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Texas House unfortunately knocked down Royce West's achievement district bill

The Dallas Morning News
May 23, 2013

By Bill McKenzie

On Tuesday, I sat through the Texas House’s debate over Royce West’s bill to let schools that consistently fail to meet the state’s standards become part of a new state achievement district. From my perspective, the debate over SB 1718 was demoralizing.

Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston was the House sponsor of the bill that West, a Dallas Democrat, passed through the Senate. Dutton made several good points about how he had been through 50 legislative sessions and there was almost always talk about under-performing schools. Here, Dutton said, is a way to do something about them.

Specifically, the bill would give the Texas Education Agency the option of keeping the failing school open but putting it in a new district with other under-performing schools. That district would have its own superintendent, who could try to give them vision and tools to overcome their limitations.

This approach is being used in other places, including in Tennessee. YES Prep founder Chris Barbic now heads the Tennessee achievement district, where the goal is to work with the schools on improving their leadership, instruction and expectations.

I don’t see the harm in that, especially since students could get to stay in their own building. But a number of House members didn’t see it that way. They peppered Dutton and the bill’s supporters with questions for nearly an hour. That’s fine, but they clearly didn’t want to rattle the status quo.

After a while, the bill was knocked down on a point of order, which is a great legislative trick to kill a bill you don’t like other than through the art of persuasion.

West has tried to find another bill to attach this concept. I hope he continues, even if there is not much time left before the Legislature adjourns this weekend. As Dutton said on the floor Tuesday, geography often defines education in Texas. An achievement district wouldn’t change that entirely, but it sure would help