Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Commentary: The High Stakes of Being a Third Grader

A new commentary on TribTalk exposes the flawed logic of outcomes-based funding, which rewards districts whose third graders perform well on a standardized test of reading skills and effectively penalizes districts whose third graders struggle on that test.

“Let’s be very clear: Under these proposals, the state would partially fund our schools based on the performance of 8-year-olds on a high-stakes test given on a single day,” the commentary reads.

One of the tests, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), is facing increasing scrutiny after media reports that STAAR is actually measuring the progress of Texas third-grade students using standards appropriate for fourth or fifth graders.

Author Michelle Smith notes that the name, outcomes funding, is rosy and misleading. “A more appropriate name, based on what is being measured, rewarded, and punished, is ‘test-based funding.’ Whatever you call it, this type of funding mechanism would weaken Texas public schools and students—especially those who need the most help,” Smith wrote.

Smith, director of government relations for Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT), cited an RYHT poll of likely 2020 voters that asked about tying public school funding to performance on standardized tests. Seventy-eight percent of respondents opposed test-based funding.

Read “The high stakes of being a third grader” by Michelle Smith, TribTalk.

May 15, 2019

School Districts Send Letter Opposing Senate Education Reform Bill

A coalition of Texas school districts has told state lawmakers they don’t like the Senate version of a bill to fund public education.

State senators are planning a final vote on their school finance bill soon. Districts dislike the Senate bill for several reasons, one of which is a change in the funding formula that would make setting a budget for the coming school year a guessing game.

Nearly 60 school districts sent a letter to House and Senate Education Committee members. “The letter says the Senate version of school funding using ‘current year property values would be devastating to our school districts’ and creates an ‘additional Robin Hood system that affects even more districts’ and ‘in most cases would cause significantly more harm than the current funding system,’” according to FOX KDFW.

“So now they’re going to try to pay for what they call property tax relief which won’t lower your property taxes with this shift to put more burden on the schools, which actually will accelerate your property taxes,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins observed.

SMU Economics Professor Mike Davis said there need to be other revenue streams to fund public education.

Read “Texas school districts come together against Senate education reform bill” by FOX4News.com

May 14, 2019

Editorial: Voters Want School Finance Reform

A new editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that 2018 voters couldn’t have been clearer about their desire for school finance reform to be a top priority for the Texas Legislature.

The session started with optimism and a sense that legislators wanted to get something meaningful accomplished. As the session draws to a close, the focus on property tax relief has increased as the differences in House and Senate versions of school finance reform have multiplied.

“If [lawmakers] fail to reconcile their differences to pass an effective school finance bill this session, they will let their fed-up constituents down…Most important, they will have done a real disservice to the millions of Texas public schoolchildren,” the editorial reads, noting that voters aren’t likely to take broken promises lightly in future elections.

The buzz for a special session has started, but that’s problematic for districts because they set budgets and tax rates in June. “The Senate should turn to the finer details of Huberty’s bill and see this thing through before the session ends in less than a month,” the editorial reads.

“We’ve had too many disappointing sessions where good intentions on school finance reform were doused by political infighting. Lawmakers can’t let that happen again,” it concludes.

Read “Austin, property tax relief is good, but what about school finance reform?” Dallas Morning News.

May 8, 2019

Op-Ed: This IDEA May Not Pass the Smell Test

The IDEA charter chain has received $225 million in federal funds and plans to use the money to expand in Texas. In El Paso alone, home to one IDEA charter school, the chain will open 20 new charter schools over the next few years.

That’s bad news for El Paso ISD. The district will have to cut its budget when it loses students to the new charter schools. At the same time, it will continue to educate all types of students—including those that IDEA won’t accept.

In addition to using a prescripted curriculum—designed to allow people without teaching degrees or experience to conduct classes—IDEA is a business with a board of directors, not a locally elected team of school trustees. IDEA schools also lack enrichment activities that are mainstays of public schools.

Educator and author Tim Holt concludes his op-ed with the following appeal: “…If you are considering sending your child to a Public Charter school like IDEA, check first to see if the exact things that impress you about IDEA are not already in place with better support, with more years of experience, with more experienced teachers, and with greater emphasis on the whole child (and not just your child as a test taker) at your local public school.”

Read “Op-Ed: Here’s an IDEA–Do the Smell Test First,” by Tim Holt, El Paso Herald-Post.

May 1, 2019

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