Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TASB Releases School Finance Plan

The Texas Association of School Boards has developed a school finance plan, which was approved unanimously by the association's board of directors last week at the annual TASA/TASB Convention.

The plan is designed to address the inadequacies of the current funding system. TASB will work with legislators, school districts and other stakeholders to enact this plan during the 82nd Session.

Compared to the current Target Revenue and two-tiered, multiple-yield school finance systems, the TASB Plan is a simpler single-tier, single-guaranteed yield system that benefits all school districts and provides a scalable framework for distributing public education funds, according to TASB government relations staff.

Check out the plan and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TASA/TASB Convention this week!

Tomorrow morning the TASA staff will be packing up and heading to Houston in preparation for the TASA/TASB Convention that runs Friday through Sunday.

Check EduSlate and TASA's Twitter and Facebook pages for updates during the convention. I'll be writing about great sessions and field trip opportunities, as well as posting information about Honor School Board and Superintendent of the Year awards.

If you're at convention, consider my updates and tweets a way to find out what's going on and where you should be. If you're not, they'll keep you informed and in the loop, and hopefully entice you to come next year!

See you in Houston!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Committee wants to overhaul school finance

Thursday’s meeting of a school finance committee ended with the same sentiment that permeated the group the first time they met back in March.

The verdict: Texas’ school finance system needs a total overhaul.

“It creates uncertainty, it creates angst,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, who co-chairs the Committee on Public School Finance Weights, Allotments and Adjustments with Rep. Rob Eissler. “We need to sunset this program and we need to start all over again.”

Both the committee members and experts agreed that the system is hopelessly complicated and includes huge disparities when it comes to how the money is split among districts.

Shapiro told committee members to come to the next meeting with fresh ideas.

"We need to find a better system that works for all of us," she said.

That’s strikingly similar to what she said in March when she told committee members they might need to start from scratch when it came to funding schools.

“We just spent the better part of two hours trying to figure this out, and I guarantee you we have more questions now than we did when we started,” Shapiro said at the March meeting. “We've got to find a way that makes more sense so we can be more responsive to taxpayers.”

The clock is ticking for committee members to come up with a proposal before the Legislature convenes in January. But Eissler and Shapiro both indicated that a budget deficit shouldn’t stop lawmakers from addressing the problem.

Shapiro also addressed speculation that lawmakers were eyeing school districts’ fund balances as a way to help balance the budget. Rumors have been circulating for months that the Legislature may consider requiring districts to spend some of their fund balance before receiving state funding.

“Where did that come from? We have no right to your fund balance,” Shapiro said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TASA sends letter to U.S. lawmakers

TASA executive director Johnny Veselka sent a letter to every member of the Texas Congressional delegation today encouraging them to work to remove any barriers that are preventing the distribution of $830 million available to Texas school districts through the Education Jobs Bill passed by Congress last month.

While this issue has turned into a very political one, pitting Gov. Rick Perry against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the Texas Association of School Administrators is only interested in making sure that school districts in our state get the money they desperately need. The letter is meant to urge officials at the federal and state level to work together to make sure Texas schools receive their share of the money as soon as possible.

Here's the full letter:

This year, school districts across Texas are facing unprecedented budget constraints. Almost fifty percent of school districts in Texas passed deficit budgets this year and that number is expected to increase next year. In addition, the state is facing an $18-21 billion shortfall as we approach the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Many Texas school districts have already begun implementing major cuts in programs and services and are anticipating additional cuts next year. At the same time, Texas school districts are implementing new and more rigorous curriculum standards as well as a new assessment program. Trying to meet these increasing standards while drastically cutting funding will certainly have a negative impact on students, teachers, parents and local communities.

The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) strongly encourages you to remove all legal and administrative barriers currently in place that would prohibit or hinder the immediate distribution of the $830 million in federal funds for Texas public schools that was part of the Education Jobs Bill. This funding is critical for the schoolchildren and teachers of T exas.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional information.

Johnny Veselka
Executive Director

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What now for Michelle Rhee?

John Merrow had an interesting post on his blog Learning Matters about Michelle Rhee, the polarizing superintendent of Washington D.C. schools.

Rhee has a nationwide base of fervent supporters who believe in the drastic reforms she's brought to the D.C. school system since taking the helm more than three years ago. But she likely has just as many detractors - and many of them close to home. Among her changes, as Merrow points out, she's closed nearly two dozen schools, fired more than 15% of her central office staff, and let over 100 teachers go, citing inadequate performance.

But now that Mayor Adrian Fenty has lost his bid for re-election - due in part to powerful teacher union backing of his challenger - what will happen to Rhee? And if she goes, what will happen to the whopping $75 million D.C. schools received through the US DOE's Race to the Top Program? The school system won the money because of its reform efforts.

Read John's full blog post for all the details. And don't forget that you can see John Merrow speak at the TASA/TASB Convention next week.

Monday, September 13, 2010

President releases text of speech

In an attempt to avoid the political uproar schools across the country dealt with last year, President Obama's press office released Monday night the text of the speech he's scheduled to give at a Philadelphia school tomorrow morning.

Like last year, the message is far from controversial. In fact, it's the same: Work hard, dream big, stay in school.

"But here is what I came to Masterman to tell you: nobody gets to write your destiny but you," the speech reads in part. "Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education."

It seems most school districts are leaving the decision on whether to show the speech live up to individual schools and, in some cases, teachers, as they would do with any breaking news event. While the opposition to giving the president a voice in public schools hasn't been as vocal this time around, I'd still bet many Texas classrooms won't be showing the speech live, and those that do will be giving parents the chance to opt their kids out ahead of time.

Read the speech many are likely to miss here.

Lawmakers ask Perry to keep working toward a solution

A group of Texas lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry today urging him to continue to work with the U.S. Department of Education to allow Texas to receive $830 million in federal funding through the jobs bill passed by Congress last month. DOE rejected Perry's application for the money because he didn't include assurances required by an amendment to the bill by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

State Senators Van de Putte, Ellis, Lucio, Gallegos and Davis all signed off on the letter.

It reads:

Dear Governor Perry,

Texas children started school a few days ago.  Some are just beginning to learn their alphabet, while others are thinking about college.  Texas parents started school a few days ago as well, along with their children.  As parents we hope for a better future for our children. We tell them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.  We take them to school.  We help them with their homework.  We attend PTA meetings and contribute to the bake sales.  We do whatever it takes to help our children graduate, go to college, and make a decent living.

But we can’t do it alone. No parent in Texas can.

We depend on our neighborhood schools and our teachers to help us prepare our children for better lives.

Our schools and our teachers can’t do it alone either.  They depend on the state to help them help us prepare our children for better lives.

You have claimed that Texas has done a pretty good job.  You have said that education is a priority.  You have shared that it is one of the many reasons families move to Texas.  And you claim we’re doing better than other states.

Why change your story now?

Surely, you and other adults in our state and federal government can work towards a meaningful compromise with the U.S. Department of Education to keep our school doors open, our teachers teaching, and our kids learning.

Grown-ups don’t give up and point fingers, grown-ups find solutions. We’re Texas, right?  Complicated explanations full of legalese haven’t stood in our way before, and they shouldn’t stop us now.  We wouldn’t accept these finger-pointing excuses from our children, and Texans shouldn’t accept them from us.

We urge you to immediately direct your staff and TEA personnel to sit down with the Department of Education and continue to try to find a solution to this impasse, so that this crucial funding can do what it is designed to do – help fund our neighborhood schools and ensure that our children continue to learn.

Better late than never?

I apologize for the silence, especially during a week that was popping with education news. A family emergency took me to Florida unexpectedly but I'm back at work now.

So, what did I miss? A lot, it seems. Gov. Rick Perry submitted the state's application for $830 million in federal funding but failed to include the required assurances that the state would maintain its current level of education funding for the next three years. Application denied.

Perry claims an amendment by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett requiring the assurance hamstrings Texas because Perry says its unconstitutional for him to bind future legislatures to certain spending levels. Doggett says Perry's legal argument is "phony" and says without his amendment, state lawmakers would likely have used the extra money to help balance the state's budget - one that includes an $18 billion shortfall.

"That's what occurred with $3.25 billion in federal support last year — leaving our Texas schoolchildren with zero additional benefit from the additional federal funding," Doggett said in a statement last week.

But both sides say it's not over yet. Texas may still have a chance at the money - at least in time for next school year - if the Legislature makes the commitment that Perry says he couldn't make when it convenes in January.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Doggett fires back at Perry over jobs bill money

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, released a statement today in response to a scathing letter from Gov. Rick Perry to school administrators blasting Doggett's amendment in the federal jobs bill that required Texas meet stricter stipulations than other states to receive its share of the money.

Here's Doggett's statement:

Federal aid to education should actually aid education in our local Texas schools.  I understand that Governor Perry fears accountability for using these federal taxpayer dollars for their intended purpose.

  It is almost as if the Governor felt he was entitled to his own blank check federal bailout.  All his rhetoric and excuses belie one fact.  All that stands in the way of our Texas schoolchildren receiving the federal dollars we intend for them is the Governor’s signature on a three-page document. 

Governor Perry, on July 1, 2009, added his signature to a request for federal dollars attesting that, among other things:  “In FY 2011, the State will maintain State support for elementary and secondary education at least at the level of such support in FY 2006” (attached).  He did not raise his phony constitutional argument in signing last year’s similar application that covered a similar three year period of time.

You don’t need a room full of attorneys to scour the Texas Constitution or an 1892 court decision looking for excuses to deprive our local schools of these needed dollars. 

All the Governor need do is make an assurance to the full extent of his Executive power.  Under this provision, the State can choose whatever level of funding it wants for education.  It can cut education by any percentage in an across-the-board budget cut, but it cannot single out education for a greater cut than that applied to other public services in a way that penalizes our public schools for accepting federal aid. 

In June, a coalition of Texas school superintendents and Texas education organizations representing Texas teachers, principals, school boards, and school administrators asked Congress to prevent history from repeating itself and ensure that new federal funds for education actually increase support for Texas students (attached). 

Better than anyone else, they understand how the State prevented State Stabilization stimulus education funds from providing any additional help to our local schools last year, which is why they recognized the need for extra protection for new education funds sent to our State this year.

If not for our Texas Democratic amendment, our Texas schoolchildren would likely have had zero additional benefit from this $830 million in federal funding. It is not a matter of whether they get the money later, or in one formula or another, it is whether they get the federal funding at all—we don’t need a repeat of what happened previously to the larger $3.25 billion of federal aid.  

We didn’t send this federal aid for education to Texas to plug a state budget gap; we sent it to help our schoolchildren.

Perry sends letter to school chiefs

Just when I say there's no new news on the jobs bill front...

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry sent a strongly worded letter to school district administrators and he pulled no punches on what he thinks of the Doggett amendment. Still, the letter gives no indication on whether Texas school districts will see any of the $830 million the federal government has set aside if the state can meet certain stipulations.

Perry does say in the letter that he'll apply for the money but that it's "unlikely" Texas will qualify. If the state's application is rejected, Perry says, he'll ask the Obama administration to hold the $830 million aside until the state Legislature convenes in January. Then, he said, lawmakers can consider action while building the 2012-13 budget that would make the required assurances to access the federal money.

Finally, Perry says he'll ask Congress to repeal the Doggett amendment or pass new legislation allowing Texas to get its share of the money.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has defended his amendment as a victory for public schools. His intention is to make sure the money goes directly to school districts and isn't used to help balance the state budget.

I'm wondering what his response will be to Perry's letter. I'll bet we don't have to wait long to find out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

TEA highlights how much school districts might lose out

The Texas Education Agency posted a news release this week with some old – at least by news industry standards – information.

It was a breakdown of how much each Texas school district stands to gain if the state and U.S. Department of Education can come to an agreement on how Texas can access $830 million available through the jobs bill passed by Congress last month, and how much the amount could've been if Texas were allowed to distribute the money through state funding formulas instead of Title I.

Newspapers have been reporting on the same numbers for the past week or more.

It's an interesting point to bring up at a time when no public announcement has been made about whether Texas will even apply for the money. It's been a week since representatives from the Texas Education Agency and the governor's office met with the feds to discuss the stalemate, and with the deadline of September 9 just days away, still no news.

The jobs bill allows U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to send federal aid to states that apply for it. The money can be used to cover teachers' salaries and a host of other school-based programs and several states are already receiving their cut.

But the so-called Doggett amendment that applies only to Texas, included in the bill by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, requires that the money flow through Title I and that Gov. Rick Perry assure the feds that the percentage of state dollars earmarked for schools would not drop for the next three years before Texas can draw down any of the money.

Doggett says he wants to make sure the money is spent for education, not used to plug a budget deficit. Perry says the state Constitution does not allow him to make such assurances. And so, the standoff.

Meanwhile, the school year has started with roughly half of Texas school districts adopting deficit budgets this year, according to the Texas Association of School Board Officials, and at least one district has approved a teacher pay raise that's dependent on the federal help.

Here's hoping we have an answer soon.