Texas and kids need good schools; legislature balks

I don't dabble much in politics unless some legislator tries to slip a bill through Congress that has negative ramifications for Southwestern agriculture.

I believe politics, like religion, is singularly personal. My own philosophy on political persuasion is that I have my beliefs and everyone else is entitled to his own stupid opinion.

That being said, I feel compelled to comment on the Texas legislature's ongoing feeble attempts at funding the state's schools.

The process started from a flawed concept. The thinking went something like this:

Problem: We need more money for public schools.

Solution: First let's cut the budget.

OK, I don't like paying a kings' ransom in property taxes anymore than the rest of you and I pay higher property taxes in the Dallas suburbs than I have anywhere else I've ever lived. Even that wouldn't be all that bad if we had better schools than anywhere else I've ever lived. We don't.

I could complain about high property and sales taxes and justify the grousing by asserting that I don't have any dogs in this fight. My children are out of school. I don't need school buses to pick them up; I don't need textbooks; I don't need a big stadium where I can sit and watch them play football.

But, regardless of where we live — near one of the metroplexes or out in the sparsely populated areas of West Texas — public education benefits all of us, whether we have kids in the system or not. Growth depends on a good education system. The well being of any community depends on a vibrant school system. The future of our rural areas, small towns and big cities will ride on how well we educate our children.

Industry doesn't move into communities with lousy schools. Local businesses can't find qualified employees if they aren't educated. And the essence of any neighborhood depends on education to challenge minds, instill creativity in young people and nourish the soul of the community.

Our tax dollars pay for more than a teacher's salary, the upkeep on a building or a microscope for a science lab. We invest in our communities.

And that's what's so disturbing about the Texas legislature's failure to commit to a sound fiscal program for Texas schools. They've looked at a lot of ideas, most of them bad — for instance, adding a $1 tax on cigarettes. Now, I'll be the first to argue that cigarettes deserve to be taxed. But how much sense does it make to tie educational funding to a practice folks are working hard to eliminate?

Various “sin taxes” and other schemes have been proposed and dismissed over the past several years, leaving Texas schools in limbo.

Education costs money. Quality education costs even more. Teachers must be paid (hopefully more than they get now); books must be purchased; buildings must be built and maintained.

It's time Texas legislators committed themselves to funding Texas schools adequately. It's time they revised their thinking, time they reversed their equation.

First: What will it cost to develop the best education system possible? Then: How much can we cut taxes and still reach that goal?

Anything less is a disservice to the state's school children, the state's economic future, the state's cultural well-being. We can do better.

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