Education in balance
CITY GROWTH POSES TROUBLE FOR SCHOOL DISTRICTS
by Sami Badgen
Mayor Steve Adler’s State of the City speech on April 13 highlighted Austin’s status as one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and one of the most popular too. However, his speech also touched on the many issues that Austin’s residents are dealing with, such as the fact that only 53 percent of children in Central Texas are ready to start school when they enter kindergarten.
“We cannot be a great city without great schools,” Adler said in his speech. “I have made education a priority in my office, and we will lend our support to finding creative and even audacious ideas to support public schools.”
He added that he was committed to working with Council Members Kathie Tovo, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclaire, all of whom serve on the joint subcommittee with Travis County and the Austin Independent School District (AISD).
However, according to Houston’s chief of Staff, Beverly Wilson, Houston had only recently joined the committee, so not much action has been taken so far, as they’re still in the process of laying out priorities.
According to the Travis County and AISD Joint Subcommittee’s website, there have been two meetings since the new council members were sworn in almost five months ago, one on Jan. 22 and one on Mar. 27, but the minutes for both of these meetings were not available, and requests for more information were not answered in time.
On April 16, Zandan released their 2015 “Voices of the Austin Community” poll, which polled over 800 people to try to assess city residents’ attitudes on a variety of issues, such as the economy, growth, culture, community, health, education and transportation.
As far as education went, 33 percent of those polled believed “somewhat” that the public education their children were getting was on par with what they paid in taxes, only 21 percent were definitely sure. 11 percent were unsure, and the remaining 35 percent did not think the education was up to par.
A whopping 68 percent of people surveyed said they thought their children weren’t getting “a public education commensurate with your financial investment” because the educational opportunities weren’t adequate, and 38 percent said the facilities need improvement.
This comes a month after the Austin American-Statesman reported that the AISD school board called for a comprehensive assessment to “determine whether the district offers the same quality of all education to all of its students.”
Repeated attempts to speak with AISD representatives, as well as attempts to contact the AISD Board of Trustees, were not answered.
Over half of the survey’s respondents said they would send their kids to charter schools, agreeing with the state’s foremost elected officials. This is a battle AISD is still fighting, since charter schools are contributing to the district’s decline in student enrollment over the past two years. The Austin Monitor cited AISD’s losses per student as high as $7,000 to $8,000.
A preliminary budget for 2016 was approved on Tuesday, which supposedly outlined some of the major changes expected from this year’s budget, specifically in how the district will address some of their current shortcomings and unresolved issues. Earlier in the week, teacher’s had rallied in front of AISD headquarters, demanding an increase in wages, which the preliminary budget addressed with a 1.5 percent pay raise for all employees and an additional 1.5 percent increase for teachers, counselors and librarians who’ve worked at AISD for five years or more.
AISD’s SAT scores exceed state and national averages, but they lost 1,680 out of a total of 6,683 enrolled students to charter schools at the end of the 2014 school year, and they’re expecting more. In addition, 60 percent of Austin students are considered low-income, no doubt a by-product of the city’s current precarious situation as it faces rising home and property prices caused by an influx of migration into the city.
Infographics based on the 2015 Zandon "Voices of Austin" poll