Earlier this week, I got a notice that the building in which I attended high school is going to be torn down. If you believe everything you read, it’s possible that the building you envision is a cathedral, a private high school nestled in some ritzy, ivy-plagued haven. The reality? I’m a proud Lewisville High School Fighting Farmer, Class of 1998. That’s right, ladies and gents – I’m a product of a public Texas high school.
There is a perception that those of us who argue for school choice and greater fiscal accountability in public schools are really “against” education. We’re not making our case because we care about students, our opponents say, but because we care about the bottom line (or insert choice robber-baron-esque phrase here). It doesn’t fit their narrative, if it’s actually true that we want the very best public school system, and that we have a different vision for how that might be achieved.
It is a fact that public education has gotten expensive. The increase in per-pupil spending has outpaced inflation and population growth over the last decade. Yet our students struggle, our teachers are frustrated, and administrative overhead continues to increase. What some of us want to know is, when are we going to step back and ask if spending more money is actually solving any problems? No one wants draconian cuts in funding – what we want is for the most efficient and best use of every dollar. When less than sixty cents of every dollar even makes it into the classroom in the majority of schools across our state, and student performance drops in proportion to the increase in funding, we need to stand athwart the budget process and say “STOP.” We need to step back, and yes, we may need to make tough decisions. Candidates for public office who are willing to look past the pleas for more from overpaid superintendents and taxpayer-funded lobbyists should be championed, because the cacophony in the pink dome is shrill and only the most principled can withstand it.
The Texas Parent PAC has a different vision. Their goal is to spend money – as much as can possibly be squeezed from the budget, at the cost of everything else government has overcommitted itself to. They would have voters believe that their small list of anointed few are the only candidates who will represent the interests of education. In reality, those candidates are the ones the group knows will support the agenda of the bureaucracy, who will cow to scare tactics from school superintendents about teacher firings and campus closings. It isn’t simply candidates who want the best for our public school students. They are the candidates that want the best for the school administrations, unions, and lobbyists – and maybe the students, too, if there is anything left over.
In my public high school, I took a class on personal finance. The lesson was to spend within my means, to put some away in savings, and to invest wisely. I expect my government to do the same, even when (maybe especially when) it comes to education. When they knock down the old building in Lewisville this summer, it is with the intent to use their land efficiently, to get the highest use from it that they can. Those are lessons that will serve the 83rd Legislature well – and it starts in this election, when we can choose the candidates who already know the meaning behind such a lesson.