School finance commission holds first meeting

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance held its first meeting Tuesday in Austin following its creation as part of House Bill (HB) 21, which was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s first special session. Justice Scott Brister, who was appointed chair of the commission by Gov. Greg Abbott, opened the meeting by reading a letter from the governor.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting January 23, 2018.

In the letter, Gov. Abbott stated three goals for the commission: To change the “defective” structure of school finance, foster innovation in public education, and explore alternatives to the property tax.

In his own opening remarks, Brister suggested the new federal tax law passed in December will increase the pressure to cut property taxes as a result of the elimination of federal income tax deductions for state and local property taxes, which have generally been useful to the owners of more expensive homes who itemize their taxes. The opening remarks quickly illustrated a divide between those seeking a holistic reform and improved outcomes versus those solely focused on cutting property taxes.

House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) expressed disappointment that the House and Senate were unable to move the ball forward on school finance reform last session and emphasized the fact that school finance reform and property tax relief go hand in hand. Noting that fixing the system is lawmakers’ responsibility, Chairman Huberty expressed hope that the commission will result in meaningful progress.

Brister announced the commission will subdivide into working groups on specific topics. Future meetings will largely be restricted to invited testimony only, although at least one future meeting will be open to testimony from members of the public.

Tuesday’s first witness was Justice Craig T. Enoch, invited to testify on the subject of a school finance legal framework. In his dissenting opinion from the school finance lawsuit known as Neely v. West Orange Cove CISD in 2005, Justice Enoch expressly advocated for school privatization. On Tuesday, Enoch immediately raised questions over whether the amount of spending on public schools correlates with outcomes – a viewpoint at odds with the vast majority of research. Justice Enoch concluded that lawmakers should move away from using property taxes as the baseline funding mechanism.

Next, state demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter addressed the student population in Texas. According to new population estimates, Texas is home to more than 28 million people. The state has added more than three million people over the past seven years, representing a 12 percent growth in population. Within the state, residents are migrating away from rural counties and urban cores and into the suburban rings. The school-age population continues to grow, as does the number of children living in poverty. Significant percentages of students in the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and the large urban cores do not speak English at home. Hispanic children represent the largest and fastest-growing ethnicity of children under the age of 18.

The final subject heading involved educational outcomes and featured testimony from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Commissioner Raymund Paredes, and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Andres Alcantar. Morath said the TEA maintains a “split focus on inputs versus outcomes,” highlighting the emphasis on “access” to a quality education and the ability of students to “achieve” their potentials. The commissioner explained the state wants graduates who are prepared to be engaged citizens and who are prepared to be productive. These outcomes are evaluated based upon high school graduation rates; college, career or military readiness (CCM-R); college completion; and employment. The main measurement tool is the STAAR test. Student poverty continues to rise, and currently 59 percent of Texas students are economically disadvantaged. Morath indicated poverty is the primary driver behind most poor performance issues, and he noted that prekindergarten has shown to significantly boost outcomes for economically disadvantaged students and English language learners (ELLs).

After a brief lunch break, Morath’s presentation suggested that across-the-board pay raises and improving class-size ratios by hiring additional teachers would have limited effects on improving student outcomes, while concluding that tying increased teacher pay to performance would yield the most significant improvements. Todd Williams, education advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, suggested schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students may need to offer better pay to attract the caliber of educators necessary to achieve positive change. Morath also defended the state’s “A through F” accountability system as a way to identify and replicate high performing schools.

Commissioner Paredes joined Morath in listing poverty and a lack of early childhood education as primary obstacles to student success. Paredes also seemed to make the case for teacher performance pay, citing a study that concluded paying the state’s top teachers $130,000 per year would cost less than remedial programs for students who arrive at college unprepared.

The commission will meet next on Thursday, February 8.


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3 thoughts on “School finance commission holds first meeting

  1. Mike Bradshaw

    Legispeak? Finance, will it NEVER be solved?
    When? And when will education funding be a REAL priority? It deserves more than just the ongoing lip service.
    Educators need to join together and vote as a block or we will continue to be legislative “whipping boys” of TEXAS. Right now we are weak and ineffective, as we have always been. Our adversaries know and count on this about us. Yet, educators are blamed for every problem.
    And unfunded mandates? Don’t even get me started. Give education a break.

  2. Connie Hamilton

    You state that poverty and lack of early childhood education are the main drivers behind poor student performance. How does performance based pay for teachers address student poverty and lack if early childhood education? I am a thirty year veteran teacher. I do not agree that incentive pay for teachers will create a learning atmosphere that will improve student performance. Most teachers recognize that student performance is directly tied to the future success of their students. That is the incentive to work hard and to push students to reach their potential. Pay increases for teachers attracts and retains teachers. It compensates for the hours of unpaid work teachers put in to make their students successful and the materials they purchase for the classroom. It off sets the rising cost of health insurance.

  3. Donna Zelisko

    Texas school finance reform has been a legislative item since I began working in Texas public education in 1976. After a forty years career as a public school counselor, teacher, and administrator (pre-k thru college levels) as well as someone educated in twelve years of private school (parochial education), I am well versed in the agendas of the cost-benefit interests that do not value public education. Texas will not improve its ranking in education by manipulating cost-outcome values. If it wants to be a leader in improving the lives of its citizens, it must be willing to pay the cost. The constant marginalizing of public education’s accomplishments must stop. Those whose prirorities are to maximize profit making opportunities see public schooling as a cash cow and are doing whatever they can to get citizens to buy into their schemes for taking funding away from public schools. Because tribal instincts abound in private settings and accountability is only to that tribe or special
    interest, we must take care that public education funding remains democratically funded, and that all citizens pay the price. No lotteries, vouchers, ESA’s or other pseudo shadow solutions will resolve the problem that too many citizens only want to “protect” their own tribe and cannot fathom how this self-interest in destroying this state and country. More citizens must vote their belief in this country by voting for public education supporters. Public education is what has made this country great because it has provided an opportunity for those in poverty to change their lives. My personal experience has taught me that too many times private education uses public education as a marketing status tool to provide legitimacy for its claim of being ”better” than public education. We waste our tax paying moneys supporting a testing economy that hasn’t told us anything we don’t know. Take the money that supports the testing economy (state and federal tests) and you’ll have the money needed for public education.


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