Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Transparency Lacking for Students with Disabilities Who Choose Private Schools

A new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says many of the nation’s voucher programs and private schools don’t give parents of students with disabilities adequate information about the protections they lose when transferring from a public school.

Federal law dictates that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education, including special education services and certified teachers, all delivered in the “least restrictive environment” possible. They have access to general education classes whenever possible and aren’t disciplined for disruptive behavior that may be related to their disability.

The report says that often parents don’t understand that leaving public schools means leaving those federal protections behind, and many voucher programs and private schools don’t tell them. It recommends that states notify parents or guardians of the change in protections when a student with disabilities is moved from a public school to a private school. Alternatively, Congress could consider stepping in and writing a new notification requirement.

The bottom line is that the rights of students with disabilities should be clear to parents when making such a critical decision.

Read “School Voucher Programs Should Be Clear About Disability Rights, Report Says,” by Cory Turner on the NPR website.

December 13, 2017

FIRST Ratings: Texas Districts Manage Financial Resources Well

On December 1, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released 2016–17 Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) ratings for school districts and charters, and the news is good.

Based on annual financial reports provided to TEA, 99 percent of Texas school districts and charters earned a successful final rating, meaning that they do a good job of managing their financial resources to provide the maximum funds for for direct instructional purposes. More than 84 percent of districts earned a superior rating, 11.25 percent earned ‘above standard achievement’ rating, and 3.42 percent earned a ‘met standard’ rating.

The ratings are based on 15 financial indicators, including administrative cost expenditures, the accuracy of the information submitted to TEA, and any financial vulnerabilities or material weaknesses in internal controls as determined by an external auditor.

More details on financial accountability ratings are available on TEA’s website.

December 8, 2017

Students May Be the Big Losers If Funding Drought Continues

An editorial in the Dallas Morning News bemoans the funding (or lack thereof) for Texas public schools. The item was based a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that noted that Texas is spending fewer dollars per student than it did in 2008.

The editorial board voiced frustration with the fact that lawmakers “barely tinkered around the edges of school funding this session, and they’ve consistently failed to overhaul the state’s convoluted funding system.”

They also haven’t fully restored funding cuts from 2011. The problem is compounded by the fact that Texas adds about 80,000 students per year, meaning Texas schools are under constant pressure to do more with less state funding. Local taxpayers have picked up some of the slack, but, as the editorial notes, that’s no long-term solution.

“Taxpayers need to insist that our leaders put educating our children at the top of the priority list and pony up enough public dollars to make it work. Our students—and our collective futures—are the biggest losers if we don’t,” the editorial states.

Read “Texas is going in the wrong direction on school funding, and it’s the students who pay,” in the Dallas Morning News.

December 6, 2017

Texas Lags Behind Most States in School Funding

The Great Recession of 2008 was hard on public education. Texas cut education funding that year and has lagged most states in restoring those dollars, according to a new study.

The state initially relied on the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to bolster the public education budget until those funds dried up. In 2011, the Legislature cut public education funding again, this time by $5.3 billion.

In 2015, state funding per student was 16 percent lower than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Texas’ decline in state funding was the sixth largest during that period, behind Arizona, Florida, Alabama, Idaho, and Georgia. This year, state funding for public education has dropped an additional 1.5 percent when adjusted for inflation.

Decreasing state funds means an increasing reliance on local property tax dollars to educate Texas students. But even with local dollars factored in, Texas’ per-student funding levels still lag 2008 by 4.8 percent. “Austin and most other Central Texas school districts are in danger of crumbling under the burden of serving as a piggy bank for the state of Texas when it comes to funding education. Property taxes are simply too high, and the state’s investment is too small,” said Drew Scheberle, senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Read “Study: Texas lags behind most states in school funding” by Julie Chang, Austin American-Statesman.

December 4, 2017

Recent Research Indicates Vouchers Don’t Improve Achievement

The latest research on large-scale voucher programs has complicated the debate over private school choice. Studies of voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and the District of Columbia have found that the students served fare worse academically after leaving public schools.

“…If anything, it looks like that maybe kids going to private school on voucher programs might do worse in reading and math than they do in public [schools],” said David Figlio, an economist at Northwestern University. His study of vouchers for low-income students in Ohio found that voucher students performed much worse on state tests than peers who were eligible for vouchers but remained in public schools.

In Florida, the program allowing low-income students to attend private schools (the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship) has had zero effect on student achievement. That was true of most early voucher research, according to Figlio.

Read “‘Precious Little Evidence’ That Vouchers Improve Achievement, Recent Research Finds,” by Arianna Prothero in Education Week.

November 27, 2017

Vouchers Can Leave Parents on Their Own

Education Week recently documented the experience of Erica Florea and her daughter Jessica. Florea applied for and received $6,000 in tuition vouchers in Florida to allow Jessica, a special education student, to attend a private school.

They were initially happy with their choice, but Jessica became a victim of bullying. Erica complained and accused the staff of the school of ignoring the problem. The school subsequently told Erica that Jessica was no longer welcome and that she’d have to finish the school year from home. Erica’s e-mails requesting that they provide a teacher to help went unanswered.

Their experience is not an isolated incident. When families use vouchers to enroll in private schools, they give up most of the protections federal law requires for special education students. “If a private school decides not to admit a student, or to ask a student to leave, there’s little legal recourse for parents to challenge those decisions,” the article reads.

Florida private schools don’t track some basic measures of success: how many students graduate, nor how many are bullied, expelled, or drop out. Also, there is scant data on how well students who attend private schools perform. In contrast, the state has “unsparing” accountability rules for public schools.

Jessica has returned to a public school, where she is thriving and getting the support she needs to succeed.

Read “‘There Is No Oversight’: Private-School Vouchers Can Leave Parents on Their Own,” by Arianna Prothero in Education Week.

November 21, 2017

Passing the Buck on Education Funding

Texas’ school finance system has gotten much attention for its failings. Texas Public Radio recently hosted a community conversation about whether it can be fixed.

One of the participants, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chairman of the House Committee on Public Education, talked about the common refrain about education: that you can’t just throw money at it and expect good results.

“Show me when we’ve actually tried that,” Bernal said. “There’s a literal passing of the buck where people don’t want to invest in education the way we should. I also think it’s important to point out that in the past 10 years or so, the state of Texas has divested in education by about a full third, so we’re not throwing money at anybody, we’re taking money away and then asking them to perform. So it might make a good talking point in front of a certain crowd, but for the most part, it defies reality.”

Read “Texas Has a Broken School Finance System—Can It Be Fixed?” on the Texas Public Radio website.

November 16, 2017

Private School Subsidy Included in Tax Reform

The latest tax plan being floated in Congress includes a generous tax break for wealthy families that send their children to private schools. Education Historian and Research Professor Diane Ravitch notes that the subsidy could be worth up to $30,000 a year in tuition costs.

“What happened to the middle class?” Ravitch asks. “Forget about them. This tax break will cost taxpayers up to $600 million.”

For additional details, read “GOP Tax Plan Offers Subsidy to Wealthy Private School Parents” on her blog.

November 14, 2017

Low-Income Students in Texas Cities Achieve Highest Marks in New Study

A new study shows that low-income students in Texas cities lead the pack when it comes to comparisons with similar students in other cities. Study authors used test results from low-income students to create a measure called the Educational Equality Index to examine schools in the nation’s largest 300 cities.

The results indicate that low-income students in a small group of cities are getting more promising results in school. Eight of the top 10 are from Texas, including Brownsville, which received the highest mark. Other Texas cities in the index’s top 10 include McAllen, El Paso, Amarillo, Mesquite, Richardson, Pasadena, and Laredo.

Further study is required to determine why some cities and schools perform better with low-income students. Brownsville leaders mention the heavy presence of homegrown teachers and strong network of social services as two possible reasons for the city’s performance.

Read “New study reveals cities where low-income students are doing best” on the Hechinger Report Website.

October 30, 2017

Ratliff: Public School Performance Beats Charters

Thomas Ratliff, a former member of the State Board of Education and long-time advocate for public schools, recently responded to claims on the part of the Texas Charter School Association that charter schools are “steadily improving.” This claim came after critiques of substandard performance on their part.

Ratliff uses Texas Education Agency Snapshot data to show that charters have a dropout rate 3.5 times higher than ISDs, a much lower four-year graduation rate, fewer students taking college admission tests, lower achievement on college admission tests (with one minor exception), and lower performance on standardized tests. Charter schools also have fewer students in special education, career and technical education, and gifted and talented programs than ISDs (by a lot).

Charter schools spend 51 percent of their funding on instructional expenses, while ISDs spent 57.5 percent. An average of 13 percent of charter school expenditures are for central administration, compared to 6 percent for ISDs.

In spite of the above evidence that charters lag ISDs in terms of performance and spend less on instruction, the Legislature just increased state aid for charter schools by $1.46 billion and decreased state aid for ISDs by $2.6 billion. After 20 years, Ratliff questions how long we have to wait for charter schools to fulfill their promise of “improving student learning.”

Read “How Long Do We Have to Wait” by Thomas Ratliff.

October 9, 2017