AISD Ledger

Feds to the rescue

In a session where much was promised and little delivered, public education may have been the one area of meaningful legislation. It helped that most lawmakers arrived with the understanding that the accountability and finance systems are steadily choking school districts. But did they do enough?

House Bill 3 will make sweeping changes in how students, campuses, and districts are measured, all predicated upon the new target of "postsecondary readiness." Education Aus­tin President Louis Malfaro called it "a mixed bag." There were classroom victories, such as restricting testing preparation to a maximum of 10% of instructional time. Similarly, he breathed a sigh of relief for Pearce Mid­dle School, which will benefit from a provision allowing schools facing mandatory repurposing to remain open for an extra year. But he remains unimpressed by what he called the "cosmetic changes" to school accountability. "It's a big disappointment that we still have a system that is built around punishing schools," he said.

On the finance side, HB 3646 adds extra funding of at least $120 per student, which will pump about $12 million extra into the Austin Independent School District's coffers (admittedly, that's all being paid for by one-time federal stimulus cash). Half of that cash will go to pay increases, meaning AISD's teachers, nurses, counselors, and speech language therapists should see a $970 raise next year; Malfaro said he'll push for the rest to go to support staff. Lawmak­ers also made a continuing commitment to strategic compensation, maintaining funding for District Awards for Teaching Excellence at current levels. Yet when the Lege gives with one hand, it takes with the other – as Texas Educator Excellence Grants disappeared. However, it's worth noting that in a memo to district trustees, Christy Rome, AISD director of intergovernmental relations, wrote, "[our experience] had not shown them to be effective."

Now AISD is waiting to see what bills the governor's veto pen will delete, and two seem likely victims. HB 130 would put $25 million statewide toward full-day prekindergarten provision, and HB 4294 would free districts' hands when choosing between print and electronic textbooks. Both bills seem at risk; the district will wait until the June 21 veto deadline for the final word.

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Austin ISD, AISD, Pearce Middle School, House Bill 3

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