The Texas Supreme Court forecast a scary future for Texas kids with their Friday the 13th school finance decision last week. While the Court repeatedly acknowledged serious flaws in how we support public education, they refused to do anything about it. What’s the point of having a right to education enshrined in the Texas Constitution, and a third branch of government duty-bound to protect it? Having served as a constitutional lawyer for years before coming to CPPP, I am still shaking my head.
The ruling comes as CPPP has spent the spring advocating for Texas kids. Last month we launched our State of Texas Children report at a blockbuster event in Dallas, and the public officials, educators and advocates who attended welcomed our data and analysis of how to make this the best state for kids.
Last week we took State of Texas Children to San Antonio, where Mayor Ivy Taylor and County Judge Nelson Wolff helped us look at racial and ethnic disparities in how San Antonio kids are doing. Local leaders clearly understand what boosting our state investment in public education could mean.
It’s against the backdrop of our report findings – a state ranked 41st in child well-being, serious disparities between and within communities, and chronic underinvestment in public education – that the Texas Supreme Court decision dropped with a thud.
Where do we go from here? The strengths and challenges of our school finance system are the same as they were before the ruling. The Supreme Court itself spent much of its ruling highlighting areas the Legislature should fix. “Texas’s more than five million school children,” the decision says, “[…] deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.” The focus now shifts to the Texas Legislature, which will need to make meaningful investments in our schools so that all Texans have the chance to live up to their full potential.
We have been saying for quite some time that our school finance system is in need of a remodel. The basic structure of our system is actually quite strong and has some innovative elements. But it has been more than 20 years since the Legislature studied what it actually costs to meet the increasingly tough academic standards Texas has set for students. Some of the formulas we use to fund public schools have not been updated in nearly 30 years despite changing technology and student demographics.
Our great state has defeated political hurdles in the past to make commonsense policy decisions for our kids. In the late 1990’s, CPPP worked to establish the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas and then to extend the same kind of easy enrollment and renewal of Medicaid for children. Back in 1999 fewer than one million Texas children had public health insurance, and now 3.5 million are covered between CHIP and Texas Medicaid.
The Texas Supreme Court may have let our kids and our future workforce down with this decision, but I know Texans will stand up for public education and demand that legislators remodel our school finance system for the 21st century. CPPP is ready to support them with the data and policy solutions that will ensure all kids get an education worthy of Texas, regardless of where they live in our state.