Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Education Is a Key Election Issue

In states across the country, public schools have suffered from budget cuts. Teachers have protested poor pay and insufficient school funding.

“Americans have long cited education as a key concern when asked by pollsters to list issues important to them, but it has never been seen as one that could affect their vote. But for a combination of reasons, including the inevitable swing of the political pendulum, things seem different this year,” Strauss writes.

  • In Connecticut, National Teacher of the Year in 2016 Jahana Hayes is competing for a seat in Congress on a platfo In Arizona, education issues dominated the first gubernatorial debate. rm of improving public education.
  • Teacher strikes and protests in West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, and Oklahoma garnered public support.
  • An unprecedented number of teachers are running for office—enough to flip control of state legislatures in at least two states (Maine and Minnesota).
  • In Kentucky, House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell was ousted by Travis Brenda, a high school teacher.
  • In Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb won a US House seat after making education a key issue in his campaign and talking about teachers deserving recognition.

Read “Education—and Betsy DeVos—are issues in key political races this November,” by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post.

October 15, 2018

Chart Illustrates Texas’ School Finance Problem

A new chart published by the Legislative Budget Board explains who is paying for education in Texas. The Texas Tribune highlighted the chart, which shows that the load has steadily shifted from the state to local property taxpayers.

Read “Analysis: Texas’ school finance problem in one pesky chart,” by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune.

October 11, 2018

Solving Property Tax Problems Requires Help at State and Local Levels

State lawmakers have speculated on how they can “save” taxpayers from local governments. A new commentary by Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia notes that “…it’s easier for lawmakers to blame someone else for problems they create, rather than address the statewide problems it is their responsibility to solve.”

In spite of numerous state mandates to provide services, some lawmakers are basically proposing that cities and counties never increase property taxes. At the same time, “…Austin has forced school property tax increases while pointing fingers at local school boards.” The latest school budget proposal will slash another $3.5 billion in state funds from the public education budget, resulting in a 14 percent property tax increase over the next two years.

“…Don’t tell local governments we have to carry our load and your load. Texas taxpayers can no longer afford these political shell games,” Garcia says.

Read “Stop the political shell games: Everyone needs to help solve Texas’ property tax problem,” by Elba Garcia, Dallas Morning News.

October 10, 2018

Commentary: Hold Lawmakers Accountable for School Funding

A new commentary in the Dallas Morning News notes that “Texas has a long history of inadequately funding public education and leaving undue burden on local districts.”

Most people know that the state’s per-pupil contribution to public education funding has dropped since 2008. The commentary by David DeMatthews and David S. Knight, education researchers, put the funding decrease in context. “…in 2008, the state contributed $17.1 billion toward education for about 4.7 million students. However, in 2017, Texas public schools enrolled more than 5.3 million students. The state’s contribution was only $19.3 billion. Despite the 13.7 percent growth in the total student population, the proportion of funding the state contributes declined by 12.6 percent per pupil.”

DeMatthews and Knight say that advocates of the current school funding system suggest that existing law that requires the state to use the expected growth in property taxes to fund public education before factoring in state funding. “Legislators are elected to ensure state laws benefit its citizens, and this law has not protected public schools. At the very least, it ought to be amended,” they write.

“It is time voters demand a new finance system that addresses the significant disparities across districts and regions,” they add. Other funding priorities include the cost to educate more special education students (the remedy to illegal special education caps) and school safety initiatives.

Read “We must hold Texas lawmakers accountable for school funding,” by David DeMatthews and David S. Knight, Dallas Morning News.

October 3, 2018

Study: Private School Advantages Are Overhyped

A new study published in the journal Educational Researcher says that once family and socioeconomic circumstances are accounted for, private school students realize no special benefits compared to public school students. The study has added another data point in the debate about school vouchers.

“While voucher programs are sometimes touted as a solution for disadvantaged kids in inner-city or rural environments, where school systems can struggle to provide high-quality educational options, the authors find no intrinsic benefit to either low-income, urban, or rural students from attending private school,” author Kevin Hahnken writes.

Read “Private School Advantages Overhyped, Study Says, Offering Fodder to Vouchers’ Critics,” by Kevin Mahnken, The74 website.

October 1, 2018

Public Ed Advocate Milder Encourages Schools to Invite Elected Officials

Scott Milder, founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS), recently answered five questions on School Priority Month.

School Priority Month happens each October before a legislative session. Make Education a Priority, a campaign under FOTPS, encourages school leaders to invite elected officials from every level of government to visit public schools to see the good work that’s being done and build relationships. “The better local leaders understand their public schools, the more likely school leaders can conquer existing challenges. Ask them to shadow the principal or a teacher for a few hours, join students for lunch in the cafeteria, and speak with students about their roles in government,” Milder said.

Milder believes that public schools face image problems “…created by those who intentionally spread misinformation to undermine public confidence in our public schools.” Encouraging elected officials to spend some hands-on time in schools can correct any misperceptions they may have.

Read “Make Education a Priority: Five Questions with…Scott Milder, Public Education Advocate” on the Friends of Texas Public Schools website.

September 28, 2018

Editorial: Put Public School Funding First

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently called for the state to increase its share of funding for public education. A new editorial in the San Antonio Express-News notes that it’s high time to do so, and that the governor must keep the Legislature focused on that objective.

There was a move in the last session to improve funding for public schools, but it was squelched by an amendment that would have brought vouchers to the state. Another distracting issue—a controversial bill to regulate the bathroom use of transgender people—prevented legislators from focusing on public education funding. There are indications that there will be another bathroom bill in the next session that begins in January. “We cannot afford a replay of the last session in which precious time and energy were wasted while furthering political agendas,” the editorial reads.

It concludes, “We support [the governor’s] call for paying teachers more, rewarding districts for student achievement and growth, prioritizing spending in the classroom and reducing the tax burdens of property owners (first step: increase state school funding).”

“We just hope that like a good teacher, he can keep his colleagues in Austin on topic.”

Read “Governor must keep Legislature focused on public school finance,” in the San Antonio Express-News.

September 26, 2018

Editorial: Texas Keeps Slurping Up Local Property Taxes

An editorial in the Houston Chronicle notes that the Texas Education Agency projected that the state would spend $3.5 billion less in general revenue funds on education in the next couple of years.

“That’s because the local property tax revenues are expected to go through the roof—rising by about 6.8 percent each year. As property tax revenues rise, the state cuts its share of school funding. More of the tax burden is left on the shoulders of homeowners and businesses,” the editorial reads.

Legislators can fix the problem by overhauling the state’s broken school finance system. “Texas needs to reverse the flow on the school funding pipeline and start sending more state dollars down to local school districts,” it reads.

Read “Texas keeps slurping up local property taxes” in the Houston Chronicle.

September 24, 2018

Education Is a Top Issue in Midterm Elections

Across America, anger over public education funding has scrambled the political map for November. Activism that started with a wave of teacher strikes and walkouts hasn’t stopped. Instead, it’s been channeled into political action, with many teachers running for office themselves, according to a new article in TIME magazine.

Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia, and Arizona are some of the states where cuts to education spending have made current leaders unpopular and potentially vulnerable at the polls. “The most politically energized demographic in the Trump era is college-educated suburban women—precisely the voters who tend to care the most about public education,” the article reads.

Read “Education Is a Top Issue in the Midterms,” on TIME magazine’s website.

September 19, 2018

State Education Spending Falls with Increasing Property Values

The Texas Education Agency expects property values to rise 6.8 percent over the next two years. That’s great for the state, because its budget situation improves whenever property taxes rise. But it’s challenging for property owners, who shoulder more and more of the cost of public education.

An analysis in the Texas Tribune explains the politics surrounding this funding shift:

“This is so normal in Texas politics and state budgeting that even the finger-pointing is choreographed. Local officials say the state is funding its budget with money that’s supposed to be spent in local schools. State officials will tell you that’s how the school finance formulas are supposed to work: by figuring out local property values—what the school district can raise locally—and then adding enough state funding to bring them to the level where the state wants them to be. Local officials will tell you that the state is scamming taxpayers, funding state government by bleeding money out of local schools and the property taxes that support them,” says author Ross Ramsey.

Read “Analysis: Property taxes rise, state education spending falls. That’s the design,” by Ross Ramsey,  Texas Tribune.

September 17, 2018