On April 3, 2019, the Texas House passed House Bill 3 — a comprehensive school finance plan.
HB 3, among other reforms, will give an almost $1,850 pay raise to all school employees and increase the basic allotment by $890 per child.
Although I am excited to see some of these changes unfold, I would be remiss if I did not express my concern over the removal of the independent Gifted and Talented (G/T) Allotment from the school finance plan.
I was a G/T student myself and know first-hand how important dedicated funding for quality Gifted and Talented programming is for students. G/T education is important to ensure our highest-performing students remain stimulated in the classroom to prevent listlessness, underperformance, and drop out rates from rising.
According to the Texas Education Agency, a G/T student is a student who “performs or shows the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment.” The student also must display that high performance in an “intellectual, creative or artistic area, possess an unusual capacity for leadership, or excel in a specific academic field.” We must continue to invest in these children.
House Bill 3 rolls G/T funding into the general amount distributed per student to school districts, with the expectation that the G/T program remain robust. However, if a school district cannot certify that they have a G/T program, some funding is withdrawn.
The issue with this structure is that simply having a program does not guarantee quality or equity. There is also no requirement to spend any minimum amount of funds on the G/T program. In fact, when other states moved their G/T allotment into their general education allotment, as HB 3 does, students in rural and high poverty schools were affected the most.
Identifying G/T students from diverse backgrounds requires teacher training, specific and updated testing, and the time and energy of a committee. All of these require protected and dedicated funding to ensure quality programming.
Back home in District 102, G/T programs have allowed our students to thrive. One elementary school’s G/T students volunteered over 1,000 hours in service, collected over $18,000 in donations, and gave over 1,230 minutes of speeches.
I was proud to offer an amendment to HB 3 on the floor on Tuesday to put the dedicated funding allotment for G/T back into the school finance plan. The amendment would have also reiterated that nothing in HB 3 limits the ability for a district to identify and provide services to more than five percent of the student population as G/T students.
I was ultimately asked to withdraw my amendment in the interest of bipartisan cooperation. I am pleased with the amendments related to G/T funding that were finally adopted to House Bill 3, but I know we can do more to protect our G/T students. I stand by our Gifted and Talented students and will continue to fight to ensure their programming is protected, and that our children continue to meet their highest potential.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column, by state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos is the latest in a series of op-eds from members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The Rio Grande Guardian will be running a series of articles by MALC members for the duration of the 86th Legislative Session.