I watched with great interest last week the joint House Appropriations/Public Education committee meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. My first reaction is to applaud the leadership of Chairmen Otto and Aycock in facilitating a very thorough and informative discussion on a multitude of subjects ranging from recapture to ASATR to the cost of education index. Perhaps what struck me more than anything was the level of detail offered by presenters, detail that would make for a great training curriculum for trustees.
If I had one "complaint", it would be that day one included only invited testimony and while day 2 did include opportunities for others to present, it was only at the end of a long second day. I understand that the committees had specific fact finding agendas when inviting individuals so it is really difficult to actually criticize the intent and outcome. And it was clear to me that those selected were well prepared.
So what do we take from this important discussion? At the top of the list is the fact that this was a very open discussion. Members of the two committees certainly had their individual constituents at heart (specifically referencing questioning by Rep. Walle and Rep. King). But they also demonstrated a keen understanding of the need to focus on the greater whole, the more than 5.2 million students in Texas public schools. I think Rep. Darby put it best when he commented on the need to focus on the needs of this population, not individual districts.
The fact that this was an objective discussion of issues impacting public education is in stark contrast to what I have seen in hearings in the Senate. Without question, this is a function of leadership in each chamber, with one specifically tasked to validate the continued desire of the Lt. Governor to promote a voucher program (by any name). On the other hand, the House seemed to me to be taking a much more objective approach to the issues included in the Speaker's interim charge to the Public Education committee.
I encourage anyone who is an advocate for public education to listen to and closely analyze the considerations raised by those providing testimony. Whether a citizen or trustee, there are significant opportunities to better understand the challenges and ways to perhaps address these. The leadership of Chairmen Otto and Aycock will; be missed in the 85th legislative session. It is now up to all of us to pick up the baton to ensure that we continue to Make Education a Priority.