As parents across the state fight to remove explicit materials and critical race theory from their children’s schools, four of Texas’ largest school districts spent more than $26,000 in taxpayer dollars on an education conference promoting those ideals.

SXSW EDU is a conference affiliated with the South by Southwest festival held in Austin every year. The three-day event includes programming focusing on 11 different themes in education.

One of these tracks, Equity and Justice, centers around “addressing work championing equity, justice, access, diversity, and inclusion in education and beyond, including social and economic disparities, culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism practice, LGBTQ+ issues, and more to ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.”

SXSW EDU joined with the Association of Texas Professional Educators and allowed participants to gain professional education credits for attending sessions. The programming included talks on “Advancing Climate Action in Schools” and the “ABCs of Equity: Assumptions, Bias, & Consciousness.”

Following multiple open records requests submitted by Texas Scorecard, four schools and the TEA provided documents detailing how much the districts spent to send ISD employees to the conference.

Austin ISD spent over $4,000 to send seven district employees from the Employee Effectiveness department to SXSW EDU. This division provides a professional development program for teachers focusing on six “district priority areas,” including “Cultural Proficiency & Inclusiveness” and “Social & Emotional Learning.”

Similarly, Fort Worth ISD paid fees totaling over $9,000 to send 14 teachers, principals, and an executive director for the Division of Innovation. According to Fort Worth ISD’s website, the Division of Innovation provides “a different lens to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of equity and excellence in education.”

San Antonio ISD, however, sent one teacher to SXSW EDU for a $525 fee. Additionally, one employee represented the Texas Education Agency, although the conference waived the agency’s registration fee.

Out of the four school districts and the TEA, Round Rock ISD—a district embroiled in controversy—spent the most taxpayer dollars. The school district paid over $12,000 in registration fees to send more than 30 employees to the education conference. Most of these employees work for the Instructional Technology Department, which provides technical support and internet literacy classes to campuses across the district.

In total, the four school districts spent over $26,000 in taxpayer dollars sending employees to a conference promoting the divisive ideologies parents across the state are fighting to remove. As these school districts focus on climate change and critical race theory, students’ reading and math skills are floundering.

According to the TEA’s official school ratings, only 25 percent of the students in San Antonio ISD read at a rate matching grade-level expectations. In comparison, 30 percent of Fort Worth ISD’s students read at their grade level, and 47 percent of Austin ISD students read at grade level.

Additionally, 19 percent of Fort Worth students meet grade level in math, while only 13 percent of San Antonio ISD’s students can understand math problems meant for students their age.

These four school districts, and other districts across the state, will have to decide if sacrificing students’ literacy and math skills for climate change and critical race theory is a worthy exchange.

Katy Drollinger

Katy is eager to use her skills in writing and research to accurately report on issues for Texas Scorecard. She graduated from Tarleton State University in 2021 after majoring in history and minoring in political science.

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