By Colby Nichols
More than 150 years ago, Texans set aside a fund to provide free textbooks to children in the state’s public schools, and ever since leaders have worked to keep faith with that covenant. Until now.
Now, the Texas legislature seems determined on abandoning their commitment and raiding the proceeds of the Permanent School Fund which provides not only for books, but the 21st Century technology our children will need to succeed.
Your Texas Senate has adopted a budget which cuts the fund for technology and textbooks by $104 million from the proceeds from the Permanent School Fund.
Similarly, the House has proposed to cut the same fund by $125 million.
Texas legislators frequently say more money should be spent in classrooms, but these cuts fly in the face of that rhetoric. No resources can be more directly tied to students and classroom instruction than the instructional materials allotment (IMA) which both chambers of the Legislature propose to cut.
Cutting these funds tears books and instructional technology from the hands of Texas schoolchildren.
A century-and-a-half of Texas leaders have understood that instructional materials provided free-of-charge to our students are vital to public education. In 2011, the Legislature channeled proceeds of the Permanent School Fund to pay for instructional materials, technological equipment, and technology-related services for all districts and open-enrollment charter schools.
Legislative members constantly hound schools to provide for a “21st Century education.” The State even wants to provide expanded broadband access for that purpose. This requires a substantial investment in technology. School districts around the state were ready to upgrade and purchase technology in the current biennium because no major instructional material updates were anticipated. The Legislature’s proposed raiding of the IMA will prevent this needed improvement.
These are not tax funds; they’re the return on 150 years of investment in the future of children. In fact, that may be the reason lawmakers want to siphon the funds away from kids; they can look like heroes who balanced a budget without raising taxes.
The Instructional Material Coordinators’ Association of Texas believes raiding these funds – balancing the budget on the backs of Texas schoolchildren – establishes a dangerous precedent and a tempting target for future state policymakers. In the future, there will be more temptation to pilfer the PSF proceeds to avoid the harsh realities of budget-making and when the time comes for a major overhaul of materials – English/Language arts in the next biennium, for example – kids will come up short.
Without an appropriately funded IMA, our children will be without the necessary tools to have a world class education. It is imperative the State continue to fund the IMA with all the funds available from the 150-plus-year commitment to Texas schoolchildren.
Colby Nichols is the Legislative Counsel for the Instructional Materials Coordinators’ Association of Texas.
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