AISD Board Preps for Lege

This year’s motto: give the district more money

AISD Board Preps for Lege

The Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees discussed at a work session on Monday their policy goals for the upcoming legislative session. Director of Intergovernmental Relations & Policy Oversight Edna Butts walked the board through the proposed list, which she'll convert into a series of one-page cheat sheets that district staff and trustees can refer to when working with lawmakers.

The list runs about two dozen items and could be summarized as a plea to state lawmakers to give the district more money. Changes to the state's school finance system, principled under a lopsided recapture payment system known as "Robin Hood," were among the top priorities. The current financing scheme funnels property tax revenues from school districts considered to be "property-wealthy" to those considered "property-poor." Austin is hit especially hard, because property values in the area are high, but more than half of the district's students come from low-income families and a quarter are English-language learners, two demographics that require more resources to educate successfully.

Although the precise wording of several goals is still being worked out, at least four will cover ways for the state to adjust school financing, including finding other ways to fund schools beyond property taxes, a simplified funding formula, and a system that provides "adequate and equitable" financing to all Texas students. Other targets include exempting public school buses from paying tolls on state-operated toll roads, a more comprehensive school accountability system, and the empowerment of locally elected school boards.

But much of the early conversation revealed a sense of despondency some on the board feel toward the Lege. District 1 Trustee Ted Gordon set the tone for the conversation by asking a question common among local officials working to enact progressive policies under the shadow of a conservative statehouse: "Will any of this make a difference?" Implicit in Gordon's question was the bleak reality of working under a state government increasingly intent on pre-empting local controls it disagrees with ideologically. Gordon continued to express his frustration with the relationship between AISD and the Lege, saying it was time "to call a spade a spade" by criticizing state leaders for their efforts to "punish" Austin schools.

District 3 Trustee Ann Teich acknowledged those frustrations, but said that in her experience, taking a confrontational approach toward state lawmakers only hardened their resistance to change. "While this may look like an exercise in futility, if we don't have some kind of position we can present to legislators, that's not a good place to be in either," Teich said. She pointed to progress the Lege has made in recent sessions on improving mental health training for Texas educators, as well as increased awareness at the Capitol and in the public of the unfairness of the "recapture" school financing system.

The board will continue working on the proposed list of priorities, and will vote on the final list in August.

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