Voting “Yes” for Waco Schools and Waco!

By Ashley Thornton

First thing in the morning on October 19, the first day to vote early, I hustled down to the McLennan County records building and voted “Yes!” for the WISD Tax Ratification. I know the final votes won’t be tallied until November 3, but I couldn’t wait.

I have high hopes for Waco.  Everywhere I look I see evidence that my hopes are justified. Downtown is starting to blossom; we just got a National Park designation; Fixer Upper has put us on the map with the HGTV crowd; the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaboration (BRIC) and SpaceX are drawing the technology of the future into the Heart of Texas…the list of positives is growing every day.

Perhaps because of all this good buzz , fairly regularly I get a phone call or an email from someone who is moving to Waco and wants the “inside scoop” on living here. I have not had one of these conversations yet that did not end up being a conversation about school districts.  People who have school-age kids obviously want to know for the good of their own children, and people who don’t have kids want to know because it affects the value of whatever home they might buy here. These conversations reinforce for me what we all already know: Any community that expects to thrive must have a strong school district.

Bluntly, our school district needs to be stronger, and, bluntly, it will cost money to make that happen.    We can keep dinking around with the resources we have, trying this or that new program, but in the end that’s like pushing the food around on your plate to make it look like there’s more than there is — not a satisfying strategy.

We have a high percentage of children in our schools who come from very low income situations. Every speck of research that I have ever seen points to the plain fact that it costs more to educate children who come from families with very little money. Imagine two cups. The first cup is half full and the second is nearly empty. If you pour a half a cup of juice in the first cup, you will fill it up. If you pour a half a cup of juice in the second cup, the cup will still not be full. I feel like that is what is happening with our school district. Kids from higher income families are more likely to come with their education cups already half full. Kids from lower income families are more likely to come with their education cups much closer to empty. It takes more juice to fill them up, and getting more juice – additional programming and additional instructional staff — requires some investment.

10.15 WISD TREPut another way, I have complete confidence that if we took our exact same school district with the same teachers, same buildings, same administrators, same budget, same everything, and plopped it down into the middle of a town with a more affluent student population, we would be knocking the top out of the state accountability measures. Fair or unfair, though, that is not the case.   Fair or unfair, when you look at the list of schools in WISD, you see a sprinkling of “improvement required” ratings mixed in among the “met standard” ratings. And, fair or unfair, families and businesses make decisions about whether or not to move into our community based on those ratings.  What we are doing now is getting us to where we are now.  If we want to get better results, we will need to do what we are doing now… plus more.

Money invested in that “plus more” will be money well spent for the future of our children and the future of our community. It is easy for me to say “yes” to that investment, especially when the amount requested is so modest. The net increase to our taxes will be five cents per $100, from 1.35 to 1.40.   My house, for example, has an assessed value of $110,140.   When the tax is ratified, my taxes will increase $44.49 annually, a little less than $3.75 a month. An increase twice that big would be well worth it to me for the value I believe it will bring to Waco.

“Hold on a minute,” you say, “just pouring money on the problem won’t help.” That’s true. It is true in the same way that just pouring gasoline on a car won’t make it run. To get your car to move forward requires two things: you have to have the gasoline, and you have to pour it in the right place.   I think the same is true regarding money and schools. To get the schools to move forward you have to have the money, and you have to pour it in the right place.

I believe WISD has the right idea about where to pour the money — straight into the campuses. As a former teacher, I am impressed that school district officials wisely went to parents, teachers and campus staff to find out what was most needed. I am impressed that they have been disciplined about sharpening the focus of their planning, to three targeted, strategic, measurable priorities — literacy, behavior, and dual credit college courses. These actions give me confidence that my investment will be well spent.

I believe this Tax Ratification will provide resources that are crucial to build the kind of school district we need to keep Waco rolling toward its bright future.   That’s why I was antsy to vote “YES!” as soon as the polls opened for early voting, and that’s why I hope you will do the same on or before November 3.

Ashley Thornton 3This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter: The WHOLE Enchilada. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco.

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