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Public Statements

Student Success Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Unknown

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be on the floor with Mr. Tierney and the gentleman from California, and their commitment and their comments on the question of the equality of education for at-risk children. I think if there is anything that comes out of this important discussion, and from the chairman's presence on the floor, it should be that we should be focused with tunnel vision on the concern about at-risk children.

My amendment is a straightforward amendment. It is an amendment that gives information. Specifically, it calls for a study and a report containing recommendations regarding the advisability of authorizing a State education authority to close a school district over the opposition of the locally elected school board, families, students, teachers, and calls for best practices governing the exercise of authority by a State education agency in monitoring, supervising, and controlling underperforming school districts, with particular emphasis on rural and underserved districts and underserved communities.

Our children are our precious resource, and I have been in schools and school districts where children loved the atmosphere in which they are in. They clamor for the teachers. There is a mutual respect and coming together, and all they need is a focus of resources and improvement. But rather than getting that, authority is used to either undermine the funding of those school districts or in essence say to those school teachers and all of those who have been working--and taxpayers--that, in fact, this school will not be given dollars to improve.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education assessed a number of States, and the interesting determination was that States spent less on improving school districts and schools, less on improving, but more on shutting them down or not allowing them to go forward in at-risk areas. This chart gives you the balance of distribution of performance and improvement; and many States, such as Texas, spend less than 5 percent on performance.

So what does my amendment do? It provides balance between local control over schools and our State educational agencies by providing a report. It makes sure that taxpayers and locally elected officials are not ignored by the State. It also has a way of preventing communities from being blamed as the problem and engaging the community. It prevents poorly prepared State-elected officials who've been placed in positions to run schools from taking money from those schools as opposed to investing in those schools.

It makes sure that minor problems are fixed before you go to drastic concerns. It allows a determination of a structure of appeal so that the appeal is allowed broadly by those who are impacted, taxpayers, for example, who are very important. And it allows a determination whether the State authorities are given the effective oversight of a rural district, an at-risk district; and then it provides the opportunity to ensure that there is fair play and that we are interested in the quality of education.

I ask my colleagues to support the amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. Chair, I thank Chairman KLINE and Ranking Member MILLER for their work to improve education for our Nation's children. I thank the Rules Committee for making in order Jackson Lee Amendment #24 for full consideration by the House of Representatives.

My amendment to H.R. 5, the ``Student Success Act,'' is simple and is an important addition to this bill. I believe that my amendment to H.R. 5 can be supported by every member of the House.

JACKSON LEE AMENDMENT #24

This amendment directs the Secretary of Education to conduct a study and produce a report to Congress with recommendations regarding the advisability of authorizing a state education authority to close a school district over the opposition of a locally elected school board, and regarding best practices governing the exercise of authority by a state education agency in monitoring, supervising and controlling underperforming school districts with particular emphasis on rural and underrepresented school districts.

The purpose of the amendment is to create an opportunity for states to receive information guidance on what is happening around the Nation regarding forced school district mergers or closures.

Forced school district mergers and closures by a state without careful consideration of the sensitivity of the communities impacted can result in unintended consequences.

A report can provide recommendations regarding the advisability of an authorized state education authority to close a school district over the opposition of a locally elected school board.

Having access to the knowledge and experience of other state education agencies to factor into the decision to close or merge a school board can be of benefit to the 24 states with laws that allow these types of actions.

A report is not intended to suggest that there are no circumstances when a state may need to exercise its authority to intervene and act in the best interest of children or communities if the school district is unable to do so.

The report can provide easy access to lessons learned and a list of voluntary best practices that may be of great benefit to states that have the authority to close a locally elected school board.

The 24 states with the authority to close or merge a school district include: Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, California, and New Mexico.

There are important reasons why states need to have the report proposed by this amendment as resources they can reference when making a difficult decision regarding a school district's future.

Much of the reason for such a report flow from the same arguments many of my colleagues make regarding the power of the federal government.

When states close or merge local school districts their actions: reduce local control over schools and increases state authority over school districts; imply that the community has the problem and the states have the answers, and assumes that states have the ability to effectively run school districts; routinely place poorly prepared state-selected officials in positions to run school districts, which means there is little possibility of any meaningful change occurring in the classroom; usually focus on cleaning up minor problems and incompetent administration but do not go to the root of the social problems facing disadvantaged students in urban and rural school districts; foster negative connotations and impressions that hinder self-esteem of school board members, administrators, teachers, students and parents; and produce unnecessary showdowns between state and local officials which slow the overhaul of management practices, drain resources from educational reforms and reinforce division between impacted citizens and state government.

Another damaging impact of forced school district closures are the foreseeable hardened negative feelings toward state government that result.

The parents, students or elected school boards have no voice in the decision by the state to close or merge a school district.

This amendment does not assume that there is no role or circumstance under which the 24 state governments with laws that allow intervention and closure of school districts should not be able to act. The amendment seeks to provide information to these states on the experience of other states with the power to close a school district. The benefit of the report can be accessed by all states who may want to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing action against school districts as well as provide guidance on best practices.

Due process that is transparent and supports the principle that all school districts within a state will be treated the same would be a strong step forward in raising public confidence in the decisions of state government. It would be very prudent to be sure that when a state decides to act to help a failing school they can recruit the best experts in the field. Finally, local engagement in the decision making process removes tension and raises the possibility of a successful outcome.

My Congressional district once included the North Forest Independent School District, which was closed by the Texas Education Agency on July 1, 2013.

The decision to close North Forest Independent School District by the Texas Education Association displayed a reckless disregard for the children, parents, teachers, and administrators of the North Forest Independent School District.

There was no reason to close the school district and many reasons to work with the elected school board and engaged community to address the issues raised by the Texas Education Association.

The decision to deprive the community served by the school district did not give parents any say or control over the decision to dissolve the locally elected 7-member North Forest Independent School District board and was not in the interest of the education of the students served by the schools in that district. All of the members of the former North Forest Independent School board were African American. The North Forest School District was 70% African American and 29% Hispanic.

In making the decision to close the district, the Texas Education Agency took a ``guillotine'' approach to resolving the problems associated with the North Forest Independent School District--an approach that was wholly unnecessary given the progress the district has made as well as the availability of viable and less disruptive alternatives, including a proposed partnership between North Forest Independent School District and local public charter schools that was announced on March 8, 2013.

There must be a remedy to prevent this from happening to any other school districts. Jackson Lee Amendment #24 is designed to prevent this from happening by providing Congress with much needed information on the impact to school districts that face closure or merging.

The practice of closing and merging school districts is disproportionally happening to school districts serving rural and underserved students. This amendment is intended to provide Congress with more information about what happens to these school districts and discover better remedies when there are goals that are established by States that can mean the closing or merging of a school district.

A study conducted by S.L. Bowen in 2007, titled ``Is bigger that much better? School district size, high school completion, and post-secondary enrollment rates in Maine,'' published in the Maine View suggests the best interest of students are not being served. This study supported by the Maine Heritage Policy Center compared high school completion rates of the 15 largest and 15 smallest school districts in Maine and found that the graduation rate for smaller districts was six percent higher than for larger districts.

Another study, by A. Howle & C. Howley conducted in 2006 on the subject of small schools and the pressure to consolidate is available in the Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 14(10), 1-23.

This report on school size reviewed the research on the effects of small schools. The report states that children from economically disadvantaged families have higher achievement in small schools and small districts; the relationship between aggregate student achievement and socioeconomic status is consistently weaker in smaller schools and districts (equity effects of size); dropout rates are lower in smaller schools; students' school activity participation is higher in smaller schools; and smaller high schools can offer adequate curriculum.

There is research to indicate that this would be a worthwhile amendment that the full House can support.

I urge all members to vote in favor of Jackson Lee Amendment #24.

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SEVEN REASONS WHY THE JACKSON LEE AMENDMENT IS NEEDED

The Jackson Lee Amendment would: Balance local control over schools with state authority over school districts; make sure that taxpayers and locally elected officials are not ignored by the State; prevent communities from being blamed as the problem and the states as having all of the answers; prevent poorly prepared state-selected officials from being placed in positions to run school districts; make sure that minor problems and incompetent administration issues can be dealt with without merging or closing school districts; make sure that state appointed heads of school districts have effective oversight to be sure that a fair and impartial process for decision making is established and maintained; and prevent unnecessary showdowns between state and local officials which slow the overhaul of management practices, drain resources from educational reforms and reinforce division between impacted citizens and state government.

IN SUPPORT OF JACKSON LEE AMENDMENT #24--NORTH FOREST INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

The facts about NFISD:

The closure of North Forest Independent School District was unnecessary given the progress the district had made as well as the availability of viable and less disruptive alternatives, including a proposed partnership between North Forest Independent School District and local public charter schools that was announced on March 8, 2013.

The North Forest Independent School District electoral district had 50,000 registered voters whose voting power was diluted because they will be absorbed into the Houston Independent School District but no additional seats will be added to the Houston Independent School District board.

There was no reason to close the North Forest Independent School District since it was solvent; had received awards for excellence and had received significant outside funding to continue.

The North Forest Independent School District proposed a sound alternative plan to the Texas Education Agency that was applauded by the U.S. Department of Education and supported by experts like Dr. Rod Paige, former Secretary of the Department of Education.

The North Forest Independent School District was the victim of an unfair process since there was no provision for an appeal of an adverse decision by the Governor, who appears to have unfettered discretion.

The State appointed official that made the decision to close North Forest was the only person to hear opposition to their plan. There was no appeals process to check the discretion of the state appointed official.

WHEN STATES CLOSE OR MERGE LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS, THEIR ACTIONS:

Reduce local control over schools and increase state authority over school districts; imply that the community has the problem and the states have the answers, and assumes that states have the ability to effectively run school districts; routinely place poorly prepared state-selected officials in positions to run school districts, which means there is little possibility of any meaningful change occurring in the classroom; usually focus on cleaning up minor problems and incompetent administration but do not go to the root of the social problems facing disadvantaged students in urban and rural school districts; foster negative connotations and impressions that hinder self-esteem of school board members, administrators, teachers, students and parents; and produce unnecessary showdowns between state and local officials which slow the overhaul of management practices, drain resources from educational reforms and reinforce division between impacted citizens and state government.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Chairman, well, as we started, the reason why the Federal Government got engaged in education is because I remember times in the South and across America when there was unequal education and we needed the U.S. Department of Education. More importantly, we needed the courts. Today I stand here and ask for a simple inquiry made by the U.S. Department of Education: Are State agencies effectively closing school districts and not seeking to improve them?

A very fine example is the closure of the North Forest Independent School District in Houston, Texas. It's solvent, 50,000 registered voters, 7,000 students, had received awards, and what did the State agency do, the State agency came in, to the opposition of the community, teachers, supporters of a combined effort between a public school and charter school, proposed coming together to put forward the best proposal to keep this school teaching our children, support by Republicans and Democrats, and an autocratic State agency closed the school district.

So this is a simple inquiry. It is an inquiry as to whether or not you want to boost up the taxpayers and boost up the parents who have no standing. It is a question of whether or not you want to make sure that there is a basis of a fair appeal as opposed to an autocratic process, a dictatorial process. I ask my colleagues, all of them have faced this. No one wants to interfere with the running of a school district or interfere with the administrators or educators; but what you do want to interfere with is business decisions closing rural school districts and closing urban school districts and not allowing the people, the teachers to be able to understand and to give input into the best process, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to refer to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, and I would argue in closing, Mr. Chairman, that this amendment gives opportunity. I ask you to support the Jackson Lee amendment.

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