Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Coalition for Public Schools: Private School Vouchers Didn’t Work in Other States

In advance of the anticipated filing of a bill calling for school vouchers, the Coalition for Public Schools held a symposium at the Texas Capitol to remind legislators that voucher systems don’t improve educational outcomes. Researchers explained that voucher systems in other states haven’t improved the performance of students, especially those from low-income families, and private schools haven’t been held accountable for their results.

The event came before school choice proponents held rallies in recognition of National School Choice Week. Public school districts including Austin were also expected to rally to highlight the abundance of programs they offer for students.

Read the complete story by Julie Chang in the Austin American-Statesman.

January 24, 2017

Board President Explores the Real Impact of School Vouchers

In a recent commentary, Denison ISD Board President Randy Sedlacek contends that it’s no coincidence that school choice advocates are promising a fight for vouchers on the heels of the rocky rollout of the state’s new A–F school accountability system. Many districts and schools got low marks under the new system in spite of meeting the previous standard (and most were put off by the oblique formula used to calculate ratings). School choice advocates believe low ratings for public schools—justified or not—might help their cause.

Sedlacek notes that offering school choice as an option would essentially mean funding two separate education systems at a time when the existing public education system is badly underfunded. “Unless we want to destroy the public school system altogether, I suggest that we fix the one we have before we start replacing it with another one,” Sedlacek said.

Read his comments on the Herald-Democrat Website.

January 23, 2017

Board President: I’m No “Educrat”

Fort Bend ISD Board President Kristin Tassin took Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to task in a recent open letter following Patrick’s comments at a Texas Public Policy Foundation speech earlier this month.

In the speech, Patrick said that those who represent Texas public schools are “liberals” or “educrats” and shouldn’t bother making the trip to Austin to lobby legislators on education issues.

Tassin took issue with Patrick’s choice of words. “Most of us are parents, many with conservative views and values, who ran for the school board or got involved in our local school districts in order to improve education and make a difference in our communities and across the state of Texas,” Tassin said.

Tassin vowed to come to Austin even though some legislative leaders appear to be unwilling to listen. “…It is my duty under the law to advocate for public education and the more than 5.2 million Texas children who attend our public schools,” she wrote.

Read her letter in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

January 18, 2017

Editorial Connects A–F Accountability System to Vouchers Push

In the editorial, “A–F system demoralizing, sets public schools up to fail,” author Racey Burden notes that Wise County-area superintendents see the new system as the latest effort to prop up the push for vouchers and school choice.

The superintendents were surprised that their schools, which all got ‘met standard’ ratings in the current accountability system, received low marks on the A–F scale. They were concerned about the convoluted formula used to determine grades and the weight given to test scores and student absences versus parent and community opinion.

A system that gives public schools low grades provides fuel for the school choice fire. No parent wants their child attending a school with poor ratings, and low ratings were all too common in the preliminary round.

Finally, they questioned why the Texas Legislature is looking at school choice options again. They worry that school choice would lead to segregation, with the wealthy flocking to private or charter schools, leaving the less fortunate in schools hobbled by inadequate funding.

Read the full editorial in the Wise County Messenger.

January 17, 2017

Facts About A–F School Accountability Ratings

Texans got their first glimpse at the state’s new accountability system for public schools last week, and as predicted, many schools and districts received low ratings under the new system.

A little background is necessary to understand the intent of the system. In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2804, changing the state’s school accountability system so that schools and districts receive one of five A–F ratings. The intent of the system was to give students, parents, and community members an easy-to-understand rating—a grade. Additional details on the system are available on the Texas Education Agency’s Website.

Just as students receive different letter grades in different subjects, districts and campuses receive grades on five different domains:

  • Student achievement
  • Student progress
  • Closing performance gaps
  • Postsecondary readiness
  • Community and student engagement

Districts and campuses will receive an overall composite grade in 2018 (the recent work-in-progress grades did not include the composite grade).

The initial low grades were enough for educators to know their concerns about the new system were not misplaced:

  • The system relied heavily on STAAR testing (55 percent of overall ratings) despite problems with the first administration of those tests.
  • The system does little to account for differences in student populations. Schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods were highly likely to receive C’s or lower—even those that have shown progress in district measurements.
  • Educators believe the letter grade is an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the overall educational experiences of students.
  • Media outlets seized on negative results, even though this was a “work-in-progress” report.
  • The model lacks transparency and will likely change again before the results become final, leaving districts to wonder how their progress will be measured.

TASB issued the following statement from Executive Director James B. Crow on the preliminary ratings:

The Texas Legislature’s requirement to grade schools on an A–F scale is a flawed concept, and the preliminary ratings released to the public today fail to provide meaningful information about schools.

These new A-F ratings are just a symptom of the larger sickness: an unhealthy fixation on standardized testing and standardized expectations.

There are 1,028 school districts in Texas, and no two are exactly the same. Trying to apply the same accountability measures primarily based on one standardized test is a disservice to our kids, their families, and our educators.

It’s time the armchair educators stop trying to find new ways to sell tests, test preparation, and test administration. It’s time to consider our students and schools as more than just a grade.

January 12, 2017

State’s New A–F Rating System Concerns Educators

To say that educators have their doubts about the fairness of the state’s new A–F rating system for schools would be putting it mildly. The new system was designed to provide students, parents, and communities with a new shorthand way of understanding school progress as opposed to the existing “Met Standard/Improvement Required” ratings.

Districts across the state argue that the revamped ratings rely too heavily on STAAR standardized test results, don’t take into account a district’s economic circumstances, and are generated by a complicated formula that discourages transparency. The Texas Association of School Administrators notes that more than 150 school boards have passed resolutions opposing the new system.

In “Where’s the ‘E’ in the state’s new A–F rating system” in The Galveston County Daily News, Patti Hanssard  wrote, “A–F ratings will do more harm than good, will create confusion among all stakeholders, and fail to offer the public accurate representation about their schools.” Hanssard is the assistant superintendent of human resources and public information officer for Santa Fe ISD.

In “Even high-performing schools get D’s and F’s in Texas’ new rating system” by Eva Marie Ayala and Holly Hacker, the Dallas Morning News reported that very few Dallas-area schools got high ratings in the new system and that the poorest schools fared the worst.

The Texas Education Agency responded with a statement from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath about the preliminary A–F ratings. The statement concluded, “No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015–16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

January 6, 2017

Increased Property Taxes Unlikely to Benefit Schools

In the article “School property taxpayers out of luck” in the January 1 edition of the San Antonio Express-News, reporter Peggy Fikac notes that Texans are likely to continue feeling the pain of higher property taxes with none of the additional funds being passed on to schools.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

AUSTIN — State leaders and lawmakers may feel Texans’ pain when it comes to rising local property taxes, but they’re also getting some gain from the increases as they prepare to write the state budget.

Because of the way formulas for public school finances work, the state’s share of paying for education goes down when local school property tax values go up.

The calculation means that lawmakers who meet in regular session starting this month should have nearly $2 billion more in state money to spend in other areas because they won’t have to put it into schools.

The money is sorely needed by state budget writers at a time when revenues are showing the effects of the unsteady oil and gas industry, but there’s irony in the benefit since Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and some of his top Senate leaders are pushing to put new restrictions on increases in city and county property tax revenue.

The spectacle isn’t lost even on those who’ve backed city and county changes.

“The local districts are going to end up having to pay for a greater share of public school costs,” said Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “The state can cut what it’s spending for schools and still fund the formulas because of rising property values. … It’s a big savings for everyone except the property owners.”

Cities and counties that oppose proposed new restrictions on their ability to raise money point out that school districts impose the biggest share of property taxes.

School districts in 2013 accounted for nearly 55 percent of the property tax levy, compared with 16.7 percent for counties and 16.2 percent for cities, according to the state comptroller’s office…

Subscribers can read the full article in the San Antonio Express-News.

January 4, 2017

Property Taxes Rise While State Decreases Its Per-Pupil Spending for Education

A new story in the Texas Tribune analyzes the state’s declining support for public schools, noting that if it had kept its share of funding for schools constant, Texans might not have been hit with rapidly rising property taxes.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) noted that the Texas Legislature is spending more than $2 billion a year that would have gone to public education on other state programs and services. Aycock says that taxpayers want school taxes to go to schools and that the practice of using that money elsewhere will eventually come home to roost, particularly if voters get wind of it.

Legislators will tell you they are spending more for education. Technically, that’s true…they are spending more because of student enrollment growth. The problem is that state spending has not kept up with that growth. That pushes the tax burden on to school districts, which leads to higher property taxes.

Read “Analysis: The state’s declining support for public education in Texas” by Ross Ramsey.

December 13, 2016

Taxparency Texas: Texas Public Schools Don’t Get Additional Funds When Property Values Rise

Education funding is largely reliant on property taxes, so Texas public schools should be the biggest beneficiary of rising property values, right? Many might think so, but that’s not what happens.

Texas is benefitting from rising property values to the tune of $5.4 billion, but those additional funds aren’t automatically passed on to schools. In the last legislative session, lawmakers saw fit to give $2.6 billion of education funds to business in the form of franchise tax relief.

In “Public School Funding and “TAXPARENCY,” Taxparency Texas is calling for an overhaul of public education funding system based on some commonsense principles, including using local school district property taxes solely for public education and without reducing the state’s funding obligation. Read more at taxparencytexas.org.

December 8, 2016

Economist Perryman Weighs In on Upcoming School Choice Battle

In “School choice could be helpful or a sorry charade,” Economist Ray Perryman provides his take on school choice, which is shaping up to be a major focus of the coming session of the Texas Legislature.

Most noteworthy is Perryman’s conclusion on vouchers:

“…the plans would likely have the effect of reducing educational funding and quality in the public school system, which must provide opportunities for the vast majority of Texas children. Competition to improve an excellent system is laudatory; competition as a code word to further deteriorate a chronically underfunded system that is leaving our future workforce behind is not.”

Perryman’s commentary appears in the Waco Tribune.

November 29, 2016