Last week, I had meetings in Austin with our legislators along with Lori Rapp, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction; Leigh Ann Lewis, East Zone Leader; Buddy Bonner, Central Zone Leader; Scot Finch, Hebron High School Principal; Kecia Theodore, Lewisville Learning Center Principal; Cynthia Jaird, Central Elementary School Principal and Chris Mattingly, Brairhill Middle School Principal. The purpose of our meetings was to advocate for Lewisville ISD’s students and staff, as well as for all Texas public school children.
Throughout these two days, we visited with Senator Jane Nelson, Representatives Tan Parker, Ron Simmons and Pat Fallon. We were also able to meet with policy leaders working with Senator Larry Taylor, Senate Chair for the Public Education Committee; Representative John Otto, House Chair of Appropriations Committee; and Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, House Chair of the Public Education Committee. All of our legislators and policy leaders were very welcoming and appreciative of our teachers’ and principals’ hard work.
During our visits, we discussed school finance, vouchers/tax credits, relief in STAAR testing, community-based accountability and rating systems. All of these topics are vitally important for all the children we serve.
School Finance – We need relief
As you may know, many school districts, including LISD, filed a lawsuit to fight the current public school funding system. School districts won in District Court and now the case is waiting to be heard in the Texas Supreme Court. The purpose of this lawsuit is to direct the legislature to develop an adequate and equitable funding system.
To provide some background, Texas public schools experienced major budget cuts in the 82nd legislative session. For LISD, this was a $54 million reduction. During the 83rd legislative session, the state returned some funds to Texas school districts. Some received all or almost all of their funds except for LISD, which received $12 million of the $54 million lost. This is a significant gap and we hope this continued inequity is addressed during this session.
Texas school finance can be confusing. Local school districts are penalized when property values increase. The additional local tax dollars generated due to increasing LISD property values go to Austin to balance the State budget. The State needs to increase its share of funding for school districts by returning the money, in full, that was cut from LISD in 2011. As of the Spring 2015, LISD has never recovered the almost $40 million reduced from the 2011-2013 biennium.
Whether it is House Bill 1759 or another bill, our legislature must provide a financial system that doesn’t crush school districts. We hope our legislature will come together and put Texas children first.
Vouchers/Tax Credits Senate Bill 4 Erodes Public Schools
While we recognize the need for schooling options, we do not support Senate Bill 4. This bill would allow your local tax dollars to fund private and charter schools with no accountability. We support multiple learning pathways and options; however, we believe all schools receiving tax dollars should be held accountable the same way; otherwise this bill seems to be a purposeful intent to erode our public schools.
Texas public schools educate approximately 94 percent of Texas’ children. My question to our legislators and voters is: If our children are the most important asset then why aren’t we ensuring each and every child has the resources to be successful? Our youth will soon lead our great state with the challenge of keeping Texas economically thriving for many more generations to come.
Community-based Accountability System allows Citizens to Determine What’s Important
Accountability is incredibly important. Our district values an accountability system that truly reflects the quality of instruction, student learning and operational efficiency. To achieve this form of accountability, we believe in a locally developed system mirroring our community’s values.
With elected School Board members who hear directly from citizens, they are best suited to work with our community to develop a community-based accountability system outlining expectations and effectiveness of our schools. Together, we can build a system echoing what our community believes is important – not a one day, fill-in the bubble scantron test developed by a multibillion dollar company. The state’s version of accountability determines your child’s eligibility to be promoted to the next grade level, as well as labeling your school with a letter A-F grade based on this single test. The current state testing and Senate Bill 6’s A-F rating system is unfair and punitive.
Hoping Our Governor Pulls Through
Throughout this session, Texas moms and dads have hammered our legislators to help seniors who are at-risk of not graduating due to failed End of Course (EOC) tests, despite passing their coursework and meeting the state’s high school credit requirements. Our legislators listened and approved Senate Bill 149 paving the way for seniors to graduate this May. Now, this bill is on the Governor’s desk to sign.
This bill will allow seniors to graduate if they pass two or more EOC tests. We hope the Governor acts swiftly and signs this bill, which will go into effect immediately.
We All Have a Voice
As we near the end of this legislative session, it’s a pivotal time in our state’s history. Our children are this state’s future, and we as parents and citizens must voice what we believe are in the best interest of our children. If we don’t take the time to vote or call our legislators, then we are leaving our children’s future in the hands of a few in Austin. If you would like to learn more about our district’s legislative agenda, or who in Austin represents LISD, visit www.LISD.net.
Dr. Kevin Rogers is Interim Superintendent of Lewisville ISD and lone finalist for LISD’s superintendent position.