In 2009, AVEY Executive Director Allen Weeks and Board Member Susan Moffat formed Save Texas Schools, a program of Austin Voices, to address laws that negatively affect schools in low income, diverse communities.
In its first legislative session, STS was successful in getting legislation passed that expanded options for schools facing closure under accountability rules, as well as legislation that allowed for the involvement of community stakeholders in school improvement planning.
In 2011, Save Texas Schools brought over 13,000 Texans to rally at the State Capitol in response to $10 billion in proposed cuts to education. Since that time, STS has held conferences, rallies, and workshops around the state that have brought over 30,000 Texans together around three issues: adequate and fair funding for public schools, reform in high-stakes testing, and the adoption of the “community schools” model.
In 2013, Save Texas Schools successfully promoted legislation that ensured that pregnant and parenting teens, a group at high risk of dropping out, are not penalized for days missed due to the health needs of their children. While a small change, this law ultimately will help hundreds of Texas teens graduate, including students at schools with which Austin Voices works. The idea for the legislation came from conversations with students at Reagan Early College High School, during community school planning efforts. The testimony of students, who revealed that teen parents averaged 10 unexcused absences annually due to children’s health issues, was key to the support of legislators. In addition, Austin Voices organized on-site health care for teens and children in partnership with the Dell Children’s Health Express mobile unit.
This three-pronged approach (grassroots planning, legislative change and community-based solutions) is a good example of Austin Voices approach to affecting education policy. In 2015, Save Texas Schools worked with a number of House and Senate legislators, including Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin and Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston to file comprehensive community schools legislation. A broad coaltion of education organizations and advocates supported the legislation (HB1891 & 1892). Passed unanimously by both House and Senate Education Committees and the full House of Representatives, the legislation was ultimately refused a vote by the Senate leadership. Still, the conversation around community schools has led to a number of districts becoming interested in the model. Austin Voices and Save Texas Schools plan to work with other education partners to file community legislation in the 2017 session, and to continue supporting funding and accountability reform.
Update: Austin Voices has continued to work with state legislators to pass community school legislation, with bills successfully passing in the House both in 2017 and 2019, but failing to be brought up for a vote by the Lieutenant Governor in the Senate during both sessions (even with enough votes to pass). We will continue to advocate for community schools in 2020, and hopefully will see the break in the legislative logjam.
Locally, Austin Voices works with city and county governments to promote the community school model, which coordinates local government services with the needs of schools and families. Austin Voices is also involved in conversations around issues of equity for Austin’s children.