Officials from about 60 North Texas school districts, including Royse City, have united to voice their 2017 legislative priorities – saying “yes” to increased funding and “no” to vouchers and the A-F grading system for Texas schools.
The officials rolled out the new campaign – Texas Students Matter – on Jan. 9 during the Region 10 Area School District’s Legislative Priorities Press Conference.
Superintendent Kevin Worthy of the Royse City Independent School District was the first to speak during the brief event held at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
He pointed to the approximately 60 school officials standing behind him, saying that the superintendents, school board members and educators are united in their effort to communicate the legislative priorities that stand to benefit the 800,000-plus students who attend public schools in the North Texas area.
He said more than 60 North Texas school districts have passed resolutions that illustrate the unified message they want to send to Texas legislators.
“It is our hope when the legislative session convenes tomorrow (Jan. 10), our message will be heard,” Worthy said.
During the upcoming legislative session, said Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams, “it is imperative that school districts collaborate for our common cause.” He then listed the legislative priorities that are included in the resolutions passed by the North Texas school boards.
“We stand to request funding to be increased for all schools in the state of Texas,” Williams said. “One of the things you need to understand is there is an inverse relationship between taxes collected and education contributions from the state. The more local taxes are raised, the fewer education dollars the state has to contribute.”
In 2008, he said, the state’s share of education dollars was 48.5 percent and the local share was 51.5 percent. For the 2017 fiscal year, he said, the local share is expected to increase to 58 percent, while the state’s share is projected to drop to 42 percent.
Williams said rising property taxes across the state is allowing the state to contribute less to public education. It is estimated this year, he added, that the state will spend $3.5 billion less during the current 2015 biennium period.
“What we’re requesting is simple – revenue generated by local tax dollars be returned to local schools,” he said. “That would be in the amount of $275 for this biennium per year, per weighted average daily attendance.”
The $275 would increase the basic allotment for the next biennium to $5,415 per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) – a specialized school finance calculation.
Williams said this would be for all schools.
He said, “It’s for rich schools; it’s for poor schools. It’s for large schools; it’s for small schools. It’s for rural schools; it’s for urban school districts.”
The North Texas schools also stand in opposition to education savings accounts.
“Public schools educate 94.5 percent of all Texas children,” Williams pointed out. “Removing tax dollars from public schools will only harm those schools that are already under-funded.“
“Vouchers will only cover a portion of the cost private school tuition is charging. Therefore, the only schools that will benefit from vouchers will be students from higher income families. Private schools are also not required to participate in the state’s standardized testing program. Furthermore, they are not held to the same accountability standards that public schools are.”
Williams said “we stand to advocate for the repeal” of the new A-F accountability system, which uses A-F to grade schools on four domains – student achievement, student progress, closing the gaps and post-secondary readiness.
He wanted to make it “perfectly clear” that setting the priority to repeal the A-F system was drafted in October, long before the grades were released by the Texas Education Agency a week before the press conference.
“And I think that’s an important distinction,” Williams said. “We have for long said the A-F does not work for all schools.
“In addition, we do welcome accountability. We want that to be crystal clear as well. School districts – these people behind me and these boards – want accountability for our schools. However, it cannot be a system that’s derived 55 percent from STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests. What’s wrong with that system is STAAR test is a one-day assessment. It’s given once a year and it’s not a true meaning of student learning. True assessment takes place over multiple occasions throughout the year, not during one-time measure.”
Worthy agreed with Williams.
“I would like to stress that we support accountability, and we believe that accountability can have a positive impact on higher expectations,” Worthy said. “However, we don’t believe a one-time assessment on one day of the year can truly provide an accurate look at our schools.”
Also, Williams said, the school officials believe that accountability must be community-based. He insisted that it cannot be a system that is 90 percent driven from state standards.
“The school districts you see behind me are individual school districts,” he said. “We are known as independent from the standpoint that all of our districts are different. A system that is 90 percent based on one-size-fits-all does not work. The needs that we have for our kids are needs that need to take place by our local boards and our local communities, saying this is the standard for us.”
Williams told a story about a third grader’s test anxiety. He said the mother reported that her daughter was so upset and concerned about upcoming testing that she didn’t want to go to school, she couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to eat.
“Any system that causes our third-grade kids that much anxiety is not a good system, and A through F will only exacerbate that,” Williams said. “It will only put that much more pressure on the kid, the teacher, the administrators and the board, to make sure that they hit those measures so that we can achieve those grades.”
Williams said the coalition of administrators and board members represents thousands of students, parents and staff members.
“We stand to mobilize our fight for these measures because they are right for the future of education and they are right for the students of Texas,” he said.
He ended his presentation with a request and a reference to the coalition’s slogan – Texas Students Matter.
“We ask all stakeholders to join us in these efforts because Texas students matter.”
Jim Hardin may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.