Thursday, December 15, 2011

HRO report shows decrease in education funding for 2012-13

School district leaders, the mainstream media and Texans at large all seem to understand that the Texas Legislature cut funding for public education during the Legislative session this year. For the 2012-13 biennium, school districts are dealing with a $4 billion cut in per-student funding and an additional $1.4 billion cut to grant programs that funded education initiatives.

Still, ever since the legislative session ended this summer some lawmakers and others have been making the claim that public education actually saw an increase in funding. They've based those claims on comparing biennium-to-biennium numbers, not taking into account the fact that Texas school districts will serve an additional 170,000 students over the next two years.

But this week, the Texas House of Representatives released numbers that will make that spin even harder to sell. According to the House Research Organization's report on Texas budget highlights for Fiscal 2012-13, funding for public education decreased from the 2010-11 biennium across the board. The increase in enrollment makes the decrease in funding even more hurtful.

From the report:

The fiscal 2012-13 budget appropriates $50.8 billion in all funds to public education agencies, including the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the School for the Deaf. Appropriations in all funds represent a decrease of about $3 billion, or 5.6 percent, from fiscal 2010-11 spending. 

The report goes on to say that of that $50.8 billion, $47 billion was appropriated to TEA - a $4.4 billion decrease from 2010-11. There was also a $1 billion decrease to appropriations to the Foundation School Program for 2012-13.

I'm sure this won't silence those who want to paint school districts as over-dramatizing the current budget situation, but it sure makes their argument harder to buy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In defense of public education

Pardon me for sounding like a broken record, but those pushing the story that education funding actually got a boost this past legislative session are at it again and I can’t help but respond.

The latest spin comes from Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit organization that promotes limited government. In a post on the group’s website titled “When an Increase is a Cut”, Sullivan claims Texas public school districts are crying wolf when it comes to spending cuts, that education funding actually went up. He also paints Texas school districts as wasteful and administratively heavy.

Below are some of the claims made in the post and TASA’s response. We’ll tackle more of the assertions made in the rather lengthy tome in an upcoming EduSlate post.

Empower Texans: The fact is public education spending from general revenues (a term the state uses for money we Texans send in the form of taxes) increased by $3 billion from the last biennium (a two year budget cycle.) Federal funds decreased by about the same amount, because the one-time Federal “stimulus” was not repeated.
So overall, public education spending went up slightly. But when those facts are fed into the “more money means better education” machine, the result is the allegation of a $5 billion cut… because they wanted to spend $5 billion more.
I’m not sure where that “fact” came from, but according to the Legislative Budget Board, General Revenue Funds for education total $51.2 billion for the 2012-13 biennium, an increase of $1.8 billion, or 3.7 percent from 2010-11. As was mentioned in the Empower Texans post, Texas also lost $3 billion of one-time federal stimulus funding. What wasn’t mentioned in the ET post however was that the state used that one-time infusion in 2009 to supplant state funding for reoccurring expenses, rather than using the money to supplement education funding as was intended. Now that the money is gone, it’s equivalent to a $3 billion cut in state funding. 

The important thing to remember about the increase from biennium to biennium is that Texas public schools will serve 170,000 more students in the next two years than they did in 2010 and 2011. The budget actually fell short of funding individual students by $4 billion. Those students will need classrooms, teachers, instructional materials and technology. They’ll need bus transportation to school, a healthy breakfast and lunch, and someone to help them register at the front office or take care of them when they’re sick. Some will need support from specialists because they have developmental delays or disabilities, or they don’t speak English. Looking at the cuts on a per-student basis is the only realistic way to build a budget.

On top of the $4 billion loss in per-student funding, lawmakers also cut $1.4 billion for critical education programs like Communities in Schools, Texas School Ready Program and T-STEM. The Texas Education Agency’s budget was slashed by 36 percent, drastically affecting the agency’s ability to provide crucial services to school districts.

Those who want to make public schools look like the bad guys can cherry pick the stats all they want, but those in charge of school district budgets know the truth. Districts across the state are reeling from significant budget cuts this year and many will see a greater cut next year. 

Empower Texans: When considering how little teachers make compared to administrators, and considering the one-to-one ratio between non-teachers and teachers on the school payrolls, a casual observer could readily assume public education was more about employing adults than educating kids.
The 1:1 ratio argument gained some traction early this year when a study that claimed the ratio of teachers to non-teaching staff members had shifted from 5:1 in the 1970s to 1:1 today became a rallying point for some lawmakers. But, as with any statistic, context is needed. According to research by Moak, Casey and Associates, Texas didn’t count all staff in the 1970s. The largest portion of non-teaching staff – auxiliary personnel – weren’t counted until the PEIMS data system was established in the 1980s, so the two numbers are not an apples-to-apples comparison.

When looking at comparable data, the percentage of teachers to non-teachers has actually not changed substantially since the 1980s. The percentage of staff that are teachers has declined slightly, from 52 percent to 50 percent since 1989, but the ratio has remained essentially the same for more than 20 years. Also in the last 20 years, there have been significant changes in state and federal requirements that require staff for implementation and reporting.

And, by the way, all those non-teaching positions counted in the 1:1 ratio aren’t “administrators”. Central administrators make up only 1 percent of school employees statewide. Even if you add campus administrators into that number, they still only make up another 3 percent of public school district employees.

Who are the rest of those employees counted in that 1:1 ratio? They are professional support (9 percent), educational aides (10 percent) and auxiliary staff (27 percent).

Professional support is a broad category of positions, from people who write curriculum and provide teachers with professional development to computer technicians who run the district’s network. They are also auditors, accountants, risk management experts, special education coordinators and dieticians. Their salaries are commiserate with their education, skills and experience, but most do not make more than their peers in the classroom, as Empower Texans suggests.

Educational aides help teachers in classrooms, often with special needs children, providing one-on-one attention to kids who need it most. Auxiliary staff includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and school secretaries. This group of employees, who have incredibly important jobs, make far less than teachers.

Empower Texans: Our teachers have proven themselves highly resourceful in stretching dollars and making ends meet, while administrators lavish upon themselves perks and benefits beyond the dreams of Midas. Check out the portable buildings used for students, and then drive past the temples administrators often build for themselves.
As an education reporter, and now working for TASA, I’ve actually had the privilege of visiting many school districts across the state, and that includes their district office headquarters. I have yet to encounter one of these “temples”. Some of them are very nice buildings, but in every district with a nice central office, the schools and facilities for students are even better. More often, I’ve seen outdated offices in desperate need of a facelift and recently I was at a district where central office was housed in a metal building. 

As far as the amazing perks, benefits and salaries, superintendent contracts are public record and posted on districts’ websites. Elected school boards make the decisions on what to offer superintendents in a compensation package to attract the best person for the job. I’ve seen these men and women work and I can tell you it is a grueling, seven-day-a-week, often 16-hour-a-day job. Texas school superintendents are highly educated – many with doctorate degrees – and often manage multi-million dollar budgets, thousands of employees and are responsible for the welfare of thousands of students. The vast majority are career educators who have dedicated their life to public schools and their students. For them, nothing else matters. For this demanding job that requires the skill set of not only an experienced educator, but also a savvy CEO, the average pay of a Texas school superintendent for 2011-12 is $123,079. 

Empower Texans: Texans today pay more than $11,000 per child on public education in state, local and federal funds, yet no one would argue we’re getting the return so many dollars should buy. Texans are paying top-dollar for an inefficient public education, yet the administrators clamor for more simply because they want it.

Again, not entirely sure where this figure comes from, but according to a survey released this year by the U.S. Census, Texas spends $8,540 per student, ranking 42nd in the country. The only states that spend less than Texas are Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, Nevada and South Dakota. The report also found that Texas spent less per student than any other state on employee benefits. The per-pupil average in Texas was $1,005 compared to $2,263 nationally. 

And this ranking was pre-budget cuts. Imagine where we may rank next year.

Contrary to what groups like Empower Texans seem to believe, the leaders of Texas public schools aren’t interested in squandering taxpayer money and investing in programs that don’t benefit kids. What they are focused on is providing a world-class education for the children of Texas and preparing them for college and the workforce. That takes money, especially at a time when the state’s population is growing and shifting, with the majority of incoming students labeled at-risk for a variety of factors. Investing wisely in education will only boost Texas economy and ensure a brighter future for everyone in the state. That should be something we can all agree on.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New report shows surge in abstinence-plus approach to sex ed

Texas is often criticized for its dubious distinction of having the third-highest teen birth rate in the nation. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, a teen gets pregnant every 10 minutes in Texas.

Some have taken the criticism a step further to include the state's focus on abstinence-only sex education.

However, a report out today by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows an up-tick in the percentage of school districts going beyond abstinence-only in their sex education curriculum to include information about contraception.

According to the report, more than 25 percent of districts are taking an abstinence-plus approach, up from 3.6 percent of districts just three years ago.

The decision to teach beyond abstinence-only is made at the local level. Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said the increase in districts teaching abstinence-plus is a positive. She also said the State Board of Education should adopt new health curriculum standards that provide more information about contraception, as well as the importance of abstinence, to help school districts provide comprehensive and effective sex education programs.

"It's clear that more and more local school officials realize ignorance won't protect our kids," Miller said in a news release about the report. "So now we're seeing the adoption of common-sense sex education policies that deal with a real public health crisis and that polling shows most parents support."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dewhurst tells Texas Tribune lawmakers didn't cut education funding

Are we really still debating this?

Once again, the message that school districts didn't lose out this legislative session after all is being emphasized by some lawmakers.

At a Texas Tribune event Thursday morning, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is also running for the U.S. Senate, explained to the Tribune's Evan Smith why he thinks it's inaccurate to say the Legislature cut $4 billion from public education.

"We changed the school finance law," Dewhurst said. "And under the old law we were expected to increase our funding for public education by $8 billion. We increased our funding for public education by almost $4 billion. Only in government if you expect $8 billion increase and get $4 billion is that a cut."

Not to quibble, but first of all the Legislature cut public education by closer to $5.4 billion - slashing $4 billion from the Foundation School Program and another $1.4 billion in education grants that funded critical programs.

But back to the main point: Why can't we agree on whether education funding was cut or not? If you're an administrator that had to balance your district's budget this year, you know the difference between the reality and the spin.

Yes, the overall amount budgeted for the 2012-13 biennium for public education is slightly more than the previous two years. From $49.5 billion in 2010-11 to $49.6 billion, according to numbers from the Texas Education Agency. But that increase is nowhere near enough to serve the additional 170,000 students that will show up in Texas schools over the next two years at the same level of programs and services Texas students received last year.

When looking at per-student funding, the budget falls $4 billion short of funding individual students at the same level as 2010-11. For more specifics on the numbers, check out my post from this summer: No matter how you slice it, schools are losing funding.

Meanwhile, while some are denying that schools have been shortchanged, Texas AFT released the results of a survey Thursday that illustrate how budget cuts are affecting students and teachers.

About 92 percent of respondents said they've experienced layoffs in their districts, including teaching positions and teacher assistants. Nearly 80 percent reported cuts to programs that serve students, including pre-kindergarten, special education, art, music and tutorials. Eighty-seven percent said class sizes increased in their districts this year.

Survey comments included: 

"Classrooms are maxed out. Students are over-tested and frustrated, leading to behavior problems and causing even more loss of learning. The push towards inclusion (of special education students) with insufficient staff is causing loss of learning and in some instances safety issues. Teachers are being overworked, leading to lower performance."

"Supply budgets have been drastically cut. This impacts the learning environment, because we lack basic supplies for students. Teachers have to utilize their own funds for supplies or do without."

"The morale is lower than I have ever seen it. Most teachers are questioning their calling and looking for something else." 

"This is the first year, out of 11, that I regret teaching. I dread coming to work."

More than 3,500 teachers, school employees and parents responded to the survey, according to Texas AFT. The organization plans to do a follow-up survey in the spring.

Linda Bridges, president of Texas AFT, said the survey confirms the major impact budget cuts are having on schools. 

"Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other state leaders are spinning a tale of balancing the state budget while maintaining adequate funding for public education; the real truth about the severe harm of these cuts is portrayed in the stories we've now heard from teachers across the state," she said.

School leaders have to make sure their communities know what really happened: Texas lawmakers balanced the state's budget on the backs of schoolchildren. No, the cuts weren't as bad as we feared they might be, but they're still devastating and we can't afford them. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enrollment report highlights challenges for public schools

A new report from the Texas Education Agency on enrollment in Texas public schools has some interesting information district leaders may want to share when talking about challenges in public education.

Former State Demographer Steve Murdock for years has been warning of a population trend of declining numbers of Anglos in Texas and a growing number of minorities. Murdock, also the former U.S. Census Bureau director and now director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, says between 2000 and 2040, the state's public school enrollment will see a 15 percent decline in Anglo children, while Hispanic children will make up a 213 percent increase.

Why is this alarming? Because education and income levels for Hispanics lag considerably behind Anglos, Murdock told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year. If the trend continues, by 2040 roughly 30 percent of the state's labor force will not even have a high school diploma and the average household income will be $6,500 lower than in 2000 - and that's not adjusted for inflation.

TEA's report shows the trend is indeed continuing and that Texas public school districts are facing their biggest challenge yet. The students filling Texas classrooms come with greater challenges and needs than ever before, yet instead of more resources to help these children, school leaders are reeling from a $5.4 billion cut to education funding delivered to them this year by state lawmakers.

According to the report, there are now 4.9 million students enrolled in Texas public schools, a 21.2 percent increase over the past decade.

Between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, African American and Hispanic enrollment increased, while enrollment of white students decreased.

Hispanics had the largest numerical increase in enrollment between 2009-10 and 2010-11, growing by 81,316 in just one year. Last school year Hispanic students accounted for 50.3 percent of total enrollment in Texas public schools.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged students  has risen in step with the increase in minority students. A decade ago, there were just over 2 million economically disadvantaged students in Texas public schools, or 49.2 percent of all students. By last school year there were nearly 3 million economically disadvantaged students, accounting for 59.1 percent of all students.

Let's break those numbers down a little further and make some comparisons: The overall public school population from 2000-01 to 2010-11 increased by 21.5 percent, while the number of economically disadvantaged students increased by 45.5 percent. And according to Murdock, that trend will continue.

Also over the past decade, the number of students receiving bilingual or English as a second language services increased by 56.4 percent and the number of limited English proficient students grew by 45.8 percent.

These numbers come as no surprise to educators, but they are a stark and definitive reminder of what schools are facing and they should paint a pretty clear picture of what kind of stakes we're playing with when we shortchange public education. 

If this report isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is.

Monday, October 24, 2011

If Supreme Court strikes down margins tax it triggers a special session

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on the constitutionality of the state's business franchise tax. Plaintiffs in the case argue that the Texas Constitution doesn't allow a personal income tax without voter approval and that the decision to tax partnerships amounts to a personal income tax.

The state contends that a partnership is a separate entity from the individual partners and can be subject to a tax.

For school districts, the big question is what happens to that revenue stream if the court strikes it down? The tax was enacted by the Legislature in 2006 to make up the difference when lawmakers cut property taxes by a third. The tax has far underperformed what it was projected to bring in, setting up the budget shortfall schools now face.

This past legislative session there was discussion of closing loopholes in the tax to bring in more money. Now, the decision rests with the state Supreme Court on whether to cut off the stream entirely.

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson asked Deputy Solicitor General Danica Milios what it means for school funding if the tax is found unconstitutional.

Milios responded that it would send the Legislature back into special session.

A ruling is expected sometime in the next month.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bastrop ISD superintendent offers thanks for help and support

Bastrop and neighboring Smithville ISDs continue to deal with the aftermath of wildfires that devastated their communities and left many of their students and employees without homes. Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray sent us an open letter today, addressed to the school districts and people of Texas, thanking the many who have offered help and support.

Relief funds for district employees who lost their homes have been established at First National Bank of Bastrop. Donations can be made at any First National Bank location for the Bastrop ISD Employee Relief Fund and the Smithville ISD Employee Relief Fund.

Here's Steve's heartwarming message:

Dear Fellow Texans and Educators,

I am the very proud Superintendent of Schools for the Bastrop Independent School District in Bastrop, Texas. I have served the children and citizenry of Bastrop ISD and Bastrop County for almost two years and while I typically speak to my pride in being the Superintendent for Bastrop ISD and the pride we collectively have for our school district (this year's district theme is a simple yet strong statement of pride - "WE are BISD!"), recently both tragic and heroic events have caused that sense of pride for our school district, our community and this great state to grow exponentially. 

As most people across Texas and across the nation are aware, our county has experienced the most destructive wildfire disaster that Texas has ever experienced. We tragically lost two county residents, had over 1,500 homes and 34,000 acres of land destroyed, have hundreds of families (including many of our precious children) displaced and homeless as a result of these catastrophic fires. In a word, it has been devastating.

Yet, as will often occur out of tragedy, horrific loss and despair - we have experienced an outpouring of love, generosity and concern from thousands of people of all ages in our own community, across the State of Texas and outside our state boundaries from communities large and small nationwide. From classrooms and schools collecting pennies, stuffed animals, toys and school supplies to student councils statewide urging their classmates to give to help others in need to corporate donations; and from neighbors with rakes and sifters to thousands of fire fighters, law enforcement and other first responders and caregivers risking their own safety and lives - we have been the recipients of a tremendous display of humanitarian spirit and selfless acts of service.

Simply saying "Thank You" just doesn't seem appropriate enough - but in so many ways and in so many cases that is simply all that was given and, while not expected by those serving, was simply appreciated and seen as more than enough. 

Prior to Sunday, September 3, 2011, I had served the children of Texas for over thirty years and had witnessed  my fair share of tragic and wonderful things in that time. In the last two weeks or more I have witnessed those extremes in a completely different manner, and with a vantage point that allows one to be awestruck as well at both ends of the spectrum. On Thursday, September 15th, during the halftime of our televised varsity football game between our Bastrop Bears and our friends from San Marcos, I was indeed awestruck and humbled beyond words when over 400 first responders from all over Texas and across the country stood behind me in the middle of our field to receive the applause, cheers and overwhelming expressions of adoration from a packed home side stands filled with students, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles and Bastrop County citizens (many of whom had lost their homes, had been and were still displaced and had spent the past two weeks volunteering to help others). To say that this was an extremely emotional and uplifting experience for all involved would be quite the understatement.

For those not able to be there that special evening and to the thousands of children, parents and school folks, as well as emergency management, law enforcement personnel and first responders across the state and beyond that have touched our lives and blessed us with your kind words, your thoughts and prayers, your gifts and your service - we once again simply say "Thank You."

None of us want to experience anything of this nature during our lives or careers ever again, yet I truly believe that we are all better people for having gone through this experience. We are better because we have heard, seen or experienced the very best in others throughout this ordeal and know that we will continue to hear from and witness such going forward as we work together as a very proud community and school district to recover, restore and rebuild.

Steve Murray
Superintendent of Schools
Bastrop ISD
Bastrop County
Bastrop, Texas

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Power On Texas video captures the spirit of Visioning Network

If you haven't heard, POWER ON TEXAS is a really cool project by the Texas Education Agency that focuses on the digital learning revolution - how it's taking hold and how it needs to spread in Texas. includes videos featuring seven Texas school districts at the leading edge of the technology-fueled movement toward 21st Century Learning. The project compliments the work of TASA's Public Education Visioning Network and even includes a link to our document, "Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas". Power On Texas builds on many of the concepts and issues identified in the visioning document.

We're especially excited about this video, which we feel captures the spirit of the Public Education Visioning Network.

Check it out here....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jobs bill could send $2.2 billion to Texas for teachers

President Obama's American Jobs Bill would create a $30 billion Teacher Stabilization grant that would be awarded to each state based on population. For Texas, it could mean about $2.2 billion, if it passes Congress.

That's in addition to money the state and local districts could get through the $25 billion School Modernization grant program (See previous blog post) bringing the total Texas schools could be eligible to receive to an estimated $4.5 billion.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan estimates the teacher stabilization program could save about 280,000 teacher jobs across the country.

In his speech to Congress last week about his bill, Obama stressed the importance of funding education.

"Pass this jobs bill and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work," Obama said. "These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Texas schools could get $2.3 billion from Jobs Bill

 President Obama is crisscrossing the country trying to sell his $447 billion jobs bill to the American people. The bill, which would send an estimated $85 billion to state and local governments, went to Congress on Monday.

The American Jobs Bill includes a proposal to put workers back on the job by rebuilding and modernizing schools across the country. In Ohio Tuesday, the president talked about the need for new school infrastructure, particularly in some places where students study in 100-year-old buildings.

“Some of the schools, the ventilation is so poor it can make students sick. How do we expect our kids to do their very best in a situation like that,” he said. “Every child deserves a great school and we can give it to them, but we’ve got to pass this bill.”

The American Association of School Administrators released a report Tuesday that details the benefits of the program for each state as well as the 100 largest high-need public school districts, which will receive funds directly. Texas has the highest number of those districts of any state with 19 on the list to receive money directly. Florida has the second highest number with 14, and California is third with 11.

According to AASA, the state of Texas would be eligible for $2.3 billion to invest in K-12 infrastructure. Those 19 high-need districts would be eligible for $1.2 billion.

From the AASA: 
“The President is proposing a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools.  This investment will create jobs, while improving classrooms and upgrading our schools to meet 21st century needs. It also includes a priority for rural schools and dedicated funding for Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools. Funds can be used for a range of emergency repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade the technology infrastructure in our schools.”

 The average public school building in the United States is over 40 years old, according to AASA, and many are much older. Many of them are in desperate need of modernizing to make them more efficient and provide the necessary space and infrastructure for a 21st century education. Schools spend more than $6 billion each year on energy bills – more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined.

With schools slashing budgets across the country, the backlog of deferred maintenance and repair projects in schools is at least $270 billion, AASA estimates. 

The American Jobs Bill includes:

$25 billion in funds will be used to upgrade existing public school facilities. $10 billion will be directed toward 100 largest high-need public school districts. $15 billion will be directed to the states. Funds cannot be used for new construction. The President’s plan also proposes $5 billion of investments for facilities modernization needs at community colleges.

Safer, Healthier, and Technologically Advanced Schools of the Future. Permissible uses of funds would include a range of emergency repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade technology infrastructure in our schools.   Local districts will also be able to put these funds to work to invest in upgrades to allow schools to continue to serve as centers of the community –including upgrades to shared spaces for adult vocational and job development centers.  These efforts will not only make our schools safer and healthier learning environments, but also ensure that our schools are fully equipped to teach 21st century skills in math, science, and other technical fields and to serve as effective centers for workforce training and development.

Maximum flexibility to the states and funding for small repairs and large-scale maintenance and upgrade projects. Funds could be used for a range of projects, including greening and energy-efficiency upgrades; asbestos abatement and removal; improvements to after-school facilities and community spaces; and modifications to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To ensure that schools in the most disrepair will be able to make necessary enhancements, almost 40 percent of the funds will be directed toward the 100 largest high-need public school districts.   Each of the 100 Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) with the largest numbers of children living in poverty would receive a formula amount proportionate to its Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I Part A allocation within 60 days of enactment.

The remaining approximately 60 percent will be given to states to allocate, and states would have flexibility to direct those funds to additional high-need districts, including schools in rural areas.  Funding would be allocated to states on the basis of their Title I shares. States would be required to obligate those funds by September 30, 2012, and outstanding balances would be reallocated to other states. States would direct half the funding to local school districts on a formula basis, and the other half through an application process in the most high-needs districts, with a priority for rural districts. A portion of the funding would be set-aside for Bureau of Indian Education schools (0.5 percent) and for the Outlying Areas (0.5 percent).

Funds will be put to work quickly.  For formula grants, states would be required to get funds to districts within three to six months of enactment and the districts would have to expend the funds within 24 months of enactment.  The selection criteria would prioritize projects that would be completed quickly, while affording grantees more time flexibility for their bigger projects.  To reduce the risk that districts will allow projects to stall, the American Jobs Act requires the funds be spent by September 30, 2012. 

The 19 high-need Texas districts and the amounts they’re eligible to receive are:

Houston ISD $233.6 million
Dallas ISD $191.6 million
Fort Worth ISD $84.9 million
Austin ISD $69.3 million
San Antonio ISD $69.1 million
El Paso ISD $66.2 million
Brownsville ISD $60 million
Aldine ISD $50.4 million
Alief ISD $44.8 million
Arlington ISD $39.1 million
Ysleta ISD $39.3 million
Laredo ISD $37.3 million
Pasadena ISD $33 million
Northside ISD $35.1 million
Edinburg CISD $32.8 million
Garland ISD $30.8
La Joya ISD $34.8 million
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD $31.6 million
Corpus Christi ISD $28.2 million

Note: Estimated allocations are preliminary projections.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama's plan includes renovating schools, hiring more teachers

President Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress tonight, issuing a blunt call to pass his bill: a $447 billion package of tax cuts and government spending aimed at resuscitating America's economy.

His proposals included an expansion of a cut in payroll taxes and new spending in public works, including money to renovate as many as 35,000 schools and put teachers back to work. Obama also said his plan would not add to the deficit.

"Here’s the other thing I want the American people to know:  The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit.  It will be paid for," the president said. 
This summer, Congress came to an agreement to cut about $1 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years and Congress must also come up with another $1.5 trillion in savings by the end of the year. In his speech, Obama asked Congress to increase that amount so that it covers the cost of the jobs bill.
"And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -- a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run," he said.
The speech, of course, gave no details on how the money would benefit schools, but education was a frequent theme.

"There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work….And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating.  How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?  This is America.  Every child deserves a great school -- and we can give it to them, if we act now."
"The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools.  It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country."
And on the subject of teachers:
"Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work.  These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher.  But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves.  It’s unfair to our kids.  It undermines their future and ours.  And it has to stop.  Pass this bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong."

The president said he hits the road Friday selling his plan in every corner of America. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Central Texas fires force some school districts to close

Several Central Texas school districts are closing schools Tuesday as wildfires continue to threaten their communities. Schools are being used as evacuation centers for local residents.
All schools in the Bastrop Independent School District will be closed today and all extracurricular actives have been canceled.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray and district leaders are assessing the situation every 12 hours to determine how long schools will remain closed.
“We’re just playing it by ear like everybody else,” Murray told the Statesman. “I anticipate that if things proceed like they are, that we’ll have to close school again.”
Murray said Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott called him on Monday to see how the state can assist and to let him know that the Texas Education Agency will work with the district on school waivers for the missed days of school. 
“If we have to be out of school for a few days and we miss a little instruction, it pales in comparison to the basic needs that these folks have,” Murray said. “Right now, we’re in the mode of just taking care of each other and making sure everyone is safe.”
Smithville ISD schools and six schools in Leander ISD will also be closed today. Leander's Vandegrift High School is being used as a Red Cross shelter. Superintendent Bret Champion told the Statesman the school has been a hub for people in search of information or in need of a place to stay. Four schools in the Steiner Ranch area — Canyon Ridge Middle School and Bush, Steiner and River Ridge elementaries — will be closed until school officials can determine any damage. Until the fires are out and electricity is restored to the area, district leaders will daily reassess whether the schools will reopen, according to the Statesman.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, several wildfires continued to burn. Gov. Rick Perry said he will seek a major disaster declaration from the federal government to help in recovery efforts from the Texas wildfires.
Five hundred people have been evacuated and at least 13 homes destroyed by a fire in Leander, officials said.
The 300-acre fire, which began about 4:40 p.m., is burning in an area that stretches from Bagdad Road to U.S. 183, and from Crystal Falls Parkway to South Street. Officials said at 9 p.m. that the blaze was 70 percent contained.
In Bastrop, about 25,000 acres had burned and 476 homes have been destroyed in the county as of 3:45 p.m. Monday, according to the Texas Forest Service.

The fire in Steiner Ranch was only 25 percent contained, officials said at a press conference about 4:30 p.m. Monday Twenty-four homes have been destroyed, 30 homes have been damaged, and 125 acres have burned, officials said.

Strong winds and heavy flare-ups have combined to help the Pedernales Bend fire escape containment, officials said Monday afternoon. The fire, which started near Haynie Flat Road about noon Saturday, was about 50 percent contained late Monday. The fire has gone south of Texas 71 and split into a new fire.
Crews were still fighting the fire, which has gone south of Texas 71 and has split into a new fire, late Monday night. The fire has burned about 6,400 acres and was about 2 miles wide 5 miles long at its peak, officials said.
All of the 67 structures that were damaged, including at least 44 homes or businesses, were west of the Pedernales River, according to officials. No word on how many homes were destroyed. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

TASA announces 2011 Honor School Boards

Five school boards from across the state were selected today as Honor School Boards in the Texas Association of School Administrators’ annual School Board Awards Program. The program has recognized outstanding Texas school boards for their commitment to schoolchildren and their communities since 1971.

The statewide Honor School Boards, listed with their superintendents and nominating education service center regions are:
  • Barbers Hill ISD, Superintendent Greg Poole, Region 4
  • Copperas Cove ISD, Superintendent Rose Cameron, Region 12
  • Denton ISD, Superintendent Ray Braswell, Region 11
  • Lubbock ISD, Superintendent Karen Garza, Region 17
  • Ysleta ISD, Superintendent Michael Zolkoski, Region 19
The Honor Boards were selected by a committee of nine Texas school superintendents from a field of regional finalists based on specific criteria including: support for educational performance; support for educational improvement projects; commitment to a code of ethics; and maintenance of harmonious and supportive relationships among board members.

Gonzalo Salazar, superintendent of Los Fresnos CISD and chair of this year’s selection committee, said narrowing the finalists down to five Honor Boards was difficult.

“Looking at these school boards, it’s clear that there are a lot of good things happening in our public schools,” Salazar said. “There is a lot of innovation going on and everyone has student achievement at the forefront.”

The selection committee praised the Barbers Hill school board for its commitment to excellence, demonstrated through dedication to initiatives like the National Teacher Certification Program and multiple instructional supports for academic programs. The committee also noted that Barbers Hill’s 100 percent senior graduation rate is “phenomenal.”

Copperas Cove’s board drew kudos for its use of social media to communicate with the public and a commitment to training, which in turn demonstrates a commitment to academic excellence. The committee also commended Copperas Cove for fiscal management, including building a new school out of general funds.

Denton’s school board impressed the committee with their involvement and dedication. Five of the seven board members are graduates of the Texas Association of School Board’s program Leadership TASB, and all board members are active advocates for public schools, both in the community and among lawmakers. The board also demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence with 85 percent of Denton’s graduates pursuing post-secondary education.

Lubbock ISD’s board stood out for it’s laser focus on improvement, including its resolve to carry out a strategic plan that sets high standards and delivers a road map to achieve those standards. The committee was also impressed with the board’s willingness to make tough but necessary decisions, even if they aren’t popular ones, and a commitment to innovation in the classroom.

The committee called Ysleta’s academic performance “outstanding” and noted that student achievement was particularly remarkable when considering Ysleta’s population of 82 percent economically disadvantaged and 95 percent minority. Committee members said there is clear evidence of a cohesive board and praised the relationship between board members and the superintendent.

Salazar said its clear that the Honor School Boards are working hard even in the face of shrinking resources.

“I’m so impressed with the commitment from these school boards,” he said. 

The selection committee will interview all five Honor Boards in person on Sept. 30 at the TASA/TASB Convention in Austin. The Texas Outstanding School Board will be announced at the convention’s First General Session at 4 p.m., Sept. 30.

All five Honor Boards and the regional finalists will be recognized at the General Session. The remaining regional finalists are:
  • Point Isabel ISD, Superintendent Estella R. Pineda, ESC 1
  • Carthage ISD, Superintendent J. Glenn Hambrick, ESC 7
  • Hutto ISD, Superintendent Douglas Killian, ESC 13
  • Lytle ISD, Superintendent Michelle Carroll Smith, ESC 20

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New report shows 1 out of every 4 kids in Texas lives in poverty

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book Wednesday and, once again, Texas ranked near the bottom in key indicators of child health and wellbeing.

Of the 6.6 million children in Texas, the foundation found that 24.3 percent live in poverty. Women receiving late or no prenatal care made up 40 percent of births and 13.5 percent of all live births were to teens ages 13-19. For the second consecutive year, Texas had the third highest teen birth rate in the nation.

The state also saw a 14 percent increase in the number of babies born at low birth weights and an 11 percent increase in the number of infant deaths since 2000.

Another startling statistic: Texas has had the largest percentage of uninsured children in the country for nine of the last 10 years. Nearly one out of four children – 23.3 percent – are uninsured.

Looking at all the indicators combined, Texas ranks ninth worst in the nation in terms of child poverty, according to Texas KIDS Count director Frances Deviney.

"There's been a steady climb in child poverty throughout the 2000s, but over the data from the last couple of years that we have, we've seen a real spike. Texas now has one of every four kids living in poverty," Deviney said.

"Poverty is really one of those bellwether indicators where we say if we don't really see a significant turnaround, we're going to have a whole generation of kids getting off on the wrong foot for the rest of their adult lives."

Sadly, reports like this are no surprise to educators. They see these children every day in their schools and are doing their best to meet students’ overwhelming needs. That monumentally difficult job will be even tougher this year with more than $5 billion in budget cuts to Texas public schools, including to programs that specifically target children in poverty, like full-day pre-kindergarten and Communities in Schools.

The Legislature also cut money to family planning services, so the state’s teen birth rate is likely to rise even higher, according to Deviney.

The report also found that 30 percent of Texas children live in families where no parent has year-round, full-time employment. Many are in homes where parents earn minimum wage or less and don't have access to private healthcare coverage.

With historic cuts to the state's education finance system, and no plan to restore funding come 2013, how can we build a skilled work force that will attract higher-paying jobs?

Hopefully our state leaders pay attention to reports like this and consider the ramifications of slashing aid to a system that is dealing with a massive number of increasingly needy kids. Those littlest and most vulnerable Texans need more of an investment, not less.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AYP results to be released Thursday

Less than one week after state accountability ratings were released, the Texas Education Agency will announce how Texas schools and districts performed on the nation’s accountability standard: Adequate Yearly Progress.

TEA plans to post the results on its website at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Explaining AYP results has always been tricky, particularly when they often conflict with state accountability ratings. This year may be even more challenging for districts since many are dealing with lower ratings from the state due to changes in the state’s formula, including the elimination of the Texas Projection Measure, higher passing standards and more students than ever before being tested.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in June that he would offer waivers to states from parts of No Child Left Behind because Congress hasn’t made much progress on reauthorizing the law.

The US DOE hasn’t provided a lot of details on the waiver process since then, but according to Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog, here’s what’s under discussion:

• There would be three kinds waivers under No Child Left Behind, and states would have to sign up for all of them—it wouldn't be an either/or thing. This is something Duncan made clear in the initial waiver announcement.
• To waive the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and language arts, states would have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments. It's not clear yet what that would mean. But, presumably, Common Core would be involved. Student growth could be used to measure achievement.
• To essentially freeze in place the law's system of sanctions, states would have to propose their own differentiated accountability systems that would incorporate growth and establish new performance targets. States also would have to establish differentiated school improvement systems that more accurately meet the needs of schools with different challenges. The accountability systems would not have to include choice or free tutoring. Districts also no longer would have to set aside Title I money for such programs.
• To waive the law's highly qualified teacher requirement and get funding flexibility, states would have to adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals that are based on growth and make sure districts actually do what they say they're going to do.

I asked TEA if Texas would seek relief from No Child Left Behind requirements but was told there would be no waivers requested relating to AYP for 2011.

However, a TEA spokeswoman said Commissioner Robert Scott will decide at a later time whether to pursue any waiver requests from the US DOE relating to AYP in the future.

Last week, the DOE gave Idaho approval to keep its annual proficiency targets in math and reading the same for the third year in a row after Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told the feds he planned to defy key parts of NCLB.

In a letter to the state, DOE officials made it clear that the approval is a change to Idaho’s accountability plan, and not a formal waiver.

But without details about the waiver process, Idaho isn’t the only state to jump the gun, according to Education Week. Tennessee and Michigan are the latest states to formally seek a waiver.

Other states, including South Dakota and Montana, have flat out told the feds that they plan to freeze proficiency rates. 

Regardless of what’s happening across the country, Texas is still being measured against the stick that requires 100 percent proficiency in all sub-groups by 2014. When explaining your schools' results, a quick tutorial of how the system works – and most importantly how the performance of a handful of students can brand an entire school – is essential. The community should understand that the proficiency rates go up every year until the only way to meet AYP is for every single student to be proficient – a noble but impossible goal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No matter how you slice it, schools are losing funding

We all expect a little spin coming out of a legislative session, even one as historically challenging and ultimately devastating as this one. But the latest popular line from some who wish to downplay the cuts to public schools is one that is especially difficult for school leaders to stomach.

There are those out there congratulating the Legislature (in some cases congratulating themselves) for increasing funding for education. That’s right, increasing.

There’s math behind the statements that make them sort of true – in fact the Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas ranked once such statement as “half true.” But in practice, it’s absolutely a falsehood and Texas school superintendents know it.

School leaders are making difficult decisions to freeze salaries, cut critical positions, lay off teachers, close schools and eliminate programs. And they’re making those decisions because of a $4 billion cut to the Foundation School Program and the elimination of nearly $1.4 billion in discretionary grants used for initiatives like full-day Pre-K, teacher performance incentives and dropout prevention.

So what’s the basis of the claim that education funding actually increased? Here’s a breakdown that will hopefully be helpful if this comes up in your community and you need to explain that, regardless of what others may be saying, your schools are dealing with a substantial cut in funding.
  • According to numbers from the Texas Education Agency, the $49.6 billion budgeted for public education for the 2012-13 biennium is slightly more (0.2 percent more) than the $49.5 billion budgeted for the previous two years. However, that tiny increase is not nearly enough to cover the additional 170,000 students that will show up in Texas schools in the next two years. Those students will need classrooms, teachers, instructional materials and technology. Some will need support from specialists because they have developmental delays or disabilities, or they don’t speak English. There’s not enough money in the budget to maintain the level of programs and services those students received last year.
  • But, some legislators are insisting they funded enrollment growth. How? By changing the funding formulas. Despite an overall increase, the budget falls $4 billion short of funding individual students at the same level they were funded in 2010-11. That means a significant overall decrease in per-student funding because our student population is growing so rapidly – and the majority of that population are at-risk children who are the most costly to educate. So lawmakers can say they increased education funding, or they can say they funded enrollment growth, but they can’t say they did both.  It’s simply not accurate.
  • Some lawmakers are touting an additional $3 billion in state funding for education to offset a loss in federal funding. But there’s more to the story. The $3 billion in federal money Texas received in 2009 was one-time stimulus money, and the fact that it was a one-time infusion was made crystal clear to state officials. Rather than use the money to supplement the state’s education budget as it was intended, state lawmakers used it to supplant state dollars for reoccurring expenses. When that one-time federal funding went away, as everyone knew it would, the state could no longer afford to pay the bill.
  • The Texas Education Agency was another victim of budget cuts, and reductions there will ultimately affect school districts too. The state slashed TEA’s budget by more than 36 percent. The agency began the year with more than 1,000 employees but after two rounds of layoffs is now down to 717. The biggest cut came this month when 178 people lost their jobs. Nearly every department was affected and the massive cuts will certainly hamper TEA’s ability to provide services to districts.
  • Lawmakers cut almost $16 million in funding from Education Service Centers – nearly 40 percent of their budgets – critically undermining another valuable resource for local school districts.
Any way you slice it, Texas schools lost out this legislative session. There is substantially less per-student funding due to the $4 billion cut to the Foundation School Program, funding for many important programs was eliminated altogether, and hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from other critical initiatives like Communities in Schools, Texas School Ready Program, and T-STEM.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TASA's Visioning Institute highlighted in Dallas Morning News

A story in Monday's DMN focusing on increased testing due to the STAAR system and end-of-course exams was also an opportunity to highlight the work of TASA's Visioning Institute and the passage of legislation that will create the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.

DMN reporter Wendy Hundley talked to Lewisville superintendent Dr. Stephen Waddell and TASA's Casey McCreary about concerns with STAAR.

“Many superintendents, in both large and small districts, are concerned about what we call the ‘triple jeopardy,’” McCreary told the DMN, referring to STAAR’s increased testing schedule, more rigorous exams and tougher graduation requirements.

The story ended on an upbeat note, highlighting Senate Bill 1557, which will create a consortium of up to 20 school districts that will be granted the flexibility to create the next generation of learning standards and accountability systems.

“No one is calling for an end of testing,”  Dr. Waddell told the paper. “We just think it’s gone too far. It’s gone to the point where it’s harming children instead of helping them. We could be doing something better and more useful for our kids.”