According to 87th District Representative Four Price, there are many crucial issues facing the state of Texas in the upcoming legislative session.
Price stopped in Borger Thursday to speak to the Hutchinson County Retired School Personnel Association at Frank Phillips College. He said when the 82nd legislative session began, there was a $27 billion shortfall, and many agencies saw their funds cut. He said the field of education saw some of the biggest cuts, because it is the largest recipient of state dollars.
“Almost 60 cents of every general revenue dollar is spent on education, so that is significant,” he said. “Everything else comes out of that 40 cents.”
Across the state, Price said the population is growing at a rapid pace, with 80,000 new students coming into the school system every year. Right now, the state of Texas has around five million students in the public school system. He said there are over 20 states with lower populations than that, so there is enormous demand and stress on the school system.
The legislature devised the funding for districts with a formula system. Even with continued revenue coming in, he said the rise of students in the school system needs to be a matter that is addressed. He said the growth cannot be ignored, and the needs of the school districts across the state do not need to be ignored.
Price said there are lawsuits that have been filed after the last legislative session, mainly dealing with issues of equity and making sure districts are funded adequately. He said the standards are the same for all kids, regardless of each school district's financial status, and this can become an issue.
These lawsuits have been consolidated, and a trial is set to take place starting Oct. 22 on this issue, and he said it will most likely go through January 2013. Price said he does not anticipate any resolution with the school funding litigation prior to the next session starting. There will likely be appeals and the process will probably exist throughout the session and possibly beyond.
For the upcoming legislature, he said this will have an effect on school funding and what will happen. He said these lawsuits were not necessarily a bad thing for rural communities.
“The voice of rural House members and senators can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of more urban members,” Price said. “They have a different type of concern than we do, and it's not that they're adverse to us. They just don't have the same concerns we do. We have to be mindful of that.”
Whatever the decision is on school funding could be an equalizer and helps rural communities in a way that politics and legislation would not be able to accomplish, he said. He said he is not offended by the lawsuits, because the legislature did what it had to do.
“At the end of the day, if the courts come in, and they tell the legislature that another system has to be devised and equity needs to be disseminated in a different fashion, I don't think that's a bad thing,” Price said. “Public education and higher education will continue to be one of the top issues that the House and Senate both address.”
He said he hopes what is best for the kids is kept at the forefront, not just who receives the most money or how the money is going to be disseminated. He said he wants to improve education, not just throw more resources at it.
Another issue of concern for the state of Texas is water, Price said. He sits on the Natural Resources Committee, which deals with water and its policies. He said this part of the state relies on the Ogallala Aquifer as its water source, which is groundwater.
However, when going down into East Texas, reliance is more on surface water, and the coastal area relies on a combination of ground water and surface water. All regions have different sources.
In 2011, the state of Texas experienced the worst single drought on record. It was due to a lack of rain and oppressive heat at the same time. All areas were experiencing the drought.
“What resulted from that was a real clear recognition that we cannot afford to ignore the demands we are placing on our water infrastructure and our need to plan for the future,” Price said.
He said there were people that testified in the House that had communities literally running out of water. It highlighted to everyone that the state has done good in developing plans to address drought issues throughout the years, but water is becoming more of a valuable commodity, which was highlighted by the 2011 drought.
“We saw how quickly and rapidly resources can be depleted,” he said.
According to a plan issued by the Texas Water Development Board, in 50 years if a plan is not developed and funded to take care of this problem, the state of Texas will not have enough water to meet its needs.
The state of Texas is expected to continue to grow throughout the years to come, and water will be needed to continue to support this growth. If the water is not here, people will go to areas where water is more plentiful.
He also said that once a plan is put into place, it will take time to have effect, which is why a water plan needs to be one of the issues at the forefront of the Texas legislature.