The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment heard invited testimony for two days, July 11 and 12, at the Capitol. Chairman Brad Buckley and the 15 members of the committee heard from superintendents and district leaders from throughout Texas, Texas Education Agency staff, as well as organizations representing educator groups and public, charter, and private schools.
Highlights of testimony on a few key themes follows. The House Committee is charged with preparing a report and recommendations by August. 11
- The recommendation to increase the basic allotment was made by several speakers, including Josh Sanderson from the Equity Center, who pointed out that this would result in increasing teacher salaries. An increase of at least $1,000/student in the basic allotment was recommended to compensate for the impact of inflation. Lonnie Hollingsworth of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association also emphasized this point along with asking for funding to pay teachers for training. Bennie Soileau, Superintendent of Huffman ISD representing the Texas Association of Midsized Schools, noted that Texas ranks in the top 10 economies in the world and the lowest 10 state in per student funding. Dr. Michelle Smith, Executive Director of Raise Your Hand Texas, urged the committee to consider funding and accountability problems as important enough to deserve consideration separately from voucher legislation.
- Dr. Bobby Ott, Temple ISD Superintendent, discussed the district’s decision to adopt a deficit budget for the first time in ten years. One reason for the deficit was HB 3, the school safety bill: while it generated $227,000 in new funding, this was not sufficient to meet the Commissioner’s safety requirements or the mandate for armed guards at each campus.
- Dr. John Craft, Northside ISD Superintendent, also anticipates a deficit budget in order to comply with HB 3 and provide teachers with a 3% rase, which falls short of keeping up with inflation.
- Steven Aleman of Disability Rights Texas commented that the number of students with disabilities continues to grow, with about 13% of the total enrolled population identified as special education currently. The Special Education allotment is not sufficient, with a shortfall of about $2 billion annually that public schools must fund.
- Dr. Heath Morrison of Montgomery ISD noted that 29% of new teachers were hired on emergency certifications last year due to the shortage of certified candidates.
- Speaking on behalf of the Texas School Coalition, Christy Rome pointed out that 80% of a school district budget is for personnel costs, and to provide high quality educational opportunities, districts must increase compensation to staff.
- Bobby Garcia, principal of Manor NewTech High School, also spoke about the importance of adequate compensation in recruiting and retaining staff. He said that Manor ISD had to recruit about 25% of its teachers from other countries, and that while the quality of the international teachers was high, they had a cultural learning curve in connecting to the community and students.
- Jason Marshall, testifying for the Texas Association of Community Schools, said that the number one factor in a child’s learning is the quality of the teacher and appealed to the committee to significantly increase teacher compensation.
- Supporters of vouchers/ESA’s including Laura Colangelo of the Texas Private Schools Association explained that private schools are accountable to parents in an immediate way, because parents can withdraw their child and move to another school. Robert Enlow, President of EdChoice, said that the best form of accountability is parents who can vote with their feet.
- Several speakers recommended that private schools be required to meet the same requirements as public schools, for example, for serving special needs students and reporting assessment and accreditation data.
- Speaking on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Jennifer Allmon stated that high stakes testing and overregulation are problems for public schools that they should not be implemented in private schools.
- Dr. Bobby Ott, Temple ISD Superintendent, said that with public schools currently underfunded, the idea of allocating funds to a system that would include nonpublic schools is a bad idea, and Dr. John Craft of Northside ISD added that currently public schools offered parents many choices for a quality education.
Assessment and Accountability
- Concerns about the transition to new accountability ratings were voiced by many speakers, with Dr. Greg Smith, representing the Fast Growth School Coalition, testifying that a hold harmless period should be granted to districts for the first year of a transition. Dr. Ken Gregorski, Katy ISD Superintendent, also recommended phasing in College, Career, and Military Readiness changes with new and incoming students rather than applying them retroactively.
- Dr. Ana Rush of Del Valle ISD explained the impact of changes in the accountability rating on district stakeholders, including investors and developers making decisions about new businesses and real estate developments in their district.
- Justin Terry, Forney ISD Superintendent speaking on behalf of the Fast Growth Schools Coalition, recommended reducing the percentage of a campus grade that was determined by STAAR and reforming the accountability system to include other measures such as extracurricular and cocurricular measures.