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To sustain the Texas Miracle, legislators must reform school funding

by Dale Petroskey and Chris Nielsen | January 6, 2019

For more than four decades, Texas’ school funding system has been dissected and analyzed by Texas courts, experts and advocates. Is it equitable? Does it provide opportunity for all kids? Is it sustainable? These questions and many more have plagued the public-school system, with court decisions serving as the major catalyst for only piecemeal legislative action.

This new session of the Texas Legislature offers an opportunity for substantive action without the pressure of a court case looming. During the 2017 session the Dallas Regional Chamber was proud to support legislation that would have begun to chip away at our outdated system to add much-needed funding for our schools. Those efforts failed, but as we prepare for the 2019 session, we once again commit to critical reforms, for our students and the future of our economy.

Texas continues to rank near the bottom in state funding for public education (ranked 43rd in the 2018 Education Week’s Quality Counts Report). For a state that boasts top tier rankings in other areas like business climate, we can do better in the area of talent development. That is why there must be no further delay in creating the type of 21st century school finance system our state deserves. 

As business leaders, we are in a war for talented workers. By 2030, more than 60 percent of jobs will require some type of postsecondary degree or certificate. That’s why we support the state’s 60x30TX plan, which aims to ensure that the majority of Texans between 25 and 34 have some type of postsecondary degree or professional credential. However, before students can get to that point, they need a solid foundation provided by our public schools.

During the last 25 years, our student population has nearly doubled to approximately 5.4 million, and the needs of our students have also increased. Approximately 60 percent of Texas children are classified as economically disadvantaged.

Regrettably, the formulas that are meant to help add financial support for certain student populations have remained unchanged. Some elements of the system haven’t been updated since the mid-1980s, leaving schools and communities to develop unique models to help bridge these needless gaps. Throughout North Texas we are witnessing firsthand how strong leadership and investments in new strategies can increase educational opportunities.

For example, Dallas ISD’s focus on early childhood education, retaining great teachers, and prioritizing college and career readiness have shown positive results. Third grade reading levels in Dallas now outpace state levels (a 10 percent increase in Dallas vs. a 2 percent increase for the state over a four-year period). Educator excellence is emphasized through three lenses: performance, student achievement and student experience surveys that encourage and reward our best teachers, allowing educators to earn a higher salary earlier in their careers. 

Additionally, students across the district are now able to obtain college credits and work exposure through innovative programs like Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which allows students to visualize pathways to careers they may not have otherwise thought possible. In one of the largest private-sector investments in education in the country, more than 71 companies in the Dallas region partner with Dallas ISD’s P-Tech schools providing full-time employees on campus for mentoring, skills training and work experience.

No one strategy is a silver bullet to success, but these are pioneering examples of what Texas schools can achieve with the resources to meet student needs. Texas is ready for a modernized school funding system.

While we can’t predict what other issues may occupy future legislative sessions, here are several things we do know. With the next U.S. Census in 2020 we can be certain that the 2021 legislative session will be consumed by statewide redistricting. This almost guarantees that the earliest we might potentially see school funding reform addressed again would be in 2023. Another five years may seem insignificant in the political realm, but that is real time lost for our students of today.

We are encouraged that our state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the presumptive Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, have expressed commitment to school finance reform. While reforming a system currently held together by a series of Band-Aids can seem like a Herculean task, we need our leaders in Austin to work together to find solutions.

Every Texas student deserves the opportunity to enjoy the economic benefits as a result of the enormous business growth, often called the Texas Miracle. We call on our fellow business leaders across the state to support legislators in Austin and provide feedback as the process unfolds. The business community must remain a vocal champion for our students – the workers of tomorrow – as these conversations continue.

These students will be the engine that sustains the Texas Miracle.

Dale Petroskey is chief executive of the Dallas Regional Chamber.

Chris Nielsen is executive vice president, Toyota Motor North America and 2019 Dallas Regional Chamber Chair. They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

This article was originally published by The Dallas Morning News and FWD>DFW had no influence on the content created.

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