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State panel maps out school funding needs

December 22, 2018

When lawmakers convene for the new session of the state Legislature next month, they won’t be flying blind when it comes to public school financing. A 13-member Texas Commission on Public School Finance has been studying this issue for months, and this week it released its findings — unanimously, no less. The commission’s report provides a solid, realistic outline for creating the kind of public school system this state needs. Members of the House and Senate must study this report diligently and be prepared to act when the session gets underway.

A key point in the report is coming up with $1.7 billion in additional state funding for the next two-year budget cycle. That’s a lot of money, and tax increases are never possible. Yet legislators have been cutting taxes in recent sessions, even though Texas has one of the lowest tax burdens of any state. If nothing else, large businesses and corporations should see no new tax breaks in the coming session.

The Rainy Day Fund is also up to $12.5 billion. It’s primarily designed for emergencies, but there are ways that lawmakers can tap into it for ongoing expenses. If the House and Senate can’t find the money they need for education through regular appropriations, they must turn to the Rainy Day Fund for at least some of this money. That vast amount of wealth can’t remain untouched while Texas faces a crisis like this.

And make no mistake about it, this is serious. Four in 10 children are unprepared when they enter Texas kindergartens. Barely more than a fourth of high-school seniors earn a post-secondary degree in six years — not four years, but six. Our state is 46th in the nation in fourth-grade reading.

On top of all this, the state’s population is steadily increasing. Most local school districts have more and more students each year, and eventually they don’t have the buildings and teachers they need to educate them.

This is not a formula to keep the state economy strong and keep attracting the kinds of new businesses and people we need. It will lead to stagnation and failure eventually. Fortunately, the Legislature can avoid that fate by stepping up to this challenge now instead of kicking the can down the road one more time.

When the closing gavel bangs down on this session in May, lawmakers must have met this challenge and provided our schools with the money they require. The needs are clear, and the state economy is in pretty good shape. There is no barrier to success, and taxpayers must be pleased with the response of the House and Senate.

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