by Ann Teich
AISD Board of Trustees, District 3
Recently, the Joint Subcommittees of the Austin City Council, AISD, and Travis County School and Family Work Group released a report with some recommendations for these three governmental entities. Those recommendations include using the CodeNext Project to promote family-friendly housing; creating a Families with Children Commission; creating a Homes and Schools Temporary Rental Assistance Program; developing a Long-Range Affordable Housing Plan; exploring partnerships for family-friendly developments; enhancing safe routes to schools, parks and public libraries; identifying and promoting signature academic programs; investing in school facilities; enhancing communication between Campus Advisory Councils and the school communities they serve; and creating a strong marketing campaign for public schools.
Of these recommendations perhaps the most critical to the education of students of North Austin are the ones dealing with family-friendly housing, creating a temporary rental assistance program, and developing a long-range affordable housing plan. Many students in North Central and Northeast Austin are economically disadvantaged, and their families have a high mobility rate. If students have to move frequently because of income issues, their education suffers. Also, AISD is losing students to surrounding communities because of lack of affordable housing, and loss of students results in loss of income to the district. This loss of funding, coupled with having to pay the state of Texas approximately 40% of its income from taxes because it is a Chapter41 district (the “Robin Hood” law), results in increased financial pressures for the District. Since AISD provides a substantial number of social services to North Austin students, decreased funding could result in a reduction of these services.
In addition to housing issues, many North Austin students and their families need access to affordable health care. A recent E3 Alliance study demonstrated that most school absences are due to illnesses that could be prevented, or treated quickly, with regular doctor visits. Expanding the number of clinics serving low income people in North Austin would go a long way to reducing absenteeism in schools. Clinics that provide mental health and substance abuse counseling are also needed.
There are approximately 16,000 elementary students in North Austin, the majority of whom are economically disadvantaged. Investing in housing stability and healthcare for these students helps them stay in school, graduate, and continue with postsecondary education that enables them to obtain living wage jobs and become less reliant on social services. That means a stronger work force for Austin.
Educating North Austin students is a shared responsibility. AISD takes seriously its obligation to provide excellent programs, well-trained staff, social/emotional learning, and safe, healthy, attractive facilities. But it cannot do everything by itself. City policies that encourage affordability and access to healthcare are needed to ensure that North Austin students are well-educated and prepared for careers so that they become productive citizens.