Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Fire ... Part 2

I was first elected to serve as a school board trustee in 2005 and, to be honest with you, that represented the first time that I had other than passing interest in what went on in my local schools.  My motivation to run was grounded more in things not directly related to students than what went on in the classroom.  And I found over my ten years of service and working with trustees across the state that this was the case more often than we probably want to admit.

But how times have changed!  Starting with discussions about the impact that testing was having in our classrooms, to discussions about creating additional opportunities for students under House Bill 5, and now to discussions about the potential impact of vouchers (by any name) and an A-F grading system for campuses and districts, students are very much at the center of the discussion (for most, the Lt. Governor and his personal agendas notwithstanding).  In 12 years, I have not seen the galvanization of public support that I am now witnessing across all stakeholders.

As of this writing, there are now more than 220 districts across the state who have adopted resolutions in opposition to the A-F grading system.  And paraphrasing John Paul Jones in 1779, "we have just begun to fight".  Every day, I see social media posts from public education advocates highlighting challenges in the new system, many of which are focused on the lack of transparency in how preliminary results were defined.  But I have yet to see much out of Austin other than the bill filed by Rep. Mary Gonzales that would repeal the A-F grading system.

So our work is not done ... we truly have only begun.  The Lt. Governor is clearly focused on advancing his personal agendas on a number of topics, including vouchers (by any name) and his avowed intent to reduce dollars allocated to public schools, this despite the findings by the Texas Supreme Court that the current system meets "minimum constitutional requirements".  Since when do we (other than the LG and his followers) accept "minimum" as an acceptable standard for anything?  And how is "minimum" impacted by a potential reduction in funding?  I just don't see how a reduction is anything other than maybe an initial chit in yet another school finance law suit.

I offer two suggestions.  One is to encourage increased advocacy by all stakeholders.   There are two groups in particular that I would like to see step up a bit more.  The first is teachers, the second students.  In all of the discussions, we don't hear much from either although there is certainly an uptick in effort by teachers.  Kudos to them for stepping up.

The second suggestion, and one that I am pursuing with my representatives, is to try to find a sponsor for legislation that would require the legislature to allocate funds collected as taxes for education back to education and not the general fund.  The LG brags on the fact that legislation in the 84th session required that dollars collected for transportation be allocated to transportation.  Why would he not support the exact approach for education tax dollars?  So far, no takers in Austin but that doesn't mean I will give up trying.

I posted a tweet last week suggesting that we use the "incessant drivel" of the LG about vouchers and the A-F system as motivation to engage and act.  The more we talk about these considerations, the more I see increased engagement by those who are committed to make education a priority.  The fire continues to burn!

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