Outside of turkey and cranberry sauce, state legislators may have trouble coming up with things to be thankful for this year. A nasty, raging speaker’s race has put pressure on just about everyone. The latest budget gap estimates are well over $25 billion. Redistricting may pit Republicans against one another as everyone seeks to create safer districts.
But lo and behold, the State Board of Education—defenders of all things American—came up with a gift sure to bring a Legislative smile. The board is sending almost $2 billion to the Legislature, an almost-unheard-of 4.2 percent rate of return. Good news from the state board is rare enough, but wait, there’s more!
The board’s only major demand is that the Legislature use at least some of the windfall to buy textbooks for schools, textbooks that incorporate the latest curriculum standards. The normal schedule for buying books would dictate that schools should receive new supplies in English/Language Arts and English-as-a-Second-Language, as well as pre-k materials.
But with the budget this tight, there’s no guarantee the funds will buy all the books, even though publishers have already produced most of them. The Legislature could opt to use the money to fund schools’ basic operations through formula funding. They could also only fund a portion of the books. Both strategies would free up general revenue and help the legislators balance other parts of the budget.
“How come we can’t get some type of commitment to pay for textbooks?” David Bradley asked before the meeting even started.
Robert Scott, the state’s Education Commissioner, has promised a letter to the legislature which would outline just how many textbook materials he could purchase with various amounts of money.
The board’s demands are all the more reasonable when you consider that students will get tested on the materials in these new textbooks starting next year. Thanks to a school reform bill last session, HB 3, the Texas Education Agency will begin implementing the new STAR tests, meant to be a more helpful testing system. But if schools can’t adequately prepare kids for the tests, it’s hard to see how the system will work.
The board has already cut corners on science textbooks. Rather than ordering a new set of books with the state’s latest standards, they are commissioning “supplemental materials” to fill in the gaps between the old books and new standards.
So maybe this windfall $2 billion isn’t something to be thankful for. But a moderate State Board making reasonable demands is nothing short of a miracle.