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Fort Worth public education, charters need back-to-school help

OPINION AND COMMENTARY

Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

Debates about the best way to approach education will never end, and nor should they. But schools matter to us all — parents, teachers, taxpayers. As a new academic year begins, schools of all kinds need help and support.

Public, private and charter. Urban and suburban. Special education, ESL and other programs. It’s been a rough ride for schools in recent years, and it’s in our interest to lift up all of them.

The pandemic both revealed and caused problems that our education system still grapples with. Kids took a double whammy, falling behind in learning and suffering emotional and social challenges as their lives were disrupted and the world around them roiled with uncertainty.

Many teachers reached their limit, especially some key veterans who were able to retire early. Districts everywhere, but particularly in our fast-growing region, are struggling to staff up. Add in COVID absences, and merely having enough adults on hand is often a principal’s primary daily task.

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Students move through a hall to their first class of the day at Townley Elementary in Everman on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. Everman ISD serves a growing area south of Fort Worth and is on a five-day week schedule. Amanda McCoy amccoy@star-telegram.com

Remote learning opened a window into the classroom for parents, and some didn’t like what they saw. Political squabbling over education isn’t new, but it has a much sharper edge now and trickles down to individual teachers in unfair ways.

Parents and taxpayers have every right to challenge the content and methods of education, but it should be done respectfully and in the right venue. School board members campaign for their positions knowing they must represent the public. Teachers are largely on the job for kids, not politics.

Many of our local schools need academic improvement. But there are good developments to recognize and build on. Fort Worth school district test scores are up, and the district anticipates improved accountability ratings soon from the state. There’s a long way to go under a soon-to-be-hired superintendent, but we hope it’s a sign the worst is over.

The recent opening of a charter elementary, Rocketship Public Schools, in the Stop Six neighborhood provides new options for parents in a long-suffering area. Charters and other school choice measures will not be the panacea their most fervent supporters make them out to be, but competition encourages improvement. And for the families they serve, such schools can be a godsend.

At the start of a new year, we’re even cautiously optimistic that Texas could settle on a modest voucher program that could help some families without damaging public schools. What if students in certain low-performing schools were allowed to take some — but not all — of their funding to the campus of their choice? The state, expecting a massive budget surplus, could ensure that the schools they leave aren’t crippled by funding loss.

Conservative Republicans plan a hard push for vouchers next year in the Legislature, and Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s on board. Voucher legislation has never really had a chance, even in a state as red as Texas, because of opposition from rural communities and even some private schools. A targeted pilot program could succeed, though.

Schools need that kind of innovation. But they also need more support from the community, parents and the state. Even though the crisis portion of the pandemic is largely over, COVID still disrupts staffing and students’ lives. Volunteers and more substitutes could help ease the pain.

The promise of American education is that it can be the equalizer that helps us live up to our nation’s ideals. But it’s complicated and difficult work. If we all set our minds to helping more and sniping from the sidelines less, we can improve schooling for every child.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Hey, who writes these editorials?

Editorials are the positions of the Editorial Board, which serves as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s institutional voice. The members of the board are: Cynthia M. Allen, columnist; Steve Coffman, editor and president; Bud Kennedy, columnist; Ryan J. Rusak, opinion editor; and Nicole Russell, editorial writer and columnist. Most editorials are written by Rusak or Russell. Editorials are unsigned because they represent the board’s consensus positions, not the views of individual writers.

Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.

How are topics and positions chosen?

The Editorial Board meets regularly to discuss issues in the news and what points should be made in editorials. We strive to build a consensus to produce the strongest editorials possible, but when we differ, we put matters to a vote.

The board aims to be consistent with stances it has taken in the past but usually engages in a fresh discussion based on new developments and different perspectives.

We focus on local and state news, though we will also weigh in on national issues with an eye toward their impact on Texas or the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

How are these different from news articles or signed columns?

News reporters strive to keep their opinions out of what they write. They have no input on the Editorial Board’s stances. The board consults their reporting and expertise but does its own research for editorials.

Signed columns by writers such as Allen, Kennedy and Rusak contain the writer’s personal opinions.

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