Public School Finance (Commission), created by HB 21 during the regular 85th Legislative Session, met for its first meeting on January 23, 2018. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice, Craig Enoch began the discussion by giving a legal framework on the issue. He indicated that the State’s Constitution focuses on financial equity. He opined that district performance is not based entirely on funding, but that district performance should be measured by student outcomes. Finally, he argued that the Commission should examine options shifting funding away from the property tax system.
The Texas State Demographer, Lloyd Potter, appeared before the Commission to discuss the growth in Texas indicating that Texas is growing at a faster rate than other large states. A natural increase in population accounts for half of the population growth – this comes from the native population of Texans reproducing, the other half of the growth comes from international and domestic migration. One-third of rural counties in Texas have more deaths than births as young people are moving to urban areas. Dallas and Harris counties have significant concentrations of children living under the poverty line as a total number of the population. Tarrant, Dallas, and Harris counties have the highest numbers of children not speaking English at home while the Rio Grande Valley has the highest percentages. Interestingly, Vietnamese is the 3rd most commonly spoken language in the state. The projected population of the state is projected to double by 2045.
Mike Morath, the Commissioner of Education, indicated in his presentation that there are two important questions facing the Commission: How to collect money and how to distribute it. To answer these question, the Commissioner indicated that the goal of education must be established. He believes that the education system is in place to produce graduates and engaged citizens but this can be a difficult factor to gauge; can be evaluated through rates of high school graduates, readiness for a career, college, or military, attaining a college degree, and employment. The Commissioner stated that 56% of Texas 9th graders enroll in college and 24% earn a college degree. The high school graduation rate is high at 89% and Texas is 4th out of the top 5 states while having unique student poverty levels.
This is the beginning of a long discussion with many layers to peel off. The Chapter 41 districts, Chapter 42 districts, the Equity Center, the fast growth districts, ASATR districts, TASA, TASB, Texas School Alliance, teachers, etc. will have a lot to add to the discussion.
The Commission will next meet on February 8th.
by John R. Pitts and Will Jones
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