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A rough case of government reflux

At the time of writing this column (and probably at the time of publication), the first special session of the Texas legislature is still not complete.

Dr. Barbara Qualls

Some had predicted much quicker resolution to the knots presented by the unprecedented state revenue shortfall, but given the scope of the budgetary problem, it isn’t a surprise that no resolution has been reached.

The term used by many in government to describe a situation that has distasteful residue is “heartburn.” The entire 82nd session has been a case of governmental acid reflux.

Still out is SB 1. This omnibus bill contains the plan for distribution of the $4 billion in education cuts as well as the accounting sleight of hand measures that are necessary to balance the state budget.

Nobody likes the bill, but it is needed to finish the work of this session. A major sticking point is a provision that would require collection of sales tax by online retailers. The biggest of those is Amazon.com. It is expected that a deal will be cut in which Amazon.com provides Texas jobs and gets a deferment of some sort.

SB 6 is one that may provide immediate help to school districts, but may also have harmful long-term effects. It is related to the manner in which districts pay for textbooks, technology and other instructional materials.

Each of those areas was formerly funded separately. While combining would make local school choice much easier, it makes curtailing the funding at the state level easier, too.

SB 6 contains language that would allow local districts considerable latitude in how to use the scores kids earn on the upcoming end-of-course tests in the new STAAR accountability system.

Each of these bills contains some aspect that is distasteful, thus inducing political heartburn, and in some cases, it may be physical heartburn, too.

A bright spot in Texas politics is a newly elected member of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff. Mr. Ratliff has been an outspoken supporter of public schools for quite some time. It is hoped that his perspective will be persuasive at the state level.

A recent editorial by Mr. Ratliff has appeared in several state papers. In it, he provides a counter to one of the drumbeats of complaint about the expansion of public schools.

The editorial begins with a clean assessment of the incredible growth of mandates required of public schools at both the state and federal level.

The part that is most dramatic is the dissection of the criticism of too many “non-teachers” in schools. Campus administration accounts for 2.8 percent of staff and was 2.6 percent in 1999-2000. He pointed out that 1,040 new campuses and 65 charter schools have been added to the Texas public school list during those twelve years.

The proportion of central office administrators was 0.9 percent in 1999-2000 and is only 1 percent today. Teachers were 51 percent in 1999 and are 50 percent today.

All other classifications of employees are likewise within one percentage point of where they were 12 years ago. Those who say and believe that there has been a surge in non-teachers are likely not using the data collected and maintained by the Texas Education Agency.

The very serious actions taken by the 82nd Legislature will have impact for many years. That they have spent such a long time coming to the end of their work is not surprising. Economic conditions are such that budgetary impact in education should have been predicted.

The extent of the cuts and the method by which they were determined in Texas could have been much better, though.

Let us hope that the 83rd Legislature has a different outlook and attitude.

Barbara Qualls is the superintendent of the Ennis Independent School District.

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Posted by on Jun 28 2011. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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