Public Education Committee Chair Harold Dutton sat down with the Texas Tribune for a virtual interview on Thursday to share his opinions on how public schools should move forward after the winter storm and adapt to the pandemic.
The Houston representative has been working on education for almost 40 years, and is the longest serving representative on his committee. Right now he says the Legislature should focus on rescuing children left behind in the midst of the worldwide pandemic. This includes getting involved with the allocation of federal stimulus funds.
“We have a number of children who had been affected, for example, by this pandemic, who were on the bottom,” Dutton said. “The only thing that’s happened to them is they set a new level for the bottom.”
Dutton hopes the state can provide as many options to get kids to go back to the classrooms. He maintains his place as a charter school advocate, stating that they provide alternatives that help children achieve a full and complete education. The Democrat is committed to keep his legislative priorities focused on improving student outcomes and delivery of education.
“Being at school and not necessarily in the classroom, you learn a lot of things about socialization and dealing with other people,” Dutton said. “You may learn your ABCs, but what good does it do if you don’t know how that relates to the person next door?”
He’s proposing to prioritize teachers in the vaccine roll out program so more families feel safe sending their kids to school. For him, teachers are part of the first responders.
He also said he’s conscious there will be a lot of people not willing to send their kids back, placing the task of getting students to attend in-person education to each school. The state will have hold harmless funding for school districts this spring semester, with many incentives to find lost students. He did, however, give the caveat that the magnitude will likely be smaller than the hold harmless from before.
On the matter of state evaluation of students, such as the STAAR test, Dutton says we should be more focused on diagnostic testing instead of our pre-pandemic system of evaluation.
“What’s happened, in almost every household, is that children have had a downturn in how they have been able to achieve educationally,” Dutton said. “I’m just convinced that we need to take a look at the testing overall. And certainly, in light of now, the situation now, we need to back off from it.”