Valley schools urge legislators for more financing

PHARR — In a pitch to state lawmakers on measures they hope to see during the legislative session, local legislators called for a focus on financing, but specifically in increasing basic allotment.

Three superintendents from districts across the Rio Grande Valley participated in a panel on public education that was part of a legislative tour hosted by RGV Partnership.

The superintendents — Daniel King of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, Maria Vidaurri of Sharyland ISD, and Art Cavazos of the Harlingen CISD — began by touting the accomplishments of their respective districts before dovetailing into what they thought was needed from the state.

“I would recommend focusing on increasing the basic allotment,” King said, referring to the amount of funds that every district is guaranteed to receive in state and local funds for each student.

“Focusing on the basic allotment with the revenue, actually helps with most of the other concerns that we hear about and read about,” he said, adding that driving new revenue to basic allotment would help with concerns about the state and local share issue and provide funding for increasing teachers’ salaries.

“Ditto,” Cavazos said in response to King’s statements.

Cavazos also prefers focusing on Career and Technical Education, or CTE, and adjusting the weights that determine how much money is allocated to those programs.

Vidaurri also agreed with the need to increase basic allotment.

She noted that when the Sharyland school district extended pre-K from half-day to full-day, the district had to allocate money from another important area because they had limited funds.

“But this need was a higher need,” she said, adding that Sharyland is now in its second year of implementing the full-day program.

Most school districts resorted to half-day pre-k programs after losing $4 million in state funding for full-day pre-k in 2011. However, some districts have since made the move back to full-day.

The Weslaco school district approved full-day pre-k in December 2017, and the Donna school district announced in August 2018 that it would be investing in universal full-day Pre-K.

Some legislators said they agreed with the superintendents but appeared skeptical that “enough” funding would be allocated.

“We need to significantly increase funding to our public schools,” state Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin, said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if there’s enough support across the aisle to get what we need, which I think is closer to $14 billion to balance the playing field.”

Still, the freshman representative said he had high hopes they could make some progress on school funding this session and that he would work hard to do so.

“I think there is bipartisan support for some increase, so I think we’ll see progress this session and then we’ll have to come back in two more years and keep working on it,” he said.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, agreed that increasing basic allotment would solve a lot of underfunding problems, but was less optimistic.

“Unfortunately, our state leadership thinks that we already invest too much money in education (and that) it’s a matter of shifting monies around in the system,” Rodriguez said. “We’re never going to solve the problem if we don’t add new revenue into the system, and that’s what I’m going be advocating for.”

Rodriguez, who grew up in Alamo, said unless the legislature did so, inequities in the school system would continue and would negatively impact disadvantaged students, English-language learners and bilingual students.

“It’s time for us to finally fix the problem,” Rodriguez said.