There are issues and there are issues…
Take for instance the Dallas ISD Trustees decisions to close 11 schools in Dallas. That’s an issue – a serious one.
It is fraught with all kinds of implications. Empty school buildings crush the economic wherewithal and cultural psyche of neighborhoods. They also hamper the prospects for any type of real economic redevelopment.
TEA designations of ’acceptable’, ‘recognized’ or ‘excellent’, aside, and whether or not these categories tell the true story of what’s happening inside the school, DISD was not investing the resources necessary to make these schools attractive to young families in the first place.
Nor has the redevelopment of these low income communities has been strategically focused to attract large numbers of these families. These combined challenges further complicate neighborhood redevelopment in these communities.
Mayor Mike Rawlings has publicly stated that he wants the city to figure out how to work with the school district to make education more effective. City Hall’s commitment to be the catalyst in restoring the viability and safety of these neighborhoods, is the most effective and appropriate engagement with the school district.
At the same time, the District needs to go beyond TEA designations for success and commit to stellar schools in low income communities. That takes money. And that’s another issue.
I don’t give DISD trustees a pass on this issue; but they are dealing with economic forces at the state level that are beyond their control.
DISD’s trustees have to deal with the fallout of $5 billion the Texas Legislature cut from education in the 181st session last spring. With the number of children entering our Texas’ public school system projected to increase, they’ve balanced the state’s budget at the expense of our future.
The Great Recession is only partly to blame. Tax laws enacted ease the tax burden on businesses, more than 5 years ago, projected to generate sufficient revenue simply didn’t. Governor Rick Perry and the legislature ignored warnings by the State Comptroller, who told them that the new tax laws would result in a $23 billion shortfall.
For a short time, the deficit was masked with stimulus money. When the stimulus money ran out, the legislature refused to use the ‘Rainy Day Fund’ (the state’s savings account) to cover the shortfall. So the cuts were enacted. And our education system is suffering.
The school closures in Dallas are directly related to the $5 billion cuts enacted by a very conservative state legislature. This will rob future generations of our children – black, brown and white – of the education they need to meaningfully contribute in the 21st century. It will consign the poorest of them to low wage jobs and dead end futures.
This brings us to another issue.
The people responsible for this short-sighted and fiscally careless decision were voted into office in 2010; two years after Texas’ primary was characterized by long lines and crowded caucuses. The day of Presidential election, we voted like it was American Idol. In 2010 we stayed home.
Punishing DISD trustees in May for these school closures is an insufficient and reactionary response. The real answer is more strategic electoral politics.
In 2012 we have to vote with the future in mind – including the elections 2014. To paraphrase Ryan Seacrest’s iconic introduction, ‘Thiiis is NOT American Idol!’
The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare.org. Rev. Britt blogs at www.changethewind.org. and writes a monthly column for the Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.