Other Voices

Here’s what should come next in funding Texas public schools

Syrinna Hall, 9, and Destiny Martinez, 8, in their third grade classroom at Harrison Lane Elementary in Hurst.
Syrinna Hall, 9, and Destiny Martinez, 8, in their third grade classroom at Harrison Lane Elementary in Hurst. Special to the Star-Telegram

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled in the school finance case, and the ruling is clear and thorough.

All claims of the plaintiffs were denied, and while the court concluded that there is much flawed about our education system, the justices unanimously turned to the Legislature to make fixes.

What then lies ahead in the 2017 legislative session? What direction should we seek from the Legislature?

Given the conservative bent of current policymakers, we won’t likely see big increases in spending.

There will be increases that match inflation and student enrollment growth, but nothing close to the funding the plaintiffs sought in court.

Since virtually all solid studies show that increases in spending alone do not lead to improvement in student achievement, it’s time to look instead for policies and practices that are proven to lift learning and then appropriate funds specifically to pay for them.

During the course of the school finance lawsuit, I co-wrote a piece for the George W. Bush Institute that focuses on such difference-makers.

The main idea in the paper was that since our state constitution requires an efficient system that effectively promotes the general diffusion of knowledge, we ought to find and do what best accomplishes that mission.

Here are top recommendations:

We should restore the college- and career-readiness features that were diminished by the 2013 legislation known as House Bill 5.

A truly efficient system requires setting clear, important goals and implementing strategies aligned to reach them.

We know that the vast majority of our students will need some form of postsecondary preparation to get the best jobs. So, since college and career readiness must be the key goal of K-12 education, we must restore the essential policies that led in that direction and spend the additional funds it takes to implement them.

We must acknowledge that no contributing factor, outside of the family and its resources, makes a greater difference to student success than teacher effectiveness.

In Texas, we do not construct teacher-preparation programs that recruit or put into the field the most effective teachers.

We neither teach new teachers on the basis of proven practice, nor do we hold the preparation programs accountable for success.

Once in the field, teachers are not systematically evaluated for effectiveness in improving student learning, nor do we differentiate in pay, promotion or retention of teachers based on effectiveness.

As Rick Hanushek and other experts have demonstrated, promoting more effective teachers would make a huge difference in increasing student achievement.

If we merely brought to average the bottom 10 percent of our teachers, we could add dramatically to the productivity of our young people and raise our students’ learning to that of the more successful nations.

We must find the instructional materials that make the most substantial impact on student learning.

Our state and districts neither measure systematically for effectiveness of materials nor make purchasing decisions on the basis of proven effectiveness. We must.

We must systematically use high-quality research to drive professional development and school improvement.

There are practice guides developed on the basis of the best research in the nation that we should promote.

We have a chance to make our schools more successful in reaching the goals our constitution has established.

The Supreme Court has directed our path forward through the democratic process. That path will not involve spending a whole bunch of money and hoping for the best.

We must develop a plan of action grounded in high-quality research that leads to improved student learning.

If leaders are serious about taking such steps, our fellow Texans should step forward to pay for it.

Sandy Kress is an Austin attorney who helped draft the 2001 No Child Left Behind education reform law under President George W. Bush.

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