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Texas Should Restore Billions In School Funding, Says Former Asst. Education Secretary

Bill Zeeble/KERA
Tom Luce in the auditorium of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

It’s time to restore the billons that were cut from the state’s education budget more than half a decade ago because the state depends on it, Tom Luce said Thursday at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Luce, the former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, targeted his message to his audience: North Texas business leaders.

“This is about doing what makes economic sense for everybody. This is about the future prosperity of our state. Period,” Luce said.

Future success is at risk, he says, because of the billions in education funding cuts from 2011. Luce says that’s when decades of academic achievement stopped.

“We took $5 billion out of the school finance system,” Luce said. “We reduced what we expect, we reduced what we assess, and guess what? We got what we paid for.”

Luce is not the first person to use these arguments for more state education money — efforts that haven’t worked.

The difference this time? He has data.

“Without data,” Luce said dryly, “you’re just another person with an opinion.”

Luce’s data comes from Commit!, the Dallas based education non-profit. It’s run by Todd Williams, who says the research shows early childhood education and other costly efforts pay off.

“We’ve got to be putting in, you know, somewhere in the $1 billion to $2 billion range per year in the system,” Williams said.

He says he thinks it will make a compounded difference in outcomes.

"Because when only four in 10 of our kids statewide meet the state standard in third grade reading, the system is completely breaking down by the age of eight. That can’t continue.”

Williams and Luce say they both hope enough lawmakers want the results that are backed by the data, so that they’ll pay for it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, which aired on the radio, identified Tom Luce as CEO of the Bush Presidential Center. Ken Hersh is CEO.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.