Month: <span>August 2016</span>

School budgets depend on legislators, not lottery players


Many Texans apparently have never outgrown fairy tales, although some fairy tales – like testing and privatization will help students, parents and educators live happily ever after – are too preposterous for anyone, except maybe Dan Patrick, to believe.

One 25-year-old fairy tale just won’t die, and that’s the one about the Texas Lottery putting public education on Easy Street. I still see Facebook comments wondering why the lottery isn’t solving one school budgetary problem or another, when, in fact, the lottery never has been a major financial contributor to public education and never was intended to be.

Voters, however, were encouraged to think that the lottery would be a financial windfall for schools when Gov. Ann Richards and legislative leaders were pushing the lottery in 1991 as a new revenue source. Voters approved it, and the misperception still hasn’t completely gone away.

The state’s share of lottery proceeds weren’t even dedicated to public education until 1997, and since then the lottery has contributed more than $19 billion to the Foundation School Program, including $1.225 billion in fiscal 2015.

That is a lot of money but only a small fraction of the more than $50 billion (with a b) in state, local and federal funds spent on public education each year. It’s a welcome drop in the bucket, but only the Legislature – not lottery players – can solve public education’s funding shortfall.

Many lottery players may have visions of unbelievable riches, but those are different fairy tales with (mostly) disappointing endings.


Another detour by education “reformers”


The Senate Education Committee heard testimony this week on what could become another detour from the main challenge facing public education in Texas – adequate and equitable funding for all school children.

This committee charge, handed down by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, calls for a “comprehensive performance review” of all of Texas’ public schools and a study of “performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance.”

Would-be vendors eager for a share of tax dollars for assisting in such a study already are lining up, I am sure. It was interesting, though, that the first two school performance “experts” to testify before the panel yesterday had different opinions on which school districts should be on the high performance list and apparently were measuring student performance differently.

If the Legislature persists in ordering such a study, the result could be even higher stakes for STAAR testing, even though a large number of educators and parents want lawmakers to abolish or heavily curtail standardized testing, not enhance it.

The study also may lead to proposals to reward school districts with financial incentives for being more “efficient” in churning out high test scores or producing higher graduation rates. But if lawmakers don’t add more money to the system, that would worsen the financial plight of districts with limited tax bases and high-needs and low-performing students who require more – not less – resources.

Instead of tinkering with performance-based funding, the first thing the Legislature needs to do next session is draft a new school funding plan that provides adequate funding for all of Texas’ 5.2 million public school children.

If they really want to improve the educational climate in Texas, lawmakers also will repeal or sharply cut back on standardized testing, except as a diagnostic tool, and will beat back attempts to pass vouchers and other school privatization schemes being proposed under the fiction of “school or parental choice.”

Some legislators, however, are easily diverted by just about any fad or privatization gimmick that ignores the real needs of educators and their students.