Day: October 3, 2014

A strong school system needs more than more of the same

 

This analogy may be an overextended stretch into the dramatic, but Texas’ growing public education system reminds me a little of the Titanic. It is an ambitious, enormous venture with serious, basic flaws. The Titanic sank too easily and didn’t have enough lifeboats. Our education system is not adequately or fairly funded and, like the Titanic, is on a collision course with trouble.

As attorney general, Greg Abbott continues to defend the indefensible school finance system, including $5.4 billion in budget cuts, despite a judge’s strongly worded ruling that school funding is inadequate, unconstitutional and overdue for a real remedy. As a candidate for governor, Abbott issues little more than hollow statements about making Texas education No. 1 in the country without offering anything that would realistically bring that about.

Abbott represents “status quo-plus,” as The Dallas Morning News noted in an editorial this week, and for Texas school kids and educators that means more crowded classrooms, more standardized tests and more experimentation with school privatization for a select few students, while a growing number of parents fume and worry.

If Abbott were captain of the Titanic, as the old cliché suggests, he would be busily rearranging the deck chairs, oblivious to the iceberg looming ever closer.

Wendy Davis wants to avoid the iceberg, and, as governor, would set a new course for Texas schools, beginning with a realistic school funding plan to meet the challenges of a public education system growing by 80,000 students a year. She will work to expand crucial pre-kindergarten programs that will determine classroom success for thousands of children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

She will cut back on standardized tests, promote college readiness and treat teachers and other school employees as the professionals they are, including efforts to begin moving teacher pay toward the national average.

Davis has been accused by some, including The Dallas Morning News, of not knowing – or avoiding – how she would pay for these needed educational improvements. Some have suggested that, as governor, she would promote a major tax increase. In truth, she won’t because, one, the conservative Legislature won’t pass a major tax increase, and, two, higher taxes aren’t necessary to begin accomplishing what Davis wants to do.

Billions of additional dollars will be available from existing taxes, the comptroller’s office told the House Ways and Means Committee a couple of weeks ago. Sales tax revenue has been increasing by about 5.5 percent a year, thanks to the strong economy, and the Rainy Day Fund balance is sitting at $8.4 billion and will soon grow to double digits.

“I will set a vision,” Davis said during her second debate with Abbott. A vision that is strong enough to see the iceberg coming – and do something about it.