We’ll publish more guest columns from other stakeholders in future issues.
But for now, let’s frame the debate: It’s not about the money. Rather, it’s not just about the money.
Certainly, money is an issue. Facing severe budgetary shortfalls in the last legislative session, lawmakers had to make cuts— including $5.4 billion in public education funding. Now, some of them say it’s time to restore those funds.
“A Democratic lawmaker and other public school advocates urged state leaders Tuesday to use ‘newly disclosed’ billions in revenue that exceed official state forecasts to start undoing last year’s education cuts,” the Dallas Morning News reported in October. “State GOP leaders are going to have at least $12.5 billion to use to ease harmful cuts in the two-year budget they write starting next year, said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.”
Villarreal said “There are no excuses. We have the money. … Stop sitting on it.”
It’s true the economic outlook is somewhat rosier this time around. But we’re on the edge of another recession — it could go either way. Legislators should be very, very careful before making any promises.
And as the Texas Public Policy Foundation points out, money doesn’t fix everything.
“Evidence has shown that more money does not necessarily equate to academic success,” the Foundation notes. “We have seen this play out in Texas over the last 20 years; during stretches of steadily increasing our education dollars (this is true even with inflation adjustments), we have not seen corresponding academic gains, whether we’re talking about NAEP performance in the lower grade levels or SAT/ACT scores at the high school level.”
“School districts could suspend the state’s testing system with approval from a district’s board of trustees,” the Houston Chronicle reported. “Savings from not preparing and administering the state test would have to be spent on teachers or other education staff with direct contact with students or classroom materials.”
And of course, school choice — in the form of additional charter schools, or even vouchers — will be a controversial topic. Lawmakers should take note that the biggest experiment in school choice ever is taking place next door – in Louisiana. We should watch that experiment, with interest.
But the guiding principle of any changes we make to public education in Texas is that of local control.
No one cares for our children more than we do ourselves. Decisions about education are best made at the local level, by locally elected leaders, partnered with concerned parents.
We all want effective, efficient public schools. Now let’s talk about how to make that happen.