(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
I’m on the plane back to Arizona having spent the entire week in Austin and then at the Excel in Ed National Summit. I had the opportunity to provide invited testimony to the Texas Senate Education committee, chaired for the last time by Senator/Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick.
The focus on the hearing was on the crushing enrollment growth in Texas. Texas adds a Wyoming public school system sized number of students per year. The percentage of total spending going to capital outlay and debt service has doubled since the turn of the century up to 20%, and there is no end in sight.
For instance, the Austin Independent School District passed an almost $500m bond issue in 2013. The district has approximately 76,000 students, 20,000 of whom spend at least part of the day in a portable building. The district estimated that passage of the bond would reduce portable building use by 16%– at least for a while.
I may or may not have used the technical term “boogeyman story” to describe the fearful narrative that removing charter school caps, creating voucher, tax-credit or ESA programs would leave the Texas public school system in ruins. The truth of the matter is that they don’t have spaces or teachers for the kids they already have, and far more arrive every year than would ever wind up going into any combination of private choice programs.
You can’t stop Texas enrollment growth, you can only hope to contain it.
Next on the agenda was a stop over in DC to present at the Excel in Ed National Summit on ESA programs. The conference had 900+ attendees and some outstanding presentations, all of which will be available on the interwebs soon. It is always energizing to get to spend time with my colleagues and with K-12 reformers from across the country and the world. I always come away from these meetings exhausted and energized (yes it is odd) but the energy is still there after some sleep dispels the exhaustion.
Finally, I was honored this week to join Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey’s transition team along with reform champion Lisa Graham Keegan and Great Hearts Vice President Erik Twist. We will be looking for outstanding candidates to fill critical K-12 policy roles.