What are some of Raise Your Hand’s legislative priorities?
Our first and foremost [priority] is to make sure public education is funded fully, especially during the time of COVID. I lived through the 2011 budget cuts with public education when [the state] cut $5.4 billion from school districts. ... It really took about 10 years to recover from the Great Recession and what occurred in 2011, so we’re hoping that we can get through this session without cutting public education at all and hopefully actually investing more in programs that are making a difference. ... First and foremost, we’re going to protect and be vocal about protecting some of the programs that are near and dear to Raise Your Hand’s heart, which is full-day prekindergarten. That was passed during House Bill 3 [in 2019]. ... A fairly big issue this session is, ‘What does virtual learning and remote learning look like moving forward?’ ... Broadband access is going to be another issue.
Are you seeing school districts across the state fall short of enrollment projections?
I think it’s definitely happening in a lot of urban and major suburban districts. I know the Texas School Alliance, which is an association of 40 or so of the larger districts in the state, did a survey, and I think, on average, it was about a 4% enrollment decline. So a lot of these larger districts are having the same issues, and they’re trying to figure out just the stability of going into next semester. ... We actually base our funding on average daily attendance, so if the kids aren’t in the seat, they’re not getting credit for that per-student funding.
What are the long-term concerns about students who may not be showing up during the pandemic?
A school district’s perspective is, ‘We’re going to hopefully find all of these students and get them back to the system. And then, what targeted interventions are we going to need to help them catch up? ... Once you get those kids back in the classroom, how do you ramp it up? Do you extend the day? Do you extend the school year?’
Hannah Zedaker contributed to this report.