BROWNSVILLE, RGV – State Rep. Eddie Lucio III believes IDEA Public Schools has played a key role in improving educational outcomes in the Rio Grande Valley by providing competition to traditional public school districts.

Nine Valley districts scored “A” grades, the top letter grade a district can achieve, in rankings issued by the Texas Education Agency in August.

Lucio gave the keynote speech at IDEA’s Educational Excellence Luncheon, a fundraiser held at the Ambassador Events Center in Brownsville on Sept. 27.

In his speech, Lucio said he and Torkelson share the same passion. Namely, “to be the very best we can be, to treat everybody around us exceptionally well.” 

Lucio went on to say he had been “blown away” by a comment Torkelson made over lunch a few weeks prior.

“He said something in particular that really struck a chord. He said if you are going to be born poor in our country, there is no better place than to be born poor in the Rio Grande Valley,” Lucio said.

“Statistically and historically, because of IDEA Public Schools and what they have done to increase the quality of education, you are going to have an opportunity to succeed. That blew me away. That is an incredible thing. If you are born into challenging circumstances, let’s hope you are born in the Rio Grande Valley. How about that?”

Lucio said the quality of education has significantly improved since the time he was at school.

“If there is anybody here who was my teacher, I am not getting at you. You did the best you can with what you had. But, it truly, truly is exceptional (what is happening now). Is it coincidence that we started to see the change in the quality of education and the exponential fast growth in that quality after IDEA Public Schools came into that picture?”

Lucio added: “They (IDEA) are not only creating excellence within their organization but now everyone in the education space is striving for true excellence.”

The legislator concluded his remarks by saying to IDEA’s leadership: “Thank you for what you do. Thank you to IDEA Public Schools for making our region one of the best places to be born, and to live and to get educated. We are truly inspired by what you do. We are dedicated to making sure you have all the tools you need for continued success.”

IDEA Public Schools CEO and Co-Founder Tom Torkelson presented Lucio with the “Charter Campion Award.” He said the legislator deserved the award for helping pass legislation that allowed more state funding to go to charter schools.

“Rep. Lucio championed a remarkable bill in the last session. For the first time ever, the bill attempted to close the gap between what a charter school receives on a per student basis and what a district school receives on a per student basis,” Torkelson said.

“Of all the legislators we come across, Rep. Lucio is as sincere and hardworking and as special as they get in terms of working for the constituents of our community.”

Torkelson started his remarks by recalling the time San Antonio education supporters came to him to ask for IDEA’s help in their city. He said that back in 2012 they were “fed up” with public school system in San Antonio.

“They wanted to know why young people in San Antonio were one third less likely to graduate college than the young people in our community, here in Brownsville.”

Torkelson said the San Antonio leaders visited Frontier, the original IDEA school in Brownsville.

“They were amazed and thrilled by what they saw in the classrooms. They were inspired and impressed by the confidence of our young people. They were blown away by the dreams and aspirations of our high school kids. They were amazed at the work ethic of our middle school and elementary kids. They couldn’t believe the challenging and rigorous hard work the kids were doing every single day.”

Torkelson said San Antonio education leaders wanted the same quality the Valley had.

“They are closing down low performing district schools and partnering with charter schools to take over those neighborhood schools to give those students a fighting chance of success in college. They have basically stolen the IDEA playbook. This has carried itself out in city after city.”

Torkelson added that change is in the wind and innovation is taking place all over the State of Texas. “We are showing what is possible when the adults in the system get it right,” he said, pointing out that IDEA’s biggest funder is not a private foundation but the taxpayers of Texas.

The Educational Excellence Luncheon was hosted by Jill Dominguez, executive director in IDEA Public Schools in the Valley. Dominguez said IDEA has 16 campuses in the Lower Valley, and 79 across the State of Texas and Louisiana. She said IDEA in the Lower Valley serves 11,000 students and employs 1,100 people. 

David Merrill also spoke at the luncheon.

The financial advisor recalled being a board member when Frontier started. He said his own limited horizon was to have a new charter school in Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen. “Now look at us, we have 79 campuses,” he said.

Merrill said he hoped IDEA could fill a campus with 1,100 kids in Brownsville. He pointed out that this year, there were 2,500 kids who could not get into IDEA in Brownsville because they did not win the lottery.

“The thing about IDEA is, they never lose sight of the map that they’ve given you and the outcome that they expect from the moment you show up. There is never a question about what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, how you are going to get there, why you are doing it and what the outcome will be. We are going to make sure, not only that you get there but we are going to do whatever it takes to get you there. They focus on that every day.”

Merrill said he liked the fact that everywhere a student looks on an IDEA campus there is a sign that says, you’re going to college. “That focus is never diluted. And it is for every child that shows up.”

He added that if those in the audience could not give a check, at least sign up and go see an IDEA campus. “You are supporting change in education in Brownsville, Texas.”