Alibis for Inadequate School Funding Rehearsed and Rebutted at Texas Senate Hearing

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Last year the governor and legislative majorities made unprecedented budget cuts that cost Texas public schools more than $5 billion (more than $500 per pupil per year), caused class sizes to swell, and cut more than 25,000 jobs in public education. With a major school-finance lawsuit against the state about to go to trial, and with the November elections looming, now some Texas lawmakers seem eager to avoid accountability for the 2011 budget disaster and its harsh consequences for students.

Hence today the legislature's Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance brought in expert witnesses from out of state to assert that (a) there is no relationship between the amount of money spent by school districts and the educational achievement of their students and (b) online, computer-based education offers the prospect of more “efficient”-read cheaper-public education, rendering worries about class size or the supply of well-qualified teachers a quaint relic of a receding era.

The case for more use of computer technology as both an economy measure and an academic boon was made primarily by former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, now deeply involved in promoting what he termed “digital learning.”

His testimony and echoing comments from some senators drew a spirited response from science teacher Sharon Kamas, who noted that digital learning does nothing to address the constraint of overcrowded science labs, which interfere with essential hands-on learning experiences for Texas students, or to make up for the inordinate, test-driven emphasis on reading and math instruction that is taking time away from science.

The claim of no correlation between the amount of money spent and learning achieved came from Dr. Marguerite Roza of the University Washington, who preached the benefit of “disruption” caused by the current budget crunch, which she said created an opening for less expensive and more “productive” education policies focused on “outcomes.”

Texas AFT's Ted Melina Raab answered that simplistic line of argument by citing Texas Education Agency data showing that in fact there has been a direct correlation between accountability ratings and average expenditures of Texas school districts. As compiled by Rep. Scott Hochberg, Democrat of Houston, in a January hearing in the Texas House, the TEA data indicate that school districts rated exemplary on average were able to spend $1,000 more per pupil than districts rated academically unacceptable.

Melina Raab told the committee that the legislature in 2013 must not evade its responsibility to reverse the de-facto policy of disinvestment in our public schools, and on Texas AFT's behalf he made specific suggestions for where to find the necessary resources-starting with the full use of the unexpected influx of billions of dollars of new revenue, greatly exceeding previous estimates, as the Texas economy has recovered from the Great Recession.  

Source: Texas AFT

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