Important Note about the Special Session
Dear Big Red Community,
The 88th Legislature began its third special session on October 9 with the purpose of approving private school subsidies, also known as “vouchers” or “education savings accounts.” The Governor did not include public education funding on the special session agenda.
The purpose of this note is to ensure our staff, parents and community members are aware of the legislative priorities for Belton ISD during the special session and our rationale behind these priorities.
BELTON ISD PRIORITIES
BISD has been advocating for increased school funding and changes to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) accountability system since October 2022 when we approved our Legislative Priorities. Trustees and staff met with lawmakers throughout the 88th Legislative Session and asked local representatives to say no to vouchers and for an increase in the basic allotment. Additionally, trustees from BISD and Temple ISD jointly approved a proclamation last month that outlines our priorities for the special session. The items below are agreed upon by BISD and TISD and have been clearly articulated to our legislators. Our priorities are:
- Oppose the diversion of funds for K-12 public schools, including new funds for school vouchers, tax credits, or charter school programs, until the State of Texas funds public schools above the national average;
- Advocate for the establishment of a fair, transparent, and comprehensive accountability system that looks beyond high-stakes multiple-choice exams to meaningful assessments that have value for students, parents, teachers, and community stakeholders with advance notice of implementation;
- Raise the basic allotment to account for the increase in overall educational services to students, additional funding for special education programming, staff pay increases, and fully fund the implementation of state-mandated school safety standards.
Priority 1 - Why oppose vouchers?
We have three reasons we oppose vouchers. They are:
- Funding: The Texas Commission on Special Education concluded that the State of Texas underfunds special education programs by more than $2 billion. The 88th Legislature passed a school safety bill but didn’t fund it adequately. Texas ranks in the bottom 10 states for per-pupil funding. All of these reasons show that the Texas Legislature should uphold its constitutional duty and fund public schools fully before diverting dollars to unaccountable programs.
- Transparency and Responsibility: No voucher plan currently proposed by the legislature holds private entities to the same level of transparency and responsibility as public schools. Any educational institution receiving taxpayer dollars should be expected to serve each student, meet every requirement, and be held to the same standard as public schools.
- Loss of Local Control: Private schools and charter schools do not have locally elected boards to govern their systems. Often these institutions are run by corporations or entities that have no ties to the community. Local taxpayers deserve the ability to oversee and govern public schools through locally elected boards.
Simply put, we oppose the diversion of tax dollars to entities that aren’t held accountable to the public when public schools are severely underfunded. Private schools can accept tax dollars without being held accountable and accepting every student. That is wrong.
Priority 2 - Why do we need a new state accountability system?
The reasons we are advocating for a new state accountability system are:
- Establish the Rules and Hold Public Schools Accountable: The TEA commissioner ignored key legislative deadlines for publishing and implementing school accountability ratings. The TEA was going to change the rules after the 2022-23 school year was completed and then publish new school ratings based on standards that hadn’t been developed or communicated. We will gladly meet accountability standards and expect that the TEA publish those standards ahead of time - not after the fact.
- Over-reliance on STAAR Testing: Despite frequent feedback from public schools across the state, the TEA continues to over-emphasize standardized testing (STAAR testing) in the accountability system. The TEA actually tests public school students more in our state than what is required by the federal government. Every parent knows that a school is about more than a STAAR test taken on one day during the school year.
Priority 3 - Why should the basic allotment be raised? What does it do for Belton ISD?
- Funding Mechanism: As you recall, school districts do not get additional funds when property values increase. Schools are funded on a per-pupil allocation from the State of Texas. That figure ($6,160 per student) has not changed since 2019. A district's funding is increased when the state invests more money in the basic allotment. The legislature must address this issue.
- Inflation: Just as you feel the impact of inflation in the grocery store, school districts are seeing significant increases in the cost of utilities, fuel, insurance, food, and other expenses necessary for operating our school district. Increased school funding is needed to address these expenses.
- Staff Wages: The basic allotment ($6,160 per student) is the fund districts use to pay the items mentioned above and staff salaries. After the legislative session ended and all budget appropriations were allocated (including property tax relief), no money was provided to increase the basic allotment for public schools. In short, the legislature took no action to increase teacher and staff pay. Recently, the state comptroller noted that Texas will have an additional $18 billion budget surplus at the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year. Increasing the basic allotment for school districts to address personnel costs is drastically needed. The funds are there; the legislature is choosing not to use them.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
As the legislature considers these important topics, we hope you will follow their actions and make your voice heard. We will address these topics over the next few weeks through district communications, and I’ll keep you updated as the special session progresses. I ask you to contact your lawmakers to talk about what your public schools mean to you and how important it is to support our teachers and staff. You can find out who represents you in the state capitol by going to Who Represents Me? (texas.gov) and typing in your address. Our legislators are:
Rep. Hugh Shine
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
101 East Central Avenue,
Belton, TX 76513
Rep. Brad Buckley
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
Bell County Office:
1301 North Stagecoach Road
Salado, Texas 76571
Senator Pete Flores
The Honorable Pete Flores
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
Hill Country District Office
500 W. Young
Llano, Texas 78643
Thank you for entrusting us with your students and allowing us to partner with you in educating the future of our great state. Let’s make sure our representatives in Austin know how important our schools are to BISD.
Matt Smith, Ed.D.