Private Education

Local philanthropy should enrich the public schools, but winds up having to provide basic support.

The Houston Chronicle

Texans are generous with their money and time, and education is a prime beneficiary. In a state with an adequate and equitable system of financing the public schools, philanthropy would enrich the learning of Texas children. As it is, private corporations and foundations are struggling just to keep the wheels from coming off the school bus.

According to the National Center for Education Information, 40 percent of the nation’s teachers plan to leave the profession in the next five years, almost twice the rate for 1990-1995. Retirement will account for the bulk of the departures from a teacher corps that has aged considerably. But many teachers will leave because they can’t make a living or burn out. Every time a teacher leaves, it costs some school district an estimated $11,500 to recruit, hire and develop a replacement.

The Texas Legislature’s response to these conditions has been a failure to give teachers a raise and the refusal to provide public schools adequate funding. Fortunately, private charities have been more constructive.

The Houston-based Fund for Teachers gives direct grants to teachers for summer sabbaticals of their own design. The grants have sent teachers abroad to sharpen language skills and experience cultural immersion. They have underwritten research to find better ways to teach children with learning disabilities.

The result: retention of experienced and talented teachers; improved classroom teaching; and more student excitement for learning.

H-E-B, the grocery company, supports education across Texas. In the Houston area, the company, its corporate partners and its customers have raised more than $1 million to pay for school supplies for needy children. The need is so great, the National Education Associate reports, that modestly paid teachers spend an average $1,200 of their own money on classroom supplies.

Every year, H-E-B also provides 50 teachers, principals and school districts with grants ranging up to $100,000 in recognition of excellence.

These are but two of the many organizations providing support for Houston-area public schools. Think of how much good they could do if Texas politicians had the decency to provide the basics.