Dallas, TX –
Public schools are educating more students who live below the poverty line than ever before. More immigrant students have brought language issues to the forefront. In addition, schools must cope with other issues prevalent in our society - drugs, divorce, and violence.
Enter into this scenario, accountability and school reform on the state and national levels. The Texas Legislature and the state-mandated TAKS test. The federal government and No Child Left Behind. Mix in higher standards and more requirements, and fold into that recipe reduced budgets and diminishing funds. It's like adding a cup of salt to a recipe that is sweet. You won't achieve the intended result! The Texas Legislature is charged with creating a plan for public schools. The plan the Legislators have created definitely does not match the budget they have provided to implement the plan.
Locally elected school boards in Texas have had a daunting task the last few years trying to stretch shrinking budgets to cover the costs of meeting higher standards, maintaining facilities, and providing minimal pay raises to employees. Millions of dollars have had to be cut from budgets, and some of the very programs that help students achieve results have had to be cut. In the Richardson school district, we have made some agonizing decisions - closing a neighborhood school and merging it with another, leaving a brand new school unused for a year due to staffing costs, and eliminating Spanish instruction for elementary students. We have tried to stretch our dollars in the most effective way possible to get the job done for the kids. We have never missed giving at least a minimal raise to our employees, but this brings up a critical issue. How do we continue to pay our teachers and staff on a level that allows and encourages them to stay in the profession?
Class size is one of the issues that pits mandates against funding. In order to achieve success with higher standards, at-risk students in particular must be taught in classes that allow enough individual attention. Smaller classes, however, cost more in terms of staffing. What's a school board to do? The Legislature claimed that there was an increase of $3.9 billion to school funding in the last session. Most of this, however, was the result of accounting changes and increased recapture to the state. Many of the reforms they tried to implement last session were not supported by any part of the education community - a community that has welcomed accountability and transparency. Reform without the buy-in of the educators is no reform at all. We must stop this - it's discouraging to our educators and is potentially running them away from the profession. Public schools in Texas must be funded with adequacy, equity, and capacity in the budget for rising costs. School boards and the public must continue to make their opinions heard in Austin and to work with the Legislators to create a plan for Texas schools. As for the current plan in place, the people of Texas deserve better, and the kids deserve more.
Anne Foster is a member of the Richardson School District Board of Trustees.
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