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Our Future: Education

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“Education is the key to Austin’s continued success. We have a moral imperative to give our children the tools they need to succeed. Helping Austin to have the best schools is a critical part of the Mayor’s job – especially when those in charge at the State Capitol have failed to make it a priority. Other Texas mayors have shown us that a focused city can enhance the quality of its children’s education. Kids of all families deserve the same, great opportunities in our schools!”  — Steve Adler

As Mayor, I will focus on these critical areas for education:

Addressing our significant challenges in education will involve some of the same underlying ideas of governance (SEE HERE) that I have advocated in other policy initiatives.  They include:  

  1. Help coordinate and leverage the resources of the City of Austin in public-private collaboration with businesses, nonprofits and philanthropy to support the school districts in their goal of achieving better educational outcomes for all of our learners.
  2. Lead the charge to reform inadequate and inequitable state tax school finance system measures that unfairly drain financial resources from the Austin community.
  3. Improve efforts to address poverty and affordability in Austin and the growing disparity of wealth, which are essential components of a successful educational experience.
  4. Improve support and community resources for community college, particularly as related to workforce training.
  5. Implement new ways to use public facilities in support of community efforts to address educational challenges.

The Challenges:

Public education is fundamental to maintaining the good quality of life we enjoy today and building the great city we all want to become.  It must be a top priority for the Mayor, working closely with the City Council, school districts and communities within the city’s boundaries. Through education, our children obtain critical skills for personal success. As individuals, they will enjoy more productive lives due to the increased opportunities that come from a good education. Moreover, our city benefits from the economic development and stability that results from an educated and able workforce.

When it comes to how public education is administered and financed in Texas, I recognize that Austin’s Mayor has little authority.  It is not my intention to impose policies and curricula on our public schools. However, in this time of limited resources, I am committed to developing new sources of funding and to bringing the sharpest minds in our community to address the challenges we face in education. 

Put simply, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) lacks the financial resources to do the job it wants to do. AISD faces a $25 million budget shortfall in 2015 that only worsens in future years.  This dire situation is due largely to the Texas Legislature’s cuts in public education funding in 2011, which resulted in a permanent $50 million loss in revenue, and the recapture (“Robin Hood”) requirement that uses inequitable, inadequate and unfair weighting system that sends much of our local tax dollars to the state.,,,  While I generally support Robin Hood as a constitutionally mandated program, it has to be applied fairly.  We should aggressively seek greater state funding and a change in the weights that are used to distribute those monies under recapture.  Fairer weights in the school finance system would give AISD another $90 million this year alone.  Overall, Austin students rank high in levels of poverty and bilingualism, and AISD needs extra funding to educate this significantly higher cost student population.  This is not just my opinion:  On August 28, 2014, the State District Court found that the State was insufficiently funding public education and that the weights used in the funding formula to be improperly “arbitrary, inadequate and unsuitable.”  

This is not the time to accept the status quo or to underfund critical programs that support the education of our youth.  We must all be concerned that the poverty rate for our children ages 0-17 has increased by 121 percent since 2000 throughout the Greater Austin region. More than 15 percent of Austin’s children are living in poverty, and 61. percent of AISD students are considered economically disadvantaged., This stark economic reality impacts the ability of our youth to learn, and it is getting worse, despite the best intentions of our school systems and our social safety net. I must emphasize that improving the educational experience of our children also requires us, as a community, to address poverty and affordability in Austin and the growing disparity of wealth. [These topics are addressed in my affordability agenda.]

I recognize that the City of Austin and our school districts have worked together for years, but generally it has been at arm’s length, in limited areas, in limited ways, with limited staffing for joint efforts, or with limited time. The next Mayor and new City Council must change this. There are many areas of education, such as curriculum and school policy, where direction is rightly entrusted to the responsible school boards.  However, a good working partnership with the Mayor and City Council on supporting matters is increasingly essential because the issues of education, poverty, education financing, workforce and economic development, community success, and quality of life are highly interrelated. We need to improve our lines of communication and strengthen the strategic alignment between the City of Austin and the school districts so we can make the best use of our limited resources. We need to ask more from the business, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors so we can face these many challenges as a unified team.  The Mayor, as the only at-large elected member on the City Council, has the vital responsibility to use the considerable powers of the bully pulpit and the ability to convene to help set important community-wide agendas and priorities.  And the education of our youth is as important as it gets.

If we are to make a difference for our schools, we need to bring together all these sectors of our diverse community — business, nonprofits, churches, philanthropists, parents, elected officials throughout the region and dedicated individuals who understand the power of education.  I believe there are lots of people who are ready – even eager — to focus their talents on the task of improving the quality of our schools. With the right leadership we can tap into this resource of energy, ideas, and funding to build a more effective relationship with Austin’s school districts, the County Commissioners Court, the University of Texas, and Austin Community College. The Mayor’s office is the place to gather this resource and start community-wide conversations about quality education, and how to make sure it reaches all of our children and all others who have a desire to learn.

Solutions:

As Mayor, I will be a very vigorous and public advocate for education. I will use the office of Mayor and the resources of the City of Austin to support our school districts in their goal of achieving wonderful educational outcomes for all of our learners. 

The office of Mayor is a position of influence, and if I am privileged to occupy that office, I do not intend to waste any opportunity to build consensus – a sense of shared responsibility – on actions can that directly and indirectly contribute to the success of children’s education in our public schools. We will find ways within the office’s existing authority to support great outcomes in education, recognizing that those outcomes are inextricably linked to issues of poverty, opportunity and workforce development. Education will be a top priority for me as Mayor, but not through any involvement with teaching policies or curriculum decisions – that’s the job of the school districts.  My goal is to be known as the districts’ staunchest supporter in the public arena. 

The City of Austin, Central Texas school districts, generous foundations, and nonprofits already invest heavily in improving educational outcomes and providing social services to our children.  However, there is room for significant and material improvement to ensure that public and private efforts are coordinated appropriately and that our collective dollars are being spent wisely. 

 

Education is the key to Austin’s continued success.  We have a moral imperative to give our children the tools they need to succeed.  Helping Austin to have the best schools must be part of the Mayor’s job – especially when those in charge in the State Capitol fail to make it a priority.  Great leaders like Mayor Julian Castro in San Antonio have shown us what a focused city can do. We must provide and protect quality pre-K for our 3 and 4 year olds.

AISD is currently sending over $130 million in taxpayer dollars to the State.  We should be getting most of that back.  We don’t.  We need to change the unfair and discriminatory state funding formula that does not fairly recognize our disproportionally high poverty rate and our need for bilingual education. That is wrong. As Mayor I will work with our school districts, legislative delegation, and other Texas cities to get our fair share of resources.  All kids of all families deserve the same, great opportunities.

Quick Facts

  • AISD experienced revenue losses of $35.6 million in FY 2012 and $25.1 million in FY 2013 as a result of the 82nd Texas legislature’s cuts to public education.  This caused layoffs of hundreds of employees, cuts to school programs and increases in classroom sizes. (Source)
  • AISD is considered a “property wealthy” district under the state’s 1993 recapture “Robin Hood” law meaning that in FY 2014 a projected $135.6 million must be paid to the state from Austin tax dollars.  With this money AISD could theoretically fund universal Pre-K for every three and four-year-old with several million dollars to spare. (Source)
  • Despite being considered “property wealthy”, 63 percent of all students in Austin are economically disadvantaged. (Source)
  • There are 85,355 students and 5,927 teachers in AISD. (Source)
  • 73% of Central Texas students who are absent over 10 days per year on average do not graduate on time. (Source)
  • In the Austin-Round Rock MSA there are 35 public school districts, 14 charter school districts (Source)
  • In 2013 the graduation rate for all students was 84.9% (Source)

Resource Materials

Relevant Organizations (not an endorsement, just helpful for voters)

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