By Kelli Moulton and Dana Bashara
There is no shortage of heroes in our nation’s coronavirus crisis, from the doctors to the first responders to the grocery cashiers who continue to show up and get the job done.
And don’t forget about Texas public school employees.
Teachers, food service personnel, and the many others who make our public schools work have gone many extra miles over the last month to see that children continue to learn, have meals available and remain connected to their friends and classmates. Whether it’s teachers driving through students’ neighborhoods to lift their spirits, or buses delivering meals, technology or other instructional tools, these acts have shown the vital role that educators play in children’s lives and public schools play in Texas communities.
Their commitment has been matched by countless Texas parents juggling their work schedules with their children’s educational needs. If nothing else, parents now have a newfound reverence for the teaching profession.
There was no manual for reinventing our education system during a pandemic, but school staff and teachers got to work and quickly developed systems to help children continue learning. And with state leadership wisely waiving standardized testing requirements during this truncated academic year, public school educators have proven it is students’ success and well-being, and not the threat of consequences tied to state testing, that motivates them.
Schools have many questions to sort out regarding grades, credits, curricula and how to plan for another interruption should this happen again next year. They are also working to preserve as much continuity of instruction as possible. And yet there is another storm cloud looming over public education in Texas: uncertainty regarding the funding schools need to fulfill their mission and prepare 5.4 million students for success beyond the classroom.
Coronavirus is bludgeoning the economy across this country. Texas is no exception, and that is further exacerbated due to the sharp decline in oil prices. State revenues are plummeting as a result, and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said on April 1 the state is in a recession.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was actually just last year when the Texas Legislature made a sizable investment in public schools — an investment that was not meant to be a one-time expenditure, but rather a recurring cost. With state revenues heading southward, there is ample reason to question whether legislators can maintain current levels of state financial support for public education. In fact, with the recession expected to drive down local property values statewide, therefore reducing local property tax collections, the state could be obligated to shoulder even more of the burden of paying for public education.
Some will be tempted to argue that the state invested in schools in good economic times and must now reduce education funding as part of the larger belt-tightening effort the recession will require. But it’s important to remember that those new dollars flowed only after a decade of stagnant funding. Over the last 15 years, demands on our students and our schools have intensified, while the percentage of students who come to school at a disadvantage, and are therefore more costly to educate, has grown. Funding has only begun to catch up with the expectations we put on our public schools. In fact, even after last year’s improvements, Texas remains below the national average in per-student expenditures.
The fallout from this pandemic will be widespread, and public school educators understand and accept that the world has changed. School employees are used to doing more with less. But we hope policymakers will take a broader view — to look back and remember the many years that funding was flat, and to look forward and consider the long-term value of properly educating our future workforce.
The future of the Texas economy lies in the students who are currently in our public schools, and they are dependent on the resources that are allocated. In a state as great as Texas, let’s not bankrupt our future by shortchanging our students.
Moulton is superintendent of Galveston ISD and Bashara is superintendent of Alamo Heights ISD. They both serve on the executive committee of the Texas School Coalition.
Published April 24, 2020 in the Houston Chronicle.
Published April 29, 2020 in the San Antonio Express-News.