Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Don't Touch!

All academy programs and services are dependent on the level of funding from the Texas Legislature. The academy reserves the right to make adjustments to program components (including course offerings) to respond to changes in funding.

- From Page 2 of the 2006-2007 TAMS Student Handbook

In May of 2000, I graduated from high school at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas. According to Chapter 105, Section 301 of the Texas State Education Code, TAMS was established:
  1. to provide an enriched school for gifted and talented high school juniors and seniors to complete their high school education and to attend college courses for credit;

  2. to identify exceptionally gifted and intelligent high school students at the junior and senior levels and offer them a challenging education to maximize their development;

  3. to provide a rigorous academic program emphasizing mathematics and science, but also including a strong and varied humanities curriculum; and

  4. to reduce the shortage of mathematics and science professionals in this state.
It makes sense then that Gov. Rick Perry would want to cut funding to this sort of institution. Not being a legal expert, I can only assume that Section 105.301.e.3 means that even if Gov. Perry's budget plan is approved TAMS would still receive some funding from the state. However, acceptance of new students into the Academy was delayed in spring of 2003 because the funding provided by that very section was not sufficient to support the school (this in addition to private grants and donations). An amendment to the section was legislated (and, ironically, signed by Gov. Perry), providing a funding increase of $1.3 million in time to accept new students for the 2003-2004 school year, but only at an extra cost of $1000 per year to the students. What would be the result of Gov. Perry's proposed $2.8 million funding cut? Tell me where the sense is in cutting the funding for a public school established by state law (HB2079, 70th Texas Legislature) on the grounds that it is a "special project"? More irony: last May Gov. Perry signed a bill (SB1452, 79th Texas Legislature) establishing the Mathematics and Science Academy at the University of Texas at Brownsville. I haven't been able to find out if this is another of the "special projects" whose funding would be cut.

I guess you can tell I am pretty bothered by this. My two years in TAMS had a huge impact on who I am today. The experiences I had taking classes there changed the way I think about things on a very basic level. Several of the friends I made there have lasted for the better part of a decade, and are still among my most trusted and respected friends. TAMS is more than just a school to its students. Granted, we have most of the trappings of your normal public high school — Prom, clubs, a yearbook, class rings — but it's also a large body of vastly varied but scholastically like-minded (for the most part) students living in close proximity for months at a time. The kinds of relationships and learning experiences that come out of that cannot be compared. I would not give up those two years for anything, and I don't want them taken away from any future students either.

That alone should be enough to explain it, but for me personally there is far more: my years in TAMS provided a great opportunity for spiritual growth as well. One of the things that surprised me when I was there was that I could name a significant percentage of the staff who were Christians, including my RA. Being state employees they abided by the "separation of church and state" policy, but they were always there to encourage me in a personal way (and, one-on-one, in a spiritual way), and had an unwitting part in my choice of college (Hardin Simmons University). A number of those staff members have gone on to a more official kind of Christian ministry. There was also a weekly Bible study for TAMSters, as well as student-organized prayer meetings, accountability groups, and a little-known outdoor Saturday morning praise-and-worship time. The years since my graduation have seen the Bible study grow from a group of twenty or so TAMSters led by UNT students to a TAMSter-organized, TAMSter-led study attended by dozens.

God put me in TAMS and used it to shape my life. If God decides it's time for TAMS to end or diminish, his will be done, but it won't be without a great sense of loss on my part. I'm off to write a letter or two.



Blogger Kelly said...

This sounds a lot like my feelings have been about 63 for the past few months...

Monday, February 19, 2007 3:11:00 AM  

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