There’s been a lot of banter in the news recently about public education. First, a publication from Atlanta, Georgia tried to tell Texas school districts that their test score results were “suspect.” (Watch Superintendent Message).Based on what that publication posted on their website, a district should not expect student scores to increase or decrease significantly from year to year – they should be essentially the same. And if they aren’t materially close to the same, then those scores are “suspect.” What a laugher! What’s suspect is the publications work, and even local media reports question its validity.
The second example occurred during the first preliminary hearing held recently regarding the latest school finance lawsuit. During the hearing different “assessors” or “interpreters” of Texas Public School AEIS Data gave wholly different conclusions about the same information. One group said, ““There is no real financial accountability for K-12 public education in Texas”.” Wow! What does that say about all the reporting that school districts have been completing and submitting to TEA year after year? What does it say about how various groups view our school systems? I can’t help but wonder if there is a political motive behind these kinds of statements, and how educators need to be ready this legislative session to debate such topics. There is information out there that clearly explains how Texas school districts spend their funding – here’s one such example from Friends of Texas of Public Schools, http://youtu.be/5VfqptjaU7I.
School funding continues to a topic of discussion in the media and throughout the state. Although somewhat difficult for those of us with more than 10 years in education to truly comprehend, our state Republican and Democratic leaders alike no long consider public education and our state’s independent school districts as high priority items in the state of Texas. Today’s legislative world is vastly different, and over the past 25 years there have been at least six school finance lawsuit decisions in Texas. The first case, Edgewood ISD vs. Kirby, was filed in 1984 and worked its way up to the Texas Supreme Court with a decision in 1986. The succeeding suits of Edgewood II (1989) , Edgewood III (1991), Edgewood IV (1995), Edgewood V (1998), and West Orange-Cove (2005), all continue to show that the legislature has yet to find a public school finance system that is without problems.
For 25 years, our legislative leaders have “kicked the can” down the road and bandaged the problematic school funding issue without a sustainable solution. Through the years, Texans have accepted this mediocre approach and attitude toward support for education. Then last summer public education resources were significantly cut by the state, to the tune of $4 billion in education general funding and $5.3 billion overall, while at the same time expectations and unfunded mandates were increased. School districts made budgetary adjustments, and many teachers across the state lost their jobs.
These cuts were made in order to balance the state’s budget and were based upon our state comptroller’s projections of a 10% decline in state oil and gas production for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Since the release of the state comptroller’s projections, state oil and gas production is up by 65%. The comptroller’s original projection was based on statewide sales tax revenue remaining at or near 5.4%; however, the state government sales tax revenue is now at 12.8% for this biennium.
It now appears that the state will be some $3 billion or more under budget. I suspect that as we gear up for statewide and national elections, our state legislators will have to find “something” to spend those funds on to avoid looking Draconian. I genuinely hope and trust they will choose to invest those extra dollars into the great public school teachers and staff of this state.
Among all this banter, Duncanville ISD has been an outlier, the exception to the rule or on the edge of what’s considered the norm. We don’t focus on standardized testing or place high stake pressure on our teachers. We managed through the difficulties of state funding cuts without staff layoffs, all while earning a number of awards and recognitions for financial accountability. We’ve been doing more with less for decades, and submitting waivers for larger class sizes is just one example. We are an outlier.
But being an outlier has it pros and cons, some of which concern me. If Duncanville’s great staff can make our students successful with less money, they (the legislators) will think everyone can. If Duncanville’s teachers are loyal enough to stay without a raise (twice in five years), then they’ll think everyone will. They will fund everyone as if they’re all outliers, and find a way to take additional funding away from us and redirect those funds to charters and private schools, saying, “See, we knew they didn’t need the money.” That is a huge concern for me.
On the other hand, there are pros to consider. Being an outlier means you are unique and unlike everyone else, and there are areas in which we want to be the outlier. For example, we want to be unique as leaders in providing 21st century education. At our recent Rotary Teacher of the Year banquet, guest speaker and TASA President and Coppell ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeff Turner challenged the members of our teaching and administrative staff to be leaders. He challenged us to not just continue to be the leaders in 21st century educational change in Duncanville, but to be one of those places that transform education so well that we help change the world. To him, the future of our country – and of our great democracy – depends on us all being outliers.