MORE BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW?

Judge Dietz found our current state funding system inequitable, inadequate, and essentially indefensible. But Commissioner Williams then stated, “It should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge.” His statement repeats the sentiments of at least a few other Texas legislators.

On the other hand, the Commissioner has often and admirably trumpeted higher standards for public schools and specifically the need to address minority/disadvantaged student achievement gaps. And I’m sure he would agree that one’s ZIP code should not determine the level of state funding (unlike today). And I believe he knows less wealthy communities need help to overcome significant educational/societal deficits. Moreover, I just read he is now asking for additional funds for his understaffed Austin-based agency (TEA)! So why not applaud the judge who’s requiring equitable and additional funding for all Texas schools?

How is it that public schools are to provide the additional services required by economically-disadvantaged students — without additional funding? Is it realistic to ask teachers or administrators to work harder or longer? They are already under an incredible burden.

Don’t misunderstand. I do not believe throwing money at problems magically improves results. As I wrote in my previous blog, parental guidance/responsibility is the key variable predicting student achievement for both poor and rich kids. But when the family unit breaks down, the schools are tasked with doing more for those who need it most. Our educators already volunteer way above and beyond — with both their time and their personal funds. They can’t shoulder the burden alone. Additional staff and resources are needed for even more tutoring, mentoring, technology, after-school activity, and other services. Such supplements aren’t free.

Now with regard to Pearland ISD, we are judged by the Texas Comptroller’s Office as a FIVE-STAR district for financial efficiency and student performance. We are one of fewer than a dozen school districts (out of over 1,000) that has achieved this rating every year. Why? In state funding per student, we currently rank 38th out of the 50 school districts in the Houston region — and yet out-perform almost all of them. But like every other district, we have achievement gaps among our student sub-populations. Thus, the phrase “blood out of a turnip” comes to mind. Equitable and adequate funding will help.

Commissioner Williams is an admirable example of an African-American man overcoming obstacles on his rise to the top of Texas leadership. I believe his dedication to increasing minority/disadvantaged achievement is sincere. But I urge a stronger stand!

If you want achievement to climb, “let our people go” by empowering educators and students to do more. Equitable and adequate funding helps that happen.

 

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