Texas School Finance Fix Eludes Perry as Students Do Without Art

Courtney Williams's picture
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Students at elementary schools in Amarillo, Texas, don’t get drawing lessons as a five-year-old finance plan from Republicans led by Governor Rick Perry hasn’t delivered funding needed to avoid cuts and improve education.

“We’d love to offer art or foreign languages,” said Rod Schroder, Amarillo’s superintendent. “But we have never had the revenue to put in those programs.”

Perry, a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, and legislative leaders in Austin have blamed this year’s public-education funding shortfall on a weaker economy and flaws in a 2006 tax overhaul that hasn’t met projections for revenue. In the two-year budget that began in September, aid to local schools fell short by more than $5 billion, a situation that business leaders have said threatens the state’s economy.

“Texas needs a structurally sound school-finance system that isn’t continually underfunded,” Harvin Moore, a board member of the Houston Independent School District, said in a telephone interview. The fourth-biggest U.S. city by population has the state’s largest system with about 200,000 students.

“Numerous legislators told me and others that they would rather leave the system broken and wait for districts to sue,” letting a judge make the hard choices involved, Moore said. The two-year budget passed in May eliminated a deficit estimated to be at least $15 billion and provides $53.8 billion for schools.

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