Bill of the Week
Bill by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez would support community schools
House Bill 1891Author: Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin
Filed: Feb. 25
For years, the self-titled education reform movement has waffled about parent choice, braying that charters and vouchers are the only way to save struggling public schools. But what if there were a way to give students what they want and need, without dropping an educational bombshell in neighborhoods, or backdoor privatizing campuses? There is, and it's called community schooling. That's when the whole community – teachers, families, nonprofits, local government – work together to make their campus succeed.
Pretty much everyone who has been paying attention agrees community schools are a great idea, one that brings people together – a rarity in the searing and caustic environment of education politics. The problem to date is that there is no set definition in Texas law of what a community school is, so when Austin ISD worked with neighborhood groups to turn Travis Heights Elementary into an in-district charter, they only used that term because that was the only one available.
Eddie Rodriguez's HB 1891 sets that definition: A community school would be any K-12 public school that "partners with one or more community-based organizations to coordinate academic, social, and health services to reduce barriers to learning and improve the quality of education for students in the community." Vitally, the bill sets community school status as an alternative to state-enforced closure and reconstitution. Meanwhile, partner bill HB 1892 establishes a grant program to help schools write plans and hire a community schools organizer.
Rodriguez's name may top the bill, but this is a truly bipartisan measure, with Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner, and Republicans Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Gary VanDeaver of New Boston, all parents to this measure. In a joint statement with Rodriguez, Farney said, "This model gives our struggling schools a better chance to improve and help our students achieve academic success."
This is smart political jujitsu, turning the language of parental trigger bills and voucher advocates on its head. As Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria explained, "Community schools provide genuine local control and parental involvement." Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said they provide "a proven alternative" to Texas' punitive cycle of shutting and repurposing campuses, while Education Austin President Ken Zarifis called them "one of the best ways to ensure student success."