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Opinion Editorial by Dan Huberty Concerning Whether COVID-19 Will Affect the Education Funding Portion of the State Budget

Over the last several weeks, I’ve read a lot about the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy and our State budget. Several newspapers even published editorials about how Texas will fund, or not fund, the K-12 education system next legislative session. Therefore; I would like to offer my view for consideration.

As chair of the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee, I am very familiar with the funding formulas, (the mechanisms we use to fund the K-12 education system), and the demands on the system. I am also familiar with the political will of the Texas Legislature to prioritize public education. It is because of this familiarity that I strongly disagree with any suggestion that one party is looking to harm schools next Session.

Does our State have fiscal challenges going into the next budget cycle? Yes, of course. However, like every business in Texas facing a tough road ahead, we must act and behave responsibly. That includes not overreacting and cutting where we cannot afford to cut. . . that is a terrible way to govern.

Will Texas have to tighten its belt? Yes, of course. However, I believe that members of both parties will insist that we prioritize spending on public education. To try and suggest otherwise is to try and make something hyper-partisan that deserves better treatment.

I have worked in the education field for over 20 years. I take great pride in working on education issues in a bi-partisan fashion, as is tradition in the Texas Legislature. I also believe it is because of this tradition that we were able to make huge improvements to the funding formulas and accountability system with the passage of HB 3, the major school reform bill of the 86th Legislative Session.

Prior to last session, we started with a bi-partisan finance commission. We spent all of 2018 working on various recommendations, and the final Commission report was adopted unanimously. That report was then provided as the blueprint for the architecture of HB 3.

As a result, at the end of the 86th Legislative Session HB 3 was UNANIMOUSLY passed by both the House and the Senate. In voting for it, every Republican and Democrat expressed that they understood the importance of public education (and its funding) for our economy, the future, and the millions of children we are constitutionally required to educate. HB 3 was and remains a sustainable approach to K-12 education for the future, even during down economic times.

So where do we go from here? The answer lies with the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker and 181 duly elected members of the Legislature. We have already started working in a bi-partisan fashion towards the 2021 Legislative Session. Our House committee will hold hearings and work with our counterparts in the Senate to make sure we continue to keep, and further, the gains made under HB 3.

Our responsibility is to 5.5 million children in the State of Texas, and to ensure we provide them with the best possible education. Just as the vote on HB 3 was unanimous, I expect every member of the legislature, regardless of party, gladly undertakes this responsibility.

I have learned through my many years as both a businessman and educator that during a crisis it is important to stay positive, flexible and to not throw stones. Let’s not waste our time fixating on the stone throwers who want to use this crisis to make public education funding hyper-partisan.

I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies. When Apollo 13 was crippled in space and two NASA directors (based in Houston) were discussing the low chance of survival for the crew, one of them stated: “This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.” Gene Kranz, the director of mission control, turned and said, “With all due respect sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.”

With all due respect, we need to get back to work. We need to continue to work together on solutions and continue to do so in the bi-partisan tradition of the Texas Legislature. If we do that, I believe this could be our finest hour.

This originally appeared in Our Tribune on May 12.