In July 2023, I was one of several education leaders invited to speak to the Texas House of Representatives Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Select Committee. The meeting was a first for this select committee, created by the Speaker of the Texas House in anticipation of a special session focused on education funding in fall 2023.
The committee is tasked with issues that impact K-12 students in Texas, specifically those surrounding educational opportunities, quality and access. It will also make recommendations for supporting educators, and it aims to address modernizing assessments and accountability measures for K-12 schools.
Invited speakers were each given five minutes to share about topics of importance to their respective organizations. Testimony included challenges in the areas of teacher retention, inadequate school funding and lack of resources for special education.
The Select Committee listened to more than 17 hours of invited testimony over two days of hearings. These are the only hearings the Select Committee will hold before producing a report with recommendations for the Texas House to consider in future legislative sessions. The Committee’s complete list of recommendations is expected in August.
Distilling a number of incredibly specific, complex challenges faced by an organization into a five-minute speaking opportunity is a challenging task. These topics are vast and vitally important for the future of our state, and each deserves particular attention. Here are a few takeaways from my experience:
- Talking points – Walking in with a list of important topics I wanted to mention was key. Having a list of talking points allowed me to quickly focus on topic areas, and in the interest of time, pivot away from items that had already received significant focus from other speakers. It also allowed me to quickly reference more detailed information when committee members asked for clarification and follow up questions.
- Summarize – Five minutes is not nearly enough time to present these highly-nuanced topics with adequate detail. It is helpful to rehearse ahead of time and to carefully choose language and phrasing to paint a detailed and accurate picture of the situation.
- Prepare for Scrutiny – Educators can be held to higher standards than other members of the public, resulting in greater scrutiny of the subject and content of the speech. Be armed with the facts.
Participating in this process gave me an opportunity to speak about the issues I am passionate about and connect with many other leaders who have similar concerns. It also allowed me to spotlight my organization and demonstrate accountability to stakeholders. It was rewarding to share the ways our school community worked together to pass a historic bond, develop a strategic plan, improve processes and accountability, and operate within the confines of an incredibly lean budget while never compromising on the educational experience provided to students.
While testimony from policy and legal experts is critical to this process, no testimony is more important than that of educators who experience those policies and laws firsthand. Sharing information about an organization’s specific challenges with a committee of elected officials who have the power to enact impactful change for public education is an opportunity afforded to a fortunate few. Speaking on behalf of the school district was a tremendous honor.