Educators, Experts Call on Commission to Calculate True Cost of Educating Students

By Laura Isensee March 19, 2018 – HOUSTON PUBLIC MEDIA

State Sen. Larry Taylor (left) with Chairman Justice Scott Brister (right)

State Sen. Larry Taylor (left) with Chairman Justice Scott Brister (right)

In its first meeting open to public comment Monday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance heard several themes echoed. One major one: Texas needs to figure out how much it actually costs to meet the state’s academic goals.
For example, Texas officials in higher education want the majority of young adults to have a college degree or another certificate beyond a high school diploma by 2030. And state lawmakers want all high school graduates to be prepared for either college or a career.
But Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers told the panel that those aren’t realistic expectations based on how Texas pays for public schools.
“I’m just asking that this commission, however you want to do it, somehow has to align what you expect out of us with the resources provided,” Chamber said. “Because right now the resources being provided are to meet a standard that’s right here, when the standards have been increased over the last five-six years exponentially.”
Chambers joined other administrators and experts asking the commission to study the cost of educating the state’s five million school children.
The panel is supposed to give state lawmakers recommendations to improve school funding. It was created after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in the state’s largest school finance lawsuit that the system was imperfect, but declined to mandate any fixes to the Texas Legislature.
The last time Texas had a commission on school finance reform in the 1980’s, it studied how much it cost to fund a high quality education. Since then academic standards and goals have changed.
“I urge this commission to really try to figure out what it takes to meet the outcomes that we desire and not to tie your hands prematurely and leave it up to the legislature to decide what’s feasible, what kind of shifting of budget priorities need to be made and if tax increases are what we need to fund our schools,” said Chandra Villanueva, an analyst with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Other themes that the panel heard: money matters and the issue of equity.
Paul Colbert, a former state representative who chaired budget and oversight of public education on the House Appropriations Committee, said that for the top students, money doesn’t matter.
“Your bright kids are going to do well regardless of what you do. But if your goal is to educate all of your children, then how much money you put in and how equitably you distribute it will answer whether or not you’re going to really be able to educate all of the children,” Colbert said.
David Hinojosa with the Intercultural Development Research Association gave the panel a list of what he finds as roadblocks to equity in the funding system.
“When we talk about whether or not education is the great equalizer, I don’t even think we can ever get there, if the funding system is so unequal and inequitable,” Hinojosa said.