Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Texas Students Achieve Gains on 2019 STAAR Tests

Texas students made gains on the spring administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Results for high school students who took end-of-course exams were particularly strong, with gains in all subjects.

“This year’s STAAR scores demonstrate Texas students are learning more in the core subjects designed to set them up for future success,” said Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “More students are meeting grade-level expectations in Texas, and this is because of the incredibly talented work of our educators in classrooms around the state.”

State-level results are available for download from the Texas Education Agency website.

Read “Texas Students Achieve Gains on 2019 STAAR Tests,” TEA.

June 17, 2019

New Research Indicates Virtual Education Not Making the Grade

A new report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) on virtual schools “…suggests that some brakes ought to be put on the virtual education revolution,” according to a new story in the Washington Post.

“The virtual schools performance findings have been consistent throughout the seven annual NEPC reports. Full-time virtual and blended schools consistently fail to perform as well as district public schools. The virtual schools that produce the best results tend to be operated by school districts. Those that produce the worst results tend to be ones in which for-profit operators play a role,” report author Alex Molnar writes.

Read “New report on virtual education: ‘It sure sounds good. As it turns out, it’s too good to be true,’” by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

June 13, 2019

Number of High-Poverty, High-Performance Schools Is Growing

The Texas-based research group Children At Risk has recently released its annual public school ratings. An increasing number of gold-ribbon (high-poverty, high-performance) schools are located in the Rio Grande Valley.

“In certain areas of the state, we are seeing more of these high-poverty, high-performing schools, and that’s really good news because that is a majority of our school population in Texas,” said Bob Sandborn, president and CEO of Children At Risk.

Sanborn sheds additional light on the ratings in an audio interview. Listen to “The Number of High-Poverty, High-Performance Schools Is Growing in Texas,” on the Texas Standard website.

June 10, 2019

Listen to TASB Talks: Recap of the 86th Legislature

One easy way to catch up on the 86th session of the Texas Legislature is to listen to the latest TASB Talks podcast. It covers some critical bills that passed, including the school finance and property tax package and school safety, as well as some bills that TASB was tracking that didn’t survive.

Listen to TASB Talks: Recap of the 86th Texas Legislature.

June 3, 2019

Analysis: Legislative Session Was Successful, Not Historic

An analysis by the Texas Tribune notes that many legislators are using the word “transformative” to describe their work on school finance and property tax reform in the 86th session of the Texas Legislature, but that word may be more aspirational than informational.

There were accomplishments: Legislators cut property tax rates, increased funding for prekindergarten, put more money into education, and cut reliance on recapture payments. But it remains to be seen whether the property tax cuts will be large enough to provide real relief. As for the increase in education funding, “…The state isn’t obligated to keep up its new funding levels for schools in perpetuity, any more than it was when it cut public education dramatically in 2011,” author Ross Ramsey notes.

“Right now, the spending and legal changes in the school finance and property tax package are worth a bottle of champagne or two; it really is difficult to find a trail through the dense thicket of politics and policy around these subjects,” Ramsey writes.

“But will the changes and the $11.6 billion be “transformative,” and will they be sustainable in future state budgets?…Maybe it will turn out that they really have transformed this essential and expensive area of state government, and quelled rising voter concern about high property taxes in Texas,” he writes.

“Or—and honestly, this is usually the result in matters of public education and taxes—they just fixed it for a little while,” Ramsey concludes.

Read “Analysis: Texas legislators had a successful session, but not a historic one,” Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune.

May 30, 2019

TASB Statement: Commending Compromise on School Finance

TASB has released a statement commending the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott on the recently announced compromise on school finance that will provide “…an unprecedented level of resources for Texas public school students and teachers.”

Read the full statement on TASB’s website.

May 23, 2019

Editorial: Senate Plan to Fix School Funding Is Flawed

School finance reform still hangs in the balance in the Texas Legislature. The Dallas Morning News noted a problem with the Senate’s version of the legislation, “…an obscure shift in the way schools must build their budgets each year that would take tens of millions of dollars away from large school districts and that would punish any district that saw property value growth.”

More than 50 districts sent a letter asking legislators to redraft the bill so schools could continue to budget using the prior year’s property valuations to allow districts to keep some of the funds that come from growth in property values from one year to the next. Under the current bill, districts that saw growth would send more money to the state as part of state’s recapture funds.

The senate’s bill also “spends lavishly on raises for public employees,” by mandating a $5,000 across-the-board raise for teachers. “It ties the hands of local school districts so they will have very little money to commit to merit pay for teachers or for increasing resources in poor schools or any other proven effort at public education reform,” the editorial reads.

Read “The plan to fix Texas school funding is more poisonous than we thought” in the Dallas Morning News.

May 21, 2019

Commentary: The High Stakes of Being a Third Grader

A new commentary on TribTalk exposes the flawed logic of outcomes-based funding, which rewards districts whose third graders perform well on a standardized test of reading skills and effectively penalizes districts whose third graders struggle on that test.

“Let’s be very clear: Under these proposals, the state would partially fund our schools based on the performance of 8-year-olds on a high-stakes test given on a single day,” the commentary reads.

One of the tests, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), is facing increasing scrutiny after media reports that STAAR is actually measuring the progress of Texas third-grade students using standards appropriate for fourth or fifth graders.

Author Michelle Smith notes that the name, outcomes funding, is rosy and misleading. “A more appropriate name, based on what is being measured, rewarded, and punished, is ‘test-based funding.’ Whatever you call it, this type of funding mechanism would weaken Texas public schools and students—especially those who need the most help,” Smith wrote.

Smith, director of government relations for Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT), cited an RYHT poll of likely 2020 voters that asked about tying public school funding to performance on standardized tests. Seventy-eight percent of respondents opposed test-based funding.

Read “The high stakes of being a third grader” by Michelle Smith, TribTalk.

May 15, 2019

School Districts Send Letter Opposing Senate Education Reform Bill

A coalition of Texas school districts has told state lawmakers they don’t like the Senate version of a bill to fund public education.

State senators are planning a final vote on their school finance bill soon. Districts dislike the Senate bill for several reasons, one of which is a change in the funding formula that would make setting a budget for the coming school year a guessing game.

Nearly 60 school districts sent a letter to House and Senate Education Committee members. “The letter says the Senate version of school funding using ‘current year property values would be devastating to our school districts’ and creates an ‘additional Robin Hood system that affects even more districts’ and ‘in most cases would cause significantly more harm than the current funding system,’” according to FOX KDFW.

“So now they’re going to try to pay for what they call property tax relief which won’t lower your property taxes with this shift to put more burden on the schools, which actually will accelerate your property taxes,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins observed.

SMU Economics Professor Mike Davis said there need to be other revenue streams to fund public education.

Read “Texas school districts come together against Senate education reform bill” by FOX4News.com

May 14, 2019

Editorial: Voters Want School Finance Reform

A new editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that 2018 voters couldn’t have been clearer about their desire for school finance reform to be a top priority for the Texas Legislature.

The session started with optimism and a sense that legislators wanted to get something meaningful accomplished. As the session draws to a close, the focus on property tax relief has increased as the differences in House and Senate versions of school finance reform have multiplied.

“If [lawmakers] fail to reconcile their differences to pass an effective school finance bill this session, they will let their fed-up constituents down…Most important, they will have done a real disservice to the millions of Texas public schoolchildren,” the editorial reads, noting that voters aren’t likely to take broken promises lightly in future elections.

The buzz for a special session has started, but that’s problematic for districts because they set budgets and tax rates in June. “The Senate should turn to the finer details of Huberty’s bill and see this thing through before the session ends in less than a month,” the editorial reads.

“We’ve had too many disappointing sessions where good intentions on school finance reform were doused by political infighting. Lawmakers can’t let that happen again,” it concludes.

Read “Austin, property tax relief is good, but what about school finance reform?” Dallas Morning News.

May 8, 2019