Math lesson for Legislature

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Here’s an arithmetic problem: While back-to-school shopping, Dave gives his son Pete $10 to buy a calculator. The next year Dave gives Pete only $5 for the same model of calculator, and Pete can’t afford it. After Pete fails math in spectacular fashion, Dave agrees to give Pete the five additional dollars he’d taken away. However, calculators now cost $12. Can Pete afford the calculator?

If you said yes, then congratulations, you’re about as good at math as the Texas Senate Finance Committee.

When the Texas Senate passed its proposed budget on March 20, many hailed it as a major step in repairing the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education from the 2011 legislative session. Those cuts were struck down as unconstitutional by a state district court earlier this year, after hundreds of broke school districts sued the state government in desperation. The new Senate budget restored $1.5 billion for public education. Claiming the matter to be settled, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said, “We have completely funded enrollment growth in public education.”

Not so fast. As Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, brought up during the debate, statistics compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit, nonpartisan  policy institute, show that after adjusting for inflation, the amount of money spent per student at the end of the next biennium will be $185 less than it had been in 2012 and $980 less than it had been before the 2011 cuts. The state’s formula-based funding methodology does not take inflation into account. When presented with the data, Williams responded, “I don’t believe that’s the case, but there’s room for us to disagree.”

It’s admittedly not our strongest subject, but we’re pretty sure math isn’t open to such broad interpretation. Even with this questionable arithmetic, the final budget overwhelmingly passed the Senate. Just don’t be fooled by anyone suggesting this was a resounding victory for public education in Texas. Every first-grader in the state can understand that giving them less money and calling it more calls for voters to expel legislators from the classroom.