As the Texas Legislature begins the 85th Session this week in Austin, area school district officials have many of the same legislative priorities while a few focus issues differ.
Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller and Northwest school district leaders are united in their opposition to school vouchers, their distaste for the new “A-F” rating system, the need for more funding and more local control, but have various points of emphasis.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made school choice (giving taxpayer dollars to parents for private and home school purposes) a top priority this session, but area educators say vouchers will hurt public schools.
“Vouchers need new dollars,” Keller Superintendent Randy Reid said. “If we can’t find dollars for public education, how are we going to find dollars for vouchers?”
Reid and Carroll Superintendent David Faltys also question the accountability of private school options.
In a December board meeting, Faltys said that public schools are required to take every child who lives in their area while private schools can reject applicants. Addressing special education and English as a second language needs are costly endeavors that most private schools don’t want to handle.
Faltys also called the A-F rating system, which got an unofficial trial run in a report released Jan. 6 by the Texas Education Agency, “borderline unethical” because of the way schools are sorted and rated. Campuses are sorted into peer groups, so one school could earn a “B” even though it performed better than a school that received an “A” in a different group. The system grades on a strict bell curve limiting the number of “A” schools and requiring a certain percentage to receive failing grades.
Carroll trustees were scheduled to discuss legislative priorities at the Jan. 9 board meeting, after press time for The Courier-Journal, and they plan to vote on them Jan. 23.
Grapevine-Colleyville board members approved their platform at a Sept. 26 meeting.
Their first priority is improving school finance, decreasing the reliance on Robin Hood and eliminating unfunded and underfunded mandates. They also stated their opposition to vouchers and A-F ratings while advocating for more local control.
Trustee Becky St. John said, “We encourage parents, taxpayers, teachers and staff to keep an eye on these issues because we felt they would have the greatest impact on our district.”
Other issues of concern
The Northwest school board included the same issues while adding several other points, including increased funding for pre-kindergarten and preservation of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).
Superintendent Ryder Warren said the national movement to get states out of funding retirement systems prompted Northwest district officials to include TRS in their list of priorities.
While several states in the north and northeast have had big problems with their funds, Texas has a “rock solid” Teacher Retirement System, he said.
“It supports our staff like we feel they should be supported,” Warren said. “It’s a great recruiting tool, and we don’t want the legislature to change the system in any way.”
Northwest and Keller also included points about not adding requirements for ballot language that could promote confusion on bond packages.
The biggest battleground is likely to be funding.
Keller’s Reid said early indications are that state revenue is tight and legislators are talking about cutting taxes. Because public schools lost their court case to change the education finance formula, lawmakers could avoid the issue altogether.
“The funding system is broken,” he said, while the state continues to add new learning requirements and unfunded mandates.
Despite all that, a lot of Texas schools are doing a good job educating students, Reid said, “but you can only pull yourself up so much.”