Sometimes, legislators propose studies to actually try to learn something about a new or complex issue. Sometimes, as the Senate leadership is doing now with school finance, they propose studies to avoid doing the right thing.
Texas’ school finance system has been studied more times than Donald Trump has tweeted a lie….Well, maybe not that many times, but certainly the issue of school funding in Texas has been studied enough over the years to know what needs to be done. The Legislature needs to provide more state resources and a more equitable distribution of those resources among school districts.
Last spring and now during the special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House have been trying to move in that direction, only to be blocked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate majority. The latest school finance legislation approved by the House is not perfect. It would provide an additional $1.8 billion for school funding during this budget period through an accounting maneuver instead of dipping into the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund. But it would be a start in the right direction that could be continued and strengthened with improved state appropriations during the next regular session in 2019.
But Senate leaders, whose primary interest in public schools is how to privatize them, beginning with school vouchers, has again slammed the door. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor rejected the House plan as a “political fix” and called instead for a commission to study current school funding.
Another study, however, would delay financial assistance for schools while Texas remains in the lower tier of states in school funding. Meanwhile, enrollment will continue to increase by about 80,000 children a year, and school property taxes will continue to increase.
It doesn’t take another study for legislators to know that the state’s share of school funding has plunged from 67 percent in the mid-1980s to 38 percent now. And it doesn’t take another study to know that this buck-passing by the legislative majority is the main reason local property taxes continue to climb.
But there is another reason Senate leaders want to “study” school funding some more. They want to regroup on their No. 1 education priority – school vouchers and other privatization schemes – and try again to ram them down the House’s throat in 2019, complete with the blessings of a “blue ribbon” study panel that would include few, if any, teachers.
That would be a political hoax.