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Simpson: Why wait to reform school finance?

By David Simpson
Feb. 8, 2013 at 10 p.m.

One of the prominent "grievances" listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence as justification for secession from Mexico in 1836 was the Mexican government's failure "to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources."

From our state's inception, Texans have supported public education because they believed that "unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government." As a result, in our Constitution, Texans decided to work together in local communities to ensure that all, and especially the less fortunate, have access to a good education.

Fundamentally, education of one's children, like the provision of food, clothing, and shelter, is a parental responsibility and not that of the civil government. But this does not mean all children need to be educated at home or in a private institution, or that children cannot be well-educated in a public system.

It does, however, mean our real, substantial, and long-term problems involve parents and the home. Reform should be geared toward a restoration of parental involvement, responsibility and freedom to direct a child's upbringing. Involvement in our children's education will serve far better than any accountability system the state could devise.

In addition, the manner of working together and providing support for public education has often been controversial. But one thing is clear, from the beginning we delegated the responsibility for creating a system of public education to the Legislature, not the courts.

In 1836, the Constitution said, "It shall be the duty of Congress, as soon as circumstances will permit, to provide, by law, a general system of education." Our present Constitution says, "It shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."

We knew during the last session that the "hold harmless" provision of the property tax buy down had resulted in an inequitable funding system. Similarly situated school districts were receiving widely different amounts of funds. It should not have taken a court case to formally recognize or correct the inequity.

Why then are we still waiting on the courts? For judicial review that may take another year or two? Are judges now the people's representatives with respect to public education? Is the Legislature subservient to the courts? It may be easier and politically expedient for some to shift the responsibility for supporting public education to the courts, but this is neither conservative nor, more importantly, constitutional.

Now is the time for the Legislature to make "suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools" a priority. The next generation's liberty and rights are at stake.

But at the same time we provide for a more equitable funding mechanism, we have to make other changes to improve our children's education. What our schools need just as much as equitable funding is more freedom - freedom from Washington and Austin's one-size-fits-all curriculum standards, testing, and accountability systems that hold students back.

Every child is different, and every community is different. We must find a way to work together across the state but respect these differences.

An efficient and effective system is not simply a matter of adequate funding; it is a matter of freedom and responsibility. We must find a way to restore them to those who are most responsible and closest to students - their parents, teachers and local administrators.

<em>- Rep. David Simpson, a Longview Republican, represents Gregg and Upshur counties in the Texas Legislature.</em>



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