AFF Review: The Texas Promise

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texas promiseIn 2011, the Texas Legislature voted to remove $5.4 billion from the state's education budget. Vanessa Roth's intelligent and informative documentary, The Texas Promise, examines some of the reasons behind this decision as well as various effects it had on Texas public schools.

The film opens with a series of hopeful young students talking about what they want to be when they grow up, but the narrative quickly moves into the nitty gritty of the matter at hand. Thanks to the people in charge at the governmental level, these students probably have a challenging path ahead of them for reasons that have more to do with money and politics than their own academic skills and goals.

Roth helps to explain the situation by relying on quite a bit of footage captured during the legislative debates leading up to the 2011 decision, and these moments help to provide a summary of the players on either side of the issue (though you may not have realized "funding public schools" could be such a divisive idea). Dan Patrick and Wendy Davis are both featured, making The Texas Promise relevant to this week's elections, also.

Roth also interviews teachers, parents, academics and analysts to provide greater scope, and through the eyes of these individuals it becomes clear how dire the situation is for so many Texans. It isn't just overcrowded classrooms and overworked teachers, it's the misplaced priorities among those who hold power that makes the future seem grim, especially for the non-wealthy.

Throughout the film, Roth does an excellent job of balancing emotion with facts, and she succeeds in illuminating a complex issue without resorting to oversentimentality or oversimplification. It's practically impossible to simplify such a mess, anyway, but it's heartening to see that enough people were outraged enough to protest and ultimately sue the state to try and recover some of the lost funds. 

Particularly strong are Roth's methods of questioning commonly-held and often inaccurate ideas about "failing schools," and through the voices of those who deal with this reality every day, also takes the time to discuss thorny topics like charter schools and standardized tests. These multi-layered issues are complicated, and most people will feel far better educated after seeing this documentary.

The Texas Promise is both depressing and hopeful, and no matter what your political leanings are you'll probably end up feeling frustrated more than anything. Continuing to undervalue education is a dangerous game, and doing so doesn't bode well for Texas as a whole. Will those in charge realize this anytime soon? Roth doesn't have the answer because only time will tell, but her film brings to light the problems we should all be thinking about as Texans and as human beings.