In the wake of the Texas Supreme Court ruling on school finance in May, the 2017 legislative session has a renewed importance to Texas school districts.
The San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) board unanimously adopted five priorities for the 2017 legislative session at its board meeting on Sept. 19. The priorities were aimed at adequate funding and accountability, and ensuring that the district has the tools it needs to serve its students.
SAISD Legislative Coordinator Seth Rau presented the district’s 2017 legislative priorities, which had already been approved by the board Governance Committee in August.
Priority 1: Ensure that the A-F accountability system is fair to urban and suburban districts alike
SAISD is currently the only district in the Texas School Alliance advocating for the A-F system, Rau said.
The system allows for increased transparency and for SAISD to set clear goals and measure progress, according to Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1).
“The first goal (of the district’s 5-year plan) was making sure that 70% of our schools would be A or B by 2020,” Rau explained.
While the district is advocating for the A-F ratings, board members want to ensure that the system does not favor affluent school districts. Right now SAISD has representation on both State committees that influence the construction of the accountability system. SAISD Senior Director of Accountability, Research, Evaluation, and Testing Theresa Urrabazo sits on the Accountability Technical Advisory Committee (ATAC) and Lecholop sits on the Accountability Policy Advisory Committee (APAC).
“We are the only ISD in the state of Texas with a representative on both of those committees,” Rau said.
Priority 2: Create an Equitable School Finance System
While the district has taken steps to adequately fund itself through the proposed bond and Tax Ratification Election (TRE), there is still work to be done at the state level.
Even though the district has the bond and the TRE, it “doesn’t mean we’re giving up the fight at the legislature,” Rau added.
The district would like to see updates to the weight system that determines how much a district receives for economically disadvantaged students as well as English language learners. Right now these students are financed by the State at a 20% and 10% rate, respectively, both above the basic allotment for per student funding.
The district also plans to maximize matched dollars from the State, should the TRE pass, and explore other funding streams, such as the New Instructional Facility Allotment program (NIFA).
Priority 3: Defend the District’s Innovation Flexibilities
SAISD took advantage of flexibilities provided by the legislature to waive class-size minimums and alter the length of both the school day and the school calendar. Currently these flexibilities are being challenged at the state level by the tourism industry, according to Rau. Tourism representatives have claimed that the extended calendar will eat into the industry’s summer profits. Such protests have brought together school reform advocates and teacher groups who agree that children’s best interests should not be subject to the tourism industry’s bottom line.
Priority 4: Invest in Early Childhood Education
While many took hope in Gov. Greg Abbott’s pledge to fortify Pre-K services in Texas, the state is currently underfunding the programs, Rau stated. The $118 million allotted for statewide early childhood services barely covers half of the two years it was designated to fund.
“Unless they double the amount of money they put in they won’t be able to fund Pre-K,” Rau said.
SAISD remains committed to funding Pre-K, but would have to cut back on other programs if the state does not increase funding.
Priority 5: Fund College/Career Readiness
Currently SAISD pays for students to take the SAT or other post-secondary exam twice in their junior or senior year. The district would like to see the state fund these efforts in keeping with recommendations by the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability and the 60X30 initiative.
Rau also gave an update from the the State Board of Education’s hearing on the controversial Mexican-American Studies textbook, which will be either approved or rejected in November. While Rau does not expect the textbook to be accepted into state curriculum, he reassured the board that even if it was, schools would not be required to use it.
“We no longer have to use textbooks that are mandated by the State Board of Education,” Rau said.
Top image: Pre-K 4 SA students hop on board the school bus as the driver extends his hand. Photo by Scott Ball.