Where do YOU stand on the issue of public school funding?

I sat down to write this column, knowing you would be reading it on the final day of the Special Session. Today we will know if the House and the Senate came to terms on the 20 issues the governor called for in his Special Session agenda.

As you know from reading my Summer Series on TRS-Care, this biennium was brutal for retired teachers in Texas. It has also been merciless to the state’s public education system.

Last Friday, the Senate Education Committee met and, in the end, voted 9-1 to pare down HB 21 from the $1.8 billion the House sought to $311 million. Sen. Van Taylor was the only dissenting vote. I have to admit I was shocked and disappointed that Valley legislator Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., voted yes.

HB 21 (authored by Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the House’s Public Education Committee) passed overwhelmingly in the House in its original state. It called for the following:

1. To increase the base amount public schools (including public charter schools) receive from the state, per student, from $5140 to $5350. (Quality Counts, put out on annually by the Education Week Research Center, issues “a report card on the state of education for the nation and states.” Based on the data they collect, they give each state a grade in Chance-for-Success, School Finance, and K-12 Achievement. Quality Counts 2017 gave Texas a grade of B in equity (85.4) and a grade of F (46.3) in spending, for an overall School Finance grade of D (65.9))

Last Friday, the Texas Senate removed this item from HB 21, despite the fact that nearly 1500 Texas school superintendents and school board trustees signed a letter supporting this much-needed additional funding.

2. To provide a hardship grant for districts losing Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction in September.

The Senate kept this in its version.

3. To increase funding for students with dyslexia, students who are English-language learners, and career and technology programs for eighth graders.

The Senate cut this, although they said that during negotiations with the House, they may return funding for students with dyslexia and students who are ELLs.

The Senate also added $41 million to help small school districts in the state and another $120 million to help public schools (including charters) pay for construction of campuses. Helping charter schools with “brick and mortar” has faced strong opposition because opponents do not support charter schools receiving these funds when they have different state-mandated standards than traditional public schools in the state.

Where do YOU stand on HB 21? This session, more than any other, has taught me how critical it is for all of us to get, and stay, engaged on critical issues. Education does not just affect students and their parents, of course. It affects the future of our community, our state, and our nation. Here are some questions I would like you to think about and to answer:

1. Should the state increase funding for our public school system?

2. Should public charter schools receive funding for construction?

3. Article 7, Section 1, of the Texas Constitution reads: A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools. Do you think the state is making suitable provisions for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools? If not, please explain.

Let’s have a conversation on the Valley Town Crier’s Facebook page! If you don’t have Facebook, please send me an email, and I will add your comments to the discussion.

It’s high time we had a community conversation about this.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. Her portrait was taken by Sarina Manahan.