Houston business leaders to Austin: Fix public school funding
By Scott McClelland and Bob Harvey
Houston Chronicle, 01.05.2019
The boxes are being unpacked in Austin this weekend as lawmakers from across the state descend on the Capitol to gavel in the 86th Texas legislative session on Tuesday. This ritual occurs every two years, same as it did in 1993 — when Democrat Ann Richards was in the Governor’s Mansion, Democrat Bob Bullock reigned over the Texas Senate, the House Speaker was Democrat Pete Laney and George W. Bush, a Republican, owned the Texas Rangers.
My how Texas has changed over 26 years.
That session also happened to be the last time Texas made major adjustments to the state’s school finance system with the passage of the so-called Robin Hood bill. This legislation requires property wealthy school districts to undergo “wealth equalization” measures — or recapture — between themselves and property-poor districts. Many of the core elements of the school finance formula date even further back to the early 1980s.
While the law has remained static, funding formulas have grown outdated and Texas is ever-changing.
Since 1993, Texas’ student population has swelled 46 percent — from about 3.7 million to 5.4 million.
Today, roughly 6 in 10 students are considered economically disadvantaged and 1 in 5 are English language learners, ranking us respectively ninth and second nationally in those categories. Over time, Texas classrooms have become radically different than they were 26 years ago and require a different approach if we want Texas’ prosperity to continue.
As businesspeople, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of an educational system that creates a workforce pipeline for the future of Texas. According to a recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, a shrinking labor market is the number one concern of companies, with 66 percent reporting difficulty finding and hiring qualified workers.
The majority of new jobs require some education beyond a high school diploma. Yet in Harris County, only 37 percent of students who graduate from high school are deemed ‘college ready.’ That’s a reflection of an education system that isn’t meeting the demands of the marketplace.
In 2015, the state set a statewide goal of having 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 achieve a certificate or degree by 2030 to keep our state on pace with the needs of business and a knowledge-based economy. In our most recent progress report, only 42 percent of this age group currently meets that standard, and this is heavily buoyed by tremendous in-migration of educated adults from outside Texas.
Looking at our own K-12 pipeline, among students who are educated in Texas, only 22 percent of eighth graders have a post-secondary credential by age 24. For a state that currently accounts for 10 percent of all the K-12 students in the United States, that basically says that we’re willing to outsource the education of our workforce to other states.
If the current trend continues, we won’t have the educated workforce that our growing economy requires. Many Texas children will have been educationally shortchanged and they will not enjoy the opportunity to succeed and prosper. Neither is an acceptable outcome.