To strengthen public education we must increase the state’s share of funding to at least 50 percent, improve and stabilize the teacher’s retirement system (TRS) including a cost of living update, and improve the quality of our classrooms. It is important that we are providing the resources and support to recruit, train, and retain good teachers and support staff such as counselors and career advisors, including competitive pay and benefits as well as mentorship and other professional development opportunities. We also need to ensure our class sizes are appropriate for each age group and that our classrooms are modern and fully supplied. In addition, we must move away from high stakes testing and focus on teaching and preparing our students to enter the workforce or to continue their education. Last, we must reform our school funding method so that it is not so reliant on local property tax payers. Not only is this inherently bad policy it is putting our communities in a financial crunch.
We live in a state with a good economy and bountiful natural resources, yet 1 in 5 Texas children don’t have health insurance (nearly twice the national average), mothers are dying in childbirth or right after at alarming rates, and many Texas families are one medical incident away from dire financial straights. If there is one decision the Legislature could make that would change lives overnight it would be to expand Medicaid, which would provide millions of working Texans with health insurance, add billions of dollars back into the Texas economy, and lower all of our insurance premiums. We also need to focus on maternal mortality, mental health services, and ensuring we are providing folks with culturally competent care to improve health outcomes.
The largest portion of property taxes isn’t from cities or counties but our school districts, because budget cycle after budget cycle, the Texas Legislature has failed to adequately fund our schools. If the state does not increase it’s share of funding to 50 percent, like it used to do, then either our schools will crumble or local taxpayers will continue to pick up the tab. In addition, capping property taxes from local jurisdictions, including our cities and school districts, undermines their ability to function and provide core services. Rundown schools, not having enough fire and police, and traffic gridlock are not a solution to our affordability crisis. Our kids’ education and our communities’ futures are too important for smoke and mirrors politics and cynical policy-making that fails to get to the root of the problem.
To maximize our tax dollars and be efficient and fiscally responsible we must work together with our cities, counties, school boards, and other local jurisdictions to ensure core needs and services are being met for our constituents. Local control is a key part of this. The Legislature should not hamstring, circumvent, or retroactively undo decisions made by our local communities, especially when residents are in support.