What’s going on in Austin?

As you know, the 2017 Legislative Session (85th) is in full swing in our state’s capital. That means two things: Bills are being filed almost every hour and stakeholders and lobbyists are jockeying for positions to influence our legislators. Public Education is a HOT topic and the rumors are flying, the tempers are flaring, and the fingers are pointing. Having said that, I think it is important to remember two things. One is that educators, parents, and advocates of public schools must stay informed and get involved in the legislative process. Two, we must foster a culture and climate of working toward solutions for our students not only in Pampa, but in all of Texas so that our students, families, and our community come out the winners after all the Bills are passed. To do that, we must keep a student-focused approach to our ideas and involve as many stakeholders as possible along the way.


I have the opportunity of serving on the Region 16 Legislative Education Committee along with twelve other Superintendents in the Panhandle. As a collective group, we want to show our appreciation for the legislative work done in the past including HB1842 District of Innovation, and HB 2610 Minutes Law both which provided much needed flexibility to local school boards and public schools in the areas of governance and operations. HB5 Graduation Planning and College and Career Readiness created a renewed focus on purposeful and relevant post-secondary planning and preparation for our students. SB149 Individual Graduation Committees provided local committees of parents, school officials, and counselors to determine whether a student was prepared to graduate from High School after meeting certain criteria. And, we don’t want to miss pointing out that the continued support for our Education Service Centers has been critical in providing the necessary services our school districts need to meet the needs of our teachers and students.


Yes, we thank them for their work and are working with them now to continue the work. After gathering feedback from 62 school districts in the panhandle we developed a list of Legislative Priorities to share with Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Ken King as well as other Panhandle representatives including Rep. Four Price, Rep John Smithee, and Rep. Drew Springer. We knew that in a legislative session less is more when talking with senators and representatives, so we narrowed our collective concerns down to just a few.


FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS is a major topic and one that is not going away. Texas ranks in the bottom 3rd of the nation when it comes to funding public schools. Did you know that the number of students attending Texas public schools has risen 16.8% since 2006, but the state per-student funding has decreased by 5%??? This must be addressed and it must happen now! We must also ensure that funding collected for public education is spent solely on public education and not tax relief or private interests. We desperately need relief from unfunded mandates and not spend more time and money investing in education savings accounts and voucher systems that will only decrease the money to fund public schools even more.


ACCOUNTABILITY is another hot topic with the political release of the A-F system in January, 2017. We want and need accountability, we just want and need it to have appropriate indicators, reasonable methodologies, and provide a venue for local community values. Reducing the complex nature of developing individuals to become compassionate, competent, confident, future-ready adults to one letter grade is not appropriate, reasonable, nor reflective of local community values. Can we improve? Of course we can and will always strive to do so----we are humans working with humans---our work will never be done! We must ask ourselves what we want to accomplish with the accountability system. Do we want to provide information to our parents and school systems that help us know where we are and how to improve? Or do we simply want to use the information to create divisive political arguments and funnel public funds to private interests?


TEACHER RETIRMENT SYSTEM (TRS) seems to always come up during the sessions. It saddens me that we continually want to chip away at the benefits and systems of support that we provide our teachers in Texas. TRS –Active Care and TRS-Care must be affordable and comprehensive enough to do the job that we promised over 200,000 retired teachers in Texas as well as the 320,000 current teachers in our classrooms today.


I urge you to engage in the process and contact your legislator to let them know your concerns and priorities. Sen. Kel Seliger’s office number is 512-463-0131 and Rep. Ken King’s number is 512-463-0736. As always, thank you for your support of Pampa public schools, our staff, our families, and especially our students.


Tanya Larkin


Pampa Independent School District