An open letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick:
With all due respect and contrary to what you may believe, not all of us who represent Texas public schools (the children who attend the schools, not the buildings), are liberals or “educrats,” as you referred to us in your speech to the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Jan. 11.
Most of us are parents, many with conservative views and values, who ran for the school board or got involved in our local school districts in order to improve education and make a difference for the children in our communities and across the state of Texas. As an elected official myself, one of the things I must do is take the time to listen to those who work in the trenches with our children every day and make an effort to understand what is really going on in education. We have to get beyond ideological rhetoric, get to the heart of the problem, and work together to find real solutions. But, it seems that some leaders at the state level are not listening.
You said in your speech that you are listening to your constituents. But, I am your constituent and your message to me was to stay home – to “save [my] money” and “don’t bother to come to Austin to lobby” for what I believe is best for the students in my district and Texas. Well, I am not going to stay home. Not only because I care too much, but also because it is my duty under the law to advocate for public education and the more than 5.2 million Texas children who attend our public schools.
The truth about district finance
I am not going to stop speaking out about the importance of funding the unfunded mandates passed by the state that take money out of public school budgets. The budgets you claim have “8 percent to 9 percent increases per year,” is a figure that is wholly inaccurate (excluding debt service funds which cannot be used for general education purposes.) FBISD’s budget has experienced an average increase of only 2.56 percent over the past eight years, including increased enrollment. In 2017-18, although property values are expected to increase 9-10 percent, FBISD’s total revenue will decrease for the second consecutive year. Also, $45 million was taken out of FBISD’s budget in 2010 as a result of the 82nd Legislature, so these budget percentage figures started from a several million-dollar hole.
The truth about property taxes
I am not going to stop telling the truth about property taxes, which the state government is constitutionally forbidden from levying but seems to benefit from nonetheless. The Texas legislature has created a way around this constitutional prohibition through the school funding formulas. You suggested in your speech that when the property appraisals increase, the school districts are receiving the benefit and the state is “not capping” school district funding. This is simply untrue.
The additional funding generated from rising property appraisals does not go to the school districts. The additional money goes to the state’s general fund and is not required to be used for education at all.
The truth about accountability
I am not going to stop speaking up for a better and more accurate accountability system – a system that is not based on a flawed, high-stakes test (STAAR). I am asking for the repeal of “A-F” not because I do not believe in accountability, but because I believe in fair and accurate accountability. You stated in your speech that this issue is “going to be a battle with our local elected officials and the educrats who have forgotten it should be all about the kids and not all about the adults.” As a parent of three school-aged children, one with a disability, I assure you I have not forgotten that it is all about the kids. Let’s set aside for the moment the stigma for children (not adults) associated with attending a school rated a “D” or “F”. “A-F” accountability is based on a high-stakes test that we know is flawed and not good for kids. I have a daughter who will never pass STAAR and her school is penalized for it. Her failure on this test, which is not her fault or the fault of her teachers, will reflect in the letter grade assigned to her school. This is not good for her, the kids at her school, nor the teachers who work at her school. Accountability must factor in the needs of the child and must allow for multiple ways to assess a child.
The truth about school “choice”
Finally, I am not going to stop speaking out for real school choice, not the mythical system of “choice” that may be considered this session. As a parent of a child with a disability, I am frustrated when I hear state leaders use my child as an excuse to support school vouchers. As a parent and attorney, I have advocated for inclusive education for children with disabilities for 16 years. This notion of “choice” for students in special education is a myth.
There are almost no inclusive private schools in Texas who will admit my daughter, only schools that exclusively serve students with disabilities. These schools do a fine job educating students with disabilities but they do not do it in an inclusive environment, for which the disability community has fought for over 40 years. My daughter is now a sophomore in high school and the benefits of her inclusive education are enormous, but we had to fight for it.
Instead of offering me money to leave the free, public education you are constitutionally sworn to provide, I suggest leaders focus efforts on changing the culture in Texas, particularly in education, to include and educate all students. Create policies that foster an inclusive educational environment where every child is afforded an opportunity to learn with her peers and districts are supported in their efforts to partner with businesses, the community, and faith-based organizations to meet the needs of every child.
I call upon you as a leader in this great state to stop using rhetoric and drawing lines in the sand that serve only to divide. With Texas’s changing demographics, education is complicated and we all must be open to listening and learning to achieve the best solutions for all Texas children. As FBISD Board President, a parent and your constituent, I’m open to your ideas and opinions. I hope you will be open to mine.
I’ll see you in Austin.
— Kristin Tassin
President of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees