The current budget crisis offers almost unlimited opportunity. I have said repeatedly over the past several months that I seldom agree with Rahm Emanuel, but I do agree with his observation that “we shouldn’t allow a good crisis to go to waste”. The other recent memorable quote was from Speaker John Boehner: “We can’t kick the can up the road anymore, because we have come to the end of the road. Like Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, we have arrived at Hotel California.” In a certain perverse way, this is actually encouraging.
Why? Because there is no way out except to fundamentally change the way we do business and because our system of federalism encourages the states to lead the way. And Texas is uniquely positioned for this leadership. I offer one example, public education, with which I am reasonably familiar and on which Texas spends about $50 billion annually. We are besieged with woe over the prospect of what appear to be the draconian education spending reductions necessary to balance the state’s budget and, while major reductions will no doubt be in the cards, the most important approach is to change the way we do business in the schools.
The Texas Education Code is chock full of opportunities for strategic transformation in the area of human resources management alone. After all, approximately 80% of education expense is personnel, and the Code and the rules driven by it have embedded large areas of prescriptive regulation by the state into the business of delivering education in over 1,200 school districts, all of which a collection of activist adults, a few “stakeholders”, and some policymakers (often abetted by their vested interests) at one time became convinced were absolutely necessary. These include such items as the single salary scale, the student/teacher ratio, the tenure rules, the teacher assignment rules, the educator certification rules, the teacher dismissal process, school scheduling rules, the prohibition of salary reductions and furloughs in certain jobs, and on and on.
After serving on the State Board for Educator Certification, I know how antiquated our approach to education human resources policy has become. Our organization, the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), is promoting policy recommendations that will move us away from the top-down, compliance and input driven policy approach to one that is not only performance-based, but much more flexible and enabling of innovation in the schools. We have an accountability system; let’s enforce it and allow it to work.
Several of TIER’s board and policy advisory board members participated in the recent kickoff conference for the new Center for Financial Accountability and Productivity, which will offer leadership for moving Texas into transforming the way business is done in our schools. TIER’s soon to be released recommendations for enhanced human resources management segue into the transformational objectives of this initiative and in many ways help lay the groundwork for a complete overhaul in the role of the state in human resources.
These approaches differ drastically from the ham-handed across the board cuts that are feared and, in fact, there are a number of strategic expenditures that represent meaningful interventions to help schools advance student success that we believe should be preserved. But business as usual is out of business, and Texas must use this opportunity to change the paradigm. We have been reform leaders before in the move to academic standards and accountability, and we can do it again.