above, is not impeding the ability of local officials to provide for the needs of their constituents. School finance “reform” also is not a lot of things.

School finance “reform” is not diverting tax dollars to vouchers or education savings accounts. That would worsen the school funding system by transferring tax dollars to private schools and undermining our already underfunded public schools.

School finance “reform” is not promoting more takeovers of struggling schools by corporate charter chains and disregarding important instructional standards for students and employment safeguards for educators.

School finance “reform” also is not providing “merit pay” raises to a small number of teachers, based on the unreasonably narrow factor of STAAR scores, while ignoring the needs of their colleagues.

Real school finance reform and property tax reform will begin with a significant increase in state appropriations for public schools to provide resources for all educators and students. Texas spends about $2,300 less per student per year than the national average, ranking us 36th among the states and the District of Columbia.

We must do better than that, and Comptroller Glenn Hegar has said legislators will have $9 billion in additional general revenue for education and other needs this session. They also will have a savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, with a record balance of $15 billion in taxpayer money.

The revenue is there to begin real school finance reform. Now, the governor needs to match his rhetoric with some political will.

 

 

 

Dan Patrick’s Happy New Year greeting to teachers…or maybe not

 

I received my Happy New Year email from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick the other day. It was mostly a message reminding me of what a great leader he thinks he is and reminding me of his political priorities – a secure border, lean and efficient government, property tax relief, protecting Second Amendment rights, religious liberty, freedom, etc.

It also included this message: “Fixing school finance and giving our teachers the $10,000 raise that I advocated for in the 2017 special session are also top priorities for me when the (new legislative) session begins next week. We must invest in our teachers – next to a parent, they are the most important part of a student’s education.”

Sounds promising…until you remember that Dan Patrick never advocated for a $10,000 teacher pay raise during the 2017 special session. What he did do was call a news conference, display some charts and propose that teacher pay raises and bonuses be squeezed out of the existing, under-funded public education budget. Under his “plan,” if you want to call it that, the extra teacher compensation would have come from lottery proceeds already dedicated to education and by requiring school districts to squeeze 5 percent out of their existing budgets for pay raises.

Patrick didn’t call for a single cent of additional state funding for teacher pay. That isn’t advocacy. That is flim-flam.

Commenting at the time, TSTA President Noel Candelaria called Patrick’s pronouncement “hollow” and a “mythical, pie-in-the-sky promise” because it didn’t include additional state funding.

Gov. Greg Abbott also dangled the idea of a teacher pay raise in 2017, but he didn’t propose a way to pay for one. Instead, Abbott applauded while the Patrick-led Senate killed a House school finance bill that would have provided as much as $1.8 billion in additional state education funding, money that could have gone toward teacher pay raises.

Abbott and Patrick also were the main drivers behind the creation of a new commission to conduct the umpteenth study of school funding. That commission concluded its work just before the holidays with a report that stopped short of recommending a specific amount of increased state education funding. And instead of recommending a much-needed across-the-board pay raise for all teachers, it encouraged districts to create “merit” pay plans – most likely to be based on student test scores — for raising salaries for a small group of teachers

The governor and the Legislature can do better than that, and they must do better than that before more teachers get squeezed out of the profession.

 

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