I had the opportunity during the week of November 28 to sit in on two separate meetings with state leaders, a Tuesday meeting with Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, Chairman of the House Public Committee, and a Wednesday session with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. What a difference in tone between the two meetings as relates to the needs and future of public education. My summary of the meeting with the Lt. Governor will post on December 8; the following reflects comments and guidance from the Chairman.
Public education is far better for having the leadership of the Chairman over the past two sessions. His focus on education of all kids has been consistent and, under his leadership, significant legislation (e.g., HB 5) has been enacted. With his retirement effective with the opening of the 85th session on January 10, however, there will be a void. Only time will tell if the rumored names to replace him will have the same passion and commitment to serving the needs of nearly 5.5 million students. Chairman Aycock, you will be missed; thank you for your service.
Chairman Aycock opened his comments by talking about accountability, specifically focusing on the lack of accountability under current voucher (by any name) proposals. The reality is that parental engagement is a key part of the accountability equation but the schools must continue to be held accountable for the success of their students. He encouraged those in attendance to use accountability (or the lack thereof) as one of the key messages when discussing school choice.
He also noted that one of the considerations that held up his legislation in the 84th session relating to additional funding for public schools was the division between various school groups, Chapter 41 v. 42, small v. big, rural v. urban. Noting that the complexity of the funding formula drives division between school groups, he encouraged trustees and district leaders to find consensus and build on those areas of agreement.
The Chairman also talked about the projected revenue shortfall and how that potentially will impact school finance discussions, as well as other areas including health and human services and transportation. One of the risks is that the state will continue to transfer increased recapture dollars to the general fund rather than being channeled back into education. He strongly encouraged that one of the key message points for advocates should be a push to retain those dollars in education funding, suggesting that we ask our representatives where the recapture dollars go if not to public education. This should also be a discussion topic with parents and business and community leaders.
What can we expect? Funding discussions will focus on recapture, the ASATR cliff, and enrollment growth. He foresees a “logjam” somewhere in the middle of the 140-day session, a period where each body holds bills as negotiation chits with the other. He also anticipates that school choice may be a topic of a special session. Characterizing the 85th session as a “brutal session”, he stressed the importance of public education advocates reaching out to legislators and their staffs now to begin positioning the messaging relating to public education.
Under the leadership of Chairman Aycock, the House has consistently made education a priority. It’s up to us to build on the momentum created and to seize the opportunity to continue to position its importance as we approach opening of the 85th session.