Superintendent Message (April 24, 2017)

Legislative update

April 24, 2017

Dear SAISD Staff,

The legislative session is in full swing, and staff members are at the state capitol regularly, tracking bills and providing testimony on those that would have a significant positive or negative impact to our District. Five weeks remain in the session, assuming the budget is finalized on time.

Last week, the main school finance reform bill, House Bill 21, passed the House in a 132-15 vote on Thursday, after a four-hour debate the day before. This bill begins the process of modernizing the school funding system by removing some previous inequities and adding $1.9 billion to the system. For our District, that would mean about $9 million in additional revenue each year. That would be a major boost in helping to fund the work we are doing to achieve districtwide excellence. We are encouraging the Senate to hear and act upon this important piece of legislation in the near future.

Also, we are closely watching the budgets passed so far by both chambers, particularly Pre-K funding. The Governor’s High-Quality Pre-K program, passed in 2015, was removed from both the House and Senate budgets. Though the budgets do include Pre-K funding, the amount is lower than the $117 million that was provided for the governor’s program this year alone. Anything less than $234 million in funding is a cut to schools currently receiving these state Pre-K funds. It is unclear what Pre-K program and the level of funding that will emerge in the final budget. At the current proposed funding levels, we would have to use other local funds to maintain our program and/or scale back in other areas.

Our hope is that public education in Texas will emerge from this legislative session with additional funding. Our state is well below the national average in education spending, even as it educates a growing population of students, including those with educational challenges. State funding formulas for programs that serve special education, English learners and students who live in poverty have not been updated in decades.

Other bills we are tracking include proposed legislation that could help our District gain state funding for facilities, freeing up local money for other needs. HB 1081, sponsored by Rep. Diana Arevalo, would give school districts that repurpose existing buildings access to the state’s New Instructional Facilities Allotment. If passed, it could benefit the new CAST Tech High School, Steele and other campuses that will be making substantial renovations in the coming year. On Wednesday, it became part of HB 21 through an amendment by Rep. Diego Bernal.  

In the area of accountability, the House Public Education Committee passed HB 22, which makes a number of changes to the new A-F accountability system, including removing an overall A-F rating for school districts, grading school districts on three domains (Student Achievement, School Progress and School Climate), instead of five domains, as well as factoring non-STAAR indicators into each domain. The bill would delay implementation of the new system two years, until 2019-2020. 

The Senate version of this bill also includes the domain changes and would delay implementation of the new system by a year, until 2018-19. It does not include other changes. The bill has yet to be considered by the full House, and the Senate has not held a hearing of its version.

Also, we are supporting a bill that we have been working closely with Rep. Bernal on. HB 367/SB 725 would make it easier for districts to donate surplus food to students that otherwise would be discarded. Our Senior Executive Director of Food Services, Jenny Arredondo, testified in favor of the bill before committees in both chambers. The bill passed the House and the Senate and is well on its way to becoming law.

In separate news, last week, I had the honor of serving as a panelist for the San Antonio Regional Public PK-12 Education Forum, along with Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods, Trinity University Department of Education Chair Shari Albright and Victoria Rico, founding chair of Choose to Succeed. The purpose of the event was to highlight education issues of the day, as well as the opportunities and challenges for our region.

In closing, I want to thank you for your continued hard work and dedication to the students of SAISD. We are nearly through the second year of our transformation effort, and I am seeing the change as I visit campuses. That’s because of you – because we are “all in” and working together. Let’s keep the momentum as we push through to the end of the year.