Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with members of a Dallas-area public education advocate organization, Stop the Takeover (STO), and to share mutual perspectives on some of the issues facing public education as we approach the start of the 85th legislative session on January 10. STO had initially evolved when the home rule discussions surfaced in Dallas ISD and they remain committed to advocating for public education. I am encouraged by the number of individuals who are motivated to take action in response to the continued attacks on public education at both the state and national level. The Texas House is certainly more education “friendly” and while the Senate is largely along party lines today, I sense that some of the demarcation is beginning to dissolve.
The discussion with STO advocates centered around the 3 or 4 topics that are most often mentioned today when discussing public education, including recapture and where those dollars are ultimately allocated, transparency, special education, and the seemingly never ending discussions about vouchers (by any name). As we discussed these and other topics, we found common ground that provides a great foundation for future discussions.
A couple of quick thoughts as I reflected on the discussion. First, there is greater opposition to a voucher program than the Lt. Governor chooses to admit. Related to that is the discussion about transparency and accountability for how dollars are allocated and how outcomes are driven. In my conversations with parents whose children attend private schools or are home schooled, I have yet to find an individual who believes a voucher program is good for them.
Second, special education will be a key topic; of note, the possibility that Rep. Huberty may introduce a bill allowing for special education vouchers suggests that there is a need for dialog in this area. Instead of focusing on vouchers as a proposed solution, we must first understand the issues.
Third, budget discussions among legislators will be tense and tightly contested. With the continued pressure on oil and gas prices and the constitutional requirement that the legislature approve a balanced budget, the discussion about property tax relief will be a hotly debated. Fourth, the discussion about state funding of public education will continue. With the state’s share declining and likely continuing to do so, Rep. Donna Howard has filed HJR 27 requiring that the state maintain 50% of the cost of public education.
I once heard that there is no such thing as bad press and I guess that is true to a certain extent. While public education is a target for some, the reality is that public education is a topic about which many people are talking. There seems to be much more passion and advocacy for public education than there was as we approached prior sessions and I believe that is positive. However, the momentum being created must be sustained; we all must continue to focus on the needs of the more than 5.3 million Texas public education children and continue to make education a priority.