There are many obstacles to public education in the Texas Legislature, and one is Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, who opened his mouth this week in a committee hearing on improving school security and delivered nonsense.
Nonsense, of course, is not a rare commodity in the halls of the state Capitol, but Huffines’ refusal to acknowledge the reality of budget-strapped school districts was particularly galling.
A study committee, of which Huffines is a member, was discussing how putting more counselors and psychologists in public schools could help prevent school violence. Experts believe expanded mental health services for students could help identify and address potential problems before they erupt in another school shooting or some other outburst of violence.
Largely because of state under-funding, however, most school districts have a serious shortage of counselors and psychologists. According to testimony before the committee, Texas has about 12,500 school counselors and 1,934 school psychologists to serve about 5.4 million students.
That’s about one counselor for every 430 students, and one psychologist for every 2,800 students. Moreover, many of those counselors are spending much of their time helping kids pass STAAR tests and college entrance exams to the exclusion of about everything else.
Huffines, however, denies that funding is a problem. He is an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who believes that public schools don’t need more money and instead should give up some of their funding for privatization schemes like vouchers.
“School districts are capable, certainly have the authority to hire more counselors,” Huffines said. “The Legislature doesn’t necessarily need to be involved. It could be involved, but this issue could also be taken at the ISD level because they have complete discretion.”
Yes, senator, districts have the discretion to hire more counselors by firing more teachers and cramming more kids into overcrowded classrooms. Or maybe they could start charging kids to ride the bus or double the price of school lunches – for those children who can afford to pay.
Or maybe they just could quit buying textbooks and computers. Do they really need textbooks or computers when they have discretion?
School districts also could raise local property taxes, something that Huffines would be sure to attack them for.
Discretion can’t close the state funding gap. Only the Legislature can do that, and as long as people like Don Huffines are in the legislative majority, that won’t happen.
Huffines purportedly represents state Senate District 16 in Dallas County. Fortunately, District 16 voters who really value public education will have some discretion – real discretion — in the November election. They can Vote Education First and replace Huffines with Nathan Johnson.
Nathan Johnson is an education advocate and school volunteer who has been endorsed by TSTA-PAC. He will fight for adequate funding for public schools and not pretend that “discretion” alone can pay for increased school security or other education programs.