— By BOBBY J. RIGUES
The regular 83rd Texas Legislative Session is now in the history books. As a school board member, I find it interesting that every session seems to leave me with a lingering flavor – an aftertaste.
As a naive board member in 2007, the 80th Legislative Session exposed me to the sobering fact that school districts across Texas are seriously impacted by legislative decisions. Seriously – up until then, I was content focusing my duties of school governance at the local level and blind to legislative educational policies. In 2007, the state overhauled the way school districts were funded. Unfortunately, the vision of properly funding schools never materialized and left us with a broken school finance system.
The 80th Legislative Session left me with a lingering flavor – an aftertaste of “concern.” For the first time as a board member, I could see beyond my local school district boundaries. My new horizon shed light on the power of legislation. It became clear their actions determined the direction of our local schools, regardless of whether we liked it or not.
The 81st Legislative Session in 2009 was a learning experience. It introduced me to many hard-working legislators and staff. It also taught me the topic of “education” was not immune to the realities of politics. The broken system of school finance was explained as a temporary issue, an issue to be addressed sooner than later. To me, it was the elephant in the room. Like the issue of school finance, it was too big to deal with and too big to ignore. As other priorities surfaced, many looked way.
Lingering flavors change. The word “overwhelming” best describes my aftertaste at the end of the 81st Legislative Session. The more I learned about educational policy, the more I realized I did not know.
The 82nd Legislative Session in 2011 found the elephant in the room tired of being ignored – so, it sat on everyone. The temporary broken system of school finance now seemed permanent. Between the factors of recession, deficits, stimulus funds, priorities, party politics and the “can” kicked down the road so hard it was now lost – when all the smoke cleared and the bloody noses were cleaned, education found itself $5.4 billion in the hole.
And yet, I left the 82nd Legislative Session with an aftertaste of “optimism.” In my search for answers, I found myself surrounded by parents and grandparents, teachers, educators, blue collar and white collar workers, people of every economic status, of every ethnic group and of every occupation united – all with a passion to protect the value and the pursuit for quality public schools.
For the first time in Texas history, nonprofit, parent and educational groups of every kind stood strongly united against threatening perils such as high-stakes testing and the inequities in school funding.
Here we are in 2013. The regular 83rd Legislative Session came and went with a swell of public influence. Legislative leaders surfaced and ushered in a new era of educational legislation. If embraced, HB5 along with other bills will make positive differences. Now behind us, a lingering flavor is already forming – a refreshing aftertaste called opportunity.
Once signed into law, more than 7,000 school board members will share a new opportunity to educate. As stewards of local school districts, this is the time – the right time to lead by example, to partner with our local districts and educate the public of the positive legislative changes. The future of local control and the education of our children depend on it. Ownership of our Texas public schools is a shared responsibility. Make Education a Priority.
Bobby J. Rigues is the founder of MEaP - Make Education a Priority, a Leadership TASB Class of 09 Master Trustee and an Aledo ISD Board of Trustee. Contact him at Brigues@att.net.