Something's got to give with education investment

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Solutions lie in fixing Robin Hood, increasing state commitment

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This year, the Fredericksburg Independent School District will send roughly $12 million to the state because we are defined as “property rich.” Yet anyone who owns property and is still paying a mortgage and taxes likely doesn’t feel “rich.”
 That was just one of the facts we learned at last week’s Leaders’ Breakfast, sponsored by the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, where FISD Superintendent Jeff Brasher addressed a crowd.
We see our school district dipping into its reserves annually to make up for budget shortfalls, even after it has cut to the bone in the form of less staff, attrition and forgoing raises for educators, those same teachers who have a hard time finding places to live in our property rich district.
Area superintendents and our State Rep. Kyle Biedermann have found some beginning steps to fix our “Robin Hood” system of school finance — taking from “rich” districts and giving to the poor — and help FISD keep some of its own funds.
These include: 
•    Letting Chapter 41 (“rich”) districts retain revenue per weighted average daily attendance up to the state average before recapture payments are required;
•    Updating the cost of living index to reflect the true cost in this area (which hasn’t been done since 1989).
•    Letting Chapter 41 districts be eligible for transportation assistance. (We currently get no help from the state on transportation costs.)
•    Changing Chapter 41 payments from an expense item to a “contra-revenue” account to accurately reflect the weighted average daily attendance amount per student.
•    Eliminating or reducing some of the existing weights and transfer state money to basic allotments.
Some of these may seem a little “inside baseball,” but these would help us locally. These all were suggestions by superintendents from House District 73.
We’d also like to see legislators reverse course on the constant downward support of the state to school districts (from 50 percent of funding to 38 percent). Local taxpayers have been picking up the tab for the state’s lessening share, yet taxpayers manage to blame local governments.
We’ve said it before, but public education is the foundation of our future workforce and economy and should be prioritized as such.
—kec—
We remember the surprised reaction at our story two years ago that declared FISD had higher than 50 percent of students classified as “economically disadvantaged.” It was a too-rare look at the people who live paycheck to paycheck or in poverty right here in our market which draws               millions of visitors for its good life — the wineries, restaurants, art galleries and more (which we are fortunate to have).
Brasher also said the Texas Education Agency defined 45 percent of FISD students as “at-risk” of dropping out of school. This high number surprised us. 
He said TEA uses 13 criteria to define this. I’m sharing Dr. Brasher’s information. 
These are the at-risk factors for a student who:
1. is in grade 3 or younger and did not perform satisfactorily on readiness test or assessment tests in current year;
2. is in grade 7 through 12 and did not maintain a 70 average in two or more core subjects;
3. was not advanced to the next grade level (flunked, as we used to term it); 
4. did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment test;
5. is pregnant or is a parent;
6. has been placed in an alternative education program;
7. has been expelled during the preceding or current school year;
8. is on parole, probation, deferred prosecution or other conditional release;
9. was previously reported to have dropped out of school;
10. has limited English proficiency;
11. is in the custody or care of, or has been referred to, the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services;
12. is homeless,
13. resided in a residential placement facility, including a detention facility, substance abuse treatment facility, emergency shelter, psychiatric hospital, halfway house or foster group home.

We should do everything we can to stop students from dropping out of the education system. 
FISD does a tremendous job by offering more CTE (Career Technical Education) courses and training our youth for college, vocational college and the job market. Counselor Logan Minshew gave a presentation on Monday to Fredericksburg Rotary Club outlining all the choices available to our youth, from culinary arts, to auto tech, to audio-visual and much more. FISD also offers Gillespie County High School to help retain some of those at-risk students who still want to get their diploma. 
Let’s support our public school districts — which educate 92 percent of children — and continue to build on these local initiatives.

ken@fredericksburgstandard.com