Education commissioner Robert Scott was on the hot seat yesterday. He testified that if the current level of funding in HB 1 remained the same, the state would get sued. “I don’t know who the plaintiff will be,” Scott said, “but I have a pretty good idea of who the defendant will be.” The constitutional requirement is for an “efficient” system. What could be less efficient than failing to fund enrollment growth? Scott said that his goal was to restore $5.6 billion to the foundation school program. He had said the same thing in Senate Finance earlier this month. All well and good, but the tooth fairy isn’t going to provide the money. It can only come out of the Rainy Day Fund–some of which has to be tapped for balancing the books from the last biennium. Several subcommittee members talked about relaxing mandates for school districts. During a break, I asked Hochberg, the chair of the subcommittee, what mandates could save real money. He said there were two: (1) Doing away with 22:1 and amending statutes prohibiting cuts in teachers’ salaries to allow for a 1% or 2% across the board reduction in teacher pay, which most teachers presumably would prefer over furloughs. I think policymakers should consider delaying implementation of end-of-course exams. I have no quarrel with the switch to these exams, which are a big improvement over the TAKS tests. With end-of-course exams, no class time is lost “teaching to the test,” because the test covers the material that has been taught in the classroom. The problem is that the state can’t afford the instructional materials to prepare teachers and students for the test. (This doesn’t seem very “efficient” either.) Scott said in Senate Finance last week that this was his #2 priority after restoring money for the Foundation School Program. But you can’t restore money when there is no money to restore. The reality is that if the state goes through with end-of-course exams, neither the teachers nor the students are going to have enough preparation time, and the results are not going to be pretty.
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