Category Archives: school finance

His sanctimony aside, Dan Patrick is to blame for school finance failure


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick waxed sanctimonious after the final defeat of the House’s effort to improve school funding but don’t be misled by his demagoguery. The blame for the school finance failure rests squarely with Patrick.

Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority tried to enact legislation to improve state funding for public schools and take an important first step toward real school finance reform. But Patrick was all about snooping in school bathrooms and trying to force the House into wasting tax dollars on private school vouchers, even after it was clear that a bipartisan House majority was adamantly opposed to vouchers. At the eleventh hour, Patrick had the Senate majority remove funding from the House’s version of HB21, the school finance bill, and attach a special education voucher instead. Then he blamed the House for killing school finance when House members called his bluff.

“I simply did not believe they (the House) would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said. Hogwash.

Patrick’s “funding increase” claim was actually a billion dollar cut from the $1.6 billion the House had proposed. And his special education voucher amendment would have been useless for most special education kids because private schools don’t have to provide special education services and those that do are exempt from federal standards designed to make sure the services provided are appropriate.

The House actually had tried to improve funding for disabled kids and all other students by approving additional funding for public schools, but Patrick and the Senate majority killed that effort. That means public schools, including special education classrooms, will remain under-funded, and the burden on local school property taxpayers will continue to increase.

Whenever Dan Patrick opens his mouth about public education and property tax “relief,” he has absolutely no credibility. And the school children of Texas – all the school children of Texas – will be better off if their parents quit believing him.


Charter schools seeking more tax money


Despite evidence to the contrary, some people still subscribe to the perception that charter schools are the “silver bullet” solution for education, as the competition between charters and traditional public schools for limited state tax dollars remains intense.

In truth, some charters are good, others aren’t and still others have failed – for financial mismanagment and/or academic shortcomings.

After the Texas Legislature in 1995 created charters as an alternative to traditional public schools, some charter operators stepped forward and used the freedom they were granted from state regulations to offer innovative and successful programs for their students.

Other charter operators stepped forward to try to profit from the tax dollars that came with the students they enrolled. Free from restrictions like class-size limits and teacher certification requirements that govern traditional public schools, they eagerly cut corners on academic quality and either failed or should have failed. Some never should have been granted the charters that allowed them to operate.

Unlike traditional school districts, charters can’t levy taxes to raise money for operating costs or to build classroom buildings and other facilities. But on average they receive more funding per student than traditional schools, and they can use the Pemanent School Fund to lower their cost of borrowing money for construction projects.

Charter advocates have made a big push during this legislative session to win direct state funding for facilities construction. Sen. Donna Campbell filed a bill to give charters more than $400 million for that purpose. The Senate approved the bill, but only after reducing it to $100 million and splitting the funding between charters and traditional school districts.

TSTA opposes the measure, now before the House, for a couple of reasons. One, there would be no way under current law for taxpayers to recoup their money if a charter operator uses tax dollars to build a school facility and then goes bust. Also, the Legislature shouldn’t be giving more money to charters when it hasn’t even decided how well it will fund traditional public schools, where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated. The Senate budget for which Campbell voted probably wouldn’t even cover enrollment growth. The House would do better by spending about $1.6 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to increase public school budgets, but even then most schools would remain under-funded.

A House-Senate conference committee continues to seek a budget compromise.

Former State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, among others, has thrown cold water on the charter operators’ efforts to change the rules against facilities funding.

“This was the deal charters signed up for when they opened their business,” Ratliff once told the Texas Tribune. “They knew what the law was, and they told the Legislature, ‘We can do a better job for less money.’ Now they’re coming back and saying, ‘Maybe not.’”




Education, not fear and discrimination, will determine Texas’ future


The president can try to wall off the southern border, the legislative majority can continue depriving minority Texans of their right to vote and the same lawmakers can wax xenophobic over a dozen more bills to outlaw “sanctuary cities,” but one eventuality will remain true and unstoppable.

Within the next generation, the majority of Texans will not look nor think like the president or the majority of today’s legislators. By the middle of this century, most Texans will be Hispanic. The Texas Hispanic population is younger and growing at a faster pace than the non-Hispanic population, and, the debate over immigration to the contrary, most Hispanics in Texas are U.S. citizens. Moreover, the politicians who today are responding to fear and racism in their futile effort to delay the future will be either forgotten or footnotes of derision in history books that will be written by authors who do not look nor think like them.

The fear and discrimination generated by immigration crackdowns and a voter ID law and political district maps that have been declared unconstitutional by federal courts are bad enough. But maybe even worse is what the legislative majority and recent Texas governors have not been doing. They have not been preparing our state – a state in which our children and grandchildren will live – for the same prosperity that most of us, including our political class, has enjoyed.

The key to that future is our public education system, where the majority enrollment already is Hispanic and low-income. That education system remains woefully under-funded and, even under the best scenario, will remain under-funded after the current legislative session ends, casting a lengthening shadow on that rapidly approaching future.

Instead of helping thousands of immigrant children in their neighborhood public schools better prepare themselves for tomorrow, many legislators would rather threaten them with a heightened sense of insecurity over such basic concerns as whether a nine-year-old’s parents will be there when she returns home from school.

Calling that a blow for “national security” is baloney.

Steve Murdock is a former state demographer under Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Census Bureau director under President George W. Bush. He has a clearer vision of Texas’ future than any other human, and he has warned repeatedly that our state leaders aren’t preparing for it.

In a series of books and lectures, Murdock has told anyone who will listen that if state government continues to neglect public education funding the Texas economy will be poorer and less competitive by mid-century — and not because the population will be majority Hispanic. It will be because that population won’t be adequately educated. And a sluggish economy will affect the employment and lifestyle prospects of all Texans – regardless of race, ethnicity or political persuasion. Many undoubtedly will have to move elsewhere.

The key to the future begins with education, and that future could be successful, but not as long as the legislative majority continues to waste time neglecting schools in favor of playing to fear and discrimination.





Texas proud starts with public schools


If nothing else, Texas legislators are champions of hyperbole and proponents of Texas “exceptionalism.” But Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the Senate’s chief budget writer, was mainly corny when she predicted the new state budget “will make Texas proud.”

Aw, shucks.

What actually will happen if Nelson and her Senate colleagues have their way with the education portion of the budget is that many Texans will be angry that their public schools remain under-funded while their local school property taxes continue to rise.

Nelson is one of ten legislators (five from the Senate and five from the House) who will spend the next few weeks trying to hammer out a new, two-year state budget, a compromise between the two versions already approved by each legislative chamber. One of the major differences is on public education.

The Senate has approved a budget that likely would have the effect of reducing state education funding even more, when inflation and enrollment growth – about 80,000 to 85,000 additional students each year – are considered. That would mean the burden on homeowners and other property owners, who already pay for more than half of public education costs, would continue to grow.

The House would increase the state’s share of public school funding by about $1.6 billion by tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account that has swelled to almost $12 billion. The House also has approved a separate bill that would begin overhauling the inadequate and outdated school finance system, a reality that the Senate leadership so far chooses to ignore.

The House bill doesn’t provide for a long-term solution to education funding, but it represents a start toward fulfilling the state’s constitutional responsibility to adequately support its public education system.

The House leadership recognizes that public school funding has become an emergency, something that the Rainy Day Fund was established to address. The Senate leadership believes its only “emergency” is to please a loud chorus of ideologues intent on shrinking government, beginning with education.

If legislators really want to make Texans proud and Texas exceptional, they will take the House’s budget lead this session and begin restoring and improving the financial foundation of Texas public schools.



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