Back to school season is upon us, and for many, that means endless lists — school supplies to hunt for, clothes to buy, lunch boxes to fill.
This past legislative session, Raise Your Hand Texas developed a list of priorities based on what our programs, objective research, and Texans said would improve public schools. We are happy to report it was a good session for the issues we believed would benefit Texas students and our state. Some went as far as to call the 86th Legislative Session, “the public education session.” Here’s a run-down of how our priorities fared during a session in which public school students were a major focus.
We are especially thrilled about checking full-day pre-K funding for eligible students off that list.
Full-day pre-K has been a bedrock issue for Raise Your Hand and many other organizations for more than a decade. Why? Put simply, because it works. No other investment is more effective at improving kindergarten readiness rates, which are linked to third-grade literacy and many other academic outcomes. Until this school year, Texas only funded a half-day program for eligible students.
Overall, HB 3 pumped $6.5 billion more into our public schools, funding school districts above inflation and enrollment growth for the first time since 2011. In addition to funding full-day pre-K, per-student base funding (“basic allotment”) increased from $5,140 to $6,160. Public schools must spend at least 30 percent of their revenue gain from HB 3 on teacher compensation, with priority given to counselors, nurses, and librarians with six or more years of experience.
Flexible Funding and Increased Student Resources
Raise Your Hand supported the idea that new funding should remain flexible so districts could have more autonomy to determine how to spend it as effectively as possible based on their most pressing local needs. We also supported efforts to adjust the state’s school funding formulas to ensure more resources go to students who need it most. Ultimately, the funding provided by the Legislature was relatively flexible and targeted students receiving special education and dyslexia services, as well as students most impacted by poverty. Additionally, new funding to support dual language programs and services for English language learners will meet a crucial need for our future.
Focusing on Proven Initiatives
Raise Your Hand and other education advocacy groups defeated proposals to tie funding to student performance on a high-stakes test. “Outcomes-based funding” or “test-based funding” had no basis in research, an overwhelming majority of Texans did not support it, and the Legislature wisely declined to adopt it. Another perennial ill-conceived idea of voucher programs that would flow public money to private schools failed to even get a hearing this session. This allowed state lawmakers to focus more on proven practices and programs that work, including the personalized and blended learning model of instruction, which received $12 million in grant funding over the biennium.
The State Share and Property Tax Relief
During the 2019 session, Raise Your Hand advocated for the state to bring its share of investment in public education back in line with earlier levels, when state and local taxpayer shares were closer to equal. While the state share increased from 38 to 45 percent, some of this change was due to the state paying for school property tax relief, rather than making a greater investment in our schools. The plan, which included an ongoing commitment to a 2.5 percent cap on school property tax collections, may not be sustainable within existing state revenue sources. This is an issue Texas still needs to work on and moving forward, we plan to do even more to ensure public education gets the support it needs.
The Power and Promise of Texas Public Schools
We are hiring a dozen regional advocacy directors in the coming months to help further cultivate a pro-public education climate across Texas. We also are developing a new set of priorities and research projects to further advance public education in our state. These efforts, along with the work of our programs and marketing teams to share the power and promise of our public schools, will guide us into the next legislative session and hopefully to more support of, and investment in, our Texas public schools.
We must not allow the great progress made by lawmakers this session to end here. To achieve our potential as a state, every session must be a public education session.