Wednesday morning, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst discussed his plans for education funding with the Texas Observer.
More than 600 Texas school districts are suing the state, claiming its distribution of resources is unfair and insufficient, given the educational demands of the state. These districts are appealing to the state to change the way that lawmakers decide which districts receive more money, and how much.
Lawmakers will probably hold off on any big changes to the funding system until after the trial, and its inevitable appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, have wrapped up. But school leaders still have hope this session might bring some relief from the unprecedented $5.4 billion cut the Legislature made last session.
Given the state’s $8.8 billion surplus—a relative bonanza compared to the rough situation during last legislative session—will the Legislature share some of that bounty with the schools?
Dewhurst doesn’t seem to be thinking in those terms. Instead, he told the Observer, he’s concerned that if legislators aren’t careful, that excess money will quickly run out.
“Well, we knew our economy was rebounding from the recession, so my advice to people is don’t get greedy,” Dewhurst said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in a year or two from now, but we need to leave some savings in the Rainy Day Fund.”
Dewhurst said it’s imperative that the state set aside money, since so many districts are suing for more money in the funding system. “I would expect the odds are that whatever the courts decide will mean more money that the state will put in,” he said, suggesting the state needs to budget for the likelihood of a court-mandated funding system that’s more expensive. “I think it’s imperative that we set aside some money to go ahead and cover that decision.”
When asked how he plans to keep the districts happy during the session, Dewhurst suggested better resource allocation for public education, and other structural changes to the current school system.
He said flexibility for schools and parents is of the utmost importance. “We’re looking at ending the perception that we’re teaching to the test, perhaps lowering the number of end of course exams, and giving parents more choice,” Dewhurst said. “Whether it’s in the independent school district charter schools, maybe some tax credits, things of this nature.”