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Uniting as one in upcoming legislative session

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

January 7, 2013

Dear SAISD Staff,

As you know, the Texas Legislature will convene tomorrow for its 83rd session, and we in SAISD will be closely watching critical issues impacting the district, including changes to STAAR, graduation plans and school choice, namely vouchers and charters. We also will continue to follow the school finance trial in Austin, which has the potential to have huge consequences for our District – and, ultimately, our state.
We all need to stand together to address the issues. First, lawmakers must restore the $5.4 billion in funding cuts made by the 82nd Legislature, and then they must create an adequate and equitable formula-based system for funding Texas public schools.
You may have heard that Texas has poured more money into education than ever before. That may be true, but the main reason for the increased funding is the yearly increase of more than 80,000 students, many with special needs.

I've often been asked about the Texas Lottery and how it funds public education in our state. The lottery is one source of funding for public education, contributing about $1 billion to Texas education. However, it will cost about $17 billion to fund public education in Texas this school year alone!

In addition to cuts to formula funding for school districts, a number of key programs took a hit last legislative session, impacting schools throughout Texas. Eliminated were grants for science labs, an allotment that helps pay for construction of school buildings and the remainder of dwindling funding for full-day pre-kindergarten – the state funds only a half-day of pre-k; districts have to allocate money to pick up the remainder of the cost for full-day pre-k.
There were significant cuts, as well, to funding for programs designed to get more students to take Advanced Placement exams and tests; to the Student Success Initiative, which serves students in need of additional academic help, and to the Communities in Schools program, which helps keep students in school.
All these cuts, yet the Legislature increased high-stakes testing and accountability standards. We must make our case for replacing the current high-stakes testing and accountability system with one that encourages engaging student learning, accounts for student academic growth and restores local control. The Commissioner of Education’s recent decision to defer implementation of the 15-percent requirement, which mandates that students’ performance on end-of-course exams count as 15 percent of their final course grade, is a good beginning to restoring some common sense back into accountability.  
It's hard to believe that it's been more than 40 years since the Edgewood District Concerned Parents Association filed a lawsuit contending that the Texas method of school financing violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit claimed that education was a fundamental right and that wealth-based discrimination in the provision of education created in the poor, or those of lesser wealth, a constitutionally suspect class, who were to be protected from the discrimination.
The Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD case of 1973 provided evidence that school districts in the wealthy areas of San Antonio were able to contribute a much higher amount per child than Edgewood ISD and other similar districts. Dr. Jose Cardenas was superintendent of Edgewood at the time and cited that classroom space, library books, teacher-pupil ratio, dropouts and other indicators revealed a distinct advantage of wealthier districts over poor districts. The lawsuit compared Edgewood ISD with the property-wealthy Alamo Heights ISD. 
Fast forward to today, and we're still talking about basically the same thing. At a recent SA2020 education vision meeting, data were shared with several districts. The percentage of students meeting the SAT criterion was provided in rank order for 15 school districts. Alamo Heights ISD ranked first, and Edgewood ISD ranked last. Rankings also were provided for the number of students who are considered college-ready: SAISD ranked 14th of the 15 districts. So, the question begs to be asked, "How much has really changed since 1973?" 
With 1 in 4 children living in poverty, we must provide the necessary tools for all school systems to experience student success and not define their future success by someone's zip code. Money alone is not the ultimate solution, but when 80 percent of a district’s budget goes to salaries and benefits, it certainly helps. I've heard people say that "throwing more money at education is not the answer." My response: "How would Texas know? We've never tried it!"
Now is the time for all of us involved in school systems, along with our parents, community and business representatives, to have one message, one voice. In Texas, we have several professional and support organizations representing counselors, paraprofessionals, teachers, librarians, coaches and administrators, just to name a few. Let's be careful not to allow policymakers to divide us. Let’s voice our need for the cuts made in 2011 to be restored this legislative session. We need to get the message out that we want to invest in education. Together, let's challenge our elected officials to pay attention to our children, for our future depends on them. I am closing today's message with a poem that I thought you might like.

Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent


The Bridge Builder
By Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening cold and gray
To a chasm vast and deep and wide
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The rapids held no fears for him.
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” cried a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting your time in building here.
Your journey will end with the closing day;
You never again will pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide;
Why build you this bridge at even-tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head.
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There follows after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream, which has been as naught to me,
To that fair youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim —
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

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