Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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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

TASB: A‒F Ratings Don’t Provide Meaningful Insight

Following the Texas Education Agency’s first release of A‒F accountability ratings for school districts, TASB stated that these new ratings will shed little light on actual performance. “As we have seen in past years, accountability labels are generally better at tracking economically disadvantaged students than they are at measuring what our students are learning,” the statement reads. It concludes that the new rating system won’t contribute to solving the problems of low-performing districts and won’t provide much new information to districts or the community.

Read “Statement from TASB on A‒F School Accountability Labels,” on TASB’s website.

August 15, 2018

CPPP: Texas Children Deserve Well-Funded Schools

In 2017, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Commission on Public School Finance to investigate the issues with the state’s current system of funding public schools and make recommendations to improve it.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) is urging people to submit comments to the commission as it prepares to make school funding recommendations to the Legislature. “Money matters in education. The 5.4 million Texas children in public schools deserve an equal opportunity to have a well-funded education,” CPPP says.

Read “Texas children deserve well-funded schools,” by CPPP.

August 6, 2018

Study: Private Schools Don’t Do a Better Job of Educating Students

Supporters of school choice argue that private schools are inherently better at educating students. A new study from the University of Virginia indicates that this presumption isn’t true.

A Washington Post commentary on the study notes, “University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.”

Researchers found “…no evidence for policies that would support widespread enrollment in private schools, as a group, as a solution for achievement gaps associated with income or race.” They also noted that previous research on the impact of school voucher programs “cast doubt on any clear conclusion that private schools are superior in producing student performance.”

Read, “No, private schools aren’t better at educating kids than public schools. Why this new study matters,” by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

August 2, 2018

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