Smith: Texas Public Schools Need Our Help

By Dr. Michelle Smith

Vice President of Policy and Advocacy
Raise Your Hand Texas

Friday night football games, choir concerts, one-act plays, and halftime marching band performances…

Meals for hungry kids, counseling, childcare, and vital support services for special needs students…

As Texas families ponder the beginning of the school year, they’re understandably mourning what they’re missing and frustrated with the options before them. COVID-19 has taken so many things away from us, and what we had hoped would be a short-lived challenge has turned into an ongoing nightmare.

For some Texas families, COVID has also exposed the vulnerability of their daily lives, particularly related to work, access to housing, and even putting food on the table. Meanwhile, an essential lifeline, their local schools, has been yanked away, and the mental, emotional, and academic ramifications for students may be evident for years to come.

In March of this year, there was an outpouring of support for teachers everywhere. As time went on, the enthusiasm for teachers was replaced by frustrations with remote learning, which, while a necessary option for now, has revealed that nothing can replace the effectiveness of in-person instruction and a great teacher.

Now, at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year with the reality of more virtual schooling, parents are getting creative on behalf of their students. All sorts of temporary learning-from-home scenarios have emerged, including the concept of “learning pods,” some led by parents and others by teachers or tutors. If kids can’t be with their teachers right now, at least they can share their learning with a few of their friends.

For those exploring such creative learning possibilities, we have one simple request:

Use them to supplement your child’s remote, in-person, or hybrid public schooling — not as a replacement.

Enrolling your student in your public school ensures they still have access to the best-prepared teachers, access to the best resources and systems designed to help meet the needs of all students, and, whenever we can all get back to a more normal in-school experience, access to all the other things we miss — sports, arts, academic, extracurricular, and other offerings only provided by our public schools.

COVID-19 not only threatens our health, livelihoods, and economy, it threatens the ability of our public schools to support the interests of our local communities over the longer term.

Texas bases school funding on daily student attendance. Clearly, this could prove to be a very real challenge this school year though it’s through no fault of our schools. School districts must prove to the Texas Education Agency that students are still learning, whether at home or in school buildings. If students do not enroll, they will not be counted. Hypothetically, that means if 10% of students don’t re-enroll, the district will see about a 10% budget cut this school year, which will almost certainly mean teacher layoffs. It would mean fewer counselors, librarians, nurses, and other support staff and possible long-term impacts once COVID-19 is behind us and more students begin to return.

How can you help?

  • Reach out to your school district, explore your options for remote or face-to-face instruction, and enroll your child.
  • Tell your state representatives to fund our schools for the entire school year based on the previous year’s enrollment. Tell them to give our schools what they need to meet students’ needs and keep everyone safe for the entire school year.

Is the 2020-21 school year going to be normal? Of course not. Are we eventually going to get back to some sort of normalcy? Absolutely. Opening schools is essential to a strong recovery and is a shared responsibility among our state leaders, local school districts, parents, and students. If we take care of our public schools, and by extension of our communities, they will be strong enough to take care of all of us in the future.

Please enroll your kids and make your voice heard. Because a strong Texas recovery requires public schools.

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