School Funding: Quality Education and Efficient Use of Funds

March 28, 2019

I have spent a large part of my life inside a circle of school teachers. My mother and father are both retired school teachers (my mom an elementary teacher and my dad a band director). My wife, Lisa, taught school as well both at the elementary level and the high school level. My daughter-in-law is a school teacher and my niece is a school teacher.  Obviously, I have been influenced by the world view of educators, I will admit that right up front!

With the current battle of public school finance reform in full debate at the Capitol in Austin, it spurred my thinking on what the discussion really boils down to – quality education or efficient use of tax dollars?

One side claims that the number one goal is quality education and therefore the amount of tax dollars necessary is not relevant, taxpayers should essentially provide a blank check and let the education system fill in the blanks. The other side argues that too much money is already being spent and in many cases not very efficiently and use examples such as water parks, sports stadiums, and high administrative salaries (relative to teacher salaries).

However, one is not mutually exclusive of the other. We can provide quality education and we can utilize taxpayer funds in an efficient manner. Here are some ideas that make sense to me:

  1. Quit arguing over the State’s financial contribution verse local financial contribution. This is a silly argument because there is really only one tax payor in Texas and that is YOU — the individual. Businesses pass their tax on to the consumer through product pricing so in the end, it is you and me as individuals that pay 100% of the taxes. Does it really matter if we pay them locally or through the State?  Government lesson 101 – all government revenues are generated due to fees and taxes and all of those are paid by the individual taxpayer, so it is irrelevant if it is coming from your “left pocket” or your “right pocket”.
  2. The amount of funding for education DOES matter! If we allocated $0 to education then it is fair to say our education system in Texas would be a disaster. Therefore, we do need to allocate money for public education and the amount of money allocated should be the primary discussion as opposed to from where it comes (see point 1). The way to determine how much money is needed is to start from the bottom up.
    • Determine the amount of money needed in the classroom – mainly the teachers and the principals. What does it take to hire and retain quality educators and what should we expect from them. This has to be the first step – they are the foundation for all education (other than parents but that is another blog for another day).
    • What services (think administrators, bus drivers, lunchroom, technology, etc) are absolutely needed to support what the teachers are charged with accomplishing – which is educating our children (not raising our children).
      • What is the most cost-effective way to provide those services? We should absolutely not spend $1 more than is absolutely necessary. Efficiency should be the key when considering support and administrative services.
  3. Our State constitution says we need to provide an efficient public education for all school-age children in Texas. Our first use of education dollars should be focused on just that – education. If there are monies left over (or provided by the federal government) for additional services that could indirectly benefit the education of our children then it is fine to consider that but ONLY after we provide the adequate funding in the priorities explained in # 2 above.
  4. Moving all school board and school bond elections to the normal general election day in November will absolutely increase voter participation and make the local elected officials and administrators more accountable to the people they serve. This is government efficiency. This will make those who oversee the largest share of our tax dollars and our most prized assets – our children, communicate loud and clear what they stand for and the needs of the local school district.
  5. Remove as many unfunded mandates as possible. This interim there should be a committee established by the Governor, Lt Governor and Speaker of the House made up of teachers, administrators, school board trustees, State Reps, and Senators to review the current mandates required by the state to determine which can be eliminated or streamlined.
  6. Most of the control should be local when it comes to school districts. What is good for education in Muleshoe might not be good for education in Highland Park. The State should have general standards and serve as the guardian of taxpayer dollars but the local citizens should hold the most control of education through the local school boards.

In summary, we need to quit arguing over which “pocket” the money is coming from and focus on the amount of money needed in the classroom and then we need to push most of the control and accountability to the citizens that are served by the local school district.