(Williams): Students of color and students with disabilities are at a higher risk of disciplinary actions that decreases their chances of graduating and increases their chances of entering the juvenile justice and criminal justice system. What are some solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline that currently exist?
(Hildner): I mean, this has been a problem that precedes me in my youth. So it’s a real thing. There was some data that we’ve seen over the time that we’ve been kind of looking at this and it says that Black kids make up 12% in K-12, and 46% of those kids are dealing with suspension or whatever it may be, and there’s a real issue there.
So in school, we have policies that actually does not address behavior concerns. We should be teaching them the appropriate behavior and serving them — services that would support their disability.
Right. Yeah. And I can relate, you know. In middle school, I was an angry kid; my dad was deployed two times in three years, and so I rarely saw him. We were moving every year. And we military kids are thought to be they’re squared away, they’re good. Well, half the time when I’m injured, my dad’s telling me to rub some dirt on it and he’s not taking me to the hospital. So we have this mindset that we’re going to be OK. The fact of the matter is, when we send our kids off to school, not only should we be comforted in the fact that knowing that they’re going to be safe, nobody’s going to walk in with an AR-15 and kill them in their classroom. But we have to make sure that when we’re sending our kids to school, we’re solving as many issues as we can there. We don’t want to send them to school for them to be sent back home.
If you were to become representative of District 54, what would you be recommending happen before we send children into the juvenile justice system?
I mean, that’s easy. First of all, we can’t even support the amount of kids that are in our juvenile system now in Killeen. We’re having to send our youth away to other areas and juvenile centers. I have a feeling that most of these questions that pertain to education are going to come down to staffing and funding. I mean, we’ve got to be able to retain our teachers, our educators, our counselors, our staff in schools. If we can’t, then these young people are being let down. If I found that counselor or teacher and was able to attach to them when I got in trouble, that’s who I’m going to go talk to.
With that, I also would like to know after we get those staffs, after we get that training, what do we put in place? What other kinds of programs can you get into the schools besides a behavior management program? Are we talking more counselors here?
We need more counselors period. I’ve spoken to educators and counselors that say they’re being overstretched. There’s no reason why a counselor is on cafeteria duty. Counselors need every moment of their time to speak to these kids and even speak to these teachers. I am in no way an expert in education, so I heavily lean on experts, professionals, retirees (and) current educators to help me craft what our plans are to move forward. We can agree and we can sit here and we can talk about all the great ideas and great thought. But we need to go to Austin and advocate for and create funding.
Even if they funded you to go to school, it would actually give private schools a chance to pick who they would like to come and attend their schools.
I’ll take it a step further than that. Children who are Black and brown. I mean, when you look at private schools now, they’re picking already. So when you have an excess, it’s not going to change.
Just to close this out, the question was what are some solutions for the school-to-prison pipeline that currently exists? So your solutions to that would be we get more people in here, we get more health providers and more mental health providers in here, and then we get more funding?
Yep. We’ve got to be able to fund our schools. We’ve got to be able to fund the programs. You know, we need the best we can. We can draw a line in the sand of saying this is too much, but I think there’s a lot to go to get up to that line.
I agree. So let me just mention there’s parents and educators that have been sounding the alarm about systematic issues for years concerning the lack of evaluation, services, supports and resources for children with special needs. So what solutions do you have for the special education crisis in our state?
The state of Texas has failed to meet federal standards in special education for years. And so the first thing that we would do is make sure that we are falling our way up to meet those standards. And those fall back to funding and staffing.
Yeah. IDEA has never been fully funded — never. Rep. Buckley had mentioned that they gained more money this year for education. But those funds were not targeted for special education children. And so if they’re not targeted funds, we run into the same problem of not providing resources to support these children.
Well, you got my word here that I’ll fully advocate for the full funding of those programs. Special needs and disabilities is such a wide net, there’s so many people that fall into that. So we have a large public education overhaul and part of that is fully funding programs.
When it comes to Killeen ISD specifically, what do you see as the main special educational concerns or challenges? And you can speak to the regular education and special education.
I will tell you that I couldn’t answer what specifically is affecting us in KISD on special education and even on public education. I just know what teachers are telling me that they’re drained, they’re overworked, they’re not getting paid enough. Retirees are telling me that it’s tough for them to live off of a check that they’re getting for benefits. So expanding the (cost of living adjustment) benefits is a real important thing for me.
I do see that when I’m talking about special education or education period, that the top tier of students that you pretty much just have to direct teach and move on from are being highly successful. Children that require more, which I would mean maybe some one-on-one teaching are actually losing the battle of education.
Yeah, well, even on top of that, you’re adding also in STAAR testing, which pulls them away from normal curriculum.
We have a question about that in a little bit. So special education has been a horrific ordeal for most parents in Killeen ISD. They have struggled. What do you say to those families? What is your feeling about that? What do you think would help those families feel a little bit better about them not receiving the services and how the school treats them?
I think what I would tell them is that you’re not wrong in feeling how you feel. The fact of the matter is Bell County itself has not had a Democrat elected since 1996 — Layton Black — great gentleman. But Republicans have been in power for over two decades and things aren’t really getting fixed with them. What I would tell them is that I truly believe that a Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives is important.
Over the years, educational staff has reported abuse and noncompliance with the school system with federal regulations and have lost their careers over this. So this has to do with the Whistleblower Act. But in KISD, when they tell them that they’re doing something wrong or they speak up on behalf of a child, they end up losing their careers. And so what do you say to that?
I support whistleblowers in our education system. I think if nobody’s willing to blow the whistle, we’re not addressing the true things that are going on behind closed doors. And so we need to be able to depend on teachers voicing their opinion and speaking how they feel. There’s a lot of people that are on the other side who disagree with unions and fight vehemently to bust them in any way. I think really need to be advocating for teachers to allow them to organize and be vocal.
So let me say this. Me and Mrs. Lan Carter have actually looked over the Whistleblower Act that was currently in place and we have developed a new Whistleblower Act. I would like to ask you if you were to get into office, would you be willing to take a look at that?
Of course, 100%. I think even more we need a statewide Whistleblower Act. There is not one blanket Whistleblower Act on how teachers are able to go about this.
OK, so let me ask you this. What is your stance on mandatory state assessments like STAAR testing?
I don’t support the STAAR test. I would like to find a different form of testing for our students — a benchmark. We rely too heavily on this test to rank our teachers, to rank our students. I, as well as many Democrats, believe that we need a new form of testing our students.
So there is the belief that Impact Aid funds should be allocated to assist only military-connected students. What is your stance on that?
Because Impact Aid is coming from the federal government, you know I will support them and fight for more expedited ways of getting us the that funding, because this funding is so important. Any federal funding that we have access to in this state, that’s another way to invest in our schools.
So do you believe that it should be targeted to military students if it comes from them, or do you believe that it should be used for the whole community?
I would have to look at the program, so I don’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer for you. But I can tell you that the way I will look at it is what programs are everyday students — people in the community — getting compared to what the Impact Aid is.
OK, so let’s go onto the next question. Systematic racism is embedded in our schools, has long held students of color back, causing them to fall behind in statistics. What changes, solutions or recommendations would you give regarding students of color failing in the academic environment?
The easiest answer for me when I hear that is teaching our students of color their history. I think when you know your history, you are able to make decisions based off what your ancestors and those before you have done. Number one would be teaching and getting rid of these buzzwords like (Critical Race Theory). It’s educating everybody in a community as diverse as ours to understand the fights and the rings of the ladder that people have had to go up to get to where we’re at today.
Our children of color are failing miserably in education and I have yet to hear from anyone what we can do in order to move forward. And I think a start is to let us learn the history of our country. I would like to take a look at the data that they currently have of the students that have been failing over the last few years and actually do some testing on just them. Look at the data and give them support in those areas to bring them up to par.
Look at just the last two years and how the state reacted to COVID and how we decided how to bring these students up to date. Nobody was held back. Friends and educators were told whether they come to Zoom or not to give them credits. And the STAAR test is not educating them, it’s testing them. But if we put so much energy into one test, how much time are teachers truly getting to teach their curriculum?
Rep. Brad Buckley talked about compensatory services. But when I hear people ask you do you need compensatory services to gain more knowledge that you have missed, everybody says no. So now you say that you’re going to give me Power Hours?
As a former student-athlete, if you told me that during lunch, my lunch period, I needed to go sit down and study, I’m rushing. We don’t have the time. We’re doing a million other things. Going back to having those one-on-one relationships, having tutoring, not asking teachers to work a bunch more hours each day … so that they can invest.
In most school districts across Texas, there is little to no direct access to mental health services. Half a million students go without mental health services in our schools. They need help. So how do we provide that help for them?
The reality is I, as a student, was never concerned with somebody coming into my school with a firearm and killing my classmates. These kids have access to social media, which shows them what’s actually happening in these schools and creates a bigger fear, bigger PTSD. We have to have people in place at all times. We need people that are specific to answer the call to what today’s issues are. These children are going to become adults. It’s the rhetoric that is spewed of this is a soft generation. No, this generation is damaged and we can point the finger at ourselves.
With that said, over the past year, Killeen ISD has been reluctant or shown limited cooperation to release dozens of internal investigative reports. What do you think about that? Do you think they should be transparent with the public and the Killeen Daily Herald?
Answer: Transparency is key. I know that KDH has been bumping heads with the school or with the school district for transparency. There should not be a lack of transparency. I vehemently disagree with the battles that KDH has had to go through to get this information.
Would you support those documents being released if you were our district representative?
I don’t want to answer without understanding where we’re at in legality. If it’s legal, release it.