Education hot issue at community forum featuring State Representative Trent Ashby and Lufkin ISD Superintendent

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Education was a big topic Monday night at a community forum hosted by Councilman Robert Shankle.

State Representative Trent Ashby and Lufkin ISD Superintendent Dr. LaTonya Goffney teamed up to talk about several ways education is going to be a key piece in the 2014-2015 school year.

Talking about House Bill 5, Ashby said there will no longer be a "one size fits all" policy for students.

"I don't care who you are, you should be excited about it because what it did is it finally unshackled our local school districts to let Lufkin ISD, in this case, make local decisions to allow for some flexibility in what courses our kids take," Ashby said.

He says instead of teaching our kids to be "college ready," Texas kids can now be taught a craft like "welding, plumbing, whatever they want to do because not every kid wants to go to college."

House Bill 5 was passed by the 83rd Regular Session of the Legislature and became effective with the Governor's signature in June 2013. Some ways the bill will change school curriculum is with less standardized testing and also adds new high school graduation requirements for the 2014-2015 school year. Students will still need four English credits in order to graduate, but the requirement for science, math, and social studies have dropped to three credits, giving students more flexibility in elective coursework.

The law reduces the number of standardized exams that high school students must pass in order to graduate from 15 to 5, Ashby says.

Goffney says the bill will shape Lufkin ISD in a good way.

"It's important to graduate with a work skill to be a welder, to be a phlebotomist, to be someone so that they can go and enter the workforce and also enter college," Goffney said.

Ashby also spoke about the issue of water at a state and local level.

"Texas is going to run out of water and so that's been our weakness—that's been our Achilles heel and I know here in East Texas, I think sometimes we take water for granted because the good Lord has blessed us with an abundance resource, but many parts of the state we have parks [and] cities that have literally run out of water," Ashby said.

He says the referendum or proposition 6 essentially takes $2 billion out of the state's "rainy day fund," or Economic Stabilization Fund that will then be put into a savings account. He says any "public entity," in the state can then go through the process of being approved through the local, regional and state board for the Texas Water Development Board and if you are in a 50-year water plan that entity can access capitals from that savings account.

He says $6 billion has already been approved in bonding authority for the Water Development board.

"Over the next 50 years…that $8 billion combined will allow us leverage over 50 years to meet and to fund our 50-year water plan so hopefully we can take water off the table of being a critical issue for our great state," Ashby said.

Ashby also says transportation is going to be a hot issue in the next legislative session. In November, Texas voters will vote on a proposition that will "help" fund the transportation funding "problem," Ashby said.

"Currently the only monies that go into our state transportation rainy day fund is from oil and gas severance taxes. For every dollar that goes in there, 25 cents goes to help fund public education in Texas. The other 75 cents goes to the rainy day fund, which just stays there," Ashby said. "What we're seeing in November, if it's approved, is that half of that 75 cents that has been sitting in the rainy day fund, half of future revenue would go to help alleviate this transportation problem in Texas."

"Under the rosiest scenario, that's going to generate $1 to $1.2 billion a year, and what did I say we were short in Texas? Somewhere between $4 and $6 [billion]. So, if we approve this referendum, we're going to get, let's say, a billion dollars so we only get about 25 percent there. So, that's why I said I predict transportation will be one of the biggest issues in the next session because even if we approve this referendum, it's just a mandate on transportation," Ashby said. "As fast as we are growing in this state…we need funds to help maintain and build new infrastructure."

Dr. Goffney says she will be hosting another community forum on March 6 to talk more in depth about House Bill 5.

Ashby says anyone with questions can contact him at his office located at 2915 Atkinson in Lufkin or call him at (936) 634-2762.

Copyright 2014 KTRE. All rights reserved.