The perspectives of education stakeholders on the barriers to school finance reform in Texas



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Everyone seems to be calling for educational reform in Texas public schools, specifically school finance reform. Education policy advocates and newspaper editorials long have lobbied the legislature for such reform. Although educational reform is a prevalent phrase in the public policy arena, all parties involved in the policy-making process may not agree on the opportunities for, encouraging factors for, and factors that prevent school finance reform in the Texas legislature. As public education stakeholders gather to define, refine, and create school finance reform through policy initiatives, it is imperative that all parties understand each other’s perceptions of the need, definition, and purpose of reform. Despite research focused on the limitations in governmental reform and political change, little research has examined the perspectives of various stakeholders about the barriers to education reform as well as a dearth of research about the barriers specific to school finance reform in Texas. Therefore, this qualitative research involved 34 interviews of 6 elected officials, 15 state agency employees, 10 educational advocates, and 3 high-level staff of elected officials. The research sought to determine key stakeholders’ perceptions about public school finance reform, the issues or activities are identified as barriers to achieving such reform, the policy and political implications of such barriers, and how the experiences of these individuals impacted their perceptions of the possibilities for school finance reform. One general theme emerged: perception. From the perspectives of the research participants, the presence, or lack, of perception governs the dynamics of the legislative process and the efforts to reform school finance policy through that process. Unifying the central theme of perspective are the following three factors: (a) political, (b) interest group, and (c) external factors. Six subthemes emerged regarding political factors: (a) perceived lack of leadership, (b) political turnover, (c) the 2003 power shift, (d) political pressure, (e) staff turnover, and (f) loss of institutional memory. Three interest group communities emerged as well: (a) the business community, (b) the education community, and (c) the public. Finally, external factors included population, time, voter apathy, lack of participation, taxes, the economy, and the nature of the problem.