Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Report: Federal Funds Wasted on Problem Charters Exceeds $1 Billion

The report “Asleep at the Wheel” published by the Network for Public Education (NPE) detailed federal funds spent on charter schools that never opened or that closed because of mismanagement or for other reasons.

NPE Executive Director and report author Carol Burris now concludes, “The waste and fraud may be worse than the original report stated.” The report found 1,203 charter schools in 15 states either never opened or have closed. That represents 40 percent of the total grantees.

Read “A report that detailed up to $1 billion in wasted federal funds on bad charter schools may have underestimated the problem,” by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

July 16, 2019

More School Choice Often Means Less Democracy

A new commentary by Forbes Contributor Peter Greene points out that one way to understand the problems created by school choice is simple: Look at who’s holding the purse strings.

In a public school system, the money is controlled by taxpayer-elected school board members and state legislators. In voucher or charter systems, the money is controlled by the parents of students in the system. That means taxpayers without children in charter schools or voucher systems have no say in how their money is spent. Tax credit scholarships (TCS) disempower taxpayers even further by putting the purse strings in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations. “A TCS system essentially lets those folks give their dollars to schools instead of using the money to pay their taxes,” Greene notes.

The implications of such a system were just seen by Rosen Resorts, million-dollar funders of Florida’s TCS system. When they discovered that some of the schools they support discriminate against gay students, they stopped supporting the system until the state stops the discrimination. There is no democratic process to allow taxpayers or student families to stop the problem. If there’s a policy change, it will be because private donors demand it.

“Each version of school choice is about cutting some number of taxpayers out of the loop, giving them no say in how their dollars, collected for the express purpose of educating students, will be spent. More choice too often means less democracy,” Greene concludes.

How school choice undermines democratic processes,” by Peter Greene, Forbes.

July 9, 2019

Editorial: Texas Can Do More to Improve Kids’ Chances for Success

Texas lawmakers got high marks for pumping billions of dollars into education this legislative session. By passing school finance reform, they ensured that more than 5 million public school children will have a better chance for success.

An editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a new Kids Count report that underscores just how far Texas kids have to go. “Texas ranked 41st—one of the 10 worst states for kids—in child well-being. States were ranked across four areas—health, education, economic well-being, and family and community—and Texas was near the bottom in every category,” the editorial says. “…It’s shameful that in a state with so much overall economic success, the child poverty rate remains alarmingly high. A fifth of Texas’ 7.4 million children are poor,” it continues.

A couple of policy solutions could make a real difference for Texas kids: An accurate count of Texas residents in the 2020 Census, which will determine how billions of federal dollars for health care, housing, and food programs are allocated. The state could also act to ensure the vulnerable kids and women of child-bearing age have health insurance.

Read “Editorial: Texas isn’t doing right by its kids. Here are ways we can do better,” Dallas Morning News.

July 3, 2019

The 2020 Census Is Critical for Public Schools

The National Education Agency (NEA) is sounding the alarm about the need for an accurate 2020 census count for public schools. “An accurate census is key to schools getting the funding they need to serve every child who walks through their doors,” author Amanda Litvinov writes. But experts believe the accuracy of the census is imperiled by the recent addition of a citizenship question, which is likely to lower the response rate.

The census is critical to public schools because it determines the distribution of more than $14 billion in Title 1 grants to help schools serve 24 million students from low-income families; $11.3 billion in state special education grants; $13.6 billion for the National School Lunch Program; funds for the Head Start preschool program; and grants to improve teacher quality. An inaccurate count will result in public schools not receiving adequate resources to meet those needs.

Several states are suing over the decision to include the citizenship question. The NEA has signed onto an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to strike the citizenship question from the census.

Read “The 2020 census could make or break your public schools. Here’s why,” by Amanda Litvinov,  Education Votes, NEA.

June 26, 2019

Commentary: School Finance Reform Is the Starting Point

A new commentary by education researchers David DeMatthews and David S. Knight says that the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 was a big step in improving Texas public education.

“Texas families should be appreciative that Republican and Democratic lawmakers were able to advance a funding bill that provides additional support to public schools, including opportunities for increased teacher pay based on performance and incentives for teachers to work in high-needs and rural schools that are often difficult to staff with high-quality teachers,” they write.

“Education dollars in Texas do not come easily, and this is a win for public education. But HB 3 is a starting point, not the finish line for school reform,” they write.

“…We should continue to expect our lawmakers to enact monumental policies that advance public schools in future legislative sessions as well as in regulations and oversight enacted by the Texas Education Agency,” they write.

“We can do this by electing politicians who value public education and recognize that the state must make ongoing investments into schools. They must also focus their attention on how money is being spent to ensure governance over education reflects the values of the state’s communities,” they conclude.

DeMatthews is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin. Knight is the associate director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Students and an assistant professor at The University of Texas at El Paso.

Read “Commentary: School finance reform law marks the starting point, not the finish line,” by David DeMatthews and David S. Knight, Austin American-Statesman.

June 19, 2019

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