An extra $2,000 won't fix school system's problems

Posted Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Educators, school board members and superintendents were popping champagne corks this month when Judge John Dietz ruled that their wallets should be fattened by an average of $2,000 per student. That would cost us $11 billion a year.

The judge ruled that the school finance system creates an unconstitutional property tax that is inadequate to fund the high standards placed on it by the state.

The Texas Association of Business was an intervener in the lawsuit and asked Dietz to rule that the system was inefficient and not producing an educated workforce. Dietz agreed, saying that schools are inefficient with their dollars, and they are not graduating enough career- and college-ready students. Unfortunately, Dietz did not include that issue in his final ruling, saying those were legislative issues.

It is possible Dietz believes that simply spending $2,000 more per student will get the results we want. It will not. We have been spending more money on education for a decade, even with last session's cuts, and we still are left with a broken system that isn't producing the kind of results we all should be demanding.

Without efficiency changes like classroom size flexibility and at-will employment of teachers, more money won't change very much. Eric Hanushek testified that if we were able to remove the least productive 8 percent of teachers and replace them with teachers just producing at an average level, our education system would be as good as Finland's, which is the best in the world.

We already are spending $10,000 per student and only getting 23 percent of graduates career- or college-ready based on ACT scores. That's simply not acceptable, and it won't be changed by $2,000. I don't remember a lot of testimony during the trial that would support the argument that $2,000 would bring the level of career- or college-ready graduates up to 65 percent, which is what we need to be economically competitive in the short term.

People may argue that it's a small price to pay and that the "state" has the money to spend. The "state" only has money because it gets it from you. Is 23 percent of graduates career- or college-ready getting your money's worth? No, it isn't.

Much of the case presented to Dietz was based on the argument that school districts are being asked to do more because of higher standards placed on them by what I believe is the strongest accountability system in the country. At the same time they are arguing in court for more money, they are arguing before the Legislature to dismantle that accountability system. So, the basic fight for the school districts is this: We want more taxpayer money without being held accountable to those taxpayers for preparing their children for life after school. That gimmick should make parents very upset.

While there are some issues of school finance that need to be addressed, simply adding $11 billion a year to the education budget won't produce the results we need. Maybe taxpayers should have sued to get a refund for money paid to schools because they have not done their primary job, graduating career- and college-ready students.

Bill Hammond is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

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