September 27, 2007
Spring is okay. But I love the fall.
You can have your in-like-a-lion months. For me, the world comes back to life when football and the baseball playoffs start. When campaigns of all sorts start heating up. When the kids are really getting into the groove of the new school year. When the mornings are a little cooler and a little crisper. And when ragweed is whipping me just like it did this time last year.
The best sign of the new season is Liz’s birthday. We did that last Sunday.
Don’t look here for jokes about age. Those jokes tend to be on me.
After all these years, Liz still looks younger than me (although she isn’t, but that’s all I’m going to say about that).
There was more good news this week besides Liz’s birthday. I was honored to make the League of Conservation Voters‘ list of best legislators.
In announcing the recognition, the League cited two pieces of legislation – my “No Regrets” climate change bill, which would have required the state to identify strategies to reduce greenhouse gases that would save money or cost nothing; and my proposal to reduce toxic pollutants in Texas school buses.
While both of these proposals made it out of the Senate, neither became law. Rest assured, both of these are toward the top of my priority list as I prepare my agenda for the next legislative session in 2009. Sensible proposals such as these protect not just the environment, but also our health, our economy, and our prosperity. The Legislature should be passing more of these kinds of bills.
The risks we all face for failing to meet that mandate and mission are on full, tragic display right here in Austin, where the school district and the community are working to find a way to keep Johnston High School open.
It’s hard for most of us to imagine a crisis that stark, but that’s what this East Austin community faces. Test scores have remained so low for so long that the state could legally close Johnston, scattering its students among other schools.
Thankfully, the state has given Johnston another chance to show that it’s giving students there a legitimate opportunity to excel and go to college. And I’m hosting a community forum on Tuesday for students and parents to learn more about what’s going on at the school, and what the district will do about it.
Members of the Austin School Board, Education Commissioner Robert Scott, and Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes are all expected to attend, as well.
The problems at Johnston, and for its students and their parents, are so deeply rooted and complex that it’s hard for many of us to even fathom them. I imagine – I hope – that most of you don’t need to worry about such things day in and day out. That’s a blessing. Be grateful for it.
But while you may feel removed from Johnston, you should still know what’s happening there. It should still concern you greatly – not just because our next generation of citizens is losing its best shot at prosperity and productivity, but also because the dilemmas this school presents really aren’t unique.
Texas leads the nation in all kinds of bad educational statistics: the fewest adults over 25 with a high school diploma, the bottom five in SAT scores, the bottom 10 in per-student spending . . . The list goes on.
Our problems won’t go away, even if Johnston does.
However, if we can fix this campus – if we can make it a place where children can legitimately expect to learn what they’ll need to know to succeed in the 21st Century economy – then we can take those lessons to address similarly troubled schools across the state.
Not only that, but we can start to tackle the roots of our dismal education statistics and rankings. We can graduate more Texans who are truly prepared to work good jobs, start companies, and provide the innovation that we’ll need to compete with other states and nations. And we can save untold millions of dollars that now go into prisons, health care, law enforcement, and any number of other issues that spin off of our education problems.
All of these challenges connect to each other, just as they connect all of us who live with them. We must solve them together. I thank you for your interest and support as our community tries to do just that.