Democrats believe in public school education. We believe in investing in our children, our communities, and our teachers. Texas must rise to create an informed citizenry and meet the needs of the future workforce, which includes both preparation for the university and vocational education.
Yet today, Texas ranks 40th in the nation in the quality of our public school education, according to Education Week. Their analysis shows that funding per student in 2017 was $8,484, the fourth lowest in the nation, and $4,000 less per student than the average in the United States.
The recent precipitous drop in the amount the state contributes to public education is alarming. In 2008, state funds covered 48.5% of the cost. By 2019, it will be 38%. The rest is made up by local property taxes, federal dollars, and “recapture” of funds from wealthier school districts.
The Johnson City Independent School district (JCISD) is considered a wealthy school district and is penalized by recapture. Enrollment is low, at just under 700 students; however, property values are rising, which equates to higher property tax revenue. Last year, JCISD returned $1.3 million to the state through recapture. Next year, it will be $2 million.
JCISD should be allowed to use those funds to improve our schools. Rural school districts are challenged to provide access to technologies, such as iPads and broadband internet. Our students have fewer options for advanced placement classes and teachers have fewer opportunities for professional development.
Teacher pay in Texas is average, ranked 27th in the nation, but the complex system of funding healthcare and retirement benefits for teachers provides among the lowest benefits in the nation. This harms our children’s education because we can no longer attract and retain the best teachers.
In 2017, Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives attempted to alleviate the tax burden on property owners, raise teacher pay, and improve the quality of public schools. Unfortunately, House Bill 21 never made it to the governor’s desk because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it a “Ponzi scheme” and attempted to add a “school choice” provision, which would have subsidized private school tuition and taken tax dollars away from public schools.
Dan Patrick’s actions do not reflect our values and priorities. We must elect representatives who are committed to finding ways to fund public schools without placing undue burden on property owners. We must support teachers by raising teacher pay and providing competitive healthcare and retirement systems.
We all benefit from an educated citizenry that is capable of critical thinking and contributing to the economy. For Texas to remain one of the most powerful economies in the world, we must embrace the educational needs of every child, whether they are rowdy little boys who can’t sit still, hungry little girls who didn’t get breakfast, kids with learning disabilities who require special education, transgender children who want to feel safe at school, college-bound teens, or skilled craftspeople. Our children—our future—deserve no less.