Earlier this year I wrote a letter to Mr. Joe Straus. It took him several months to respond. Below is the response letter and my responses in Red.
I have responded to some of your comments.
I look forward to your responses.
David R. Taylor
24 Year Teacher, Coach and Principal
Dear Mr. Taylor:
Thank you for your letter concerning public education. I value the opinions of all Texans and appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective with me. I agree with you that education should be a top priority.
Last session, the 82nd Legislature faced a daunting challenge crafting a budget in the aftermath of the worst national recession since World War II. The decisions to reduce spending were difficult, but necessary.
The state of Texas faced a $27 billion shortfall when the Legislature convened in January of 2011. The Legislature was faced with a $27 Billion shortfall because it wrote a hot check in 2005 it couldn’t cash. The Legislature had to address not only the revenue deficit in the 2012-2013 biennium, but the budget gap for the previous fiscal year. In order to address the budget short fall and the revenue deficit the legislature took a single-minded approach to solving the problem cut, cut, cut. While there may have been some places to cut costs, it is still disturbing that there was not any consideration of new revenue sources. It time for the people of Texas, all of them, not just the elected officials to determine if they are willing to pay more or different taxes to improve our public school. To meet our constitutional duty to balance the budget, we appropriated money from the Rainy Day Fund and reduced budget items across the spectrum while prioritizing our greatest needs — actions familiar to many Texas families during these tough economic times. The Legislature felt that it was necessary to spend money out of the Rainy Day Fund to balance the last budget but the idea of spending any of it to properly fund public education seems to be an offensive idea. There is still time this summer for the Governor to call a short 3 day session to approve the use of the Rainy Day Fund to restore funding for public education for the upcoming school year. You must also remember that you have a constitutional responsibility to properly fund public education.
To help offset the impact of these reductions in education funding formulas, the state also provided more local control in areas such as testing, personnel and curriculum. This should provide school districts more flexibility in how they allocate resources. You say there was more control at the local level, I disagree. Each time the Legislature meets in Austin there is less and less local control. For example, school calendars should be a local control issue, not a state dictated matter. The reality of the situation is that most schools spend at least 75% of all revenue on personnel. The increase in the number of personnel is due the increase requirements placed on local districts by the State of Texas.
This spring, the Lieutenant Governor, and I announced a joint select committee to study the issue of how best to fund our public schools. I know the work of this committee will be closely watched by many educators, parents and concerned citizens. I, too, look forward to the deliberations of this committee, as this issue will be a major focus of the next session of the Legislature beginning in January 2013. Mr. Straus have you read the report “Texas on the Brink”. It was produced in 2011 by the Texas Legislative Study Group. Texas is approaching the bottom in many categories compared to other states. Another item you should be is an article from my blog in which I dissected the report and some of it trends.
In regard to your comments concerning STAAR testing, in 2011 the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 500 in an attempt to lessen some of the pressure on students and the focus on standardized testing. Unfortunately, that bill ultimately did not pass the full Legislature. As we prepare for the upcoming 83rd Legislative Session beginning in January 2013, I have charged the House Committee on Public Education to “Recommend any changes to graduation or testing requirements that promote instructional rigor and support postsecondary readiness while appropriately limiting an overreliance on standardized testing,” in an effort to address these concerns. Another study that you need to read is “ Time is the Enemy of College Completion. In that study, it shows how only 20% of high schools students from the State of Texas are graduating from a two-year or a four-year college when given double the time. The public education system in Texas is ineffective if only 20% are able to obtain a degree in double the time required.
Public education is an important issue, and I understand and support the need for accountability in our schools. A student who graduates with a Texas diploma must be ready with the skills and knowledge to pursue a college degree or enter the workforce. You are correct! Students that graduate from high school should be capable of SUCCESSFULLY pursuing a college degree or entering the workforce. The current system does not foster the type of development required to meet either of those. The statistics from the “Time is the Enemy” report support the fact that students are not ready. We need more vocational programs that are properly funded and supported. The current system expects teachers to only teach to a certain level. I wrote an article back in February called “ Teachers: The Best Trained Fleas in the State of Texas”. The real truth is that only about 10 percent of all students in the state are being taught on a level capable of meeting the established standard, “successfully pursuing a college degree or entering the workforce”. I also think we can find a more common sense approach that will be acceptable to parents, teachers, administrators, taxpayers and the business community. I’m scared to consider the thought of common sense from our Texas Legislation. If there were common sense present then they would not have passed a 33% property tax reduction rate without a definite manner of replacing the lost revenue. It is time to consider other streams of revenue and let the people of Texas have a say in the matter. Casino gambling is not a popular idea, but it needs to be on the ballot in November and let the PEOPLE OF TEXAS HAVE A SAY.
I encourage you to stay updated on both the Joint Committee to Study the Public School Finance System and the House Committee on Public Education’s work on these issues by visiting www.house.state.tx.us/committees. How do you form a committee to address public education issues and not involve any educators? I see this as having a medical condition so you gather a bunch of plumbers to solve the problem. It is time to make educators part of the process, they are the ones that are the experts in their field. Most legislators have not been in a classroom in so long that they do not have any perspective for what is really going on in classrooms across this state each and every day. Here, you can follow information related to both committees, including live-stream hearings. I also encourage you to contact theses committees so that committee members will also be aware of your views. The committees’ contact information is as follows:
Joint Committee to Study the Public School Finance System
Attn: Co-Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768
House Committee on Public Education
Attn: Chairman Rob Eissler
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768
Again, thank you for your email. If I can be of future assistance to you on this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office.