For the legislative majority to feign poverty as a reason for short-changing public education is short-sighted. It also is disingenuous, and if that word is too long, it is dishonest.
With the economy improving, the Legislature this year restored most of the funding that was slashed from the public education budget two years ago, and that was a step appreciated by thousands of teachers and other education workers. But school funding is still behind where it was during the 2010-11 school year, and school enrollments have increased by 80,000 to 85,000 students each year since then.
And, the Legislature could – and should – have provided more education funding last spring by dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
Many legislators – those who actually want to give the public schools more than lip service – tried. But they were outgunned by a majority fueled by stingy, short-sighted ideological politics, which would rather bleed school districts – and the professionals who work in them — in favor of charters, home-schooling or maybe even one-room schoolhouses. The latter, 18th century alternative to education certainly would match the 18th century mindset that apparently thinks we already spend too much money on public schools.
In truth, Texas never has spent too much money on public schools and, at present, isn’t spending enough and isn’t spending what it does spend in a fair and equitable fashion. That’s why Texas is under a court order – again – to fix the school finance system. That’s why Texas ranks near the bottom of the states in per-pupil funding and teacher pay. And, that’s why 44 percent of Texas teachers, an all-time high, according to a new TSTA-commissioned survey, find it necessary to take extra jobs during the school year to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the Rainy Day Fund sits in the bank, growing and growing with tax revenue from the oil and gas boom. According to new projections by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, a business group, the fund could reach its maximum percentage of the state budget – or $16.1 billion – by 2017. Even if constitutional amendments that would tap into the fund for water and highway spending pass during the next two years, the fund would still have $11.6 billion by 2017, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Those water and highway amendments were approved by the Legislature despite right wing opposition. But efforts to tap into the Rainy Day Fund for schools fell short, even though an educated workforce also is critical to the state’s future. The money in the Rainy Day Fund belongs to the taxpayers, folks. The fund wasn’t created to simply grow and give right-wingers bragging rights for some misguided notions of “stewardship” or to save for some unknown, future emergency when we already have pressing needs now.