Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's simple: We get what we pay for

Bilingual, ESL, and compensatory education programs cost a lot. We know that. But it is maddening how often conservatives sound like parrots in response to calls for much needed funding increases (part of parrot played here by accountability cheerleader Sandy Kress in a superb article by Gary Scharrer in today's San Antonio Express News):

State District Judge John Dietz, who last year declared the Texas school funding system unconstitutional, issued extensive "findings of fact" involving hard-to-teach students, but they largely ignored the cost of an exemplary, effective program, said Dallas lawyer Sandy Kress, a key architect of President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation.

"I see no findings of real fact about what works and what that costs. I see nothing about spending that works well and spending that doesn't," Kress said. "I suspect that the plaintiffs would prefer to talk about more money."

Advocates for more money always talk about more teachers, programs, interventions, libraries and materials, Kress said, but "an exclusive focus on quantity of dollars — as opposed to an insistence that the dollars be well-spent — will not get the job done."

Who among public school advocates would say talking about spending dollars well is a bad idea? There is no "exclusive focus." It's a sham and a lie. The focus is two fold: increasing funding and improving performance. One without the other is ludicrous; they are inextricably linked

Look, people, this isn't difficult: you know as well as I do that you get what you pay for. In this state at least, we're paying for a second rate education for most of our citizens and that's what we're getting.

Despite Kress and others' portrayals, advocates for increased funding are generally sensible people, not the wild eyed tax-and-spend-liberals conservatives make them out to be. But it is undeniable that, at least in Texas, most of our schools are grossly underfunded. Consider the facts:

Past studies indicated schools needed at least 40 percent more to adequately educate those students. A more recent study by Lori Tayor, a Texas A&M University economist, found districts needed an extra $1,960 per low-income student.

A House proposal would not significantly change the allocation for low-income students...

That's not a lefty liberal spouting this stuff: Lori Taylor was commissioned by the Republican controlled Legislature to produce the study that they promptly ignored.

Back to the article:

More than half of the state's 4.4 million public school children come from low-income families, and a growing number of them have trouble navigating the English language, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The number of low-income children, mostly from Hispanic and African American families, increases each year. The number of Anglo students continues to decline.

It costs more to educate low-income children and students with limited English
proficiency. But lawmakers aren't talking much about that as they struggle to reform the public education system and pay for school property tax cuts.

In Texas, "education reform" means "property tax cuts" for the wealthy and net tax increases for the rest. This is a travesty. And it's potentially ruinous to the future of this state:

The growing number of low-income students and an expanding achievement gap will cause a decline in average Texas household income, state demographer Steve Murdock warned.

Unless current trends change, he said, today's Texas children will become the state's first generation whose future will be less prosperous than their parents'.

"Education is the single best predictor that we have for household incomes," Murdock said.

Last year, about 2.3 million Texas schoolchildren, or 52.8 percent of the total public school enrollment, came from low-income families, according to TEA statistics.

To repeat his words: "Unless current trends change, today's Texas children will become the state's first generation whose future will be less prosperous than their parents'."

That's scary. And there ain't a whole lot going on to change current trends down here. So why is it being ignored:

"I think it's being ignored because most ... very property wealthy districts that matter to our legislative leaders do not have these special populations in the numbers that make it relevant for them," said David Hinojosa, a lawyer forthe Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a party in the lawsuit against the state.

I'd like to think that's not true, but there's precious little evidence to suggest it's not.


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