Excellent public schools are essential to the future of our state. One thing necessary for excellent schools is enough money to hire good teachers, provide good facilities, teach fundamentals, and offer a broad program. The simple questions we must answer are “Do we want excellent schools?”, and, if so, “How do we raise money to meet those needs?” To confuse these questions with the question of whether taxes should or can be reduced puts the cart before the horse.
As a parent in the Highland Park school district, I believe in excellence in public schools. I have watched the destructive effects of Robin Hood develop. Cuts range from the seemingly minor, such as restricting paper use so there are not enough copies of tests and requiring teachers to purchase their own markers and chalk, to substantial, such as the complete elimination of the video technology program. Some affected my daughter, recently graduated, directly. These included a reduction in art programs, a restructuring of the gifted and talented program, and an increase in teacher load from five to seven courses, reducing the time available for mentoring and individual interaction. Gradually, an outstanding school district has been forced to cut programs, staff, and the opportunities for broad educational excellence.
While Robin Hood has hurt the outstanding districts, it has not cured the fundamental and pervasive inequality of public education in Texas. The Highland Park graduation rate remains near 100% and the pass rate on TAKS is at a similar level. On the other hand, statewide, 20 of the largest 50 school districts have graduation rates of less than 74% (Dallas is 52%). In the recently concluded school-finance trial, the state argued that it is OK if 45% of students in Texas public schools are unable to pass TAKS and demonstrate the basic knowledge and skills necessary to function in society.
I call this failure.
If Highland Park can have a near 100% graduation and pass rate, every school district should. Gradually ruining the outstanding districts will not help those that are failing. Instead, we must increase the effectiveness of and opportunities provided by districts without a financial, historical, and social head start.
While enough money is not the sole foundation of excellence, it is a necessary component.; Simple equal dollar funding ignores the need to overcome disadvantages imposed by low income, English language deficiencies, and cultural expectations that do not value education.
This year, general funds provide about $14 billion for education, property taxes about $17 billion, and federal funds about $3 billion. The general funds used are about equal to the state’s total sales tax revenue, the primary general revenue tax. The simple fact is that present taxes do not provide enough money to do what needs to be done, or any way to generate enough money. Tweaks to the present system will not work. A suggested 10% reduction in property taxes would require raising the state sales tax rate from 6.25% to 7.25%. To provide historical levels of general funds would require an increase of the sales taxes rate to between 8% and 9%.
Robin Hood must be replaced, but it should be replaced by a system that fairly and broadly distributes the burden of financing our public schools through general revenue, while increasing, not limiting, the resources available to every school district in Texas. With a gross state product in 2004 of $865 billion, less than 5% of what we produce would be adequate to fully and fairly fund public education. The legislature must consider fundamental changes in our tax system to provide excellent education for Texas children.
©2004 Walter Wm. Hofheinz, limited permission granted for redistribution and copying with all attribution and communication information preserved.