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Governor must keep Legislature focused on public school finance

September 16, 2018

In a recent commentary published on these pages, Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the need to improve public education in Texas and the need for the state to increase its responsibility for education funding. We could not agree more.

It’s more than two years since the Texas Supreme Court criticized the current public school finance system. It meets the requirement set out in the state constitution, but remains woefully lacking. The more than 5 million students and 1,000 school districts in the state deserve better.

During the last legislative session, state lawmakers had the opportunity to do right by Texas public schoolchildren but instead opted to use the occasion to further a controversial political agenda involving voucher funding. That move resulted in the swift demise of legislation that would have added up to $1.9 billion. Texas schoolchildren are still waiting for lawmakers to act.

At Abbott’s urging, the state Legislature established the Texas Commission on Public School Finance in 2017 to develop and make recommendations for improvements to the current public school finance system and to look at methods of financing public schools.

Democratic state Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio sits on that 13-member committee, which is expected to make its report to the governor and Legislature by the end of the year.

If they address inadequate funding, the findings of that commission need to become top priority in the next session. We cannot afford a replay of the last session in which precious time and energy were wasted while furthering political agendas.

Among those distracting issues was the controversial bathroom bill to regulate bathroom use — aimed at keeping transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Instead of addressing school finance — the issue hundreds of schools districts had sued the state about — lawmakers chose to debate at length about something most educators agreed was not a problem on their campuses. And already there are indications the issue will come up again in 2019. It shouldn’t. And, perhaps, the governor can make that clear.

He is right about this, however. The future of Texas is in our classrooms today.

We support his call for paying teachers more, rewarding districts for student achievement and growth, prioritizing spending in the classroom and reducing the tax burdens of property owners (first step: increase state school funding).

We just hope that like a good teacher, he can keep his colleagues in Austin on topic.

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