Straus: Funding for Texas schools hangs in the balance

By May 19, 2023 No Comments

My latest editorial in the San Antonio Express-News. Click here to view on the Express-News website, or continue reading for the full piece below.

Straus: Funding for Texas schools hangs in the balance

To invest in education is to invest in our future workforce, and that requires supporting teachers. State lawmakers can do that by boosting teacher pay.

Members of the Texas Legislature have just a handful of days to make the investments in public education students and schools need.

Texans had reasonably hoped that much of the state’s $33 billion budget surplus would prompt legislators to boost spending on school safety, teacher recruitment, and other priorities that translate to student success. Some of those gains are well within reach as the Legislature nears its Memorial Day conclusion.

However, robust overall investments in public education have not yet materialized.

According to Education Week, Texas ranks 40th in per-student spending. Additionally, teacher pay in Texas is more than $7,000 below the national average. State funding of education has been stagnant for four difficult years. This matters because investments in students — our future workforce — positions Texas for future economic success. Employers want to locate in places where workers have diverse skills and a strong educational background, and this foundation is built in our public schools.

To be sure, there have been some encouraging signs in this year’s session. Legislators have made progress toward improving campus safety and security. They are also putting more funding into instructional materials, and the Texas Senate approved a one-time pay bonus for teachers that focused on school districts with fewer than 20,000 students. These efforts would make a positive difference, but collectively, they do not reflect the urgency of this moment.

Inflation has been 14.5 percent over the last few years, according to the state comptroller, resulting in higher costs for building supplies, utilities, insurance, and other expenses. Schools are also facing a significant staffing shortage. Our schools need more resources to recruit and retain the people who make schools work — teachers, but also those who drive the buses, serve lunches, and keep campuses clean.

The best way to help local school districts is to increase the basic allotment, which is the state’s core unit of education funding. A task force that Gov. Greg Abbott appointed to look at teacher vacancies across Texas specifically recommended an increase in the basic allotment to raise teacher salaries.

The current basic allotment is $6,160 per student, and it would cost about $900 per student to fully make up for inflation over the past few years. The Texas House approved legislation that would have increased the allotment by $140 over two years, and educators had hoped the Senate would build upon that modest increase. Instead, the bill that increased the basic allotment has lingered in the Senate. Our schools are now at risk of no increase to the basic allotment.

None of these issues exists in a vacuum, and we should hope that some legislators are not being punished for their resistance to education savings accounts that would send public dollars to private schools. A bipartisan coalition of legislators has bravely stood against the idea of sending taxpayer revenue to private schools with no accountability for the private schools’ use of those dollars. It is the students and teachers across the state who will suffer most if state leaders withhold revenue until education savings accounts are enacted.

Texans would struggle to understand why scant investments in public education were made at a time of budgetary abundance. Fortunately, legislators can still stop that moment from arriving. In the final days of the session, legislators should find the dollars and the will to deliver meaningful funding increases for our schools.

Legislators know the decisions made in the coming days will shape our state for years to come, which is why I choose to believe they will break the logjam and deliver meaningful new funding for Texas students.

Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio, served as speaker of the Texas House from 2009 to 2019 and now chairs the Texas Forever Forward PAC.

Leave a Reply