State leaders appear poised to boost public education funding in a big way. A few weeks ago, the Texas House published its version of the new state budget for 2020-21. In it, lawmakers call for a roughly $7 billion increase in K-12 spending — but only if certain things happen first, like reducing recapture, providing property tax relief and maintaining an equitable school finance system. For its part, the Texas Senate is proposing a $3.7 billion budget increase, reserved exclusively for teacher pay raises. That should be enough money to give a $5,000 bump to every full-time teacher. It’s too early to tell whether the final budget more closely resembles the House’s plan, the Senate’s plan, or something different, but one thing looks certain: Texas public schools are about to get a lot more money. But that shouldn’t be the end of it. If lawmakers are going to pump new money into an old system, then they should also introduce a new way of doing things. Because let’s face it: the status quo isn’t up to snuff. So what new framework should accompany any new spending? Here are a few thoughts:
- Exchange more money for clearer goals. Fifty-five percent of Texas third-graders are reading below grade level. That’s not good enough. School boards should be required to adopt clear, measurable and time-limited goals to improve reading at any campus where 20 percent or more of its student population reads below grade level. More funding should mean higher expectations.
- Eliminate charter school obstacles. All students benefit from increasing educational options because schools respond to competition by improving the curriculum, introducing new and popular programs and incentivizing high-performing teachers. Speaking of incentivizing good teachers….
- Establish merit pay. By far the most important in-school factor to a child’s educational attainment is the quality of his or her teacher. Good teachers know how to bring out the best in students. Which is why we need a system that rewards good teachers with higher pay.
- Emphasize civic education. We must do better at providing civic education, without which our constitutional republic cannot survive. To that end, public schools — kindergarten through college — should be required to develop a meaningful curriculum that ensures a solid civics education.
- Empower parents. Parents and taxpayers need help holding their school districts accountable. So let’s give voters the ability to petition for an election that will force their school district to submit to a third-party, independent efficiency audit. This way, people can see for themselves if education dollars are flowing into the classroom or being wasted on things like six-figure severance packages for superintendents, multi-million dollar high school football stadiums or Taj Mahal facilities.
- End taxpayer-funded lobbying. Schools spend big to hire lobbyists to send to the Texas Capitol. That’s not just an affront to taxpayers, but it also means less money available for the classroom. It’s time for the practice to end.
These are the kind of new ideas that House and Senate leaders ought to include in any upcoming conversations about new money. Otherwise Texans will simply be stuck with a costlier version of the old, stale system.
That’s not something anybody should be satisfied with. Especially with so much at stake.