Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Huberty Won’t Give Up on School Finance Reform

Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the House Public Education Committee, plans to file a bill to reform public school finance in the upcoming special session. He also reiterated that school choice is dead in the Texas House.

In the regular session, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a school finance reform bill that would have increased the state’s contribution to public schools by $1.5 billion, only to kill the bill later when the Senate added a school choice amendment.

Read “House education leaders won’t budge on school finance, private school choice,” by Aliyya Swaby in the Texas Tribune.

June 27, 2017

New Analysis Debunks Criticisms of Public School Spending

Proponents of school choice were vocal about school spending in the 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature, implying that public schools are wasting public dollars on administrative costs. Competition, they say, would force public schools to spend more wisely.

Tracking the Traditional Public School Dollar by Moak, Casey and Associates spells out what Texas public school districts spend in all areas. The report indicates that 79 percent of basic educational costs are collectively spent on instruction, most of that to pay for salaries and benefits for teachers. Districts spend relatively modestly to cover overhead and administrative personnel costs (12 and 9 percent, respectively).

Moak, Casey and Associates is a firm of Texas school finance and accountability experts.

June 26, 2017

Fight over increased education funding may not be over yet

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus told school board members that the way to improve public education and reduce property taxes is to increase the state’s education funding. “Somebody is going to pay for public education,” Straus said at TASB’s 2017 Post-Legislative Conference at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter. “If we want real property tax reform, we need real reform of school finance,” Straus said.

Straus sees efforts to regulate bathrooms and create voucher programs for schools to be wrongheaded and counterproductive. His statements were in advance of the special session that starts July 18. Property tax reform, regulating bathrooms, and creating a commission to study school finance are all on the agenda. Straus noted that the House has studied school finance for years and passed a bill in the 85th session that was a “strong first step” toward school finance reform.

Read “Foreshadowing fight, Straus rejects bathroom bill, school choice,” by Jonathan Tilove in the Austin American-Statesman.

June 15, 2017

Property Tax Relief Efforts Likely to Fall Short

Every session, Texas legislators look for ways to curtail the rise in property taxes. Because school property taxes make up the largest portion of local property tax bill, raising the state’s share of per-pupil funding for schools would help accomplish that goal. However, since 2007, the year the state rejiggered formulas and balanced state and local funding, the state’s per-pupil contribution has decreased. That leaves districts with no choice but to raise more through property taxes to pay for schools.

Property tax relief is one of the items on the agenda for the recently called special session of the Texas Legislature. Unfortunately, none of the ideas on the table are likely to do much to lower property taxes, and none of them involve increasing state funding for public schools. An article by Ross Ramsey explains the futility of the situation. He writes, “Texas lawmakers have replaced the idea of lowering state taxes with a new one: Complaining alongside taxpayers who want lower taxes. Actually doing something about it has remained out of reach.”

Read “Analysis: ‘Tax relief,’ maybe, but no savings for taxpayers,” in the Texas Tribune.

June 12, 2017

Rising property values lead to skyrocketing Robin Hood payments

School districts in Northeast Tarrant County are bracing for bigger recapture payments next year as property values continue to rise. Recapture requires “property wealthy” districts to make payments to the state for redistribution to lower wealth districts, hence the nickname Robin Hood. The Texas Legislature was unable to pass a bill to increase state funding for public schools in the recently completed 85th session. If all districts received additional funds, recapture payments would be curbed.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD’s recapture payment will go from $30.2 million this year to $44 million in 2017–18, a 45 percent increase. Carroll ISD is looking at a 37 percent increase in its recapture payment, which will rise to $26.3 million.

The effort to increase per-pupil funding for schools was scrapped when a fight erupted over an amendment to the bill that would have created a voucher program for special education students.

Read “Robin Hood payments for Northeast Tarrant schools skyrocket,” by Sandra Engelland in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram.

June 8, 2017

Districts forced to use reserves to fill budget holes

The failure of the Texas Legislature to pass a school finance bill to boost per-pupil funding will hit some districts in their savings accounts. Ysleta and El Paso ISD approved budgets including employee pay raises for next year, hoping the Legislature would come through with additional funding. We now know that no additional funds are coming soon. Still, both are committed to giving pay raises. They will have to dip into their reserves to make that possible.

Read “Districts turn to reserves to plug budget holes after hopes for more state funds quashed,” on the El Paso Times website.

June 7, 2017

School Districts Receiving ASATR Funds Brace for Their Loss

There’s no good news for districts on the school finance front. The end of the 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature brought no school finance reform and, on top of that, the discontinuation of the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. The end of ASATR funding means that approximately 200 districts will experience a $250 million reduction in state funds.

Districts are responding differently to the loss of ASATR funds. Read “Collin County districts brace for loss of funding” on the Frisco Enterprise Website.

June 5, 2017

School Choice Worsened Segregation in Michigan

Noted Education Researcher Diane Ravitch posted an item on her blog about school choice in Michigan. It was written by Jennifer Berkshire, who learned from Michigan superintendents about “the pernicious effects of school choice.”

Michigan no longer has school district boundary lines. Instead, school districts are forced to set aside money to market themselves, effectively competing for the students in the area. Districts are paid by the state based on the number of students enrolled.

School choice has been tough on the Holland, Michigan, school district. Sixty percent of the district’s white students left for neighboring districts and charter schools. The district has closed seven of its 15 schools, and the students that remain are overwhelming poor and majority Hispanic. The district no longer reflects the makeup of the community it serves.

Read Ravitch’s blog to learn more.

June 1, 2017

School Finance Reform Left to Die Following Voucher Amendment

The 85th session of the Texas Legislature ended on Monday, taking with it hopes of additional funds for schools.

Fort Bend School Board President Kristin Tassin didn’t mince words about the death of House Bill 21, the bill that would have provided the additional funding. The bill’s original intent was to help schools get through the next two years, when a more comprehensive school finance bill could be negotiated.

Tassin said that in the Senate’s hands, the bill became nothing but a vehicle for passing school vouchers, leading to its rejection in the House. Read Tassin’s TribTalks op-ed.

May 30, 2017

RYHT: Vouchers Won’t Help Texas’ Most Vulnerable Students

Dr. Chris Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University, has researched the effects of charter schools and vouchers around the world for more than two decades. He was recently interviewed by the folks at Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) about the possible benefits of vouchers for Texas’ disadvantaged students.

Lubienski said that in the U.S., schools are segregated by socioeconomic status. Poorer kids attend poorer schools and that poses a big problem. School choice proponents contend that allowing disadvantaged students to attend a better school would make a critical difference in their outcomes.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen some high quality studies of large-scale voucher programs similar to what we see proposed in Texas. In these places, the results are unanimous…Students who use vouchers to attend a private school are hurt academically by doing that. The rate of their learning compared to their peers slows down. They would have learned more if they had stayed in public schools,” Lubienski said.

He added that investing in early childhood education and better training programs for teachers helps students most and is cumulative over time.

Read “Dr. Chris Lubienski on how vouchers hurt Texas’ most vulnerable kids” on the RYHT Website.

May 24, 2017