Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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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

2011 Public Ed Funding Cuts Have Consequences

A new report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) details the lasting impact of Texas’ 2011 funding cuts to public education. Some might think Texas public schools have fully recovered from the $5.3 billion cuts, but an analysis of the data shows that they have had lasting negative effects.

“The result was a funding hole, five years long and five billion dollars deep,” CPPP said. “Futhermore, when funding was cut, the effects fell disproportionately on programs serving low-income students.” The state has not yet returned to the prerecession per-student funding level of 2008. Students needing extra support—which costs more to provide—were hit hardest by the cuts.

Read Consequences of the Texas Public School Funding Hole of 2011–16 by Dr. Michael Marder and Chandra King Villanueva.

October 5, 2017

26 Texas Public Schools Earn Blue Ribbon Honors

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that 26 Texas public schools earned Blue Ribbon honors for 2017. The Texas Education Agency nominates the schools for the honor.

The following Texas Blue Ribbon schools completed a rigorous application process and will receive their awards at the annual Blue Ribbon School conference in Washington, D.C.:

  • Amarillo ISD—Whittier Elementary School
  • Banquete ISD—Banquete Elementary School
  • Birdville ISD—Smithfield Elementary School
  • Dallas ISD—Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy
  • Dallas ISD—Dallas Environmental Science Academy
  • Dallas ISD—Irma Lerma Rangel Women’s Leadership School
  • Edinburg CISD—Austin Elementary School
  • Edinburg CISD—Jefferson Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD—Green Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD—Silva Health Magnet
  • Galveston ISD—Austin Middle School
  • Gunter ISD—Gunter Elementary School
  • Houston ISD—Eastwood Academy
  • Houston ISD—Lyons Elementary School
  • Jim Ned CISD—Lawn Elementary School
  • Judson ISD—Crestview Elementary School
  • KIPP Houston—KIPP Shine Prep
  • La Porte ISD—Jennie Reid Elementary School
  • Laredo ISD—Hector J. Garcia Early College High School
  • Los Fresnos ISD—Rancho Verde Elementary School
  • Montgomery ISD—Montgomery Intermediate School
  • Oakwood ISD—Oakwood Elementary School
  • San Antonio ISD—Travis Early College High School
  • Whitehouse ISD—Stanton-Smith Elementary School
  • Wylie ISD (Wylie)—RF Hartman Elementary School
  • Ysleta ISD—Valle Verde Early College High School

The Blue Ribbon School program recognizes public and private schools where students perform at high levels.

October 2, 2017

Legislative Sessions Offer Little Relief for Public Schools

Public schools and property taxpayers saw little legislative relief following this year’s regular and special sessions of the Texas Legislature. The story was different for charter schools.

Center for Public Policy Priorities Policy Analyst Chandra Villanueva said, “At the end of the day, large urban districts and large suburban districts get pretty much zero [additional] dollars. Charter schools are the big, big winners in all of this and a handful of very rural areas.” The Legislature increased state aid for charter schools by $1.46 billion.

Read “Experts: School funding woes largely unchanged during latest lege session” by Anna Dembowski in the Community Impact newspaper.

September 29, 2017

FOTPS: On School Choice, Property Taxes, and Politics

Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) recently published an editorial taking on the Texas Legislature for its refusal to fund public schools at the same time it pushes school privatization.

Scott Milder, FOTPS founder, said that those pushing for public funds for private schools don’t want to pay taxes to fund public schools because their children attend private schools. Also, when privatizers see the money invested annually in public schools, they see profits that could be made by getting rid of them. “I am convinced the intent is even more devious than that; underfunding our schools makes it more difficult for them to succeed, which fuels the privatization argument,” Milder writes.

The property tax implications of this failure to provide funding that keeps up with student growth and inflation is obvious: local schools have to raise property taxes to keep public schools running. Even those districts fortunate enough to be in areas with rising property values don’t get the benefit of the additional funds. “When local property values rise…the state reduces its contribution to your school district by the exact same dollar amount, thereby reducing the state’s share and increasing the local taxpayers’ burden,” Milder writes.

Read “A Peek Behind the Curtain of Political Rhetoric on School Choice, School Funding, and Local Property Taxes” on the FOTPS website.

September 25, 2017

Waco Chamber: Stop Shifting Funding Burden to Schools

An editorial in the Waco Tribune points out that for Texas’ future economic growth and vitality, our broken property tax system must be addressed. That starts with fixing the state’s method of funding public education.

The editorial notes that per-pupil state funding for education is less every year, with current spending levels below prerecession levels of 2008 before accounting for inflation. “Adjusted for inflation, in 2015 dollars, Texas was spending $10,260 per student in 2009–2010. Today we spend just $8,935,” the editorial points out. That puts Texas at 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending on education.

With state funding for public education decreasing from around 45 percent to 36 percent in the coming biennium, school districts have to make up the difference by raising local property taxes.

Read “State deserves some blame for ire over rising property values, tax rates,” by Jessica Attas, director of public policy for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

September 22, 2017