FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2006
The third Monday of January we honor the birthday of a man who gave up his life for those who had not yet achieved the freedom and equality enjoyed by their fellow Americans.
Martin Luther King, Jr., best known for leading the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, lit the torch and led the path for African-Americans to follow. The Fourteenth Amendment had given blacks citizenship and the Fifteenth Amendment the right to vote. African-Americans had rights, but they were limited.
In 1896 the United States Supreme Court decided that the "separate but equal" facilities legalized in the South did not violate the 14th Amendment. This decision allowed the segregation of blacks and whites in the workplace, in neighborhoods and in schools.
Equality in education played a prominent role in Dr. King's struggles. His efforts eventually led our country to remove the barriers of segregation. This didn't happen overnight; it took over half a century for our country to realize that this treatment was an aberration, and in the process, lives were lost. But thank God that justice and humanity prevailed.
Today Texas is facing a similar problem as we try to decide how to fund our public schools by reducing the property tax burden and ensuring a high level of education for all children. History repeats itself, they say, and after looking at this great orator's life, I see a little of that history in our own battle with public school finance.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the current method of school finance is unconstitutional because it amounts to a statewide property tax, and the Legislature must change this system by June 1, or schools may not be able to open this fall.
The big issue is meaningful discretion, in which school districts feel they should retain a meaningful portion of their taxes to spend for educational enrichment purposes above the current state educational requirements. Voters have authorized school boards to use discretion.
Property-poor school districts that tax at lower rates do not have enough to fund their schools, let alone retain a meaningful percentage (usually considered 10 percent of taxes raised) to use with local discretion. So the state must finance the difference. The problem lies in where these funds should originate and how to obtain them without violating the Texas Constitution or continuing to overburden the taxpayer.
How does the school finance issue tie in with Dr. King's quest? He wanted to provide all children access to a good education, with up-to-date textbooks, classroom equipment, sufficient teachers and adequate facilities. He felt that integrating schools would help achieve this, since black children were predominantly from property-poor areas that could not fund a good education for them equal to their non-black peers. A similar situation exists in Texas. Children from areas like South Texas, where incomes and wages are low, face tremendous barriers if we cannot fund our schools equitably so that they too are offered the same opportunities as children in wealthier school districts.
In his "I Have A Dream" speech, Dr. King said, "…America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."
I too have a dream. As a member of the newly formed Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance that I was appointed to, thanks to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, my dream is to find sufficient funds to educate all public school children, rich or poor. Part of that dream is to also raise teacher salaries. And I too refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds. Money is tight, but if all sectors, private and public, pay their fair share and work together to fund our schools equitably, build adequate facilities throughout the state, and pay teachers wages competitive with top-paying states, we can meet the court's directive, assuring not only that our school doors are open this fall, but that we provide equal funds for every student. We can help children realize their dreams by giving them a solid foundation in education.
This Monday, when we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should remember the tremendous progress he made to raise the bar for the treatment of black Americans. His legacy should be continued not only in the black community, but throughout this nation and our great state. The struggle for equality continues as we decide the fate of Texas school children.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.