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Texas is on the right path. We must push forward.

Last year, the state’s business, civic and political communities came together to pass the House Bill 3 school finance legislation, focusing on the state’s long-term needs rather than short-term politics. The bill made key structural improvements to Texas’ school finance system, such as a renewed focus on our highest-need students; it exemplifies the kind of approach we champion at Texas 2036, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing future challenges.

Key to House Bill 3 is a commitment to close longstanding gaps in student outcomes among the state’s low-income and minority communities through a variety of data-informed programs and incentives. This mission – equitable access to academic opportunity and efficient use of taxpayer funding – should likewise frame the debate as schools resume this fall.

Educators are working night and day to safely begin the new school year. Parents and teachers alike are rightly worried about the spread of infection on campus. But this is Texas, a state known for innovation and getting things done. And while the challenges ahead are real and substantial, we must overcome them. It will take collaboration and support from Washington on down to our local school boards, but Texans can get it done.

In reopening schools, we must be clear-eyed about the unequal impacts school closures and distance learning can have on low-income, minority, and rural communities. Students without adequate broadband access cannot be expected to learn online. Students without parental supports, routine meals, or a safe place to call home cannot be expected to learn at their empty dinner tables.

These disparities also highlight the need for a robust assessment and accountability system that ensures our educational system remains laser-focused on students who face additional barriers to opportunity. We need to care enough about these children to find out how much learning loss has occurred during the pandemic, but also how they are performing over the long term – and whether our educational system is meeting their needs. These students have faced a lifetime of obstacles; this is not the time to turn our backs on their needs.

Finding a way to open safely — for the families who rely on in-person learning, and for the teachers who educate kids — should be the priority for all those engaged in the education debate. We must focus on how, not if, we can open schools in a way that protects all who walk through their doors. Parents should not have to face the impossible choice between earning a living to support their families or staying home to support their children’s education. All parents, even those who can work from home, face difficult choices – but it’s important that schools provide parents with options, not force them into untenable positions. 

The state has taken critical steps to help districts reopen. State leaders recently announced their decision to invest $200 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for eLearning devices and home internet solutions. This is critical in Texas, where, many Texans do not have a wired internet connection in their homes. But for many students, even the best online options cannot replace the classroom experience.

Further, this is not a job our state and local leaders can do alone. Congress must quickly pass a new COVID-19 relief bill with strong support for schools. Congressional funds should be flexible to ensure that states like Texas have the resources not just to make it through the upcoming school year, but to maintain stable funding as the economy recovers.

This is a difficult time, but Texas can meet the challenge. With support from our legislators in Washington and a solutions-oriented mindset from state and local leaders, we can begin the school year safely for students and teachers, resume on-campus learning soon and continue on the path to progress provided by House Bill 3.

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