Too often the discussion on public education centers solely on funding adequacy. Although education funding is important, there are other equally important factors in providing a quality education.
Consider this – the average total of federal, state and local funding per child in Texas is $11,642 per year. The annual budget of the U.S. Department of Education is approximately $40 billion per year. Dividing $40 billion by 2 million public school teachers in the U.S. would provide for a $20,000 / year raise for every teacher, or up to an additional $1,000 / child / year in the classroom. Considering that education is a state, not a federal, responsibility – if we eliminated the DOE and returned that money to the states, it could be put to better use in our classrooms.
Texas has 4.9 million public school students in 1,028 Independent School Districts. There are 640,000 district employees of which only 324,000 are teachers. Do we have too many administrators and too few teachers? Should we redirect more dollars into the classroom? Clearly we should, but it’s not that simple. All too often the growth in the number of administrators is due to legislation passed by the Congress, or the legislature, or rules promulgated by the DOE that ultimately require school districts to hire more staff, and dedicate more resources to fulfill requirements that don’t have anything to do with educating our most precious asset, our children.
The challenge facing Texas teachers is far more difficult today than it was when I went to school in the fifties and sixties. With classrooms averaging 33 students I nonetheless received a quality education. Today’s teacher is faced with disciplinary problems unheard of before, as well as parents who abdicate to the teacher their responsibility as a parent. Additionally, teachers are too often micromanaged to the extent that innovation and creativity are squashed. Teachers are not baby sitters, nor are they probation / parole officers. Teachers need to be allowed to teach.
Another consideration is that not all students are college bound, and our curriculum should reflect this fact. Preparing students for post high school vocational, technical, or other skilled professional education should be just as important as preparing them for college. There should be no stigma attached to a professional/vocational education, particularly when many skilled trades and professions provide rewarding careers with better pay than college graduates receive. Making non-college track education available to those who are not suited for college, or just don’t want to go to college will not only benefit the individual, it will enhance the quality and diversity of the Texas workforce, and greatly benefit our economy.
As your next Lieutenant Governor, my policy will be…
- Ensure the legislature finally defines as a matter of law the requirement of Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution to “…make suitable provisions for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of free public schools.”
- Require the legislature to enact a system of public education funding that will move Texas away from the de facto statewide property tax scheme created by the so called “Robin Hood” school finance system. Failure to do so will soon result in the Texas Supreme Court ruling the current method of taxation is, in effect, already an unconstitutional statewide property tax. The legislature should address this issue before the courts do, with a view to provide local school districts with funding discretion and eliminate today’s de facto system of a statewide property tax.
- Review all administrative requirements placed on school districts and eliminate those that are no longer needed, or that create an undue burden on educating our children.
- Streamline and simplify the process for identifying and remedying failing schools.
- Support effectively implemented and fair incentive pay programs that reward teachers for improvement in student performance over the course of the school year.
- Encourage, if not require, parental involvement at home and at school by creating a welcoming environment for parents, and insuring all information on curriculum and child performance is made available to parents.
- Reject any curriculum that is not subject to public review, or oversight by the SBOE, or that promulgates an agenda that is dismissive of American values, our history, American exceptionalism, or that promotes an agenda of political correctness.
- Eliminate so called “zero tolerance” policies that mandate the expulsion or assignment to disciplinary campuses of otherwise good students without discretion or without an appeal process. (Example: elementary school students being expelled for pointing their finger and saying “bang!”.)
- Improve intra-district and inter-district transfer and transportation options for students in low performing or failing schools.
- Allow expansion of charter schools coupled with increased accountability of charter schools. Early recognition of failing charter schools and a streamlined process for closing failing charter schools is necessary.
- Ensure that teachers are allowed to teach our children, as opposed to focusing solely on teaching our children to pass the “test”.
- Ensure that students who choose not to attend college have educational opportunities that will prepare them for rewarding careers in technical, vocational or professional trades that are needed to maintain a competitive Texas workforce.