AISD Girds for a Rough Ride Next Year
Sustainable funding, limits on charters highlight legislative proposals
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the Austin Independent School District board of trustees is turning its eyes toward the long range. At Monday's special meeting, the trustees discussed the district's proposed Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) Advocacy Resolutions in preparation for next year's 87th Texas Legislature.
These resolutions, which are submitted by individual school districts, are paired with TASB's Advocacy Priorities (i.e., legislative goals) to form the 2020-22 Advocacy Agenda that steers TASB's legislative priorities during the session. That agenda will be adopted by TASB in the fall, and AISD has proposed 14 resolutions, the first of which calls on the Lege to find "additional, sustainable sources of revenue to support and maintain the investments it has made to public education," the need of which has only become more acute with the current economic downturn. Around this time last year, Texas school districts were riding the $6.5 billion high of House Bill 3's new funding. Now, however, COVID-19's economic fallout – plummeting sales tax revenue and unprecedented blows to Texas' oil and gas industry – has rendered the future of Texas' public education funding uncertain.
Five of AISD's proposed resolutions relate to charter schools, and these prompted the most discussion among the trustees, with Amber Elenz applauding the board's Legislative Committee – trustees Jayme Mathias, Arati Singh, and Yasmin Wagner – for a "fairly aggressive offense." The five proposals include calls for legislation to ensure charters receive the same funding as (not more than) the school district in which they operate, and to mandate charters accept all students wishing to enroll (including those with a disciplinary history).
Singh reminded trustees that the State Board of Education is considering three new charter applications in Austin, as well as expansions of three existing schools. If all six are approved, Singh said, it would cost AISD around $12 million in next year's budget. "One thing that really strikes me that I think comes out loud and clear in these resolutions is that creating another system of charter schools right here in Austin – when we have excellent schools – is a waste of taxpayer money," said Singh.
In the district's more immediate response to COVID-19, outgoing Superintendent Paul Cruz announced the creation of an AISD "re-entry task force" to assess possible scenarios for reopening schools. "This also comes to saving lives and making sure that our students, our staff, and our family members are safe," he said. For now, he told the board, the task force is considering several pathways. One is an earlier start date than the current first day of instruction planned for Aug. 18, which could account for possible missed school days if a COVID-19 surge were to come in the fall. Another option is to delay if the district isn't ready by then. A third scenario is what Cruz described as a "blended" approach: Schools and buses would open at 25% in-person capacity, with students assigned to rotations.