Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Numbers Show Texas School Funding Can Improve

A new editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise highlighted two numbers related to school finance.

The first was $2.5 billion, the amount Texas legislators have taken from public education over the past decade, according to a new survey by the American Federation of Teachers. The second number, $2.8 billion, is the amount of money the state comptroller estimates legislators will have to work with when the next session begins in January.

The editorial reads, “The Legislature must commit more money to help local school districts, especially because its share of total educational spending has dropped from about half to less than 40 percent. Local taxpayers have been making up that difference—or school districts have been doing without.”

The editorial acknowledges the state’s other budget priorities and fiscal challenges, but notes that public school funding has lagged for the past three regular legislative sessions and needs to be addressed.

“Texas lawmakers are proud of the state’s booming business climate that produced these revenues, and rightly so. But the Texas economy of the future will need educated workers to keep that momentum going,” the editorial states. “The school-funding bill that lands on the governor’s desk next June will have a big impact on that future.”

Read “Other Voices: Numbers show Texas school funding can improve soon,” Beaumont Enterprise

July 30, 2018

Comprehensive School Finance Reform Is Essential

A new editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that budgets are about choices. With optimistic revenue estimates and a state Rainy Day fund with its largest-ever balance ($12 billion), it encourages state leaders to use the opportunity to fix the state’s broken school finance system.

“The reality is that state competitiveness takes a hit every year this system remains in place,” the editorial notes. “…Although the school finance system meets the minimum requirements under the state’s constitution, it is not delivering for children or taxpayers. School taxes account for the biggest portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill. By not addressing this issue head-on, lawmakers perpetuate school funding inequity that hurts districts, students, and taxpayers.”

The editorial recommends that the Texas Commission on School Finance provide the Legislature “…with a concrete idea of what it takes to educate children in Texas to high levels of achievement.” It also urges the commission to avoid the easy way out by recommending that districts get by with less money than they need—“something they’ve been asked to do for far too long.”

“The bottom line is that taxpayers and schoolkids cannot be forced to suffer through another failed attempt to reform school finance in Texas. There is never a good time to spend billions, but the system has to change and change now, for the sake of future generations,” the editorial concludes.

Read “Educating our kids it too important for anything less than comprehensive school finance reform,” in the Dallas Morning News.

July 26, 2018

Understanding How Texas Schools Are Funded

Funding for public schools has had a prominent place in the news, with teacher walkouts and protests garnering attention. A new opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle takes an in-depth look at how Texas funds its public schools.

“…It’s important to point out that the way we pay for our public schools is complex, outdated, and underfunded. These complexities have been compounded over time and hide how truly simple the school finance system was intended to be,” the author writes.

She notes that funding schools is a shared responsibility between the state and local property taxpayers, with the state determining how much total funding each school district gets through a set of formulas.

“Because property values are rising in many parts of the state, school districts are increasingly able to meet their allowed funding levels with less help from state revenue. When local taxes go up, the state contributes less—it’s a zero sum game, sadly, letting the state off the hook for funding public education,” the author writes.

Read, “So how, exactly, does Texas fund its public schools?” by Chandra Villanueva, program director of the Economic Opportunity Team at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Houston Chronicle.

July 23, 2018

A–F is a Poor Way to Evaluate Districts and Schools

District and school evaluation is an important and potentially valuable process. It’s also a difficult thing to do well.

Texas’ will soon label districts with A‒F letter grades. Because they are so simplistic, these grades aren’t likely to shed much light on complex district performance data or the number of students with learning challenges in any district.

Author David Stasny says, “So far, the early analysis clearly has shown a very strong correlation between a high level of family poverty and lower school and district ‘grades.’” You might think the grades of districts that have a large population of poor students but still manage to be high performing would be higher. “Under the current system this is absolutely not the case,” Stasny writes.

Read “Assigning a letter grade is a poor way to evaluate education,” by David Stasny, The Eagle. Stasny is a member of the Bryan ISD school board and the TASB Legislative Advisory Council.

July 19, 2018

Commentary: Texas Districts Need to Keep More of the Tax Dollars They Raise

Dallas ISD is a district that faces challenges yet has a track record of success.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa projects that the number of “improvement required schools” will decrease from 13 last year to three for the coming year. A good teacher evaluation system and program to put effective teachers where they are most needed has helped to turn schools around. The district has also seen across-the-board improvements on STAAR tests in reading and math. These strides were made even though 90 percent of the district’s students are poor and face a variety of challenges that make learning more difficult.

For the first time next year, the district will have to relinquish $39 million to the state for property poor districts. The editorial notes that state lawmakers couldn’t have had Dallas ISD in mind when recapture was adopted. It reads, “It’s up to legislators to come out of public school finance hearings this summer with the goal of revisiting this policy and finally overhauling the system—so the very kids they were trying to help won’t be hurt.”

Read “Dallas ISD will send millions back to the state—and Texas needs to help schoolkids keep more of it,” in the Dallas Morning News.

July 17, 2018

New investigation of charter schools shows they lack diversity

A new study of charter schools shows that their student makeup differs markedly from area public schools. Specifically, those schools attract more white students.

There are 115 charter schools in the US that have a percentage of white students at least 20 points higher than at any of the traditional public schools in the districts where they are located. This 20-percentage-point difference is often used in federal desegregation lawsuits as a measure of which schools are considered racially identifiable. Racially identifiable white charter schools have emerged in 18 of the 42 states with charter schools (Texas is home to 19 of these charter schools).

Lake Oconee Academy in Georgia is one such charter. “…Some residents say that policies at the school make it hard for black families to enroll their kids: Land’s End uniforms they can’t afford, and the fact that the charter doesn’t provide bus transportation to and from school, while the other public schools do,” the author writes.

Read “Nearly 750 charter schools are whiter than the nearby district schools,” by Emmanuel Felton, The Hechinger Report.

July 12, 2018

Recapture Takes a Serious Bite Out of District Budgets

Austin’s property taxes continue to rise so you’d think Austin ISD would be in good shape headed into the 2018–19 school year. Unfortunately, the more the district collects in taxes, the more it hands over to the state.

The district recently approved a budget that sends more than half of its local tax revenue ($670 million) to the state. Part of that money is redistributed to smaller, poorer school districts, and part is used to fill other state budget holes. If the pace of recapture keeps up, the district could deplete its reserves within the next three years. “This is not Robin Hood, this is piracy,” said Trustee Ted Gordon.

Read “Missing from Austin ISD’s Budget? More Than Half the Money Raised from Property Taxes,” by Claire McInerny, KUT.

July 6, 2018

UT/TT Poll: Texas Voters Aren’t Satisfied with the State’s Handling of Public Education

A new poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune indicates that most Texans don’t approve of the way state leaders and legislators are handling public education. Just 16 percent approve, with 51 percent disapproving and 33 percent having no opinion.

When asked “What do you think should be the primary source of funding for public education in Texas?” 50 percent said state government, 32 percent said local districts (property taxes), and 18 percent said they didn’t know.

Read “Texans think state leaders are falling short on public education, UT/TT Poll finds,” in the Texas Tribune.

July 3, 2018

D.C. Voucher Program Students Perform Worse on Math

Washington, D.C. students who use federally funded vouchers to attend private schools perform significantly worse in math than their public school peers, according to a new federal study.

The study, from the Institute of Education Sciences, found that math scores were 10 percentage points lower for students who used vouchers compared with students who applied for the voucher program but were not selected through the lottery. Voucher students also had lower reading scores, though the difference was not statistically significant.

Read “Study: Students in only federally funded voucher program perform worse on math,” in the Washington Post.

June 6, 2018

Understanding What’s Fueling School Privatization

A new piece in the Washington Post provides a comprehensive look at the history of the movement to privatize U.S. public schools.

The conclusion of the piece notes that entrepreneurs were quick to see school privatization as a way “to tap into vast public resources” but that privatization isn’t living up to the claims of free-market boosters. On the whole, for-profit schools have shown “disappointing academic results, endemic corruption, and growing segregation…”

For-profit schools still have some true believers, even in Congress, which went so far as to ban the evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s voucher program. However, public confidence in those schools is waning.

“Given the overall record of charter schools, support in the general public and among minorities has been slipping. According to the most recent survey conducted by the pro-reform journal Education Next, support among all respondents dropped from 51 percent to 39 percent from 2016 to 2017.

“It turns out that when Americans know that market-based reforms drain funds from public schools, most oppose the policies. The success of the ed reform movement so far has depended on their not knowing.”

Read “What and who is fueling the movement to privatize public education—and why you should care?” in the Washington Post.

June 4, 2018