Work on School Reform Begins in Texas
The Texas Legislature has begun an examination of school financing in particular and the entire education system in general, as the Joint Interim Committee on Public School Finance began its work in Austin today, August 6, 2003.
While the committee was created to examine how Texas funds its schools, co-chair Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano made it clear at this first meeting that the committee needs to go beyond that first charge.
"We all know we need to change the system", said Shapiro. "We need to focus on achievement...we will be remiss if financial reform doesn't bring meaningful change in the classroom."
That was echoed by the other co-chair, Representative Kent Grusendorf of Arlington. He defined the committee's need to address property tax relief, fund successful educational programs and simplify the tax system, saying " I don't think we can afford another band-aid". Grusendorf also said that any funding mechanism adopted by the committee should not compromise what he called the "state's positive economic climate".
Other members who spoke said they intended for the committee to come up with a school finance system that could last as long as 30 years, to actually re-define education in Texas, and ensure that the state's property owners get meaningful tax relief.
The committee will be commissioning reports to be produced this winter and spring. Proposed topics for research include school finance litigation, employee compensation, the role of federal funding, and sustainable methods of finance.
Invited testimony today included Dr. John Oppenheimer of the Lieutenant Governor's office who told the committee that the Lieutenant Governor wants the committee to look at cost-effective "best practices", that is, which schools are succeeding in educating students while not spending a large amount of money, and to examine how those methods could be applied to other schools across the state.
The committee will be meeting four other times this year, tentative dates include September 10, October 1, November 5 and December 3. Workgroups and subcommittees will be meeting as well.
The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is co-chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Ken Grusendorf. Members include Senators Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville, Steve Ogden of Bryan and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Members from the Texas House include Talmadge Heflin of Houston, Fred Hill of Richardson, Vilma Luna of Corpus Christi, Ken Marchant of Carrollton and Ron Wilson of Houston. Its final report to the legislature is due March 15th of 2004. Co-chair Shapiro recessed the meeting subject to call of the chair.