As a student of government, educated by experience, I have long held the belief that public education is among the most important functions of state government. Unfortunately, more and more it appears my belief in education being the future of Texas is not shared by the leadership of state government today.
The founders of Texas thought the support of education important enough to enshrine it in our state’s constitution. The constitution mandates that the Legislature provide for a sufficient system of funding for public education. It is clear the constitution does not put responsibility of funding public education on the shoulders of cities, counties or independent school districts.
The Legislature has apparently ignored the recent finding of an Austin district court that the current system of funding public education is unconstitutional. The court recently ruled our current system does not meet the mandate of our state’s constitution.
It is absolutely clear that the Legislature, in its slavish dedication to no new taxes, has continued to shift the burden of funding public education to local government — local homeowners and business owners in the form of property taxes. To any observer, our current system of local taxation is patently unfair. It rewards those with the least tax burden, allowing them to raise the greatest amount of funding available per pupil, while those making the greatest effort — and greatest contribution — produce the least amount for educating the pupils in their districts.
There is adequate evidence from past sessions of where Republican priorities lie. During a floor debate over making temporary business tax breaks permanent, Sen. Rodney Ellis pointed out the measure would take hundreds of millions away from education. The answer to Sen. Ellis’ question from the Republican side was, “We have done it for the past four years!” There seemed to be little concern that reducing the state’s efforts for public education continues to shift more of the burden to local property owners.
The conservative leadership placed in charge of public education this past session, at least in the Senate, has exacerbated the shortage of funding for public education by condoning an almost unlimited increase in the number of charter schools. Charter schools are funded throughout the state at a higher rate per pupil than are independent school districts. Every newly created charter school takes away funding that otherwise could be available to support public education in our state. Not only do charter schools dissipate the amount of funding at the state level, but they also take away funding from the public schools that would otherwise be allocated in the local district on a per-pupil basis.
The greatest hope for advocates of adequately funded public schools is that the recent court ruling will be upheld in the direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas. I have serious doubts the current makeup of the Texas Supreme Court will offer great hope in this regard. A majority of the current court has been appointed by our current governor, Rick Perry, who stoutly maintains public education is already adequately funded. Today, the Supreme Court is vastly different from the supreme court that first ruled that Texas’ public education was unconstitutional. That court was led by former Sen. Oscar Mauzy, who had served two terms as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Mauzy was long a champion of a quality of opportunity and firmly believed the future of Texas was tied to the quality of education we delivered to future generations. Time will only tell whether or not current justices of our supreme court share the vision of Oscar Mauzy and others dedicated to the future of public education.
Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.