School finance commission focuses on tax policy

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met today in Austin to cover an agenda focused on tax policy. The day included invited testimony from a series of witness representing both out-of-state entities and Texas-based stakeholders.

National representatives offered individual assessments of the Texas taxing structure as well as perspectives on various reforms. The representatives hailed from the Tax Foundation, Tulane University’s Murphy Institute, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Their individual presentations centered around a variety of policy reforms, including revisions to the property tax, an expansion of the sales tax base, changes to corporate taxing, better tax transparency policies, an update to the gas (or vehicle usage) tax, and a focus on more targeted relief over broad based relief. The broad look at tax policies seemed to drive an overall message that some combination of reforms is the best approach.

The commission also heard from the Texas Education Agency and the Comptroller’s Office regarding Texas’s current sources of funding for public education. The high-level presentation focused on the coordinating chart, which identified the Foundation School Program appropriations and their 2018-2019 biennium levels.

Texas-based entities invited to testify included a range of stakeholders. While many of the same broad tax policy reforms mentioned by the national panelists were addressed, the group offered perspectives more narrowly focused on the Texas taxing and school finance systems. For example, one testifier highlighted a lack of taxpayer transparency with regard to how certain tax revenues are directed. While some education funding is diverted to other budget areas, other revenue is used to supplant the state’s share of education funding when those dollars are intended to be supplemental funding.

Links to the witnesses presentation materials can be found here and a recording of the meeting can be viewed here. The commission’s Working Group on Expenditures will meet tomorrow morning and will hear invited testimony on the cost of education index, compensatory education, and the transportation allotment.

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Public Education committee looks at A-F implementation

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday for an interim hearing on the implementation of school finance, accountability, and bullying legislation, in addition to an update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez kicked off testimony with an update on money given out as part of a two-year hardship grant program under House Bill (HB) 21, as well as additional facilities funding for charter schools. Associate Commissioner Monica Martinez provided a briefing on new autism and dyslexia grant programs under the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that the hardship grants as well as the autism and dyslexia grant programs will expire without additional legislation. Additionally, the bill contained a one-time payment into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

House Public Education Committee interim hearing April 18, 2018.

A representative from Houston ISD testified that the district faces a $150 budget deficit this year and a projected $320 million deficit in the next fiscal year due to the district entering recapture. The district submitted a number of recommendations, including increasing funding weights for bilingual, English as a second language (ESL), and special education students, restoring the state’s share of funding to 50 percent, increasing transportation funding, and doing away with the recapture system.

A number of witnesses testified with respect to the hardship grants, warning that some small districts could face closure without further action to extend the grants or create an alternative source of revenue.

Lopez next updated the committee on the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 179, or “David’s Law,” which addresses bullying and cyberbullying. The law requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a website with resources for school districts. Huberty noted that more work must be done to inform districts, students, and parents of the various provisions of the new law.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath provided another update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system. A total of 60 counties fell under the governor’s disaster proclamation, and 1.5 million students were in an affected school district. Morath noted that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been an important source of long-term recovery funds, the agency has been slow in making funds available.

The agency has launched a variety of mental health services, and provided accountability flexibility to affected districts. This includes waivers from 5th and 8th grade math and reading exams for all students affected by the storm. At the school and district level, the agency collected information regarding full and partial facility closures or relocations, student displacement, and staff displacement. According to Morath, at least 112,000 students were displaced statewide. Those three sets of data will be used to develop a rule to determine whether an accountability rating is issued to a particular school. Morath indicated a proposed rule will be published in the Texas Register sometime in early June, and the number of exempt schools could number over a thousand.

Morath suggested the final rule for Harvey-affected schools will be “substantially more generous” than the rule developed following Hurricane Ike in 2008. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) told Morath she would like to see a rule that provides for entire districts to be exempt from accountability ratings as well, though Morath offered no indication whether the agency is inclined to move in that direction. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) asked TEA to help develop recommendations for additional revenue sources for public education. Chairman Huberty warned TEA to leave that work to legislators.

The storm caused some $970 million worth of damage to public schools. Morath estimated lawmakers would be faced with the need to pass a supplemental appropriation to cover an associated decline in maintenance and operations (M&O) property values of roughly $500 million to $1 billion.

Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones testified about the storm’s devastating impact on the state’s largest school district, and the associated financial difficulties. The district asked for a one-year accountability pause, such as was provided after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, for all schools in a county that fell under the governor’s disaster declaration. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) asked how the district’s ten worst-performing schools were impacted, all of which are labeled “improvement required” under the current state accountability system and face imminent sanctions. The district indicated those schools sustained damage as well, and contended that a pause would not prevent those schools from being subject to potential TEA takeover, since a decision on each of those schools is required by April 24.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on HB 22, which made changes to the forthcoming “A through F” accountability system. TEA released a framework of the new system last week. Morath summarized that framework, and testified that cut points are being based upon last year’s performance and will be set for the next five years. District A-F ratings will be released in August, while individual campuses will continue to be labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campus A-F ratings will be released in August 2019.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that the local accountability system provided by HB 22 could be promising. Under the first domain, Chambers suggested changing the weights for STAAR; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR); and graduation rates from 40/40/20 under the current framework to a more even 33/33/33 or 35/35/30. Chambers also lamented the lack of indicators other than STAAR for grades three through eight under the new system, which represents a regression from the previous system.

Chambers asked that a greater weight under the CCMR indicator be given to students who complete a concurrent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses. Critically, Chambers cautioned that policymakers will be disappointed with the results of any accountability system until resources are aligned with what is asked of students and schools.

Spring Branch ISD Executive Director of Accountability and Research Keith Haffey similarly testified to the complete reliance on STAAR at the elementary level, and suggested considering additional metrics. One such metric could credit schools that fully transition English language learners (ELLs) to English. Additionally, one of the flaws of the new system is that the scoring limits credit given to students who take college pathway assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, which acts as a disincentive for districts to offer these valuable exams. Huberty engaged Morath and Chambers in a conversation regarding the feasibility of providing a state appropriation to cover the cost of providing these assessments.

Dee Carney, an associate with school finance firm Moak, Casey and Associates, introduced model runs under the new accountability system. According to the models, most schools are unlikely to earn an “A” rating under the first domain. Carney testified that the additional of non-test indicators helps raise scores. The remainder of the day’s testimony largely focused on the system’s heavy reliance on the STAAR test.

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The Rainy Day Fund Roadshow Makes a Stop in the House Appropriations Committee

The House Appropriations Committee, similar to its counterpart in the Senate, heard a number of interim charges Wednesday. Of note for public education, and for educators in particular, was an interim charge to continue to study strategies to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), also known as the “rainy day fund,” to generate additional revenue for state obligations without compromising the fund’s intended purpose. The charge instructed lawmakers to evaluate the current methodology used to set the ESF cap.

The committee heard testimony on ESF investment history, utilization, and investment practices from the Legislative Budget Board, the state comptroller, and the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, whose executive director helped draft the legislation that brought the ESF into existence.

Read more about Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s plan to invest ESF dollars to create new revenue stream to fund state priorities and why that revenue is needed, in this previous Teach the Vote post.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 13, 2018

The weekend is here! Catch up on this week’s education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover it all. He has a series of posts up on the blog reporting on outcomes of the board’s week-long agenda. Here is a quick wrap-up, with links to the extended posts:

The board is scheduled to meet again this summer.

 


During his address to the SBOE on Wednesday, Commissioner Morath gave some potential insight into how the state will address accountability for school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. In light of significant student displacement, delayed starts to the school year, and various other Harvey-related struggles impacting a number of school districts this year, superintendents and others in Harvey-affected districts have called on the Commissioner to offer accountability relief from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). While the Commissioner initially argued such a move was not likely because teachers and students needed to be held accountable for their learning (he also refused to delay test dates for Harvey-affected students, despite requests), his tune changed slightly this week. He this time told members of the board that he will consider waiving STAAR scores in Harvey-affected districts. Learn more about the Commissioner’s announcement in this piece from the Texas Tribune.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a framework for the new accountability system this week. The system was most recently revised by the 85th Texas Legislature under House Bill (HB) 22; initial adoption of an A-F accountability system was passed during the previous legislative session in 2015. The system is broken down into three domains that are focused on student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps. Schools and districts will receive an individual A, B, C, D, or F score for each domain as well as a summative score based on a compilation of all three domains. Learn more about the framework in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 

 

 


 

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SBOE wraps April meeting with inspiring educators

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wrapped up its April meeting Friday, which began with moving remarks by Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) 2017 Superintendent of the Year LaTonya Goffney and Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) 2018 Teacher of the Year Tara Bordeaux.

TASA 2018 Teacher of the Year Tara Bordeaux addressing the SBOE April 13, 2018.

At the age of 16, Bordeaux had dropped out of school and decided to take her life when one of her teachers showed up at the McDonald’s where she worked and turned her life around. Bordeaux went on to become a teacher herself, eventually landing at Lanier High School in Austin ISD, where she teaches audio-video production. Bordeaux emphasized the need for better training, support and compensation for teachers – explaining that teacher pay is important to make hardworking teachers feel like the valued, life-saving professionals they are.

Dr. Goffney moving board members to tears with her story of growing up amid poverty, addiction, and abuse. The love of her grandmother and the power of education propelled her rise from extremely difficult circumstances to a strong, successful educator. Bordeaux told the board, “This is the story of so many of our children.”

“But how many of you know there is a God?” asked Bordeaux, “And how many of you know there’s a God through public education? And both of those saved me.”

The board gave final approval to the creation of a Mexican American studies course under the name “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” to be based on an innovative course developed by Houston ISD. Members voted against an amendment offered by Member Ruben Cortez (D-San Antonio) to restore the name to “Mexican American studies.”

“The Mexican American experience has been one of great struggles and great triumphs as clearly set out in the HISD Innovative Course proposed,” said SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston). “It is my sincere hope, and I believe I’m speaking for the entire board, that by encouraging the study of this beautiful and strong branch of our American family in a deeper way, we will engage and connect more of our Mexican American students in a way that is important for the future of the country. America is and always has been a land of dreams and hopes where everyone has a vital part to play, where we can be both proud of our own story, culture and heritage and yet hold close to our hearts what it means to be deeply proud Americans.”

 

The board approved initial curriculum for a high school course on the proper interaction with peace officers. Members also gave the green light to a number of items from Thursday’s committee meetings, which are detailed in this post.

Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), vice-chair of the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund, introduced a discussion regarding the development of branding and a logo for the Permanent School Fund (PSF) in order to increase awareness. Maynard suggested holding a student competition to come up with a logo design.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled June 12 through 15.

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SBOE Receives Public Feedback on Their Long Range Plan

After completing their regular committee work, State Board members received a report on the feedback that was received from the community engagement sessions held around the state over the course of several months in late 2017 and early 2018. A total of 680 members of the public attended one of 11 sessions. More than eleven thousand Texans responded to an online survey designed to elicit additional feedback on the same topics covered at the live sessions. The topics covered during the community conversations included student engagement and empowerment; educator preparation, recruitment, and retention; equity and access; and family engagement and empowerment.

A few of the takeaways from the survey responses; of the more the 9,300 who answered the question on funding equity, only 14.1 percent of Texans found that the level of equity in school funding in Texas was good or excellent, while 54.9 percent found that it was poor. The public ranked ensuring teacher pay equity between affluent and less affluent schools and providing “leadership and advanced career opportunities for teachers who want to remain in the classroom,” as their first and second priorities in educator preparation, recruitment and retention.

View the entire discussion on the public feedback related to the Board’s Long Range Plan here.

More information on the community / public feedback, as well as, additional information about the Long Range Plan and the Long Range Plan Steering Committee can be found here.

The next, and potentially final, Long Range Planning committee will be held on May 14. After the committee concludes it will report its recommendations to the State Board which will consider, potentially edit, and ultimately adopt some of all of the report as the State Board of Education’s Long Range Plan.

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SBOE committee update: Dyslexia, CPE changes

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning. Members of the Committee on Instruction considered a number of items related to students with dyslexia. The first involves amending current administrative rules to strengthen the evaluation procedure used in determining whether a student has dyslexia, as well as providing more information to parents regarding the process and evaluator credentials.

Texas SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting April 12, 2018.

Additionally, members of the committee heard testimony regarding potential changes to the Dyslexia Handbook. Revisions are being considered in order to implement provisions of House Bill (HB) 1886, which aimed to improve early identification and support for students with dyslexia and related disorders. Much of the public testimony regarded the value of highly trained educators and therapists as well as well-crafted programs, and noted the reason for shortages in these areas often revolves around insufficient funding.

Parents noted that many rural schools are understaffed, and dyslexia teachers may pay for training themselves. One witness, a Section 504 Coordinator from Frisco ISD, suggested the handbook not forget the importance of identifying older students who may have missed being identified as dyslexic, often as a result of high-level performance or transferring from out-of-state schools. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff indicated work is being done with stakeholder committees to prepare revisions in time for the board to vote at their September meeting. Changes would be effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

The Committee on School Initiatives meanwhile turned its attention to educator certification and continuing professional education (CPE). The committee advanced a rule change passed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would require educator preparation programs to do a better job of informing candidates who may be ineligible to gain certification for a variety of reasons.

Members also advanced a SBEC rule change resulting from Senate Bill (SB) 7, SB 1839, and SB 179, which added CPE requirements regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, digital literacy, and grief and trauma training, respectively. While the original rule required educators to regularly select from a list of CPE topics not to exceed 25 percent in any one particular subject, the new rule will require educators to allocate their CPE hours so that every subject is covered.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss public feedback on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and several SBOE members are expected to attend in addition to those already on the committee. Check back with TeachTheVote.org for updates from this meeting.

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TEA announces A-F accountability rating framework

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Tuesday announced its framework for the new accountability system set to go into effect as modified by House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency created this framework after consulting with stakeholders, including ATPE. While some of that feedback was incorporated, the system’s major elements – such as its reliance on standardized test scores – are determined by the statutory law created by legislators in 2017.

The system is comprised of three domains: Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps. The Domain I Student Achievement score is 100 percent reliant on STAAR test results at the elementary and middle school levels. High schools use a combination of STAAR scores; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators; and graduation rates. These are weighted at 40 percent, 40 percent, and 20 percent, respectively.

Domain II Student Progress also relies entirely on STAAR scores and is divided into two components: Academic Growth and Relative Performance. Academic Growth compares current STAAR scores over the previous year, and Relative Performance compares STAAR scores between comparable districts. Districts and schools may use the higher of the two components.

Domain III Closing the Gaps uses disaggregated STAAR test data to compare performance among racial and ethnic groups. Each category is assigned an improvement target, and targets in the current framework reflect the input of stakeholders who warned the original targets were unattainable. The agency has included the state plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) entirely within this domain, and is applying to the U.S. Department of Education to amend its plan in order to incorporate changes reflected in this framework.

Each domain will receive a raw score and a corresponding letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F. An overall summative score will be determined by taking the better of Domains I and II, weighting the score at 70 percent, and adding it to the Domain III score weighted at 30 percent. This will result in a corresponding A-F letter grade.

The framework is scheduled to be published in the Texas Register and opened to public comment in May 2018, followed by the 2018 Accountability Manual, including methodology, in June. Districts will receive their first ratings under the A-F system August 15, while individual campuses continue to receive ratings based on the “met standard/improvement required” system. Campuses will begin receiving A-F ratings in 2019. You can read the entire framework here, and see incorporated feedback here.

 

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SBOE approves Mexican American studies course

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday morning for a list of items, beginning with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath on a recent glitch with the STAAR test, statewide test scores and the special education corrective action plan.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

The board took testimony Wednesday morning from members of the public advocating for the addition of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for an elective course in Mexican American Studies. This has been an ongoing topic of conversation and debate at the board.

On a motion by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso), the board ordered the TEA to develop TEKS for a Mexican American Studies course based upon an innovative course created by Houston ISD. Agency staff suggested that without making modifications to the Houston ISD course, initial TEKS could be ready to be considered on first reading by June.

The board also approved a motion by outgoing Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) to rename the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” arguing he is against “hyphenated Americans.” The amendment was forcefully opposed by Members Marisa Perez (D-Converse) and Ruben Cortez (D-San Antonio). Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) noted that the board could amend the name again at a future date in the event constituents voice disapproval of the name change.

Finally, on another motion by Member Georgina Perez, the board voted to fast-track additional ethnic studies courses, including courses addressing Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, and Native Americans.

The board also discussed the curriculum for instruction on Proper Interaction with Peace Officers, which was required by Senate Bill (SB) 30 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature in response to recent officer-involved shootings around the country. The agency has planned a pair of videos to supplement the instruction, and the board voted on first reading to add elements to the current proposal that would require completion of the instruction to be recorded in each student’s record.

Finally, TEA staff updated the board on the new TEKS review process currently underway for social studies. Teacher reviewers participate in a rolling working group format under the new process. Through this process, one of the working groups created a rubric assigning points to certain historical figures in order to determine who should be specifically included in the TEKS. Materials developed by the working groups can be viewed on the TEA website. Staff aims to present the new TEKS to the board for first reading in September and a final vote in November.

Board committees are scheduled to meet Thursday morning, and several board members are expected to participate in an update Thursday afternoon on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education. The full board formally returns Friday.

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Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

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