Waco: Texas schools improving, education commissioner says

(Photo by Ke'Sha Lopez)
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WACO, Texas Texas schools are improving, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told educators Wednesday at a State of Public Education luncheon hosted by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

Morath said 89 percent of students across the state graduate from high school in four years, but said challenges lie ahead as Texas districts try to meet the state’s goal that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 will have a certificate or degree.

Under The Texas 60x30TX Higher Education Plan, in the year 2030 550,000 students will complete a certificate, associate, bachelor’s or master's degree from a Texas institution of higher learning.

To meet that goal, experts said it will take more highly-qualified teachers.

Finding them, for many districts, is not easy.

"On average about 50 percent of teachers are out of the profession within five years. There's a host of reasons but at its core it comes sound to working conditions and pay,” Morath said.

Being able to offer more competitive pay requires more funding, La Vega Superintendent Sharon Shields said.

"Our school district, we are property poor and we don't receive as much finding as other school districts do.

However, she said she confronts the issue by at least offering step increases each year, while other districts may cap the steps to show teachers they are appreciated.

While La Vega is a small district of 3,500 students, Shields said their family atmosphere helps keep good teachers around.

Funding and perhaps a change in strict standards in the requirements bilingual teachers must pass could help her expand her district's bilingual education program.

The district offers bilingual education to both Pre-Kindergartners and Kindergartners but said it would benefit students in the higher grades.

During the luncheon, speakers asked the business leaders in the room at the Baylor Club to find ways to help schools fill in the gaps where funding is inadequate.

The Central Texas community has seen a surge in partnerships with the business community to help start and help support Waco ISD's advanced academies.

While property taxes continue to rise and the local community bears the brunt of the burden to fund schools, experts said it will take a village to make sure children are educated, teachers can feed their families, and the state meets its education goals.