Over the next few days, I will be writing about different subjects that were discussed at Mid-Winter. From Sunday through Wednesday, I was able to hear about topics ranging from school finance and accountability to school safety. I will try to share as much information as possible about each topic. Today, I will talk about the pre-conference meeting that I attended.
The Equity Center sponsored a special, pre-conference meeting on Sunday. During that meeting, we heard from state legislators, school finance experts, and all of the lawyers representing the various groups in the school finance lawsuit. State Senator Kel Seliger and State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock led off the session by giving their views on school finance and changes that they will be proposing in our state testing and accountability system. Senator Seliger has introduced Senate Bill 225 for consideration in the senate. Representative Aycock states that similar legislation will be introduced in the house. In Senate Bill 225, the graduation plans for high school are completely reworked. Instead of the current system of minimum, recommended, and distinguished achievement, the new system would have a foundation program with endorsements in areas such as science, technology, and math (STEM) and career and technology (CATE), The STAAR testing at the high school level would see changes. The number of end of course tests counting for graduation would decrease from the current 15 to 5. However the other 10 tests would still be given. It would be up to the district on how to utilize these tests.
Representative Aycock voiced overall support for the majority of Senate Bill 225; however, he stated that he would like to see a permanent reduction in the number of end of course tests. Representative Aycock stated that he believed the hot topics for this session included: testing and accountability, reduction in the end of course tests, a push for more career and technology options, and a move away from the idea that you can only be as good as your lowest subgroup in accountability. Representative Aycock also stated that he was much more optimistic this session with regards to school finance.
We also heard from former state judge F. Scott McCown. Mr. McCown was not nearly as optimistic on school funding. He believes that there will not be any extra money available to put back into education to offset the $5.4 billion in cuts from the last legislative session. He also believes that there will be little or no action on school finance until after the final ruling on the school finance lawsuit. He sees a final ruling from the Texas Supreme Court taking place in the fall of 2013. He also stated that the ruling might give the legislature the room to wait until the 2015 legislative session in order to address the issue. Mr. McCown believes that the court will find something that is a catalyst for legislative action. One of Mr. McCown major points is the need for the modernization of the tax system in Texas. He maintains that as a state, we cannot continue to rely on the sales tax.
Next, we heard from the Executive Director of the Equity Center, Dr. Wayne Pierce, and school finance expert Lynn Moak. Mr. Moak seemed more optimistic about state revenues and the possible funding of public education. Dr. Pierce continued to offer examples of how inequities permeate our current system of financing.
Finally, we heard from all of the attorneys representing all of the groups that have entered into the school finance lawsuit. It was interesting to hear that, overall, the sides have all worked well together, and have cooperated throughout the trial. It was also interesting to hear that while all the groups considered the current system inadequate (not enough overall money in the system), not all the groups viewed the system as inequitable. The group representing the wealthier districts in the state made no claim that the system was inequitable, and according to some attorneys, actually worked against equity claims of the other groups.