DFW Education Activist Pens Bill on Transparency In Testing

At the Bernie Reunion event in Dallas on January 7, there were many impassioned speakers giving their takes on how we can push the political revolution forward. As an educator, my ears perked up especially when Michael Messer took the stage to ask for support on an education bill that he’s written. He was kind enough to sit down with me to answer my questions about the bill and give us all some suggestions on how we can help him get it sponsored.

Thanks for speaking with us today about your education bill. Can you give our readers some details about your background and the organization you work for?
I am an accountant by trade, patented inventor, and Eagle Scout. I am currently serving as president of the Plano Sunrise Rotary Club, and have been a member of North Texas Mensa for several years. Above all, I am the proud husband of a woman who has a talent and passion for teaching, and the adoring father of a son who will be in kindergarten far too soon.

I’m an ardent supporter of public education, which led me to become one of the DFW Regional Organizers for Save Texas Schools. It is a non-partisan, all-volunteer coalition of parents, teachers, administrators, and community activists who want to see our schools properly funded, class sizes lowered, and teachers treated with respect.

Can you explain the bill you’ve written?
I have written a bill which would require school districts to specify the total amount spent on standardized testing, test prep, and retesting on their yearly financial reports. I have reached out to few legislators who have shown interest in possibly sponsoring the bill, and am in the process of organizing and gathering public support of this legislation.

I called upon a friend of mine who is an administrator of a public school and has a PhD in Education Leadership. He confirmed that there is no report which currently specifies how much a school district spends on testing, test prep, and retesting. He reviewed my assumptions and the data set I used from the TEA and verified my $13 billion estimate of total spending. I then got to work on reading through the Education Code to determine how this important information was skipped. Finally, I wrote a rough draft of a bill which would modify the code to require a full account of the testing expenses, and sent it to teachers, administrators, school board members, and lawyers for their critique. Now that I have a final draft, I’ve been searching for legislators who will sponsor the bill.

How did this project come about?
I have spent the last six years deep diving into issues plaguing our schools, and have spoken in front of numerous organizations and legislators in the attempt to inform and persuade the legislature to take action. I have made it my goal to back up my assertions with information directly from the Texas Education Agency, local school boards, and teachers who live the reality of education policy on a daily basis. During my research for an article regarding the STAAR, I downloaded the PEIMS statewide financial data and found that there is nothing indicating how much is spent on standardized testing, much less test prep.

As an educator, this lack of transparency is an obvious concern for me. Can you explain to our readers why this issue should cause concern to all Texas progressives?
Public education is by nature a non-partisan issue, as public schools are tasked with educating all of our children, regardless of their parents’ political affiliations. That said, progressives understand that a well-funded, high-quality education open doors to greater individual and statewide prosperity and reduces our future dependence upon the welfare system. While many articles indicate that the standardized test costs $90 million per year, that number accounts for little more than the state’s contract with ETS to print the test and supply a few roaming consultants. It ignores the salary, maintenance & operations, and security expenses related to testing, test prep, and retesting. Using data from the statewide financial reports and 45 days per year as an average for testing & test prep yields a more accurate estimate of close to $13 billion per year. That is roughly 1/5th the total public education budget.

This bill will give the public (and the legislature) a full account of all costs related to the test, giving us the data necessary to make informed decisions about the future of our children’s education. After all, we can’t fix what we don’t know.

How can our readers help your efforts?
I need you to be my lobbyists. Reach out to your legislators in Austin, send them a copy of the bill, and ask them to sponsor/support its passage. Contact your local PTA, school boards, teachers, and friends to let them know about this bill and ask for their support. Stand up for your kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids by helping me get this bill passed!

Is there some contact info I can share with readers if they have more questions for you?
If you have any questions or would like to lend your support, feel free to send an email to michaelmesser@live.com. Please understand that I do have a day job and a 2 year old son, so I might not return your message right away, but I’ll get back with you as soon as possible.

I also welcome you to visit the Facebook page for this bill. I’ll be updating the page regularly with our progress. Thank you for everything you do to make education a priority in Texas!

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