H. Denise Wooten, PsyD
Candidate for Texas House District 63 Representative
Lewisville ISD State Office Candidate Questions:
1. What are your top priorities for public education in the next legislative session?
The first priority is to increase the overall budget for human services in general, as Texas is 45th out of 50 states in per capita expenditure in human services, which includes education, health, welfare, and civic infrastructure. This extremely low ranking comes in spite of the fact that Texas is 2nd in Gross Domestic Product or wealth across the United States. Further, as the questionnaire noted, Texas is 35th out of 50 in average teacher salary, while Lewisville ISD in particular receives even less per pupil than the average school from the meager amount allotted within the state. This is unconscionable that we do not receive enough resources to take care of all the children’s needs in Texas. To increase the overall budget for public education, it would require that corporations and the wealthy pay their proportionate share of taxes, instead of further burdening the everyday property owner in Texas.
Secondly, the budgetary increase would allow for specific priorities to be met:
a. increased special education “quotas” and funding for evaluations and services
b. vocational preparation for the 13% of the normal curve distribution of children
who fall in the range of Borderline Intellectual Functioning (IQ range 70-84)
c. enhanced programs for other diverse students (Gifted, ESL, and Fine Arts)
d. increased pay and benefits for educators
2. How will you evaluate bills to ensure adequate funding is allocated for any changes mandated by the state?
Mandates for public education provisions must be accounted for in the later appropriations bill rather than letting the burden fall on homeowners via property taxes or on the school districts themselves. Monitoring of the potential cost of “unfunded mandates” will need to be done continuously, and then later clearly linked to provisions to pay for them in appropriations bills. It would be my desire to join legislative committees regarding education and health, as these issues fall under the purview of my expertise as a psychologist who specializes in developmental disorders.
3. How would you support school districts’ ability to increase their respective pay scales in order to recruit and retain qualified educators?
Sponsoring and passing legislation to increase educator pay and benefits would certainly be part of my legislative duties to benefit the children of Texas. But, first we must mount a public awareness campaign to counteract the devaluation and disdain many have toward teachers in the state of Texas. It will be crucial to obtain public support for legislative actions to better support school districts’ attraction and retention of teachers for our precious legacy, the children.
4. Where do you stand on changes to the current A-F accountability system?
Accountability is of course necessary to ensure we are delivering educational services that increase learning in students. However, the arbitrary A-F system is based on quantitative measures only, and perhaps not even all the important indicators of educational success. Test scores, graduation rates, and achieving a year’s worth of academic gain in a calendar year—all of these measures apply to average and above students who have no learning differences, psychiatric or developmental disorders, chronic medical problems, ESL status, or socioeconomic disadvantages. No school should be penalized by this A-F classification if they serve a more atypical population who CANNOT achieve at the same level as typical students. Furthermore, using only quantifiable measures for accountability overlooks the vast importance of schools as a haven for socioemotional development, and for some children, basic needs, such as food security and safety from violence. Quality of life variables, while more difficult to ascertain, are every bit as important as test scores and numbers. Finally, if the A-F accountability system is used to compare public and private schools, it is an unfair comparison. After all, socioeconomic status is highly correlated with educational attainment; therefore, the children of educated parents with wealth are the only ones who can afford to go to private schools. As these children are advantaged in a myriad of ways, they will have higher achievement levels as a group. Their higher achievement does NOT mean public schools are doing an inadequate job.
5. What are your thoughts on the use of public funds for vouchers?
I oppose using public funds for vouchers for private schools except in rare circumstances. For instance, children with moderate to severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder may benefit from attending a private school that specializes in providing integrated developmental services (ABA, OT, PT, and ST), a social curriculum specific to Autism, a sensory milieu, and functional academic, adaptive behavior, and life skills preparation.