Houston-area elected officials and their staff convened at the Blanson Career and Technical Education High School on December 14 to receive an update from AISD Superintendent LaTonya M. Goffney and hear the District’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session that starts Jan. 8, 2019.
Attendees received a brochure describing in full detail the District’s legislative agenda. The discussion, however, centered on four key areas — accountability, school safety, public school finance and funding for full-day prekindergarten.
“We’re grateful for the support of our elected officials here in Houston and Aldine,” Goffney said. “We hope that as you meet with colleagues that you see there is a strong consensus across Texas that the Legislature must fix school finance by increasing its share of public education funding and removing the heavy burden on local property taxpayers. We hope that you will advocate for public education and make school finance your top priority.”
Elected officials, community members and faith-based leaders also heard from Assistant Superintendent of Finance Tamika Alford-Stephens, Executive Director of Assessment Dawn Rodríguez, Deputy Superintendent Selina Chapa and Assistant Superintendent for Region 3 Elementary Schools Christina Gómez.
Goffney described meeting with superintendents across the region as well as organizations such as Texas School Alliance, Texas Urban Council and the Texas Association of School Administrators. School leaders across the state developed a consensus on legislative priorities.
“We want to ensure that everyone has good information to make good decisions when it comes to doing what is best for students,” said Goffney. “One of the priorities is funding full–day prekindergarten. Everyone wants students leaving third grade and reading at the third grade level. But the only way for that to happen is for the state to fully fund prekindergarten.”
Alford-Stephens stressed that the current school finance system is outdated and is insufficient to meet the needs of growing economically disadvantaged students and English language learners in the District. Currently, the state provides funding for about 20 percent of the District’s transportation costs, with funding based on gas prices from the 1980s. This has forced AISD to cover the rest of the cost by relying more on local taxpayers. Alford-Stephens stated that an allotment increment as small as $100 would give AISD $1 million.
Aldine ISD and other districts seek a state system of public school finance that increases sustainable state revenue sources — e.g. increase in sales tax, increase in cost of education, moving property tax — instead of the current system of shifting funds from one area to another. Districts also want flexibility to use the funds where it is most needed instead of being restricted. When asked where the District would use additional funds, Alford-Stephens said the majority of the funds would be used toward funding full-day prekindergarten.
“It is a disservice to kids if we do not provide adequate financing to public schools,” said Alford-Stephens.
The current state accountability system is not a fair system. Ayers-Rodríguez noted that the current system does not look at multiple quantifiers that show where there is growth and progress, which make a campus great. She added that the District supports Senate Bill 213, which allows for the continued use of Individual Graduation Committees (IGC). The IGC process has been used over the last four year. Supporters find that students graduating under the IGC process are being assessed and measured under a more rigorous, balanced and arguably more accurate program than those graduating under a single STAAR standardized end-of-course exam. SB 213 ensures that students who have passed all of their courses and have demonstrated that they are prepared for college or the workforce will graduate from high school.
“A letter grade does not paint a clear picture of the District, campus or groups of students served,” said Ayers-Rodríguez. “With end-of-course state standardized tests we have to remember that no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how people learn and how they prove what they have learned. This is true of all adults and especially true of the students we educate in our schools every day.”
The District also seeks for the state to equally weight STAAR, CCMR (college, career and military) readiness and graduation.
Several stories from across the country have put an emphasis on school safety. AISD has been ahead of the curve regarding the use of metal detectors in schools. Board Trustee Rose Avalos, a retired school principal, stated the District years ago chose to be proactive to spend the money for metal detectors. Several media stations — ABC, NBC and PBS — featured the District’s use and significant reduction in incident reports on campuses. Chapa discussed that AISD is looking to be reimbursed by the state for any costs toward school safety improvements. Aldine ISD also wants to have flexibility to determine how they will spend funds for safety improvements. The District believes that a key area to help students is to identify children at risk of behavior problems. School leaders seek to fund preventative measures such as counseling and mental health support, which the state currently does not fund.
Currently, the state funds school districts for a half-day prekindergarten program. Gómez shared that AISD has 4,000 eligible students enrolled, tuition free, in 12 PreK campuses. In October, the District launched a PK pilot program for three-year-olds, which has 91 youngsters taking part. Earlier this year, the District also partnered with Good Reason Houston to raise awareness and inform the community about the importance of early childhood education.
“Providing early learning experiences to students in need of this program has a powerful impact,” emphasized Gómez. “The data shows us that eligible students who undergo the program score better than those that don’t. A high-quality, full-day program develops students literacy and numeracy skills that help students succeed in school.”
After some discussion and response to questions, Goffney closed the breakfast with a few words.
The 86th Texas Legislature regular session convenes on Jan. 8, 2019. To learn more about Texas state lawmakers and legislative issues impacting AISD, please contact Abel Garza, assistant superintendent of community and governmental relations, at (281) 985-6202 or by email at [email protected].
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