Frisco ISD will be closely following the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature this spring as lawmakers grapple with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. The session, which begins in Austin next Tuesday, Jan. 12, is expected to be defined by a multi-billion dollar budget deficit and lower than expected revenue for the next two-year biennium.
FISD plans to actively engage with elected officials as they respond to the challenge. A top priority of the District will be to secure the current school finance system and funding level established by the Legislature under House Bill 3 in 2019.
The legislation increased the state’s share of funding for public education, enabling districts to lower local property tax rates while still receiving additional revenue. The bill allowed Frisco ISD to lower class sizes and make additional investments in employee pay and health care, special education, Pre-Kindergarten and more.
“House Bill 3 was a comprehensive fix to many of the problems that had persisted in the school finance system for many years,” said Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Smith. “However, there was always the question of whether it would be sustainable in an economic downturn.
“Frisco ISD will work with the Legislature to identify solutions to a possible budget shortfall, including exploring new funding sources for schools. We will also encourage lawmakers to make any funding adjustments, if necessary, through the basic allotment, which would impact all school districts across the state equitably.”
Another top priority for Frisco ISD will be in the area of online learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed teaching and learning, but the virtual option currently offered in FISD is not allowed or funded under current law. It is only possible due to temporary waivers and flexibilities afforded to school districts as a result of the pandemic.
Frisco ISD was already looking to increase the opportunities available to students through a virtual or blended learning format, but COVID-19 has demonstrated that online learning, while not for all students, is preferable for some for a variety of reasons.
As a result, FISD hopes to work with lawmakers on a number of legislative changes that would expand the ability of school districts to offer fully or partially online courses after the pandemic. This would allow the District to tailor educational programs based on individual student needs, including for elite athletes and students with health or medical challenges who must be out of school for short or long periods. It could also provide additional options for students who simply prefer the structure or flexibility that online learning affords.
“We have seen a number of students thrive under the online model,” said Tiffany Carey, director of innovative learning. “We want the opportunity to serve them if they want to stick with that model.
“It could be that a student needs to work or wants to pursue other interests in addition to school. Other students may have difficulty concentrating or struggle with social anxiety in a traditional classroom environment. Our hope is to have the ability to take care of our own students with increased local control related to online learning.”
Outreach to lawmakers in this area has already begun. Carey testified before the Senate Education Committee in November on the topic of digital learning, one of the committee’s interim charges. Click here to view her written testimony.
Other Legislative Priorities
Frisco ISD’s legislative priorities were developed by a group of staff, students and community members. The Legislative Leadership Committee was tasked with exploring issues that could be considered by state lawmakers in the upcoming session, as well as areas where action by the state could help Frisco ISD better serve students and the community.
In addition to funding and online learning, the committee also outlined priorities related to special education, assessment & accountability, whole child and district governance. Click here to see the full list of legislative priorities.
As a matter of practice, Frisco ISD does not take positions on specific bills introduced in the Legislature. The District strives to be a helpful resource for elected officials as they consider changes impacting public education. As the 87th Legislative Session gets underway, FISD’s adopted legislative priorities will serve as a guide to help facilitate these conversations with lawmakers and raise greater public awareness about issues affecting FISD.