As the Texas Legislature examines school finance, Texas educators, parents and business leaders should agree on the importance of public education for all students. Texas must protect what works and improve what isn’t working, and it cannot dismiss the needs of any students. Though not always recognized as an at-risk population, research shows that students identified as gifted and talented have unique instructional needs and require different instructional interventions in order to learn and achieve their potential. As the Legislature considers special populations in need of dedicated funding, this must include the gifted and talented population.
There are gifted children in all cultures and at all economic levels. In 2018, 7.9 percent of students in Texas public schools were participating in gifted education, the majority of those (62 percent) were students of color, and more than one in three of those gifted students were economically disadvantaged.
Gifted children learn more quickly than their age peers and they demonstrate a need for significantly more advanced curriculum and instruction. Contrary to myth, these students generally do not thrive in the general education curriculum without special services and modifications. When any educational need is not identified and addressed with appropriate, evidence-based curriculum and services, a student is at risk for misdiagnosis, underachievement or other negative outcomes. Gifted children are no different in this respect. Some gifted children have coexisting disabilities requiring additional interventions. Gifted services meet specific educational needs and allow these children to learn in public school.
Excellence in gifted and talented education has bipartisan support: gifted education makes economic sense and is critical for equity in opportunity. Texas universities and businesses need graduates prepared for challenge and innovation, and gifted services enable high-ability students to learn to cope with later challenges. Texas schools with strong gifted and talented programs provide better opportunities for all learners, and businesses look at school quality when choosing where to operate.
Most importantly, gifted and talented programs serve children from low socioeconomic backgrounds who would not otherwise have support for advanced coursework and graduation. For gifted students in poverty, gifted and talented education is essential for equity in public education.
Although every district should prioritize gifted education, not all will do so without dedicated funding. For this reason, Texas is one of 27 states that allocates funding for gifted education. In Texas, the Gifted and Talented Allotment provides a base amount that must be used for such services, and it is essential for this funding to continue.
Efforts are underway to improve identification of gifted needs in diverse populations, and any reduction in mandated gifted and talented funding would risk compromising these efforts. In addition, simply identifying gifted and talented needs does not help children unless educators have funds for specialists and services. For districts to comply with state requirements, follow best practices, and continue to improve gifted identification and services, the gifted and talented mandate must be funded.
Every child deserves an appropriate education and the instruction needed to learn. This includes children with learning differences. Texas has one of the most diverse gifted education populations in the nation. Removing the Gifted and Talented Allotment would risk negative consequences that would potentially have a greater impact on students who are economically disadvantaged and who rely on schools to provide needed academic services. For stakeholders and lawmakers concerned about equity in education, student outcomes and economic growth, support for gifted education should be a priority.
Emily Villamar-Robbins is a member of the Texas Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted Students. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
The following people also signed the column:
- Cherin Escher, president, Carrollton Farmers Branch Association for the Gifted & Talented
- Becky Campbell, president, Richardson Gifted Parent Network
- Ashley Carbone, president, Frisco Gifted Association
- Vicki Miertschin, president, Gifted Eagle Mountain Saginaw Students
- Bettina Flunker, board member, Gifted Eagle Mountain Saginaw Students
- Sandra Colston, Plano Gifted Association
- Amy Warren, president, Grapevine-Colleyville SAGE: Supporting and Advocating for Gifted Education
- Melissa Allan, president, Park Cities Talented and Gifted Board
- Joyce Blackson, McKinney Gifted and Talented Alliance
- Texas Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Garland
- Texas Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson