Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Podcast: Lege Update Offers the Latest on School Finance Reform

Are you following the Texas Legislature’s attempt to reform school finance? A good way to get caught up on what’s happening is by listening to the TASB Talks: Lege Update. The latest episode (April 26, 2019) outlines the Senate’s changes to HB 3 (the amount of the basic allotment increase, staff and teacher pay raises, and tax compression).

Also discussed is HB 281, a bill that could silence school board members and other education advocates.

April 30, 2019

Study: Voucher Students’ Scores Don’t Bounce Back

A study that examines Louisiana students who used a voucher to attend a private school says that the move hurts students’ math scores, and those scores don’t bounce back, even years later.

Initial research suggested that test score declines would be short-lived. “We’ve started to see persistent negative effects of receiving a voucher on student math achievement,” said Joe Waddington, a University of Kentucky professor who has studied Indiana’s voucher program. Researchers compared elementary and middle school students who won a random voucher lottery in 2012 to students who lost. “They found that winning one of the vouchers caused large declines on math and science exams. Attending a private school with a voucher may also have hurt student scores in English, though the results were less definitive,” a recent news story said.

The results may influence voucher debates around the country.

Read “Do voucher students’ scores bounce back after initial declines? New research says no,” by Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat.org.

April 24, 2019

Editorial: Proposed Sales Tax Trades One Problem for Another

Texans are ready for lower property taxes, but maybe not for one legislative proposal to lower them. Legislators are considering a bill to increase the state sales tax and use the funds generated to cut property taxes. An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman notes that this option “…simply trades one problem for another.”

“We have yet to see any numbers showing the property tax savings for most families would be worth paying a higher sales tax on everyday purchases,” the editorial reads. The editorial board recommends legislators consider other funding possibilities, including applying sales tax to some services that are currently exempt, increasing the tax on alcoholic beverages, and reducing the portion of sales tax that vendors keep for their effort to collect and remit the money to the state. The state could also act to improve returns from the Permanent School Fund, the state’s public education endowment.

Read “Editorial: Legislature needs other paths to property tax relief,” Austin American-Statesman.

April 23, 2019

Districts Seek Alternative to A–F Accountability System

Since its introduction, the state’s A–F accountability system has elicited criticism from school districts, who contend the system oversimplifies what districts do every day and is too reliant on standardized testing.

The Texas Association of School Administrators pondered how to develop an accountability system focused on how students benefit. The Texas Public Accountability Consortium (TPAC) was the result. It now includes more than 40 school districts that are “…working to build a community-based accountability system that can be used and customized by each of Texas’ more than 1,000 school districts,” according to a news story on the Rivard Report.

“State accountability is really just focused on the STAAR assessment and there are so many more things that we do in the school district and we want to make sure that our community is aware of it and that we are accountable to our community for more,” said Taffi Hertz, East Central Independent School District’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Read “Local School Districts Seek Alternative to State’s A–F Accountability System” by Emily Donaldson, Rivard Report.

April 18, 2019

Poll: State Needs to Spend More on Public Education

A new University of Houston poll indicates that Texans believe the state needs to lower property taxes but spend more on public education. Texas currently funds about 36 percent of the cost of public education. More than 80 percent of 1,000 Texas voters surveyed online say the state should fund 50 percent or more of the cost.

To generate additional revenue, respondents suggested increased taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and the oil and gas industry. They also supported the legalization and taxing of recreational marijuana and gambling. Seventy-five percent opposed introducing a state income tax. Fifty percent opposed increasing the state sales tax (legislators are debating a proposal that would raise the state sales tax by 1 percent to fund a decrease in property taxes).

Read “80 percent of Texans say more state funds should go to schools” by Paul Cobler, San Antonio Express-News.

April 17, 2019

Bills would Put a Hold on High-Stakes Consequences of STAAR Tests

Research has recently come to light showing that reading passages on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR tests, are one to three years above grade level.

Mary Hardin-Baylor Education Professor Jodi Pilgrim, one author of a 2016 study, testified that the school trains its teachers to avoid reading material that’s written at “frustration level”—where students don’t know 90 percent of the words. “If a passage is written one to three grade levels above their grade, then you’re more than likely frustrating some of these students,” Pilgrim said. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath assured the committee the test is valid, reliable, and on grade level.

Lawmakers filed bills in response to the testimony they heard to put a hold on the high-stakes consequences of STAAR (school closings, graduation requirements) until an outside investigator confirms that the tests are on grade level. A bill amendment requiring the Texas Auditor to review the third-grade STAAR test was passed by the Texas House. STAAR test results are used to determine district and campus accountability ratings.

Read or listen to “Are the STAAR Tests Too Hard? Critics Rally for a Closer Look,” by Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio.

April 10, 2019

Editorial: Permanent School Fund Needs Oversight, Transparency

A new editorial in the San Antonio Express-News says that fixes to the state’s school finance system must also address how Texas’ Permanent School Fund—a public education endowment—is administered.

The fund has grown at a slower rate than comparable funds and paid out less in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 20 years. An investigation also found the entities that administer the fund “less than forthcoming” about the investments made on behalf of Texas taxpayers. “The lack of transparency is troubling,” the editorial says.

The fund was created by Texas’ founders in 1854 as “a sacred trust” to forever support public education and is the largest fund of its type in the country. As state legislators prepare to invest more in public education, they’ll have to shift funds from other budget priorities, so earning as much as possible is critical. “…Steps must be taken to ensure Texas schoolchildren reap the maximum benefits,” the editorial states.

Read “Permanent School Fund needs increased oversight and transparency,” San Antonio Express-News.

April 8, 2019

Poster Lists Facts on Public Education in Texas

Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) has produced a printable poster that summarizes the current state of public education in Texas at a glance. It lists a few telling facts:

  • More than 70 percent of Texans believe there is not enough money spend on education
  • Eighty-five percent believe teachers should be paid more
  • Ninety-three percent believe taxpayer-funded programs must be academically and financially accountable and transparent

Check out What You Need to Know—Texas Public Education–2019 on the RYHT website.

April 3, 2019

Education Advocates Support Rep. Howard’s Charter School Transparency Amendment

TASB and other prominent education advocates issued a letter in support of Rep. Donna Howard’s floor amendment to Rider 58 to provide specificity about the numbers and characteristics of students who are expelled from, leave, or who win lottery admission and are not selected to attend an open enrollment charter school.

In 2016–17, “…43 percent of expelled students were charter school attendees, which is out of proportion compared to the overall percentage of Texas public education students that are enrolled in charters,” the letter reads. Advocates say additional information will help parents and policymakers make informed decisions for students.

Read “Education Advocates Support Rep. Howard’s Charter School Transparency Floor Amendment to Article III TEA Rider 58

March 28, 2019

Op-ed: Lawmakers Should Grab Chance to Fix School Finance

Former lawmaker and public education advocate Jimmie Don Aycock’s new op-ed recounts his frustrations with the Legislature’s failure to pass school finance reform during his time in the Texas House. School finance bills faced opposition not only from private school advocates, but also sometimes from varied groups of education advocates who didn’t think their interests were adequately addressed. “Unless their particular interest was taken care of, any proposal in the center was doomed…” Aycock observed.

Of this session, he says, “Once again, money is available. Once again, the public wants action. Most important of all, the children of Texas need an updated school finance system that addresses today’s reality.”

He notes that House Bill 3 is not perfect, but it is the best chance to improve school finance in years. “If you are a teacher, if you are an administrator, if you are a parent, if you are a business owner, if you are a home owner—HB 3 is our best opportunity to make significant progress in the complicated realm of school finance. Please don’t be part of a circular firing squad,” Aycock wrote.

Read “Lawmakers should grab this chance to fix school finance” by Jimmie Don Aycock, TribTalk.

March 26, 2019