By Iliana Flores-Dumond
August brings us toward the end of summer and into the midst of school bells, children’s chatter, and a rainbow of multi-colored backpacks. While this school year might feel like any other, our public schools could be undergoing major changes in the coming years – and it’s up to us to make sure every student receives the education they deserve.
In July, a special committee on Educational Opportunity & Enrichment convened at the legislature to discuss the future of education in Texas. The formation of this committee foreshadows a highly anticipated education special session in the fall. While Govenor Abbott continues to push school vouchers on a skeptical public, it’s possible that we could see other topics addressed as well in an education-focused special session. The committee discussed modernizing assessment and accountability measures in schools, improving student outcomes, and policies that support teachers and educators.
The question is: what would these policies really look like in our schools?
Governor Abbott continues to push private school vouchers under the guise of “education savings accounts”, despite vocal opposition from teachers, parents, and students. Vouchers harm public education by diverting funds from public schools and hindering transparency and accountability since private schools don’t abide by the same rules as public schools. For example, whereas public schools serve all students, private schools can pick and choose which students to admit, often to the detriment of children with disabilities, children of color, and LGBTQ+ students and families. Research on the effects of vouchers has also shown that they have no clear impact on math and reading scores , and no positive impact on college enrollment rates, especially for vulnerable students. With a multi-billion dollar price tag and concerns about private school discrimination, education savings accounts are likely to harm equity and keep public schools from being able to best serve all Texas students.
Improving student outcomes and supporting educators are inextricably linked goals. Texas has been struggling with a teacher shortage for several years. High teacher turnover and vacancies create unstable classroom environments and undermine trust between students and educators. If we want every student to be successful, we have to provide them with quality, consistent guidance from teachers – and in order to hire and retain quality teachers, we must invest in teacher raises, more benefits, and mental health support. Whatever form it takes, the end goal is clear: teachers must have the job security, training, and support systems they need to help our children succeed.
New Testing Techniques
Lastly, the committee discussed how the state could modernize testing and assessment strategies. During the committee hearings there was lots of discussion over the STAAR test content, frequency, and effectiveness. In the 2022-2023 school year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched the Texas Through-Year Assessment Pilot to see if the STAAR could be replaced with a system that allows students to demonstrate content mastery at multiple points throughout the year. While it still has several years of trials to conduct before Texas can determine if it is a viable option, the committee recognized concerns with the STAAR and signaled openness to new methods of accountability. (To find out more about these topics visit the IDRA website, where you can find resources for students, teachers, and parents.)
It’s time to change the narrative to reflect what Texas families, students, and educators deserve from our schools.
It’s time to change the narrative to reflect what Texas families, students, and educators deserve from our schools. An education special session must focus on fully funding our schools, supporting our teachers, and providing meaningful accountability to families and students. It’s up to our representatives to fund and strengthen the schools that Texans deserve. Before the special session begins, call or email your representative to give them feedback about how they can improve public education. Whether it’s teacher pay raises, changes to assessment standards, or funding public schools, Texas students need you to raise your voice.
Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas