Public schools, public information

The SE Texas Record Feb. 7, 2009, 10:38am

Journalists are at their best when serving as the public's watchdog.

We wish more were like Beaumont Enterprise reporter Emily Guevara, who will not take 'no' for an answer.

Last April, the newspaper asked Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies, a publicly-funded charter school in Port Arthur, for a report on its student test scores. It refused.

So last week, Guevara and the Enterprise filed a petition in Jefferson County District Court, asking Judge Donald Floyd to order Tekoa to comply with their Freedom of Information Request.

"The Enterprise brings this action to protect its right of public access," says the petition. "As a publicly-funded school, Tekoa must comply with the Public Information Act."

No kidding. Amidst our ever-growing government, the principle that "ye who gets public funds must also be publicly accountable" has never been more resonant.

This information should be proactively forthcoming, posted on the school web site as the scores become available. We citizens shouldn't have to ask a judge to intervene and pry it loose.

The educators at Tekoa should recognize as much. They claim student test scores are "inherently confidential," which, they might be if their school were privately-funded. But it isn't. These students are being educated with the people's funds and the people have a right to know.

For local communities like ours, where the overwhelming majority of our property tax dollars are used to fund public education, it is imperative that taxpayers can analyze what kind of bang they are getting for their hard-earned buck. Test scores of students school-by-school, compared and contrasted over time, would seem the ultimate indicator of relative achievement.

News outlets would do this kind of valuable analysis for us more often, on education and other civic subjects of great import, if it weren't for stonewalling episodes like this one. Consider that for every reporter and news organization that has the patience and financial resources to take the fight to court, there are countless more who don't persevere, taking the path of least resistance, tackling an easier story.

Judge Floyd should release these records immediately with a forceful message: public information belongs to the public.

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