Editorial: Texas Legislators, focus on central education issues

By DallasNews, Editorial

Dan Patrick has jumped headlong into the headlines since being named the new leader of the Texas Senate’s education committee last month. The Houston Republican has emphasized how he will press next year for public school students to use a state voucher to attend a school of their choice.

Fellow Republican Brian Birdwell stands alongside him in the headline-grabbing category. The Granbury state senator told the Texas Tribune last week that he will lead a campaign in the 2013 Legislature to repeal the Texas law that lets children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s universities.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Bill Zedler of Arlington told Reporting Texas this week that he wants to keep those same children from also getting financial aid from the state to pay for tuition.

The attention they are giving these emotionally charged issues would make you think these are Texas’ only education problems. But that’s far from the truth.

The more serious challenges are less emotional, but more relevant to schools and students. They range from developing more quality teachers to fine-tuning Texas’ system of holding schools accountable to ensuring adequate funds for districts. Focusing on fundamentals like those will help students become proficient in the core subjects they need for a good job or a ticket to college.

Don’t get us wrong: Vouchers and in-state tuition aid matter, and this newspaper has supported each of them.

We’ve long backed a pilot program to try to determine whether vouchers could benefit students stuck in perennially failing schools. If vouchers improve achievement, that would be a great thing. In regard to the second issue, we believe children who are brought to the state by their family shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ decision if they have done well enough to get into college.

Most important, neither a system of vouchers nor a repeal of in-state tuition aid will solve Texas’ education problems. And that leads us to this question: Will Patrick and others let the session devolve into fiery debates over sidebar topics? If they do, it could become impossible to move on to more central school problems.

To his credit, Patrick has been an informed leader on other education subjects. For example, he backed legislation in 2011 by Republican Florence Shapiro of Plano, the retiring head of the Senate Education Committee, to apply best practices to Texas’ middle schools. He also supported her proposal to help districts better develop their teaching corps.

Those bills died in the House, so does Patrick plan an equal emphasis on them? Does he have a best practices idea in mind for other education challenges?

Parents and students across Texas should hope he does. The fundamentals of a good education matter more than school issues that grab headlines.

Key education challenges

Here are the issues that this newspaper believes most need Texas legislators’ attention:

•Making sure universities are graduating teachers with promise.

•Creating ways for current teachers to develop their skills.

•Restoring funding for public schools.

•Upgrading but maintaining Texas’ school accountability system.

•Letting students carry the same tuition rate through four years of college.

This editorial appeared on the DallasNews

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