Category Archives: Press Coverage

From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate passes private school choice bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Texas senators spent hours on Thursday questioning how a “private school choice” bill would hold private schools accountable or help students with disabilities before voting to give it final passage, 18-13.

They voted out a floor substitute of Senate Bill 3 that limits the scope of the two public programs proposed to subsidize private school tuition. The version passed by the upper chamber would limit eligibility for the programs to students who have attended a public school for at least a year, prevent incoming kindergarteners from participating and would exclude counties with populations under 285,000 from participating unless 5 percent of registered voters petition the county for access.

The changes seemed directed to appeal to rural legislators with constituents who have fewer options for public schools and to those with concerns about the state costs of a major subsidy program.

“Basically, what we’ve done with this floor substitute is narrow it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the bill. “We didn’t add things. We took things away.”

Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Joan Huffman of Houston and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill along with almost every Democrat. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the lone Democratic vote in favor.

SB 3 would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The first program, education savings accounts, would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The current version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, so that a family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate. (The previous version of the bill would have allowed families of any income to participate in the education savings account program.)

The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations. The current version of the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year, instead of $100 million in the previous version.

The current version would also require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services.

Taylor said the bill in its current form would save $55.3 million by 2022 because under the program, the state would be paying just 75 percent of the cost to educate each public school student who decides to take a tuition subsidy for a private school. Only students already enrolled in public schools would be able to access the program, meaning the state would be paying less for each student who moved from public to private school, he said.

Left-leaning policy organization Center for Public Policy Priorities released its own fiscal analysis on Thursday showing the bill would cost the Texas public school system more than $500 million per year.

“As many senators mentioned today by citing CPPP’s analysis, Senate Bill 3 is still undeniably the wrong solution for Texas kids because it would drain state dollars from already under-funded public schools,” executive director Ann Beeson said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system.”

In calculations for previous versions of the bill, the Legislative Budget Board estimated a cost to the state of between $90 million and $330 million; Taylor did not release the new fiscal note to the Senate before taking up the bill.

Most of the almost four-hour debate revolved around whether private schools would be held to state standards and whether the bill would actually help students with disabilities.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, offered up an amendment to require private schools to be held accountable to the state’s A-F rating system, which will soon be in place for public schools. Taylor argued parents would leave any private school that was not working for them, representing a strong accountability system outside of the state.

“I understand Sen. Taylor saying accountability is with the parents,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re not getting to the core of what people would like to see when it comes to these types of programs.” Taylor rejected his amendment, and it failed 13-18 in a subsequent vote.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully amended the bill to require letters be sent to parents who take the subsidies for private schools, letting them know private schools are not required to serve their students with disabilities under federal law. Taylor agreed to that change.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die.

Read more Tribune coverage here:

  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.
  • In a 7-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.
  • Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee debate on private school subsidies lasted more than seven hours and saw experts on both sides arguing they knew best how to educate black and Latino Texas students.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/30/senate-school-choice-bill/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
Texas Tribune mission statement
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From KUT: Texas Education Groups Encourage More Students, Teachers to Vote

By  & NOV. 1, 2016

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz chatted with six Reagan Early College High School students as they gathered at the ACC Highland Mall campus’ early voting center on Monday afternoon to cast their ballots on their way to class. The students are among 1,963 young adults in AISD schools that are age 18 or older this month.

“I can say that it’s important to vote, and people are going to say ‘That’s an old guy, right?’” Cruz said to the students. “But, if they hear you saying it, I think it’s a different message. Don’t you think?”

The students, who take classes at ACC through their high school, recorded a video with Cruz while standing outside the polling place to encourage other students their age to go to the polls. The video is part of a concerted effort Cruz’s office has made this fall to educate students at AISD schools about the importance of exercising their right to vote. The superintendent’s office plans to share the video on the AISD Twitter account and Facebook page to reach students in a new way.

“In all of our high schools, we have individuals who help students and families understand about voting. It’s something we’ve done for many years,” Cruz said. “This is to use different mediums that students are used to now. It’s just another approach to get the word out.”

Reagan Early College High School Academic Director, Jesse De La Huerta, says many students find the voting process intimidating

“Every time I talk to students who are becoming of-age to vote, it’s scary. They’re like, ‘What if I don’t know what to do? What about this? What about that?’” De La Huerta said.

Teachers at Reagan quell students’ concerns about voting by answering these questions in government classes at Reagan, De La Huerta says. They enthusiastically accepted the challenge from the superintendent’s office this year to talk more to their students about the importance of voting, he said.

AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz poses with students outside of ACC’s Highland Mall campus during an AISD voter awareness event.
CREDIT MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR. / KUT

 

But education groups across the state say teachers also need encouragement to vote, and they want school district superintendents to create a culture of voting on campuses – an effort called Texas Educators Vote.

“When people vote, they often have an issue in mind and it’s not usually education,” said Laura Yeager, the director of Texas Educators Vote. “These are educators who vote and then they often get to school and say, ‘Gee, why aren’t they funding our schools?’ and ‘Why am I only teaching testing?’ and ‘Why are all these things happening?’ And we’re trying to link the issue that’s important to them with their vote.”

The group includes the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Rural Education Association and others. Yeager says she and some others got the idea after the last legislative session.

“We were bemoaning how hard it was to get good public education passed, but we had done a pretty good job stopping some bad legislation,” she said. The idea, Yeager adds, is to educate teachers and hope that education trickles down to students and other school employees.

“We can get them to research and think about who actually supports public education,” she said. “Get them educated, and then encourage the culture of voting for students, educators, bus drivers and custodians and, really, everyone working in Texas public schools. Maybe we’d get to elect people that really did support public schools.”

The group doesn’t endorse any candidates, but encourages teachers to educate themselves on who is running and their views. They also suggest schools provide incentives to teachers to vote through school-wide contests or mini prizes for those who wear an “I Voted” sticker.

“You could go down in history, you could be that person who says later, ‘I voted for the first female,’ if that’s the case, or whatever the case may be,” De La Huerta said.

Last month, Austin School Board trustees approved a resolution to encourage Texas educators to vote.

While this message seems to be inspiring at least some students at Reagan, they may have to do a little digging to figure out how to vote on their own. Celeste Vasquez, one of the students featured in the video, said she used the internet to figure out how to register to vote.

“My government teacher talked to me somewhat about the procedure, but mostly about the importance of voting,” she said. “I pretty much learned how to do all the other stuff on my own through websites. I figured out step by step what I needed to do, one step at a time.”

This story was produced by KUT in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum. It was originally published by KUT and reprinted with permission. View the original article and listen to audio here.

From The Texas Tribune: Eleven Texas school boards ordered to the classroom

 
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Houston ISD trustees admonish TEA for delaying campus turnaround plan implementation. Graphic by Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune

The superintendents and elected school boards of 11 Texas districts — including Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth — have been ordered by the state education agency to attend two-day training programs to learn how to fix their failing schools.

Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill sent letters to the 11 school boards Oct. 10 saying they need additional governance training because their districts submitted unsatisfactory plans for turning around floundering campuses. All 11 superintendents and boards have agreed to the training, with several members expressing frustration about what they saw as an unfair and vague request.

The letters were sent about two months after TEA released 2016 accountability ratings showing that 467 campuses statewide — including 42 in the targeted districts — were labeled “improvement required,” a decrease from 603 campuses last year. The notices were sent to Brazosport, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hearne, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Nacogdoches, Tyler and Waco.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has promised to crack down on low-performing schools and to halve the number of failing schools over the next five years.

State law requires districts to submit detailed plans in the spring to fix problems at schools labeled “improvement required” for two or more consecutive years. The districts are supposed to include parents and the community in drafting the proposed fixes.

Morath has the final say on approving the plans — by mid-to -late June, according to a TEA timeline — so districts can start implementing them the following school year.

But for the 11 school districts, that implementation will have to wait until board trustees and superintendents attend a two-day, 24-hour governance training session.

In the letters, Crabill said he wasn’t sure the plans the districts submitted would address problems — including low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and poor college readiness — within two years. The training sessions will help trustees identify and fix weaknesses in their plans, the letter said.

 

If Morath decides not to approve a plan, he can replace the board of trustees, replace the principal of a school or shut the school down completely, Crabill wrote.

Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees told Crabill it will likely vote to attend the training. But it also admonished the agency for leaving little time to actually turn around its schools. The commissioner said he would respond to the plans in June, and now may not approve them until trainings are completed in December.

“Our ability to make significant changes to the plans for these seven schools at this date may be somewhat limited,” the Houston board wrote Oct. 25. “Since TEA has missed its own published deadline for responding to the turnaround plans by four months, we ask that you provide us with specific concerns that TEA may have with the plans for these seven schools, so that we may begin considering how to make any appropriate adjustments in a way that will cause the least disruption during the school year.”

At an Oct. 27 Dallas Independent School District board meeting, a few trustees said the request for training was too vague.

“While I don’t have a problem with training, I do have a problem with a demand that I implement what it is we are going to be trained on, when I don’t even know what it is,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “We need to know the specifics of what is wrong. We need to know specifics about the training. We need to know specifics of why these eight schools.”

The commissioner did approve campus turnaround plans in other districts around the state, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said. She could not say what the difference was between those plans and the ones the commissioner flagged.

After receiving a flood of questions from district officials across the state, Crabill included a few key explanations in a follow up email to all 11 superintendents. He slashed the training from four days to two, after trustees said it was too hard for them to fit into their schedules. He presented six different dates and locations for the training, in Kilgore, Waco, Fort Worth, Midland, El Paso and Houston, on weekdays and weekends between Nov. 9 and Dec. 17.

All trustees and superintendents from all 11 boards must attend the entire workshop, Crabill said.

“This is a team event so just like in other team events, the whole team has to win together. Completion means that all trustees and the superintendent were present at the same workshop for the entirety of the workshop,” Crabill wrote.

Though all 11 boards have agreed to attend the training, it is not clear whether all trustees will show up.

A veteran Lubbock board trustee said he voted yes to the resolution agreeing to training – but now he’s not sure whether he will actually attend. He called the demand for governance training “unprecedented” in his 14 years on the board.

He said he is not sure whether he can get away from his day job for two 12-hour days. Districts have to cover the cost of any travel required for board members to attend the training session.

TEA does not have a plan in place in case board members don’t show up, Callahan said. “So far, TEA is receiving confirmation that board members will attend and complete the training. As a result, discussions on failure to participate have not been necessary,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Any talk of penalties is premature.”

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday outlined plans to crack down harder on chronically low-performing schools, saying he wants to cut in half the number of them that end up on the state’s failing list over the next five years.
  • More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/02/tea-demands-district-training-delays-turnarounds/.

From The Texas Tribune: Speaker Joe Straus calls for immediate special education overhaul

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

House Speaker Joe Straus urged the Texas Education Agency Wednesday to immediately overhaul its system for identifying students in need of special education services.

Straus sent a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday to suspend or adjust its use of a TEA benchmark related to how many special education students schools can serve. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation determined Texas schools had arbitrarily denied tens of thousands of students special education services to comply with a TEA benchmark that only 8.5 percent of students get special education services. TEA officials told the Chronicle that the 8.5 percent guideline was not used as a cap to keep disabled students out of special education.

“It will be a priority for the Texas House to make special education services available to all students who need them, while also ensuring that schools do not identify students for special education when it isn’t appropriate,” Straus’ letter reads. “The House will work with TEA to find the right balance. But in the meantime, students should not be denied the services they need.”

From The Texas Tribune: Count of Texas registered voters eclipses 15 million mark

The Big Conversation

A record-breaking 15 million Texans are registered to vote in the upcoming November election, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday.

As the Tribune’s Alex Samuels reports, this figure amounts to 78 percent of the state’s voting-age population and more than 1.3 million additional registered voters from four years ago. Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, previously told the Dallas Morning News that the spike in registered voters could be attributed to high interest in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

In Texas, the margin separating Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is shrinking. A WFAA/SurveyUSA poll released Thursday found Trump beating Clinton 47 percent to 43 percent — which falls within the margin of error.

As the Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports, Trump’s polling numbers have been decreasing after the release of a 2005 clip showing him making lewd comments about women, and the 4-point margin may be Trump’s smallest lead in Texas yet.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.

 


This article has been edited for length. It originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/10/14/brief/.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A Game of Chicken Between Texas, Its Biggest School District

by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
September 26, 2016

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

Voters in Texas’ biggest school district in Texas might do what the nine Republicans on the state’s Supreme Court wouldn’t do: Force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for public education.

Such a move would require some daring. Voters in the Houston Independent School District will have a choice in November to approve spending $165 million raised locally from school property taxes on other, poorer school districts in the state.

The ballot language is opaque, and a pretty good argument for improving the writing skills of the people in charge of state and local governments: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.”

The actual choice presented by that ballot measure? Vote “for” spending $165 million of the district’s money in other districts, or vote “against” spending that money and risk taking $18 billion of the district’s commercial properties from the tax rolls and assigning them to the tax rolls of another district.

A “No” vote in November — urged by many of the HISD’s trustees, the city’s mayor, and others — would spark some political drama.

About one Texas school district in four spends some of its locally raised money to help educate students in districts that can’t raise enough money from their own tax bases. It’s called recapture by the policy wonks, but because it takes from “property rich” districts and gives to “property poor” districts, it’s more commonly called the Robin Hood system.

When a district’s voters refuse to go along — something that hasn’t happened — the Texas Education Agency is required to move part of that district’s property tax base to another, poorer district.

The agency obviously doesn’t move the real estate, but it would assign some of one district’s biggest commercial property taxpayers to pay taxes in another district. The law gives a preference to closer districts.

In HISD’s case, a “no” vote would mean taking an estimated $18 billion in property from that district’s rolls. The TEA would start with the most valuable properties and work its way down until it has taken away enough property to cover the $165 million or so that HISD owes under the Robin Hood system.

Houston’s biggest commercial property taxpayers would be paying taxes in another school district — and they could be asked to pay at a different tax rate up to 15 cents higher than what they’d be paying in HISD.

It means that some school taxes — those used to pay borrowing debts — would probably rise for the taxpayers left behind. The district still has to pay what it owes even with $18 billion pulled out of the tax base. The taxpayers left behind would pay more.

The commercial taxpayers are mobilizing against being moved to a tax roll in another district where they might not own any property. The Austin-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which represents many of them, is warning policymakers of the consequences, both to the departing taxpayers and to those left behind.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district?

Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

Some of Houston’s political leaders think the combination of big, angry taxpayers and a multitude of incensed voters will be enough to force state lawmakers to rework the formulas used to pay for public education and to make sure each district in the state has a reasonably equal financial foundation for its schools.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

“I’m counting on the business community to step up,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “And I’m counting on conservatives, too. This would be a redistribution without the consent of the people. I have not found one elected official, including the trustees themselves, that is advocating a yes vote on this deal.”

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

 

If he and others are right, Turner’s former colleagues in the Legislature might take on school finance.

The system is unfair and broken — so much so that half of the state’s districts went to court to try to force an overhaul. The Texas Supreme Court agreed in a May ruling that the financing schemes are “byzantine” and “imperfect” but said the system is not unconstitutional. At the same time, the court’s opinion suggested lawmakers should enact “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”

Cool idea, but Texas lawmakers simply don’t make major reforms to school finance — this is something that arises every decade or so — unless their hands are forced by the courts.

Or, perhaps, by a game of chicken with taxpayers and voters in the state’s largest school district.

 


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/26/analysis-game-chicken-between-texas-its-biggest-sc/.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Amid STAAR Upheaval, Panel Working on Fixes

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As displeasure with Texas’ standardized testing regime mounts, all eyes are on a special panel the Legislature created last year to figure out whether to scrap the widely reviled STAAR exam.

The 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, scheduled for its second-to-last meeting Monday, has been studying alternatives to the high-stakes tests, which state law requires 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers to pass to move to the next grade level or to graduate. The panel includes a diverse mix of educators, elected officials, business leaders and anti-testing activists.

Its work couldn’t be better timed, with parents and school officials up in arms over wide-ranging problems reported with this spring’s STAAR administration — issues that prompted Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Friday to waive the requirement that 5th and 8th pass the tests to move on to the next grade. The panel first convened in January, the month after Congress passed a new federal law giving states far more freedom to determine what their testing and accountability systems should look like. And many educators, parents and elected officials agree that major overhauls are necessary, even if they don’t entirely agree on what they should be.

Commission members have expressed high hopes for devising meaningful changes to a system that assesses students and holds them and schools accountable. Many view that system as unnecessarily stressful, overly punitive and developmentally inappropriate. Their recommendations are due to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature by Sept. 1.

“I really am excited about the potential for this,” said commission member and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in an interview ahead of the panel’s April meeting. “It’s really a varied group with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds on there, and it’s what I had envisioned as far as having a meaningful dialogue of stakeholders that bring their own perspectives to it and try to come up with some type of consensus.”

Teacher, school and parent groups also have been excited by the opportunity to make big changes. But some say their hope for revolutionary reform has waned over the months — particularly after the panel’s May meeting, when members struggled to hammer out a list of recommendations. Several panelists said it will be crucial to make progress at Monday’s meeting, as they are set to finalize their guidance at a meeting in July.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said it quickly became clear after the panel’s first monthly meeting that it was not looking to eliminate statewide testing and that it would likely keep STAAR, or something like it, in the lower grades.

“I do think they will reach consensus around some areas,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s probably going to be groundbreaking.”

The federal government has required states to assess students in grades 3 through 8 annually and once in high school since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 — at least if they want to receive federal funding. Many other states are also tinkering with their testing plans amid pressure from parents to reduce testing time and make the overall experience less taxing.

The commission has coalesced around some larger concepts, such as the importance of accounting for improvement in student scores; that exams should be more developmentally appropriate and diagnostic rather than summative; and that there should be multiple different measures of student performance with consequences for poor outcomes falling more heavily on teachers and administrators than on students. But they have struggled with specifics, getting hung up on recommendations that would cost districts a lot of time or money or pose other problems.

Scott Placek, an Austin-area lawyer representing a group of parents who recently sued the state over STAAR, said they are concerned by the interest panelists have expressed in having a series of smaller assessments throughout the year rather than one big, end-of-year exam. (Education Commissioner Mike Morath also has expressed support for the concept.)

“Some of the things that have been discussed in terms of more continual assessment, more data-driven assessment, you know, it’s concerning to parents who I think believe the system is already too data-driven,” said Placek, adding that his own son struggled with STAAR. 

“I think that parents were initially very supportive of the idea of re-examining assessment,” he added. “I think as the work of the commission has gone on, that’s sort of shifted to caution and suspicion.”

Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, the panel’s chairman, said he’s tried to remind the panel that many of the things under discussion — including smaller, diagnostic assessments throughout the year — have been tried and rejected before.

“This is a very complex topic,” he said. ”There’s not, in my opinion, one silver-bullet solution that’s going to meet the needs of various constituents out there in our state, and … it probably merits further discussion going forward even beyond the commission.”

He also said that there’s a desire among educators to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or risk overcorrecting the problem.

Taylor, too, said he’s “not huge on reinventing the wheel.” Still, he foresees a potentially “massive” impact from the commission’s work, including possibly getting rid of the five end-of-course exams high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can graduate and instead using an exam like the SAT or ACT. Nearly half of all states now require students to take either of these two college entrance exams in lieu of, or in addition to, some other type of test, according to a 2015-16 Education Week survey.

“I don’t want this to just be an exercise of what ifs,” Taylor said.

Panel member Theresa Treviño, president of the influential anti-testing group Texans Advocating For Meaningful Student Assessment, said the recommendations the panel will make “are probably not as grand as I would have hoped” but that she still thinks they will make an impact.

“I think it’s going to be more than a tweak, which is what I was really afraid of,” she said. “I’m hoping that with this next meeting we can sit down and hammer out those recommendations that could make a bigger difference and they don’t have to be huge.”

Commission member and outgoing House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said striking an appropriate balance has been challenging but that he thinks the commission will produce recommendations to “get rid of some of the craziness” that has created such a stressful testing environment, including some high-stakes provisions. 

Even if the panel does recommend big changes, some teacher and school groups worry they may fall victim to House-Senate gridlock next year, with leadership already publicly butting heads over public education priorities. 

“The work of the commission will have a challenging road ahead of it in the 85th session,” said education lobbyist David Anderson.


Last week, after House Speaker Joe Straus directed representatives to study improvements to the state’s school funding system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a vocal school choice proponent — issued a news release that praised Straus’ move but also said it “must be packaged with education reform.”

Amy Beneski, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said that even if the recommended changes are smaller, they still could make a huge difference.

“The bottom line is, the majority of people I’ve ever talked to aren’t happy with the current system, and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re just going to have to keep plugging away. This is hard work.”

 


Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/11/amid-staar-upheaval-panel-working-fixes/.

From The Texas Tribune: State Rep. Wayne Smith Now Wants Recount in House District 128 Runoff

 
State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, faced off with lawyer Briscoe Cain in the May 2016 GOP primary runoff for House District 128.

State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, faced off with lawyer Briscoe Cain in the May 2016 GOP primary runoff for House District 128.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Briscoe Cain.

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. 

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount. 

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Cain issued a statement welcoming the recount. “I’m honored with the support my district gave me on May 24th and look forward to the recount,” he said.

Smith is not alone in pursuing a recount of a Republican primary runoff from Tuesday. He joins Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, who lost to Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper by 43 votes in House District 54.

The deadline for requesting a recount of a runoff that was held Tuesday is 5 p.m. June 6, according to an advisory issued Wednesday by the secretary of state’s office.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/26/wayne-smith-now-wants-recount-hd128-runoff/.