It’s official: The current school funding system in Texas has a big, black “F” on its report card.

In September, the state judge presiding over the school funding lawsuit ruled that “the state’s school finance system fails to provide adequate, suitable education,” a stinging rebuke against a system that has shortchanged Texas school children for far too long. After weeks of testimony from a variety of education experts, government witnesses and current and former school district officials, a Texas judge spelled out what the legislature and governor have refused to admit for far too long: that our “$30 billion-a-year system is collapsing because of inadequate state money and the inability of school districts to meet increasing state and federal requirements.”

So in the face of this scathing performance review, you would expect the leaders in our state government to spring into action and immediately convene a special session to solve this funding crisis once and for all. But instead of making a commitment to the people of Texas and their children to find a way to equitably fund education, the Attorney General’s answer is to appeal the decision – directly to the Texas Supreme Court.

It’s pretty shameful that more than 300 school districts had to air this dirty laundry in court in the first place, but what were they to do when the legislature, led by Gov. Rick Perry, refused to find a solution to the growing problem of how to pay for education in a state that refuses to consider new sources of funding. Instead, the state enjoined school districts, on the one hand, to leave no child behind, while at the same time cutting levels of state funding for required programs that would help schools achieve that very goal. The school districts had no choice but to seek relief in court to force lawmakers to make the hard choices necessary to save the future of Texas.

One school finance expert estimated that the only way we can arrive at a long-term solution is to enact a state income tax. Currently, the only source of funding is state aid and local property taxes, with the state’s portion shrinking all the time, while the property tax rate reaches its state-imposed maximum of $1.50 per $100.

Yet, what’s really egregious is that the education those taxes buy is mediocre at best. The state goal is to have 50 percent of students make an average score on their yearly achievement tests. So all that money is really only expected to adequately educate half of the students in Texas – and it’s no wonder the system is collapsing since 100 percent of our students expect an education. How are we supposed to pay to educate the remaining 50 percent? It’s like asking the quarterback to win the game with only half the passing average he’s posted in previous games – surely, if he works harder, he can do it.

Well, as a popular Texas TV-show counselor would say, “That dog won’t hunt,” and it’s time we let Austin know that we know it. Maybe it’s going to take more money, maybe it’s going to take a state income tax – we don’t know yet for sure. But what we do know is that we can’t pay any higher property taxes than we already pay, and those sky-high taxes haven’t bought us an education to be proud of in the first place.

“Robin Hood” was the direct result of a school finance lawsuit, and look where that got us 10 years later. Now is the time for Texas lawmakers to prove that they do play well with others and find a solution for funding equitable, effective education in our state.

It’s time for tough love, or the education of Texas children will be just as precarious, or worse, in 10 years than it is right now.


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