By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
When three superintendents spoke before the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce telling them how well their schools were doing, they were more than a cheering squad.
They wanted to make clear that their public schools are worth fighting for with state legislators and asked for help getting the state to fund education. The Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) led the state in a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. They lost.
The Supreme Court said the school funding system is broken and it’s the legislators’ job to fix it, said FBISD School Superintendent Charles Dupre.
He said the public needs to get involved and the nearly 400 people present Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce State of the Schools address need to contact their legislators and tell their friends and neighbors.
“From 2007 to 2016 the state went from funding 51 percent to funding 37 percent and that fallen 62 percent falls to the local taxpayers. Our residents are paying taxes the state should be funding,” Dupre explained.
Dupre said educators are constantly questioned on why they can’t get relief if tax values are going up. But the schools are not getting that money.
“The state structure is when your value goes up, they give us less. They keep that money and spend it how they want to spend and we need you to respond to that,” Dupre said.
“Last year, we left $20 million on the table we should have got. Our funding was reduced by $20 million. We’re talking about it in our board rooms and we want you to talk about it,” Dupre said.
Dupre, Lamar Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Thomas Randle, and Stafford Municipal School District Superintendent Robert Bostic each addressed the Chamber of Commerce for the annual State of the Schools address. The event was held at the Safari Ranch in Richmond.
The luncheon address featured the superintendents who praised their district achievements such as the Lamar CISD, which received 75 distinction designations in reading, math, social studies, student progress, most improved, and post-secondary readiness.
The Lamar CISD is also proud of its culinary program at Foster High School, which is rated “No. 1” in the Houston region by the Texas Restaurant Association.
The Stafford MSD, which presented its color guard in ceremony, is the state’s only municipal school district, Bostic said. They are cost effective by using the city’s pool to teach swimming to second and third graders and they use the maintenance barn to house school buses.
To make sure parents are prepared to help their students, the district offers the innovative parent university, a community collaborative to help parents become full partners in their children’s education.
The goal is to increase parent involvement so they provide free courses and workshops on topics like preparing for state assessments, tips for second language acquisition and college and career readiness.
“Any child in Fort Bend County is getting an outstanding education,” said Dupre. “This is not a competition but a celebration of Fort Bend County schools,” he said.
In the FBISD there are more than 74,000 students in 76 schools. The diverse school district has students who speak more than 90 languages and dialects.
“That’s three times as many translations than were in Rio,” during the Olympics where Fort Bend alumni Simone Manual brought home the gold, Dupre noted.
Because it is so diverse, 12 percent of those coming to the district do not speak English.
“Our job, responsibility and privilege is to teach them English and we want them to keep their original language,” Dupre said.
A surprising number to many, he said, is that 39 percent of the Fort Bend student population qualified for financial assistance.
“We have many who come to us from poverty. We teach every student, rich or poor, challenged or off-the-charts gifted,” he said.
Because the district is so diverse culturally, economically and educationally, Dupre said the schools need to challenge the “A to F” letter grading scale that will be given to each school building next year.
“What do you think it will be like to attend a school based on one test? How will the parents feel when they have to drive to that school with a letter grade?” he asked.
Dupre noted that some students who come from affluence have cultural capital as well as financial while some parents, who don’t speak English, are already behind. Those differences will show up in test scores.
He said the schools are not against accountability, “it’s about a fair accountability that is honest and productive and lets us respond,” said Dupre.
Charter and private schools can pick and choose who they want to attend, while public schools should and willingly accepts everyone, said Jim Rice the Education Division Chairman of the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce.
Rice also sits on the board for the Fort Bend ISD.
That cherry-picking style can have an effect on student testing, he noted.
More disturbing for Dupre has been the seeming lack of public interest in the future of public schools.
He said that during a legislative meeting, legislators told him they heard from 1,500 constituents on new legislation about fantasy football.
“But almost nothing from this community regarding education funding. Really? Fantasy football is fun but If you can’t do math, you can’t do fantasy football,” said Dupre.
“We need you to call your elected officials and to encourage your neighbors and friends to engage,” Dupre said.