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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - December 2006

Next month the Texas Legislature returns to Austin to face a great number of issues. One issue that continues to dominate the attention of our state leaders is public education, which has been legislated and litigated for decades. Last year the Texas Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the method of financing public schools was unconstitutional but warned that many school systems were seriously underfunded. The Legislature increased the amount of state funding for schools but reduced local funding through a reduction of property taxes. The net effect was that school districts received about the same amount of funding as before.

Last month the Community Action Network (CAN) released a report on the state of education that illustrates the successes and challenges for schools in our community. The report began by noting that Texas has the fastest growing child population in the United States that will double by 2040. While 4th and 8th grade students scored higher on average in math, reading, and science than their peers nationwide, TAKS passing rates in math across the region show a spread of at least 30 points among different student demographic groups.

The CAN report listed population growth, increased economic disadvantage and limited English proficiency as the major challenges for area school districts (especially AISD) Forty-one percent of Travis County students are considered to be economically disadvantaged and 18% are listed as limited English proficiency. This is an amazing tale of two populations since AISD is considered to be a wealthy school district. The graduation rate for Travis County students is about 80%, which is less than an 87% rate for the Central Texas region, but higher than the State average of 67%. Recently the Houston Chronicle reported “For the second straight year, Texas has the lowest percentage of high school graduates in the nation. While other states have seen their graduation rates improve -- a record 85 percent of Americans have high school degrees -- Texas is treading water.”

Members of the Texas Legislature would do well to read CAN’s education report and work with local school district officials to devise and fund strategies to help ensure that all students learn English, stay in school, and graduate. The implications of failing to improve public education in Texas are enormous. In the global economy the nations and states with the best-educated work forces will attract the companies with more and higher paying jobs. For Texas to be able to continue effectively competing in the national and global economies, “no child left behind” must become more than just a catchy phrase.

I wish all of you and your families a happy and safe holiday season.
The full Community Action Network report may be obtained at www.caction.org or by calling 414-8203.



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