AUSTIN, Texas — The education system has been rocked throughout the entire pandemic, and that has left behind a plethora of financial issues for Central Texas school districts.
Some state leaders say, regardless of the pandemic, they want to maintain the school finance bill. Austin ISD Board of Trustees President Geronimo Rodriguez said he hopes that's the case.
"I think that's what we're trying to communicate to our Legislature. You can be part of making sure that we get through this pandemic. Leadership doesn't mean a title. It means are you there when you need us the most? And we need you the most right now," Rodriguez said. "The more educational opportunities we give every single child, the better economy we will have, the more educated workforce that will have."
Rodriguez said there are a few things AISD officials are supporting this session. First, they support sustainable state funding for House Bill 3, the historic school finance bill that immensely boosted funding in 2019. Second, they support a statewide approach to connect all Texas families to broadband internet so all students can learn remotely. And third, they support addressing the elimination of disproportionate impact suspensions and expulsions for Black and Hispanic students.
"What we have seen during the COVID pandemic is that obviously broadband is something that we all need to ensure that we're communicating, continuing to connect together. It is an important tool for continuing to having our students continue to learn," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said, above all, supporting that state funding is vital.
"One of the things that House Bill 3 did was it increased funding by almost $1,000 per student. So, that funding is going to be really, really important to ensure that we can have the right teachers, the right staff, the right school bus drivers, the right food service workers to be there. I think that's so important to make sure that we have all of those funding opportunities there," Rodriguez said.
"Because if that doesn't happen, then guess what? None of those things can happen," he said.
Rodriguez said AISD has 5,000 fewer students registered this year compared to last year. It has the potential to lose $25 million this year, which would mean a big chunk of teachers and staff could lose their jobs.
"We all have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that we're breaking down barriers so that individual students get what they need [to] flourish to their fullest potential, be prepared for their life, for their career and for their education. I think it's so important that our pretty words on a piece of paper, our mission statement don't just become words on a piece of paper, but they're actually actions that are aligned with what we believe with the values of the school system, is with the values of our public education system," Rodriguez said.
Some State leaders say, regardless of the pandemic's impacts, they hope to maintain the school finance reform bill.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said lawmakers will have $112.5 billion to spend when they draw up the next two-year budget during this year's legislative session. But they will also have to make up for a nearly $1 billion deficit.
On the first day of the 2021 legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said last session was a "sweeping success" and pointed to school finance reform as an example. Abbott added that lawmakers must come together and work collaboratively now as they did then to meet the challenges before them.
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