No strings attached?

I read with some concern the nitty-gritty details buried in Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce policy director and Trib contributor Jessica Attas’ well-researched column about property taxes and our public school funding mechanisms. She writes: “At the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, we stand with our members and businesses in calling for policy solutions that will offer true and meaningful property-tax relief and reform.” And later, “If we want meaningful property-tax relief...we must address the real problem, which is the broken way we fund our public schools, and stop shifting the cost from the state down to the locals.”

While I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Attas that both our property-tax assessment process and school-funding mechanisms are severely broken, I am aghast that she is effectively calling for decreased local control of our public schools. We cannot expect to take more and more state money and, at the same time, also tell the state to stay out of our local school operations. It is illogical to believe that more state funding will not also come with more state strings attached.

Is it really the chamber’s position that they want Waco to have less local control of our local public schools? Because that is precisely what will happen if we shift public school funding onto the shoulders of the state.

Jason Attas, Waco

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Attas is Ms. Attas’ brother. Given we were familiar with Ms. Attas’ points through earlier conversations of our own with Waco City Councilman John Kinnaird, County Commissioner Ben Perry and Waco Independent School District trustee Cary DuPuy, allow us a few notes on behalf of Ms. Attas and the chamber:

The chamber’s stated policy platform specifically states it supports local control. This applies to education, highway rights of way, whatever. It has advocated for local control in many areas, including school accountability ratings.

In her Sept. 17 column, Attas offers examples of how the state has decreased funding while increasing standards, rules and ”strings.” Example: In the 84th legislative session, the governor successfully pressed for a high-quality pre-K grant program. In short, both money and regulatory strings. In the 85th legislative session, the strings stayed but the dollars disappeared. Is there a correlation between state funding and state regulation? Perhaps in theory but not always in fact.

Another consideration: TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) are standards to which school districts are held responsible to teach. The number of TEKS standards has grown over the past 20 years, yet state dollars to implement and bolster them have declined.

We invite Mr. Attas to the chamber’s Oct. 20 addresses by Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and County Judge Scott Felton at Ridgewood Country Club, during which we’re confident they’ll talk some of unfunded mandates. With a little luck, Mr. Attas might be able to score a free ticket.