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Educate Texas plays School Budget Hold’em!

School Budget Hold'em made its debut in Texas this past week at the Educate Texas Leadership Forum in Austin. ERS Executive Director Karen Hawley Miles and Principal Associate Betty Hsu worked closely on both Monday and Tuesday with district and state education leaders to face head-on the reality of decreasing budgets and consider how to use the moment to take bold steps towards improving education throughout the state. “What really resonated with me is that we don’t just have to cut to cut,” said a participant. “We can cut strategically and in a way that moves us forward to something new and better.”

On Monday Karen and Betty worked with a group of superintendents and district leaders from some of the largest districts in Texas (including Houston, Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi) to discuss key priorities for restructuring in tough times. One of the key takeaways cited by participants was the realization that it’s not just about making budget cuts - 60% of attendees reported anticipated budget reductions of 6-10% this year – it’s about making the strategic cuts that will help the district move forward towards a new vision.

The next day ERS introduced School Budget Hold‘em during a breakout session at the conference. The session attracted a wide range of education stakeholders including district leaders, school board members, state department leaders, state representatives, education advocates, and members of the media. “We did some serious collaboration around rethinking priorities,” said a state senator who worked closely with a district leader.

Participants spent roughly 45 minutes playing an abbreviated version of the game. They enjoyed themselves so much that they didn’t want to stop when time was called! During the debrief participants cited that using the language of tradeoffs was really powerful because it changed the discussion to be about the investments that need to be made (and hence the cuts that are needed to enable it) as opposed to just about making cuts. A few people also mentioned how the format of the game really allowed people of all backgrounds and experiences to thoughtfully participate in the conversation. “There’s so much we can do when we think outside the box,” said one participant.



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