Over the past couple of years, hardly a week has gone by without the subject of education being at the forefront of Texans’ interest, especially public school financing.
Education and how to finance it, of course, are not new matters of concern for those living in Texas. In fact, the refusal of the Mexican government to provide for such measures was one of the reasons that sparked the Texas revolution some 170 years ago this month. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the subject in 1974, and it was a very hot topic then. (I have since read it again to see if I had any brilliant ideas at age 21 – I didn’t!!)
Since the days of the Republic, there have been relatively few periods when educators and government officials were not seeking ways to ensure the viability of Article 7, Section 1, of the Texas Constitution. As you’re probably aware, we’ve had six constitutions, and in all of them, public education has been a matter of supreme importance.
The Constitution we now follow, adopted in 1876, says, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
This responsibility is certainly not something taken lightly by our elected officials, and equally true is the fact that differences of opinions on how to accomplish the mandate has sometimes caused a bit of consternation. I take that back, not a “bit” of consternation, but a “whole lot” of it.
Through the years, the subject has been bantered about from the hallowed halls of academe to the historic halls of the state capitol to the locker-lined halls of schools across the state. Today, in some cases, when two people discuss the matter, three divergent opinions can emerge. No wonder the process of determining ways and means to finance public school education effectively and efficiently has seen such extraordinary turmoil lately.
Expenditures per student and legislative allocations for education have been on the rise in the past several years. Still, in comparison with other states, Texas ranks low in many categories related to money.
More money, of course, isn’t the only answer for improving the state’s public education system or possibly even the best solution. The converse, though, does ring true because the lack of adequate monies has the potential to severely limit educational opportunities.
So, what’s the best answer for ways to provide the $33 billion needed to educate approximately 4.3 million school children in Texas? The Robin Hood financial equalization plan never seemed to capture the popularity it did in the original Sherwood Forest, and the system that led to virtual uniformity in local tax rates has been declared an unconstitutional state property tax by the Texas Supreme Court.
So what’s next? Everyone seems to be waiting and watching. It’s much like viewing a tennis match. Each suggestion regarding the most productive way to finance the education of our children is similar to a volley. After waiting for the ball to land in the court of another, everyone watches to see what the return response will be.
Although solutions adopted in the special legislative session that Governor Perry is expected to soon announce may or may not resolve the debate regarding school finance, perhaps the knowledge that the “eyes of Texas” will be upon the participants will help make a difference in how and what they decide.