After an election cycle which inundated us with more reasons to loathe the political process, we fortunately find ourselves getting back to regular order: striving to resolve the most pertinent issues affecting our state. At least we hope that is what our legislators will be doing during the 88th Legislature, which begins Jan. 10, 2023.
Despite early consternation regarding the state budget projection, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s budget forecast seems to align with the Legislative Budget Board’s indication that an additional $27 billion will be available for legislators to appropriate to the 2024-2025 biennium’s budget. This budget surplus has legislators filing bills poised to affect complex issues. One of these is the relationship between public school funding and property taxes. According to the Texas Tribune:
“Texas homeowners have some of the highest property tax bills in the nation, a byproduct of the state’s reliance on property taxes to pay for public schools and the state’s lack of an income tax. To lower property taxes on Texans, lawmakers would need to fund schools at a higher rate so that those districts could reduce the local tax burden on residents.”
In a state with 254 counties, a one-size-fits-all approach seems as unreasonable as it is unlikely. Therefore, we seem quite fortunate to have slightly maintained local representation in the Texas Capitol. Only time will tell whether anyone can fill the void left by former State Senator Kel Seliger, whose influence on issues ranging from public and higher education as well as rural water rights and finance were unparalleled.
During the 2022 Republican Primary, Midland businessman Kevin Sparks received enough votes to represent the Republican Party in the 2022 general election. After running unopposed in the general election, Sparks will now represent our district for the next four years. The timing could not be more beneficial to our area, given Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s recent suggestion that the Texas Panhandle would be prioritized for a new state mental health hospital. This means our returning incumbent state representatives, Four Price, John Smithee, and Ken King, will presumably have vast influence in this critical debate. It will be interesting to see to which committees our respective legislators are assigned.
When it comes to public education—for our sake and for the future of Texas—we desperately need someone with local ties to have a major role in setting the state agenda. Legislators should allow local school boards to determine the curriculum adopted for utilization in our public school classrooms. Furthermore, public school funding needs to be significantly addressed. Our current funding formula, which is based on average daily attendance, seems to be an outdated and unfair approach due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on school attendance. Some legislators have filed bills to base public school funding on enrollment; however, our legislators still have to determine who will be accountable to fund the lion’s share of public education. Will it continue to be our overly taxed homeowners? Or will the state invest more on behalf of our Texas students?
According to the organization Raise Your Hand Texas, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 states in terms of per-student funding. Combining low school funding with high stakes testing doesn’t make much sense to me, unless the objective is to remain in violation of the Texas Constitution, which requires “a suitable provision” for public schools. Here’s the specific wording of Article 7, Section 1:
“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Either we want to train tomorrow’s leaders and build a workforce that is the rival of the world, or we don’t. It is as simple as that. More than anything, we just need to allow our teachers to teach. People do not enter the education profession because of money. Despite having advanced degrees, we accept less money for the opportunity to help children reach their God-given potential to become lifelong learners who make a difference in our community. I hope someone of influence will read this column or pay attention to the voices of all our Texas educators who simply want to serve by doing what we are trained to do: teach.
Decisions regarding public education and property taxes are undoubtedly complex. However, once our 2022 Texas election results were certified, the responsibility of making those difficult decisions transferred from us to our legislators. The responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable through lobbying, advocating, bill tracking, and voting will forever remain with We the People.