School funding tops districts’ wish list for Legislature
By Laurel L. Scott
Increased funding for public schools tops the wish list of area superintendents for the 83rd Texas Legislature, which opened Tuesday.
“I would like to see them restore the funding they cut in the last biennium,” said Pat Henderson, superintendent of the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District. “We’re still dealing with that.”
The 82nd Legislature cut nearly $5 billion over its two-year budget from what it would have paid out to schools, based on its own per-student formulas. The education cut was part of the Legislature’s effort to close a statewide budget gap estimated to be about $27 billion.
“If not restore the funding, not cut any more,” Henderson said.
Frenship Independent School District Superintendent David Vroonland said the Legislature, however, is unlikely to address school funding while a combined school funding lawsuit representing most of the state’s more than 1,200 school districts and public charter schools is working its way through the court system.
Gilbert Trevino, superintendent of the Floydada Independent School District, also said school finance was a top issue, but he would like to see the issue known as equity addressed by this Legislature.
“That continues to be our greatest issue, especially being a rural school district,” Trevino said. “We are funded just slightly below $5,000 per student and it’s challenging for us, especially in this era of accountability. We have to supply the student with lots of remediation in order to make sure they are successful on the STAAR test.”
Trevino said about 72 percent of Floydada ISD’s 796 students qualify as low socioeconomic, which typically equals a disadvantage when it comes to high-stakes testing such as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
Per student funding — more specifically known as Weighted Average Daily Attendance — ranges from below $5,000 to as high as $12,000 across the state. That difference is known as the equity issue and was one of the issues school districts are suing the state to address.
Vroonland said he is hopeful they also will address accountability concerns raised by the STAAR, which was launched this past spring.
Most of the area school districts — along nearly 900 districts statewide — have approved the “Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students,” which calls for the Legislature to start over on coming up with a statewide accountability system.
Among other issues, the STAAR is a so-called high-stakes testing system, which requires high school students to pass end-of-course exams in 12 core courses in order to graduate.
“I think one of the big things is the accountability system, both how to evaluate schools and the testing itself,” Vroonland said.
“I’m hopeful that coming out of that, we’ll give local communities more of the accountability over schools and less of it out of Austin. (Districts) need to be able to do some stuff for children that I think is vital to their futures.”
Henderson and Vroonland, whose districts are both members of the Fast Growth School Coalition, are also hoping the Legislature will address issues specific to enrollment growing at 10 percent a year or faster.
“Both from a district standpoint and from a local community — infrastructure, roads and such — I’m very concerned about the state’s vision of how to manage the growth,” Vroonland said. “We have to build schools out here in Frenship, as in Cooper, but if the infrastructure is not in place, that’s not possible.”
Henderson said the coalition is asking the Legislature to modify or eliminate what is known as the “50-cent Debt Test,” which limits a school district on how much bond debt it can take on, regardless of the need to build facilities and even if voters are willing to approve the bond.
According to the coalition’s website, a number of fast-growth school districts are at or near the 50-cent limit.
“You need to fund growth, student growth,” Henderson said. “We grew by 470 students this year and those students have needs.”
Trevino said another concern is the school choice movement, which could result in a voucher plan taking money from public schools to pay private school tuition.
“We are not in favor of that,” Trevino said. “What we’ve been told is that they want parents to have the choice to send their child to any school. In essence, they already have that choice and the money does follow the student. For us, since we are the only school district in Floydada, what a student can do is, if they’re not happy with Floydada, is go 10 miles down the road to Lockney.”
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