Texas Public Education and The Challenges Ahead

May 20, 2020

By Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kyle Biedermann 

The 87th Texas Leg­isla­tive Ses­sion begins in Jan­u­ary and I believe it will be one of the most dif­fi­cult we’ve had in decades. Covid-19 is hav­ing a dra­mat­ic effect on all of us and we do not yet know how exten­sive this pan­dem­ic will affect the state bud­get, and in turn, pub­lic edu­ca­tion fund­ing in Texas. The poten­tial reduc­tion to the edu­ca­tion bud­get next ses­sion comes after HB3 made sweep­ing changes to the way schools are financed while pump­ing an addi­tion­al $6.5 bil­lion into pub­lic edu­ca­tion. The high cost of HB3 was depen­dent on a grow­ing Texas econ­o­my and will be dif­fi­cult to main­tain with high unem­ploy­ment, plung­ing oil and gas prices, and reduced sales and prop­er­ty tax rev­enue to the state and local budgets.

What we do know for cer­tain is that it will take great fis­cal restraint to make ends meet, from both the state and school dis­tricts. This shouldn’t sur­prise us since the cit­i­zens of Texas are expe­ri­enc­ing the same restraints at home. 

With­out ques­tion, we will need fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble lead­er­ship across all of Texas. Just as the leg­is­la­ture should be think­ing of how to stretch every dol­lar and reduce spend­ing, local school boards and admin­is­tra­tors must do the same now. Calls for dip­ping into the states rainy day fund should also include school dis­tricts dip­ping into their fund bal­ances. After all, it’s not their mon­ey. It is the tax­pay­ers money.

Tax­ing enti­ties across the state have ben­e­fit­ed in the past from a strong econ­o­my and increas­ing real estate val­ues, but things have changed. Today, mil­lions of Tex­ans are unem­ployed or unable to work because the gov­ern­ment has forced busi­ness­es to close and peo­ple to stay in their homes. With this much loss of income in the pri­vate sec­tor, this is not the right time to approve pay increas­es for school dis­trict staff.

The real­i­ty is, some pro­grams may need to be tem­porar­i­ly sus­pend­ed or cut. Just as Texas fam­i­lies and busi­ness­es are hav­ing to do, school dis­tricts and the State of Texas will also have to make dif­fi­cult cuts. One thing we must not com­pro­mise on or cut is our teach­ers. Teach­ers are the back­bone of our edu­ca­tion sys­tem and they should feel secure in their jobs, despite the grim out­look. The pri­or­i­ty of our pub­lic schools should be edu­ca­tion and that can only be accom­plished by teach­ers and  it’s unfor­tu­nate that this is where many school dis­tricts threat­en to cut first. 

Last year when we passed HB3, we encour­aged dis­tricts to give good rais­es to class­room teach­ers, with an empha­sis on extra incen­tives for those with five or more years in the class­room. The same thought con­tin­ues, but per­haps dis­tricts ought to give rais­es in an incen­tive bonus for­mat as opposed to fixed costs. This will pro­tect dis­tricts in the future should addi­tion­al spend­ing reduc­tions be necessary.

My col­leagues and I are going to have to make tough deci­sions this next ses­sion. This is not the time for busi­ness as usu­al and hope for the best. This is the time where we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work for the bet­ter­ment of stu­dents across Texas. We have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the way we edu­cate our chil­dren. Dorye Roettger once said, “There are no prob­lems — only oppor­tu­ni­ties to be cre­ative.” This is the per­fect time for cre­ativ­i­ty.  I look for­ward to work­ing with my col­leagues and school dis­tricts to tack­le the chal­lenge that lies ahead. 

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