By Ernest Bailes, state representative for District 18
As I work on tax reform, my thoughts turn to budget appropriations, and that brings me to a subject I am often asked about: The Texas Lottery.
Originally, allocations from the Texas Lottery were not earmarked for public education funding, instead going into the state’s general revenue fund. In 1997, that changed. Now, for over 20 years, the lottery revenue has gone into the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency.
In Fiscal Year 2017 alone, the Texas Lottery transferred $1.313 billion into the Foundation School Fund. Just an FYI: in 2017, the state only funded roughly 42 percent of public education through the Foundation School Program.
School Finance Reform:
A few weeks ago, my news article focused on the need for public school finance reform. In this article, I want to go a step further and layout my thoughts on how to achieve needed reform.
First of all, our State Constitution states our schools should be “public, free, and efficient,” and that the Legislature cannot use a statewide property tax to fund the system. Since there is no statewide property tax in Texas, the state depends heavily on local property taxes for school funding. It is time to rethink that practice.
I believe the first step is to honor the tried and true practice all successful individuals and businesses adhere to — identify your priorities, understand the difference between wants and needs, and, if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.
Nowhere does that philosophy more desperately need to be applied than when it comes to new legislative regulations and mandates. If we, as legislative body, believe the education regulations and mandates we pass each session are necessary to a quality public education, then we need to pay for them.
Next, I believe we need to look long and hard at testing. While I understand the assessment of progress is necessary, I am adamantly against punitive, high-stakes testing. The costs of this practice is far reaching, and it is much deeper than just the monetary price tag. School districts are drowning in overburdensome, ever changing state testing requirements and teachers are struggling to teach good solid skills. Simply put, the costs are incalculable.
And, finally, I strongly believe we need to get back to local control. Superintendents know what their districts need, and they best know how to utilize limited educational dollars. Together, teachers and parents are best suited to address student needs.
I will say it again, as legislators, if we want to implement the latest trends in public education, we should figure out how to pay for it, and that does not mean pushing the obligation back to local taxpayers.
There is no easy fix, but this is a start. I welcome your thoughts on this subject or any other subject. Please feel free to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-628-6687.