What a disaster these past 3 legislative sessions have been. The title speaks for itself. -Angela
79TH LEGISLATURE: SPECIAL SESSION II
Lawmakers' deadlock means some students may wait weeks for texts.
By Bob Banta
Monday, August 08, 2005
With the start of school about a week away, some Central Texas teachers are scrambling for instructional materials because of legislative delays in paying for $295 million worth of updated textbooks for Texas schoolchildren.
"We want textbooks fully funded, so we can place them in your students' hands when they walk through the door on the first day of class," said Bill Britcher, a spokesman for the Leander school district.
But for thousands of Central Texas students, that won't happen. The situation is a byproduct of two legislative special sessions that have failed to produce a successful plan for school finance. The delayed texts cover foreign language, physical education, health, fine arts and other subjects.
Officials in several districts said they would use older texts until the new ones arrive.
Even if Texas lawmakers, who spent all summer bogged down in negotiations over school funding, cast a last-minute vote to pay for the books, some texts will not be delivered until weeks after doors open. Classes start Aug. 16 in the Austin school district and many others, including Round Rock and Leander.
Officials in many area districts, including Austin, Eanes, Round Rock, Lago Vista, Georgetown, Hays and Leander, said they are expecting a lag in receiving some textbooks.
"If everything goes splendidly, there could be a three-week delay, and that's being optimistic," said Mark Rogers, who oversees the distribution of about $30 million worth of textbooks for Austin schools. In almost all of Texas' 1,034 school districts, most of the money for books is provided by the state. The legislative logjam has resulted in the postponement of a vote on a measure that would pay for new books.
"We have some (textbooks) that we're ready to order, but we can't until the state tells us what they're going to provide for textbook money," Eanes spokeswoman Dale Whitaker said.
Dottie Hall, textbook coordinator for the Round Rock district, said some books might not be available until late September or early October.
At least 1,000 students in Round Rock's four high schools will be affected by the shortages, she said.
Hall handles the distribution of about $13 million worth of textbooks in the Round Rock district.
Hall said the delays will produce less than ideal learning situations in some classes. Health textbooks, for instance, are more than a decade old and are outdated, given recent concerns such as childhood obesity.
"We haven't gotten updated books on business and computers," she said. "You can easily understand how important it is for our kids to have the very latest information on a rapidly changing field like that." Teachers, however, will deal with the shortages, said Nelson Coulter, principal of McNeil High School in the Round Rock district.
"Courses like health are taught in units," Coulter said. "Teachers in fields that are studied in units or modules of information can generate lesson plans that are not textbook dependent."
Betty Harrison, executive director of secondary curriculum for the Hays school district, agreed.
"We ended school last May with the hope that we would have the new books, but we also realized we might not," Harrison said. "So our teachers are prepared to deal with it."
But some courses, such as foreign language, will pose problems, Coulter said.
"These are sequential in nature, which means you have to master one step before you can proceed to another," he said. "These courses depend upon textbooks to create that sequential structure."
Leander's Britcher said processing the new texts when they arrive will also pose a problem for districts. Typically, college and high school students process new books, and they probably will not be available after school starts, he said.
"We will probably have to take full-time district employees off the job to work on them," Britcher said. "That means more overtime."
And then there's the frustration.
"Parents want their children to have the latest textbooks now," Britcher said. "Teachers and principals are going to spend the next few weeks explaining why they don't."
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