Many Texas lawmakers said their top priority for the legislative session that just ended was to improve public education. So what did they accomplish?
As part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, three North Texas legislators came to our studios to talk education: Rep. Helen Giddings, a Dallas Democrat; Rep. Diane Patrick, an Arlington Republican, and Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican.
Here’s what they discussed:
- Basic School Funding: The restoration of $3.2 billion of the $4 billion in basic school money that was cut by lawmakers in 2011. Was that enough, given that some districts including Dallas will not receive as much per public funding as they did two years ago? Patrick: "The most important thing we have done is fully fund enrollment growth. In the state of Texas we are looking at a growth rate of about 80,000 to 100,000 students new each year."
- Pre-kindergarten Funding: Only a small portion of school grant money was restored, about $100 million of the $1.3 billion cut in 2011. How will pre-kindergarten programs be affected? Giddings: "I would have liked to have had a specific pool of funds for pre-k. More than we did. Just because we know what a difference it can make in terms of the lives of these kids who often come to the school house two years behind."
- Reduced Testing: House Bill 5 reduced school tests that must be passed for graduation from 15 to five: Algebra I, English I, English II, biology and U.S. history. Patrick: "What this means by virtue of the schedule most students typically take is that they will have completed that battery of tests by the time they are a junior or senior. So that gives them the opportunity to remediate if they need a year or to do that. "
- New Career Endorsements: Under House Bill 5 students could earn endorsements on their diplomas in five areas: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, and multidisciplinary studies. Villalba: "When can you switch tracks? How do you switch tracks? Can you switch tracks from one discipline to another? We’re going to have to find out how that works."