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Six-foot tall, three-legged stool makes stop at Permian High School

April 29 brought a rare round of rain to West Texas, along with another rare sight indeed – a six-foot tall, three-legged stool in the foyer of Permian High School. The stool, created by Raise Your Hand Texas, is an unforgettable visual reminder of the three avenues of funding Texas public schools need from this year’s legislative session. This stop at PHS is the only one scheduled for the Permian Basin as the stool makes it way around Texas promoting this crucial message.

One of the legs calls for keeping intact the elements of HB 3, the sweeping school finance bill passed by the legislature in 2019. The second leg is a provision to “hold-harmless” schools for enrollment drops seen across the state this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the third leg is the quick release of federal COVID relief dollars specifically allocated for public education support, a major point of emphasis for ECISD leaders over the past several weeks.

“The pandemic has created challenges for school districts all across our state, our country and even the world,” said ECISD Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri. “While this school year is coming to a close, the learning of our students has not finished. It needs to continue for our students to recover academically.”

“This money is needed by school districts throughout the Permian Basin to make sure the legs of this stool are solid, to make sure we have the resources and tools that we need to effectively meet the needs of our children.”

ECISD school board president Delma Abalos echoed those sentiments, saying students from Prekindergarten through 12th-grade are going to need extra work, extra tutoring and the extra funding to support it.

“In March, we adopted a resolution asking our state government asking to pass our [federal] money along to us,” said Mrs. Abalos. “In fact, we were the first school board in Texas to do that. We want to make sure our students get what they need.”

Members of the local business and education communities expressed the same desires.

“COVID has put a strain on our school systems,” said Dr. Adrian Vega, executive director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, an organization created to align the resources needed to improve academic outcomes in the region. “It is very important districts receive the rest of those dollars to help address the learning loss.”

The rest of those dollars is a reference to a second round of federal stimulus funding that still resides at the state level in Austin as lawmakers debate its release to schools. If eventually sent to districts, about $25 million is earmarked for ECISD. School district leaders and education advocates across Texas will use the remainder of the legislative session to encourage state officials to release the money fully to schools, on top of traditional budget dollars, in order to help local students not only recover, but thrive.

“Most students will stay in Odessa and become employees and future leaders,” stated Odessa Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Renee’ Earls. “It’s important that we advocate for the funds that were intended for education to go to education. Raise Your Hand Texas and ECISD led the way, the legislature heard and made the first decision. This district is making a difference and we see that with yesterday’s announcement.”

Indeed, the day before this event, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the third round of federal COVID stimulus funding (skipping over the second round of funds) would be passed on to public schools in the coming months. It is a decision that will mean an additional $55.9 million for ECISD to specifically address the pandemic’s negative effects on students.

“We look forward to implementing the plans we have for these dollars,” said Dr. Muri. “We will extend the school year to give students more time with teachers; we will provide high-dosage tutoring for students; we will provide support for the social-emotional needs of our kids who have suffered trauma during this time; and we will provide a heavy emphasis on professional development for our teachers. These are our priorities for this additional funding.”

Renowned economist Dr. Ray Perryman, president/CEO of The Perryman Group, summed up the sentiments succinctly. “Education is great for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with work – enrichment, community support, and quality of life,” he said. “But it is critical to the future of the economy. We need well-trained people for the future and this [federal stimulus money] gives us a real opportunity to jump off in that direction.

“I really like this stool,” Dr. Perryman added. “I look forward to the day we can take that lumber and break it up and repurpose it, and make it a ladder to take us to a higher level.

“Our children deserve this and our fortunes demand it.”