Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Showing Appreciation for Teachers

Midland ISD Teacher Chris Hightower’s commentary in the Midland Reporter-Telegram notes that teacher strikes around the nation have demonstrated that teachers are tired of a “business as usual” approach to education funding.

The Texas Legislature is directed by the state Constitution to “provide and fund an efficient system of public schools to provide for the general diffusion of knowledge.” Simply put, schools must be adequately funded. Hightower says school finance “is ridiculously complex” and not focused on providing adequate funding. He notes that fixing education funding in Texas will require a long, hard look at all possible options.

He also reminds readers that they have another option. “If you truly want to show your appreciation for teachers, you should look at changing the week of teacher appreciation from the first week of May to the first week of November. Give educators a gift in the form of supporting measures and candidates at the ballot box,” Hightower writes.

Read “Texas needs more than a Band-Aid approach to fix education,” by Chris Hightower, Midland Reporter-Telegram.

May 14, 2018

No Magic Bullet Will Fix School Funding

In a new commentary featured in TribTalk, former state representative and public education advocate Jimmie Don Aycock noted that Texas’ latest commission to study school finance isn’t likely to come up with a quick fix.

“Amid years of ongoing study, what have we learned? We have learned there are no easy answers and certainly no magic bullets to fix education funding,” Aycock writes. He lists the state’s options:

  • Live with a mediocre education system.
  • Accept very high local property taxes as the state pays less and less of the overall cost of education.
  • Realistically face the need to enhance state revenue.

“As our Commission on Public Education Finance struggles through the summer we wish them well. Most of us believe that accepting mediocrity is not very Texan. But the reality is that, without a discussion about increasing state revenue, their work can only join the myriad of other dust-covered school finance studies that have preceded them,” Aycock writes.

Read “Time for a reality check on public education” by Jimmie Don Aycock in TribTalk.

May 8, 2018

Texas Needs Real Answers on the Cost of Public Education

When asked about the adequacy of education in Texas, state leaders are fond of saying that more than half of the state’s budget (52 percent) is devoted to education.

That statement on its own isn’t very helpful in terms of understanding how much it costs to educate our kids. As a new commentary in the San Antonio Express-News points out, Texas has allocated much more of its total budget to education in the past. In 1998–99, for example, Texas dedicated 61 percent of its budget to education (K–12 and public colleges and universities), according to Politifact Texas. That number has dropped steadily since that time.

Sure, education is the biggest expense in the state budget, but as a percentage of the budget, Texas’ spending on it is at a 20-year low. Leaders also say they have “fully funded” the Foundation School Program, but that’s not the same as ensuring that it the funding provided adequately covers the state’s needs.

Read “Dan Patrick cares about public education, but…” by Josh Brodesky, San Antonio Express-News.

May 3, 2018

Schools Require Maintenance

A commentary by Margaret Nicklas in the Austin American-Statesman notes that recent news stories have focused on the sorry state of some schools across the country. Tattered, outdated textbooks and facilities in disrepair due to a lack of funding are increasingly common.

It is well documented that teachers also pay for classroom materials to engage their students. Parents, in turn, are asked to volunteer their time for fundraisers and chip in to cover other costs. “We pay dearly in property taxes and wonder why more of these costs cannot already be covered by public funds. They should be,” Nicklas writes.

“The answer is not to ask teachers and parents to chip in more. The answer is to collect and equitably distribute the necessary funds across public education systems and fund it like the priority it should be—for all our children. They represent, as we know, our very future, even those who don’t have children of their own,”

Read “Commentary: Schools need good maintenance, like your car and home,” by Margaret Nicklas, special to the Austin American-Statesman.

May 1, 2018

Voucher Proponents Target Military Families, Schools

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing for private school vouchers for military families, in spite of major groups within the military community opposing the proposal.

Voucher proponents are pushing for the inclusion of the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act (HR 5199) in must-pass military funding legislation (the National Defense Reauthorization Act), despite opposition from a coalition of more than 25 organizations representing more than 5.5 million active and former members of the U.S. military. The accounts would cover education expenses, including private school tuition.

Funding ($1.3 billion) would come from the Impact Aid program, which funds education programs and schools on federal land exempt from local taxes, including military bases. Military groups oppose the proposal because it would take funding away from the same students it is designed to support. “Using Impact Aid dollars to fund Education Savings Accounts for military-connected students would be financially devastating for many school districts, critically compromising the quality of the education they could provide to military children and their civilian classmates,” the Military Coalition wrote in a letter to Congress earlier this month.

Read “DeVos pushes school vouchers for military families despite opposition,” in The Hill. See the National School Board Association’s Legislative Call-to-Action to learn more about this issue.

April 27, 2018

School Districts are Feeling the Pinch

For eight straight years, Conroe and Cypress-Fairbanks ISDs have been given the Texas Smart Schools Award for districts with prudent financial practices and high academic achievement.

But sound fiscal management hasn’t been enough to stave off looming deficits due to the state’s broken school finance system. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will face a $50 million deficit next school year and Conroe ISD will face its first deficit in a decade within four years. “If we’ve been one of the most efficient districts in the state, and we’re facing this crisis, imagine what other districts are dealing with,” said Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow.

One legislator went as far as suggesting that schools might need to seek donations from philanthropic organizations to gain additional revenue. The author notes that the current state of education funding “…is entirely the Legislature’s responsibility. We are here because they refuse to adequately fund schools, and because they use the increases in property valuations to fund the rest of the budget, while blaming local officials for their shortfalls and tax hikes.”

Read “Many more school districts are feeling the pinch,” by Charles Kuffner, Off the Kuff blog.

April 26, 2018

Texas Fails on School Finance

“Grades are in, and the state of Texas gets an F when it comes to adequately funding public education. It also gets an F on the related subject of surging property taxes,” a new commentary in the San Antonio Express-News reads.

It cites the budget crisis at North East ISD as the latest example of a broken system of school finance. The district, a large, well-run, suburban school system, will soon be considered property wealthy and subject to recapture even though 46 percent of its students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Superintendent Brian Gottardy noted that it was his hope that the Legislature would fix things in 2017. “Instead of increasing funding to public education and changing the state’s formula, lawmakers continue to study the issue, even though the issue is crystal clear. The state hasn’t maintained its fair share,” the commentary reads.

Read “Texas gets an F on school finance” by Josh Brodesky, San Antonio Express-News.

April 23, 2018

When the State’s War on Public Education Hits Home

An editorial in the San Antonio Express-News highlights the plight of North East ISD, a San Antonio district that will have to pay the state millions as a “property rich” district for the first time in 2019. Becoming a Robin Hood district will result in budget cuts, eliminating 117 teaching positions, delaying expenses, and possibly raising local taxes to help balance the budget.

The problem, the editorial notes, is this: “…the state has done nothing to address its byzantine, antiquated, severely broken, but somehow constitutional, school finance system.” While the Texas Supreme Court stopped short of ordering the state to fix its school finance problems, it also didn’t give state leaders a free pass to do nothing, saying that Texas’ more than five million students deserve better than the current system.

Regarding the latest attempt to study the issue, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, the editorial says that the proof will be in the pudding. It calls for increased funding for public schools and an end to the so-called “Robin Hood” system.

“The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is attempting to craft recommendations to fix this broken system. But if the past is prologue, lawmakers won’t act, continuing a legacy of failing millions of Texas schoolchildren,” the editorial reads.

Read “The state’s war on public education hits home” by the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

April 18, 2018

Wanted: State Leaders Who Support Public Education

An editorial in the Longview News-Journal imagines a time when the Texas Legislature works to make public education better, not attack it at every turn.

“Just a dream, we know, but it is also fun to imagine that not just the legislative branch of our government but those in the executive branch—governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and the rest—would do whatever they could to see that each of our state’s children can receive a good public education.

“After all, that requirement is right there in the state constitution,” the editorial reads.

The editorial focuses on “the latest assaults on school systems,” funding cuts to high-quality pre-k programs. “That has hundreds of districts…scrambling to continue meeting the programs’ requirements while funding is stripped.”

Read Editorial: Dreaming of state officials who care about education in the Longview News-Journal.

April 11, 2018

Editorial: Pressure Lawmakers to Support Public Schools

An editorial in the Victoria Advocate notes that for years, “Politicians have baffled taxpayers through misdirection with their funding formulas and dangerous rhetoric devaluing the importance of public education.” Over time, these words and actions have allowed legislators to slash the state’s share of education funding (and push more of the funding burden onto local taxpayers through property taxes).

With increasing student enrollment and state funding dropping more than 12 percent, per-pupil funding is less now than it was in 2008. Texas lawmakers have escaped a court mandate to fix school funding, though the justices did declare our system of funding schools broken and implored them to fix it. And fix it they should.

A new Texas A&M study shows that increased spending on public education matters. Professor Lori Taylor studied Kansas school funding and concluded spending more on public education improves student outcomes. Texas has the same problems as Kansas, though on a significantly larger scale. The editorial notes that Texas legislators have shown “…no political will to do right by the state’s students.”

Victoria School Trustee Tami Keeling told the commission studying public school funding that, “Public school academics, extra- and co-curricular activities and diversity shaped who I am today. I believe the system that served me well is worth my investment today. I believe in paying it forward like those who invested in public schools for me.”

Read “Pressure lawmakers to adequately support our schools” in the Victoria Advocate.

April 4, 2018