In a recent meeting with House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, he kept pounding away at the need for consistent messaging. So I go to thinking about what my messages will be and how those align with the organization for which I serve as president, Make Education a Priority. The MEaP board has not met to approve a specific advocacy agenda so I speak strictly for myself when outlining what I see as the key areas of focus for me personally.
I suppose the obvious first choice would be for me to talk about school finance. Candidly, however, I think that would be beating my head against a wall since there are so many already talking about finance. That, combined with the fact that both the Lt. Governor and Speaker Straus included school finance in their interim charges, suggests I focus elsewhere.
At the top of most of our lists is the ongoing discussion about vouchers (by any name). While altering the proposed program every year in response to a lack of support, the Lt. Governor’s continued push for vouchers remains a centerpiece for both sides of the school choice argument. This likely is once again an initiative that will pass in the Senate but not in the House. However, the “threat” of a special education voucher bill, perhaps to be carried by Rep. Huberty, is something we all need to monitor.
A second focus for me is the issue of transparency. Acknowledging that the Lt. Governor will continue to push for vouchers, I asked him about transparency for how dollars are spent and how we ensure that the quality of education at the destination school is any better. Sadly, I did not get an answer to my questions although I have been in dialog with his office. Their response? A third party will likely oversee a review of how dollars are spent by recipients (and who pays for this?) and his office told me accountability for the school will rest with the parents. Clearly, they see no issue with a lack of consistency across school options.
Third is an area that primarily impacts Chapter 41 districts, whose increase in property values means that more money goes to the state every year. There is nothing in state law that requires that these additional recapture dollars remain in education; in fact, they can go to the general fund and help balance the state’s budget. The net net of this, however, is a continued reduction in the state’s share of education funding. At a minimum, we need to push to have dollars for education generated through property taxes remain a part of the education budget.
My final push relates to the planned implementation of the A-F grading system in the Fall of 2017. Commissioner Morath has been talking at length about how districts will receive grades in the spring as if they were under an A-F program. Maybe that release will be the impetus for a public awakening of the negative considerations of such a system. It’s up to us to ensure that stakeholders understand the implications if we go to that system.
There it is. Not really a Christmas present but I am able to wrap a bow around what, for me, are my key messaging points. These clearly will evolve as legislation moves through both chambers but I needed to crystalize my thoughts in order to be consistent in my messaging. I hope that each of you will also take the time to formulate a clearly defined message and then hammer away at it. After all, our kids are counting on all of us to do so, to continue to make their education a priority.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.