Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has floated his proposal for a successor to the flawed “Robin Hood” system of Texas public school finance, and while I applaud his initiative in doing so, I believe that his plan, along with most of the other ideas that have been suggested, approaches the problem from the wrong direction. Put simply, we don’t have a funding problem in public education, we have a cost structure problem. By any benchmarking measure, and particularly as it relates to performance, public education is more than fully funded in the aggregate and on a per-student basis. When Gov. Rick Perry calls for the special legislative session to consider school finance, the serious interim committee work should be focused on completely overhauling the school district cost structures and the most realistic way to do this is by ridding them of the perverse incentives that are by nature so deeply embedded in them. The current model is inherently flawed because it is “input” and compliance driven rather than “output” and performance driven. So, you say, assuming we fix the incentive structure problem, what do we do about the problem of funding equity? Here we confront the long-standing Texas principle of local control. My take on this is that most people I know would trade local control of funding for a statewide funding system that supplied equal funding per student, provided there was in place a credible performance based cost system. What will be required to induce such a massive cultural shift in public education? The introduction of competitive dynamics to the incentive structure through the adoption of comprehensive school choice, at least in our larger urban districts. Stay tuned.
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