Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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End the Fiscal Shell Games with School Funding

A Houston Chronicle editorial has called for the Texas Legislature to “get serious about ending diversions across the board and stop relying on the rise in local property taxes to help lawmakers fund matters other than education.”

The editorial notes that “property wealthy” school districts send any increase in property taxes they collect to the state. The state’s “sleight of hand” is on the back end, when it sends schools less money from the General Revenue fund. “In effect, our local property tax revenues benefit the state’s bottom line, not public schools,” it reads.

“It’s easier for state officials to claim they have not voted for a new tax by instead relying on local collections to bolster state coffers. Let us be clear: That dog no longer hunts,” it reads.

Read “Fiscal shell games” in the Houston Chronicle.

February 14, 2018

Texas Educators Should Model, Teach Voting

Haskell CISD Superintendent Bill Alcorn believes that having engaged and voting citizens is the best solution to the challenges Texas faces.

So much so that Haskell CISD trustees have encouraged employees to make voting a habit. “Too few Texans take this civic responsibility seriously, and as a result, often less than 10 percent of our voting population is making decisions about who represents us,” Alcorn said.

“Our school board has only asked our employees to register to vote, learn about the issues and candidates so they can make an informed decision, and then vote,” Alcorn said. When students and others in the community see educators voting, that action can have a greater impact, encouraging others to vote and highlighting the importance of voting.

Efforts to encourage educators to vote have recently come under scrutiny by some. Alcorn notes that those efforts should be applauded, not criticized.

Read “Texas educators should be teaching students to vote” by Bill Alcorn in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.

February 6, 2018

Property Tax Relief Must Be Tied to Increased School Funding

An editorial in the San Antonio Express-News says a new plan to lower property taxes is unlikely to get the predicted results because it doesn’t include concrete steps to fund public schools, the largest driver of increasing property tax costs. The plan is worse than a similar plan from the last legislative session because the school finance remedy it lays out is “vague and inadequate.”

The editorial maintains that the plan is a way of controlling school district spending without adequately improving state spending. And while it forbids new state mandates, it’s silent on existing mandates.

Regarding funding, the plan says the state should “be prepared to increase its share to the extent necessary to ensure that public schools have access to the funding they need.” However, using history as a guide, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that the state won’t be up to the task. “If it had, your property taxes would be much lower,” the editorial reads.

Read “Property tax relief is directly tied to school funding,” by the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

January 30, 2018

RYHT: Public Schools Offer Innovative Choices

In honor of National School Choice Week, Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) has posted a full slate of stories and information about the choices offered by public schools.

Public school districts provide many school options, from neighborhood schools to magnet schools to early college high schools. They also offer innovative course options, including the following:

  • Internships, mentorships, and apprenticeships
  • Advanced Placement the International Baccalaureate programs
  • Career and technology courses
  • A full slate of extracurricular programs
  • Credit recovery for students at risk of dropping out
  • Nontraditional school schedules

The site also features stories on Texas districts that are taking choice to a new level. Read more on the RYHT website.

January 25, 2018

Keffer: School Finance Needs Less Talk, More Action

A new commission begins its study of how Texas can improve its funding system for public education today. Former State Representative Jim Keffer notes that the woes of our school finance system are much discussed but largely unchanged over the last 30 years. The commission will meet throughout 2018 and make recommendations for the 2019 Legislature.

“The commission is a good start, but we can’t fix our school finance system by continuing to study it to death. We need bipartisan support to tackle the challenges we face in funding our schools and making long-overdue investments in public education,” Keffer writes.

Keffer cautioned against another useless voucher debate. “…I have always believed that vouchers are wrong for the whole state. They’re nothing more than funding schemes to drain public tax dollars and push them into private schools that benefit just a few students,” Keffer writes.

He urges Texans who believe in public education to tell members of the commission that they want real investment in public schools.

Read “Less talk, more action on school finance” in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.

January 23, 2018

Who’s Responsible for Special Education Failures?

A recent federal monitoring report says that Texas failed students with disabilities by capping the number identified to limit the services provided and cut costs.

The finger pointing came shortly after the report hit the news. Local school districts were accused of “dereliction of duty” for failing to serve students by a top state officeholder. School officials fired back. The Texas School Alliance and school administrator groups sent a statement to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) contending that a special education cap began at the urging of the Texas Legislature. They cited a 2004 House Public Education Committee interim report that surveyed other states about special education programs and recommended ways to discourage identifying too many students with disabilities or impose caps on the number eligible for services.

“We weren’t derelict: The state of Texas was derelict, the Texas Education Agency was derelict,” said Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers. “We were following what they put in place.”

Read “Special education caps were the Texas Legislature’s idea, educators say,” by Aliyya Swaby in the Texas Tribune.

January 18, 2018

TASB Talks Podcast Details Challenges of 2017

A new TASB Talks podcast featuring Executive Director Jim Crow focuses on the response to Hurricane Harvey and the ups and downs of the legislative session.

The devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the failure of the Texas Legislature to address the state’s broken school finance system were the year’s lowest points.

Among the year’s high notes were the response of Texas school districts to their neighbors affected by Hurricane Harvey and TASB’s grassroots letter-writing campaign that resulted in more than 50,000 advocacy letters being sent to Texas legislators. While we wait for the results of 2018 elections, Crow explains what public education advocates can do to keep the momentum going.

January 16, 2018

AP: Charter Schools among the Most Segregated

Charter school proponents argue that they provide a way out for students stuck in low-performing public schools. But there is one unexpected outcome: they are among the most segregated schools.

A recent Associated Press study indicates that charter schools are “vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation.” In 2014–15, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and that number is increasing. The problem is that such extreme segregation corresponds with low achievement levels in schools of all kinds. That means fewer students meeting proficiency standards in reading and math.

A civil rights attorney has filed suit in Minnesota, accusing the state of allowing racially segregated charter schools to proliferate, leading to growing achievement gaps for minority students.

Read “Charter schools put more students in racial isolation” in the Houston Chronicle.

December 19, 2017

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