This week the Commissioner of Education, using a non-binding opinion from the Attorney General, issued a statement that could create additional challenges for local school boards and administrators across the state because it tied funding to in-person instruction. Local school leaders want to get back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible, but the decisions to open campuses should be made locally by district leaders without the fear of funding loss.
Public schools are governed and administered locally because that model allows for school boards and administrators to make the best decisions for their specific district and community. At a time when Texas children need insightful leadership from both state and local officials, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has instead created additional barriers to local efforts to problem-solve creatively, adding to the challenges of those trying to serve our children.
This week’s actions stand in contrast to previous welcome steps that supported flexibility and progress for local leaders:
- $200 million in technology funding for school districts to outfit our students with remote learning tools,
- A transition period for districts in the first eight weeks of the school year,
- The ability to offer remote asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid model instruction,
- Sustained funding for the 2020 Spring Semester, and
- Waivers on STAAR grade promotion
This week’s announcements, however, seem to take a step backward. While we understand the argument for doing away with blanket approaches that don’t meet the needs of every single school district, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) does not agree with tethering school district funding with in-class instruction in the face of a pandemic. Each independent school district should have the authority, in consultation with their local health agencies, educators, parents, and their community, to make the best decisions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.
We implore TEA to rescind this decision based on a non-binding legal opinion and allow independent school districts the flexibility to make these important local decisions without the repercussions of lost funding. TEA’s role in these efforts is to help coordinate the flow of information from the state to districts, help districts solve problems, and provide guidance that will aid in districts’ decision making. When local health authorities state that it is unsafe to open classrooms, it is irresponsible for TEA to require them to do so.
TASB is a nonprofit association established in 1949 to serve local public school boards. School board members are the largest group of publicly elected officials in the state. The districts they represent serve more than 5.4 million students.