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.”