Waco ISD: Will you help save public education?

Good evening. My name is Ben Becker. I am a father of three and a public school parent in Houston ISD.

I have come 200 miles today, because I am concerned about the fate of public education in Texas. Waco is also a special place for me. My wife and I met at Baylor and married here. I lived in Waco a total of 10 years—many of them as a member of the business community.

As a matter of fact, the beginning of my advocacy in public education started as a volunteer for three years at Alta Vista Elementary School—one of the schools whose fate hangs in the balance of the state’s threats of closure and the decision to begin privatization in Waco ISD before you tonight.

Let me be clear—the possibility of even one more school anywhere in Texas being closed is a grim concern. But my wife and I, along with friends in Houston and Dallas and Austin, come to you today to caution you—caution you to look at the bigger picture of what’s at stake.

Your decision to charter or partner with a third party to manage Waco ISD schools has implications far beyond these five campuses. To outsource your management of these schools is an acceptance of the state’s power to force local school boards to give up democratic control. It’s an acceptance that the state’s accountability system and its chronic underfunding of K-12 public education is acceptable.

I have followed news of this board and its new superintendent closely. I know many of you have reservations about the state’s so-called Lonestar Governance program and whether the ever-increasing focus on standardized test scores is a positive evolution for public education. 

Closing schools is bad. No one wants to see that. But savings democratically-controlled public education is vital. 

I urge you—do not acquiesce to the TEA. Do not let them hold your schools hostage and only give you bad options. The TEA is bullying you and bullying other high-poverty districts around the state like mine. 

And the only way to answer a bully is to stand together and stand up. No one district, no one board can fight the TEA alone. 

I urge you—before you do one more thing, rally with other under-funded and over-regulated districts and challenge the TEA in court.

I urge you—before you make such high-stakes turn over your schools under duress, make the TEA prove that the STAAR test complies with laws like HB743—if you do, you’ll find as parents who sued the TEA two years ago, that it doesn’t. 

Make the TEA prove STAAR results actually reflect differences in teaching and curriculum as opposed to being simply correlated with socio-economic status—if you do, you’ll find as UT professor Dr. Walter Stroup did—that STAAR scores are statistically insensitive to instruction.

The end game of both state accountability and the slow suffocation of underfunding Texas public education is PRIVATIZATION. Partnering with third parties to run your schools via the charter expansions in SB1882 and doing so under the school board death threat in HB1842 is a clear. path. to that. privatization. end.

I ask you… Will Waco ISD play TEA’s game and lose its schools? Will Waco ISD accept sanction after sanction and abdicate its voter’s democratic control of their schools? Or will you, as trustees, as stewards of Waco’s schools, as advocates for public education, will you be a part of the resistance to state overreach and defend our schools? Will you defend our children? Will you help save public education?

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