Op-Ed: Dallas ISD has found a recipe for success; voters deserve a say on whether to fund it

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Lew Blackburn, Michael Hinojosa, Mike Rawlings, Bryan Carter and Todd Williams co-authored the following Op-Ed that first appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

Recent polling data shows that Dallas voters recognize public education as the city’s number one issue, outdistancing the next biggest issue facing us more than two to one. Businesses want and need a more educated workforce. Parents want their children to be prepared for successful careers.

If we want a healthier Dallas, we have to start with our schools.

There is recent good news that demands both our attention and our wise investment. Since 2010, Dallas ISD has embarked on a number of innovative pilot strategies, including expanding quality early learning and early college programs and implementing strategic increases to teacher compensation.

Early results are quite promising. Kindergarten readiness rates are up meaningfully. A pilot program to improve struggling schools by recruiting and paying some of our community’s highest-performing teachers are seeing more than 20 percent gains in year one. Students attending our early college high schools programs, substantially oversubscribed, reflect college completion rates twice our district average.

But with Dallas ISD having the fourth-lowest total tax rate among D-FW’s 55 public school districts, and no apparent help coming from state legislators, there isn’t additional revenue to scale these proven investments and create a foundation for our children’s success.

Too many of our children come to school behind. Our best teachers are asked to go above and beyond while often being woefully underpaid and inequitably distributed. College and careers feel out of reach for too many of our high school seniors.

Without swift, meaningful action, a new generation of children could face a future in Dallas that does not include hope for living-wage jobs and accompanying success.

So today we ask the Dallas ISD board to lead us at a time when Dallas desperately needs greater investment in our children. By placing a Tax Ratification Election, or TRE, in front of the voters in November, the school board could give voters the innovative option to approve incremental funding for one or more of three critical strategies:

1.  5 cents per $100 of valuation to expand quality early learning programs to help ensure that all of our children are literate by third grade.

2.  4 cents to continue increasing teacher compensation, including strategically expanding our efforts to incentivize our higher-performing teachers to lead classrooms at our most historically challenged schools.

3.  4 cents to expand early college/career programs to every comprehensive high school within the district.

If all approved, these taxes would generate approximately $100 million of net additional funding, while asking the average Dallas ISD homeowner to invest an incremental $17 per month. Businesses, which benefit substantially from an educated workforce, would invest their fair share, shouldering roughly 60 percent of the total investment burden.

Furthermore, Dallas ISD would build on the innovation of this unique approach by agreeing to hold itself accountable. If the district fails to increase academic outcomes associated with each of these strategies by a meaningful amount over six years, the district would sunset this 10 percent tax increase in 2022.

Imagine a Dallas ISD where all of our children, regardless of ZIP code, are given the opportunity to realize a better future by providing them with what they need: a strong start in preschool, exemplary teachers in every classroom, and a belief that college and careers are real. Imagine high schools where corporate and city partners are embedded, offering mentorships, internships and job offers for students graduating with both a high school diploma and a two-year college degree or a valuable career certificate.

But most of all, imagine this: a public school district that is as diverse as the city it educates, as attractive as its suburban alternatives, and where students grow up together successful in life and familiar with each other’s dreams, cultures and perspectives.

This is the future we can imagine and make real. This is the Dallas we want. This is the Dallas our children deserve.

Dr. Lew Blackburn is the President of the Dallas ISD school board. Dr. Michael Hinojosa is its superintendent. Mike Rawlings is the Mayor of Dallas. Rev. Bryan Carter is the Sr. Pastor of Concord Church. Todd Williams is the Executive Director of the Commit Partnership. All can be reached at infoTRE2016@gmail.com.

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