Texas Can Be Proud of Its Educational Gains
Though some would like to turn the school finance debate into an argument over money, we believe it should be about results. How much we spend on education is important, but not nearly as important as how the money is spent.
Texas has a great track record of significantly increasing funding for education. Since 1999, Texas has appropriated an additional $10 billion to public schools. Teachers that have stayed in the classroom over the same period of time make an average of $11,669 more a year in salary. Even when the state faced a record shortfall of $10 billion in 2003 we still managed to dedicate an additional $1 billion to Texas schools.
But during that time we weren’t simply giving schools more money. We were investing in new reading, math and science initiatives. We were focusing on providing additional opportunities for disadvantaged children, and developing curriculum that ensure they are ready for kindergarten. We were raising standards, including making Texas the first state to require a college-prep curriculum as the standard coursework. We have developed new study guides and required individualized graduation plans for students that struggle in the classroom. And we have made standardized tests more difficult, raising expectations each year.
Our focus on higher standards, a stronger curriculum and better accountability is reaping results. Consider the following accomplishments:
· Scores on national assessments have gone up in every age group, ethnicity and subject area since 1994.
· Texas leads the nation in the number of students taking advanced math courses.
· Texas fourth graders ranked in the top 10 nationally in reading and the top two in math, when compared by ethnic peer groups.
· Texas eighth graders outpaced their peers in other states in reading, and ranked in the top three in math.
· Texas invests more money than any other state in pre-K education.
We have made these tremendous gains despite the fact that nearly 55 percent of our students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and 630,000 students speak English as a second language. The fact is our progress is more remarkable than other states because our challenges are much greater than most.
The analogy for Texas education is a simple one: we have climbed further up the mountain than most expected. But we’re by no means near the summit. And the hardest climbing is always at the highest altitudes. What worked below will only get you so far. To get to the top takes additional rigor, innovation and discipline. That’s why reform should be central to the education funding debate going forward.
Texans want more education for their money, not just more money for education. That’s why we support performance pay for our best teachers. The concept is simple: if you reward top performers, more will strive to meet that standard. How do we know this will work? It already has. It’s called the American enterprise system, and for more than 200 years it has been rewarding results.
With so many special interests clamoring for more money for schools, we would be wise to listen to the largest interest group in the state: the taxpayers of Texas. Taxpayers have a right to detailed information about how their money is spent at local schools. They should know how much is spent in the classroom, on administration, and on lobbyists and lawyers who plead for more of their money. If taxpayers are going to pick up the bill, they have a right to look at every item on the receipt.
The philosophy behind the 65 percent solution, which requires 65 percent of all education dollars be spent on direct classroom instruction, is that it will ensure greater accountability to taxpayers. In addition it provides more than a billion dollars for Texas classrooms without a tax increase.
How much we spend on education is important, but not the sole determining factor in success. Washington, D.C. schools are some of the best-funded schools in the nation. But very few congressmen elect to send their children to them. We must fund results. That’s what we have done for more than a decade in education, and that’s what we must continue to do if we are to experience greater success. Our children deserve no less.
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