Texas took a big step in improving public education when Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 3, which included $6.5 billion in new public education spending. The governor called it a “monumental moment” given such generous support to public education without a court order.
Texas families should be appreciative that Republican and Democratic lawmakers were able to advance a funding bill that provides additional support to public schools, which includes opportunities for increased teacher pay based on performance and incentives for teachers to work in high-needs and rural schools that are often difficult to staff with high-quality teachers.
Education dollars in Texas do not come easily, and this is a win for public education, but HB 3 is the starting point, not the finish line for school reform. It is important to remember that in 2011, Texas made drastic cuts to education that have significantly affected public schools, especially districts that serve high percentages of low-income students of color.
It is now time to think about how our schools can best allocate resources to educate its diverse and rapidly growing student population. The state has previously made many unfortunate decisions, and this has caused a wide range of challenges. In addition, an infusion of money over the next two years will not have lasting change if lawmakers do not continue to adequately and equitably fund public education.
More Texans should recognize that HB 3 is part of a longer journey. Money matters in public education, especially in a state that has historically underfunded its schools.
Significant investments in special education must be made after years of neglect and harmful policies that led to funding decreases and the delay and denial of special education to eligible students with disabilities. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education found that Texas was in violation of a federal statute prohibiting states from reducing funding for students with disabilities from year to year.
The state should also invest in ensuring monitoring and evaluation of charter management organizations, especially because these organizations are managed privately rather than by elected officials. Lawmakers must also be mindful of charter school growth, which can have a negative financial impact on public schools that see declining enrollments due to charter growth.
State Rep. Mary González has expressed her concern that the state is building two parallel systems of public education with different levels of funding and transparency. Lawmakers must work to improve the ability of the Texas Education Agency to provide oversight and accountability, because it historically has failed to adequately oversee both public and charter schools, as shown by numerous cheating and financial mismanagement scandals, as well as the recent special education failures.
Low-income students and students of color currently have inequitable access to the state’s best teachers. The new bill includes the Teacher Incentive Allotment, which directs up to $32,000 for each master teacher who works in high needs or rural schools, where school need is based on student and census poverty rates.
HB 3 lacks detail on how these funds will be administered. The TEA will need to ensure funds allocated through the Teacher Incentive Allotment are directed equitably and efficiently, and the agency should study how effective this policy is at improving disadvantaged students’ access to high-quality instruction.
The governor and our state Legislature took an important first step at providing public schools with the resources needed to educate Texans for the future. However, we should continue to expect our lawmakers to enact monumental policies that advance public schools in future legislative sessions as well as in regulations and oversight enacted by the Texas Education Agency.
We can do this by electing politicians who value public education and recognize that the state must make ongoing investments into schools. They must also focus their attention on how money is being spent to ensure governance over education reflects the values of the state’s communities.
David DeMatthews is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin.
David S. Knight is the associate director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies and an assistant professor of educational leadership and foundations at The University of Texas at El Paso.