By Girien Salazar
One of the top bipartisan legislative priorities, this session, has been improving the Texas public school system by increasing funding. As we approach the end of the session, Texas public schools are on track to receive a major financial investment. While both parties agree on the need to increase school funding, there are still many differences to work out between what the House and Senate want to see in the school finance bill.
Currently, HB 3 is in conference committee where select members will work together to hash out the differences between the House and Senate version of the bill. Texas voters still have the opportunity to encourage their elected officials to support an equitable school finance system.
More than 90 percent of Texas school children will attend Texas public schools. Increasing quality and funding for public schools is critical to having a highly skilled workforce and building a healthy Texas economy.
HB 3 would increase the basic per-pupil allotment for all school districts (from $5,140 to $5,880), which will inject $9 billion dollars into the school finance system. Texas needs a school finance system that propels students out of poverty and helps all students reach their full potential.
Funding full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten is an important tool for closing the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students. The current bills propose an additional $780 million dollars to fund this crucial equity issue. Research has consistently shown that economically disadvantaged children who attend high-quality pre-kindergarten have better life outcomes (higher levels of school achievement, graduation rates, employment, and future earnings) than those who do not. Investing in quality early education programs is one way to close the achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers.
Almost 59 percent of Texas school children are considered economically disadvantaged, and HB 3 allocates greater resources to the neediest students and schools. We have a responsibility to educate even the kids whose family situation or neighborhood, or learning disability or poverty that make showing up every day ready to learn difficult.
HB 3 establishes a grant program for economically disadvantaged students grade 3-8 to access additional services to help improve educational performance. One researcher found that the most common reason for students choosing to dropout of school is having some kind of learning challenge that doesn’t get addressed and the student feels academically abandoned. HB 3 increases the opportunities to improve educational supports and programming for school districts to address these challenges early.
Other efforts at closing opportunity and achievement gaps include requiring all high school graduates to fill out FAFSA college-funding forms and incentivizing school districts who extend the school year for pre-K and elementary school by 30 half-days to combat “summer slide.” It is important that our state’s efforts provide disadvantaged students with an opportunity to start their learning early; for students learning English to receive additional in-school and summer support that keeps them on pace with their peers; and for proven, high-quality teachers to continually be in front of students in underperforming schools and classrooms.
Please pray with us that Texas will continue to work for and toward a just education system. We believe HB 3 is an important step in the right direction, it prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable school children in our state while increasing our investment in all of God’s children, their futures and the future of our state.
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