With the first day of school just around the corner, it’s a good time to talk about the importance of public education in our state as well as the related issues and challenges we must address to improve the way we fund our schools, retain our teachers and keep kids safe.
As the new school year begins, the issue of school safety will be on the forefront of the minds of many parents, students, teachers and administrators.
Earlier this week, I was asked by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to share my thoughts on school safety and specifically what advice I would share with those directly impacted by safety in and around our neighborhood schools. In response, I said that I hope parents and other caregivers, students, and faculty and staff will share any concerns they have with the school district, and state and federal officials so that we may make better-informed decisions regarding this critical issue.
This is an important step that cannot be understated. School safety can’t be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, in some districts, metal detectors may make sense, but based on feedback I have received, they may not make sense for schools with larger student populations. Other districts may need help improving technology, including text message notification systems, while others need additional help to provide counselors focused on mental health. The more I hear and other state and local officials hear from those directly impacted, the better we will be able to address the unique needs.
Like our local school districts, as well as districts across our state, I am committed to supporting efforts that will help provide needed resources to schools that will be most helpful and keep Texas kids safe.
A key ingredient in our public education system is our state’s teachers. There’s no doubt in my mind that each and every day, public school teachers go above and beyond to ensure that future generations of Texans succeed. As a state, we owe them a great deal in response to their commitment.
In past months, I have written about our state’s pension and healthcare systems for teachers. We made some changes to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) during the last session, but it’s apparent that more must be done.
Earlier this month, the TRS board moved to lower the expected rate of return on investments, which will likely create a benefits gap for retirees. In order to ensure that we fulfill the promises made to our teachers, it’s likely that additional funding will be needed to fill the gap. As we head closer to the 2019 Legislative Session, serious conversations need to occur regarding how this will be accomplished in a way that will protect our teachers and retirees.
One of the issues that I regularly hear about from constituents is property taxes. For many, the annual increase in the appraised value of their homes and subsequently, the property taxes they owe, becomes too much for them to bear financially. This must be addressed.
One solution: fix our broken school finance system. In the last decade, the state’s share of public education funding has dropped from 49 to 38 percent, forcing local taxpayers to foot the rest of the bill. When you remove charter schools from the equation, the state share is just 33 percent.
One fix proposed last session – a measure I joint-authored – would have required the state to increase their share of school funding to at least 50 percent. By doing this, the state contribution would have increased their share of funding by an estimated $10-14 billion per year — providing relief to local communities and property owners.
In addition to increasing how much money comes from Austin, we also need to fix how the money is allocated. Looking ahead and at the upcoming Legislative Session, this should be, without question, the most important issue impacting Texas. Whether or not our state leaders will agree, only time will tell.
Mark your calendar
This Saturday, Arlington ISD will be holding their annual Back to School Kickoff at AT&T Stadium. For details, click here. Also, this weekend is the annual Sales Tax Holiday, when items such as clothes, shoes, backpacks and school supplies will be tax-free. For details, click here.