This commentary originally appeared in the Midland Reporter-Telegram on March 12, 2017.
On February 28th, Midland ISD held their last community forum on the Lone Star Governance Report. Board Member Robert Marquez summed up these meetings, “the thinking is to get people to be involved with the education of their children. There are multiple ways they can be engaged and ask how they can partner with the school district.”
MISD should be commended for these efforts as more parental involvement is necessary as 18 of the 35 campuses in the district are on the Public Education Grant (PEG) list of failing schools. Statewide there are 1,379 failing school campuses with 816,222 students assigned to those schools.
Schools run by government should be held accountable to the public, but there’s little support for the current accountability system. The STAAR test is under attack. The Texas Association of School Boards has encouraged school boards to pass resolutions to reject the A-F school rating system. Assessments diagnose problems; they do not fix them.
The public deserves transparency and accountability in government institutions. In an education choice marketplace, accountability rests with the consumer. When parents are the consumer, and they have real choices, they can best assess how their children are doing. That is the ultimate in accountability.
Fortunately, the 85th Texas Legislature is considering reforms to the school finance system. These reforms should end past tweaks to complex funding formulas and simply increasing the basic funding allotment that have failed to keep the system out of court.
By resolving the fundamental problem of simply equitably funding schools, we can end the vicious court cycle and improve student outcomes. This can be achieved by revamping the school finance system to fund the child’s education with a student-centered funding approach.
Blindly increasing public school funding that traps kids in oftentimes failing schools in their zip code shouldn’t be an option. Statewide data from the Texas Education Agency indicate that the current system is inefficient.
In the 2014-15 school year, $61 billion were spent on public schools with an average daily attendance of 4.8 million students, resulting in $12,761 per student. For classes with 20 students, each class receives roughly $255,000, with only about 20 percent funding average teacher salaries of $50,715.
This may be because of payments for facilities and administrators, but why only 20 percent to teachers? There’s no wonder they have difficulty hiring and keeping quality teachers.
Moreover, the National Center for Education Statistics’ data for fiscal years 1992 to 2014 show that in Texas, student enrollment increased by 49 percent while non-teacher staff increased by 174 percent. If non-teacher staff had matched the student enrollment increase, taxpayers could have saved $7.4 billion annually.
Let’s scrap this flawed system and move to one where dollars fund a child’s education, not simply fund a school district and an education bureaucracy.
An exciting option is universal education savings accounts (ESAs). ESAs would allow parents to receive an account accessed either online or with a limited-use debit card. They could purchase only educational services, such as tuition at an accredited private school, public school services, online educational services, etc. Unused funds would rollover annually and be available to pay college tuition.
Studies show school choice can increase student performance and teacher salaries.
In addition, allowing dollars to follow the child to a school of their parents’ choosing would encourage development of effective accountability measures by parents, communities, and other entities that the government could never imagine.
School choice would hold every school’s performance accountable by giving parents options to meet their child’s needs, which is available today to only wealthier parents. Evidence supports the case for a student-centered funding approach.
It’s great that Midland ISD is taking innovative steps to improve their schools for students. Now the political will is needed in Austin to champion the overwhelming support by Texans for education choice to enact such an accountable, efficient reform.