I recently had the privilege to visit with our local state representatives; Senator Craig Estes and House Representative Phil King. Joining me were a couple of superintendents and trustees including Weatherford ISD Supt. Dr. Jeffrey Hanks and Trustee Jeff Geyer.
A superintendent/trustee morning conference provided several hundred in attendance with the latest legislative news before our afternoon Capitol visits. The 140-day 85th Legislative Session is well underway. To date, over 1,000 bills related to public schools that have been filed – that number will grow. With a broad view, here’s a summary of the good, bad and ugly news for the day. Being politics, all of this can change tomorrow.
Good, Bad and Ugly News
▪ Good News: On the issue of school funding, both the House and the Senate have placed their initial budget versions on the table. Both have committed to funding student population growth. Over the last decade, the Texas student population has grown by about 80,000 new students each year – the equivalent to adding an entire Fort Worth ISD to the map of Texas annually. In addition to funding student growth, the House version includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education if legislators can make improvements to the school finance system.
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▪ Bad News: Although the House version included $1.5 billion addition dollars, Senate leaders wanting to fix the broken system of school finance have not included the necessary additional funds to do so. In the end, both sides must agree to the numbers. As of this letter, the political winds continue to shift with additional dollars evaporating. As a footnote, per the Legislative Budget Board, Texas is ranked near to the bottom in terms of funding public schools when compared to the nation.
▪ Ugly News: Between the House and Senate, the appetite for vouchers is mixed. Although voucher bills have been filed on both sides, public school advocates are relying on the House to fend off voucher legislation. On the Senate side, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick continues to push for a of voucher program in Texas. My term for vouchers is "Pandora’s box."
Senator Craig Estes Visit
Sen. Estes was clear to say he is willing to discuss the merits of vouchers – I took that to mean he is open to hearing about its disadvantages. Sen. Estes did ask a few questions. Among those, he asked about voucher successes in other states – we shared some of the failures currently taking place. With most of his school districts considered rural, I am sensing Sen. Estes believes the passage of a voucher bill would not significantly impact the schools in his district – another opportunity for us to educate our legislators.
Representative Phil King Visit
Regarding school funding, we appreciate Rep. King for supporting the additional $1.5 billion dollars proposed by the House for public education. And, we applaud him for co-authoring HB 1333 – an ambitious bill that reduces the influence of the STAAR test in multiple ways. However, I wish he was more steadfast in his opposition to vouchers. There is a sentiment that the House might be forced to concede voucher legislation in return for Senate support for any additional public school funds – the word "hostage" comes to mind. In truth, it is too early in the legislative process to see how this will unfold or whether a single dollar will be available. However, we must help educate and support our legislators on this vital issue.
We appreciate Sen. Estes and Rep. King. Both encouraged us to continue the dialog. As a school board trustee, let me encourage you to participate in broader conversations about our local schools. Community participation is critical and will determine the future of public education. Contact your local trustee, superintendent, and/or school administration office with questions regarding public education issues you would like to learn more about. Public schools are for the public good.