Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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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

School Funding Debate Marked by ‘Appetite for Change’

School funding is an issue in every legislative session. Will something finally be done to increase funding and improve equity in the coming legislative session? There appears to be some reason for optimism.

Josh Sanderson, deputy director of the Equity Center, was interviewed by KXAN (Austin) and said that there is reason to believe that real change might happen this session. “If no action is taken, it amounts to saying the current system is acceptable. I don’t think that sentiment exists, either within the legislative bodies or within the public at large,” Sanderson said.

“…There is an appetite for change and an appetite for reform in the way that we fund our schools, both on our overreliance—some would argue—on property taxes and on the amount we’re actually spending on students for public education purposes,” Sanderson said.

Watch “‘Appetite for change’ as school funding tax burden rises in Texas,” on KXAN.

September 13, 2018

PDK Poll: Support for Teachers, Public Schools Is Strong

Every year, the PDK Poll gauges the public’s attitudes toward public schools. This year’s poll indicates strong support for teachers, additional funds for high-needs students, and public schools in general.

Two-thirds of Americans believe teachers are underpaid and an overwhelming 78 percent would support local teachers striking for higher pay. Trust and confidence in teachers is high, yet a majority of respondents also say they don’t want their own children to become teachers, citing poor pay and benefits as the reason.

When questioned about school improvement, nearly eight in 10 respondents said they would prefer to reform existing public schools rather than finding an alternative approach, more than in any year since the question was first asked.

The public also supports spending more on students who need extra support (60 percent) rather than spending the same amount on every student (39 percent).

School funding remains a concern. For the 17th consecutive year, Americans have named the lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools.

Read “Teaching: Respect but dwindling appeal,” on the PDK Poll website.

September 11, 2018

Flores: Now Is the Time to Speak to Lawmakers

It’s time for school leaders to seize the day and start meeting with Texas legislators in advance of the 86th Legislative Session, which begins in Austin in January.

TASB Board President Teresa Flores wrote a column for Texas Lone Star magazine’s August issue urging educators to use the time between now and what’s likely to be a busy session to sit down with legislators. The consensus is that school funding will get some attention, so legislators need to hear from you on “…the good, the bad, and the ugly of your school budget.”

Legislators would also benefit from seeing school facilities—including those in need of repairs—and getting a firsthand look at the excellent work being done by public schools daily.

Read “Preparing for the Next Session” by Teresa Flores in Texas Lone Star magazine.

September 7, 2018

Aycock: Public Education Changes Lives

Former Texas House of Representatives member Jimmie Don Aycock believes that education changes lives. He’s no longer chairman of the House’s Public Education Committee, but as a first-generation college graduate, Aycock continues to extol the virtues of public education.

His greatest concern heading into a 2019 legislative session is the negative narrative surrounding public education that often goes unchallenged. “When it comes to legislation, public opinion will influence and eventually be reflected in public policy,” Aycock said. He urges districts to engage the community to share the responsibility for educating children. He’s also concerned about state’s dependency on local property taxes to pay for public education. “The longer taxpayers shoulder the cost of education, the more we run the risk of eroding public support,” Aycock said.

He urges education leaders to take part in School Priority Monday in October and invite local elected officials to visit districts. “The more familiar elected officials are with their local schools, the more we can count on their support to positively influence policymakers in Austin,” Aycock said.

Read “Five Questions with Dr. Jimmie Don Aycock, Public Education Advocate,” on the Make Education a Priority website. (Scroll down to the downloadable document in the column on the right.)

September 5, 2018

What A‒F Letter Grades for Districts Won’t Tell You

A‒F letter grades are now a reality for Texas school districts, thanks to a law passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Proponents say letter grades are an easy way for parents and community members to ascertain how effective schools are. Critics argue that the grades are a vast oversimplification and don’t reflect diverse student learning needs or the array of programs and services school districts offer.

Moak, Casey & Associates, school finance and accountability experts, produced a comprehensive explanation of why the grades really aren’t so easy to understand. They make some key points about the system:

  • Higher poverty districts get lower grades
  • The grades lack context, so districts that receive a ‘C’ don’t know whether to celebrate or react with concern
  • The grades devalue the work of educators, support staff, and parents

The document also offers some suggestions for people who want to take action to improve the system.

Read “The Rest of the Story: What the Texas A‒F Letter Grades Do Not Tell You,” on the Moak, Casey & Associates website.

August 20, 2018