Education, business call for action on school funding - Odessa American: News

Education, business call for action on school funding

Odessa American | Posted: Monday, June 29, 2020 5:18 pm

A coalition of education groups, chambers and others have written a letter to top state officials asking them for support — financial and otherwise — as schools reopen this fall.

Addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller and lawmakers, the letter asks that they create or use an existing statewide task force to focus on key challenges posed by COVID-19 to public education.

“The task force should provide the necessary tools and guidance for schools and districts as they navigate the new realities posed by COVID-19. In particular, we would urge you to assess six key areas:

>> Maintaining funding; connectivity, access to technology, and contingency planning; professional development; assessment and support for students; health and safety; and acknowledging the economic costs of inaction.

“If our schools stumble, we all stumble,” the letter states. “Failure to support our public schools and generate trust in the state’s and local districts’ ability to deliver quality education will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences on our economy, our workforce, and our future prosperity. Today, with an unemployment rate of 13 percent and 2.4 million Texans filing for unemployment in the last 90 days (the vast majority of whom do not have a post-secondary credential), we must ensure our schools are prioritizing college, career, and military readiness more than ever so that students are prepared for in-demand, high-value jobs.”

“Texas will not recover until our public schools recover. We urge you to act now — for our students, our citizens, and our future,” the letter states.

Amy Dodson, regional advocacy director for Raise Your Hand Texas for West Texas, said the coalition includes 19 key educational groups, business leaders from around the state to talk about how important the recovery of schools is to not only students and teachers, but to businesses and the long-term future and economic health of the state.

Dodson noted that being in West Texas, people here know that everything centers on the schools.

“… This is just a joint statement to our lawmakers thanking them for the all the work they’ve done on education in the past, but just asking them some things to make sure we keep moving forward and have strong reopening of schools next fall,” Dodson said in a June 29 phone interview.

Asked about discussion that some legislators may not want to fund districts fully if some students are learning at home, Dodson said the Texas Education Agency has given some guidance about how that will happen.

“The first couple of six weeks likely will not have any changes in funding to schools if students are not there …,” she said.

She acknowledged that TEA has not yet issued guidelines but maintaining funding to schools to meet the needs of students is going to be critical.

There will likely be additional costs with personal protective equipment and transportation, for example.

Safety, she said, is at the forefront of every superintendent’s mind.

Connectivity is another matter that has been laid bare by the pandemic.

“The districts have tried very, very hard to make sure that every student has what they need to learn and has that connectivity but that comes at a price. Sometimes even getting a hot spot may not be enough,” Dodson said.

If you’re in McCamey or Crane and you don’t have cell service, hot spots are not going to work.

Teacher training, or professional development, is another issue. She said Ector County ISD is doing a great job working with their teachers to make sure they know the best ways to effectively educate students.

Dodson said it’s hoped that lawmakers, Morath and other officials will read the letter quickly and take action.

“… Obviously we hope that it’s read and read very soon and (if) there’s a task force to be created, or a group of experts from public education, from public health and technology, for all the areas that need that need to come together we hope that could be something that can be talked about quickly and mobilized quickly to give the guidance to schools that they need because … school has to start and whatever we can do as quickly as we can do it to get good information and critical information to help them do it well is really important to us,” Dodson said.