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From CPPP: Promising School Finance Bills Stuck in Texas Legislative Limbo

Chandra Villanueva_CPPPBy Chandra Villanueva, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP)

Last month we were pleased to see the Texas House of Representatives approve a bill that would take some good steps toward remodeling our neglected school finance system. That proposal, House Bill 21 sponsored by Chairman Dan Huberty, has been sent to the Senate and is awaiting referral to a committee.

It’s in the interest of the 5.2 million Texas children in public schools – and their future employers – that the Senate consider and approve HB 21.

Meanwhile the Senate Education Committee has approved some good school finance reform bills sponsored by Chairman Larry Taylor that explore cost-neutral options for simplifying the overly complex school finance formula. These bills also deserve to move to the full Senate and on to the Texas House for approval:

SB 2142 – Repeal of the High School Allotment – Districts receive $275 through the high school allotment for each student in grades nine to 12 to supplement academic offerings and provide services to students at-risk of dropping out. This allotment is considered inefficient because funding is generated for every student in high school, rather than only for those in need, and it is not tied to an actual cost for serving students. It is the intent of the author that funding otherwise allocated under the high school allotment be used to increase the basic allotment. HB 21 also repeals the high school allotment. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2143 – Basic Allotment Increase – The basic allotment is the per-student funding amount and the primary building block of the school finance formula. This bill increases the basic allotment to $5,140 to reflect current levels of funding set in the 2016-2017 budget. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2144 – Commission on Public School Finance – This bill creates the Commission on Public School Finance, a 15-member commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve the state’s method for funding schools. This commission has the potential to bring innovative ideas to the next legislative session. This bill has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

SB 2145 – Simplified School Finance System – This bill would strip out many outdated elements and unneeded complexities from the formula and reduce the system down to one tier, from its current two-tiered system. While this plan does a lot to improve equity, or fairness between districts, no additional funding is added to the system. This bill is currently pending in the Senate Education committee.

We encourage the Texas Legislature to move forward with these promising school finance bills. The children, parents and employers of Texas are watching.

 

This post has been republished with permission from the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP).

Guest Post: 239,517 Children Trapped in Political Rhetoric

Moak Casey logofrom Moak, Casey & Associates
Dec. 12, 2016

In an effort to solicit support for his voucher plan, the lieutenant governor recently told a group of education and business leaders in Dallas that 239,517 children attend a “failing public school in Texas.” (Source: The Dallas Morning News). Advocates of choice and vouchers often say that students are “trapped” in failing schools. The phrasing takes advantage of an accountability system that is designed to identify at least 5% of all schools in the state as “failing,” regardless of how well the schools, or the students enrolled in them, performed. Perhaps a better assessment is that students are trapped in the political rhetoric around school choice and/or school vouchers. (“School choice” is considered to be a broad term that subsumes vouchers and education savings grants, either or both of which take taxpayer dollars away from public schools and shifts them to the private sector.)

Education Commissioner Mike Morath recently told the TASA/TASB convention audience that, “We get beaten up for what we do, but our public schools are doing as well as they’ve ever done.” The same can be said for the parents and teachers of children in schools that have high educational risk factors. What do the numbers really tell us about Texas students and the accountability system that shadows their daily walk in Texas public schools?

  • During the 2015-16 school year, Texas public schools enrolled 5,284,252 students. That means that over 5 million (5,044,735 or 95%) students were enrolled in campuses that received a TEA rating of Met Standard.
  • In fact, 7,667 out of 8,673 or 88% of Texas public schools in 2015-16, inclusive of charter schools,received a Met Standard rating. When charters are excluded, the figure rises above 89%. (Source: TEA 2016 Preliminary Accountability System State Summary, as of September 14, 2016.)
  • The number of schools not meeting standards has declined each year since 2013, when the count stood at 768 Improvement Required (IR-rated) campuses compared to the most recent count of 467 IR-rated campuses — even as the accountability system has become more rigorous.

Those who indiscriminately cite the 239, 517 figure for shock value fail to tell the REST of the story. While it’s true that 239,517 students are enrolled at one of the 467 public and/or charter schools that received a TEA rating of Improvement Required for the 2015-16 school year, that does not mean that the students, or their schools, are “failing” as some voucher advocates state. Here are the numbers behind the rhetoric that tell the REST of the story.

  • Over half of the IR campuses (259 out of 467 or 55%) were rated IR for the first time. (Table 2)
  • Over half of the 239,517 students (52%) are enrolled in a campus that was rated Improvement Required (IR) for the first time. (Table 2) Historically, Year 1 IR campuses quickly improve and are removed from TEA’s IR list faster than other IR campuses.
  • 72% are enrolled at a Year 1 or Year 2 IR campus. (Table 2)
  • 51 campuses missed only one – out of four possible – index target. (Table 3)
  • Only 35 out of 8,673 campuses missed all 4 index targets. (Table 3)
  • 25,218 students are enrolled in one of the 68 charter schools with an IR rating. (Table 1) To our knowledge, no students are required to attend charter schools.
  • Out of the 467 schools rated in 2016 as Improvement Required, 102 graduated a total of 10,558 students in SY 2014-15. Of those, 8,349 or 79% of the graduates had completed rigorous programs of study, including Recommended High School Plan, Distinguished Plan, Foundation Plan with Endorsements, or Foundation Plan with Distinguished Level of Achievement.
  • The phrasing, “trapped in failing schools” paints a picture of “no way out.” In fact, all 399 IR-rated non-charter campuses were subject to Public Education Grant (PEG) requirements to offer choice options to each one of their enrolled students. Over 1,100 more schools that were not rated as Improvement Required in 2015 also were subject to PEG requirements, due to IR ratings in either of the prior two years and/or performance criteria distinct from state ratings. None of this takes into account any other forms of choice available within the districts right now.

And finally, those who disparage public schools fail to point out that in Texas, at least 5% of the schools will be designated by TEA as “failing” simply by virtue of the accountability system’s design.

  • The current accountability system (based largely on STAAR tests) is designed to identify at least 5% of schools as missing standards, or “failing” – because the targets it uses are built on a quota established in federal law.
  • That means that we can reasonably anticipate that at least 264,000 (5% of Texas enrollment) students will be enrolled in low performing campuses – even if their campuses performed better than they did the year before; and even if their local communities rate them as Exemplary, Recognized or Acceptable on the Family and Community Engagement Ratings that are required by state law.
  • The shift to an A-F rating system, in which both D’s and F’s are statutorily required to signify “unacceptable” performance, automatically ensures that more students will be enrolled in “failing schools” if the bottom 5% of campuses are given F’s and the next 10% are given D’s. This predetermined outcome will feed right into a fresh, new round of rhetoric from “school choice” advocates, even though the “increase” is simply a function of the system’s design.

The original intent of our state’s accountability system was to foster, inform and support continuous improvement efforts in teaching and learning. That seemed to be a universally accepted premise. Having a predetermined failure threshold in the current system seems to 1) subvert that original, positive intent, 2) reinforce a biased narrative about the state of public education, and 3) perpetuate the notion that schools must be punished before improvements will take place. At best, it seems unwise to put faith in a system that generates predetermined results with regard to “failing” schools. Before any school is labeled as a “failure,” we need to critically reconsider the rhetoric (and the hidden agenda) of voucher advocates in using an accountability system to create a certain margin of schools as “failing” the students, parents and communities that they serve.


This article originally appeared at http://www.moakcasey.com/articles/viewarticledoc.aspx?AID=16390&DID=12732 and was reprinted with permission from Moak, Casey & Associates. 

Guest post: I’m Wondering Why—The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up

I’m Wondering Why
The Rhetoric about Public Schools Doesn’t Add Up

Andra Self

           Andra Self

by Andra Self

Lately, much of what is said by some state leaders about schools just doesn’t add up. Inconsistencies and conundrums in their statements are leading many Texans to ask questions. Here are a few examples.

Why Not Brag? 

We all know that Texas is a state that loves to brag. We brag about everything being bigger and better in Texas. We brag about how we compare to other states. But somehow, when it comes to schools, some state leaders don’t take the opportunity to brag, and I wonder why. Recently, U.S. News & World Report released its list of the best high schools in the nation. Of the top 10 high schools, four are public high schools in Texas. That is certainly brag-worthy!

For the past few years, Texas has been ranking in the top handful of states on graduation rates. In fact, Texas African American students rank first when compared to their peers in other states. Graduation rates for Hispanic students are also best in the nation. White students’ graduation rates are outdone by only one state. Texas graduation rates are something to brag about, and it seems odd that some state leaders aren’t bragging.

Why the Stance on Tests?

At the same time that state lawmakers are passing laws that allow a student to graduate without passing all the tests (Senate Bill 149), those same leaders are embracing test results to rate schools A through F (Senate Bill 6).

On one hand, the tests have lost support, while at the same time the tests are considered a reliable tool for ranking schools. It seems strange that the tests are suspect in one context, yet valid measures in another.

Why a New Bureaucracy? 

Some lawmakers are focused on what to do about “failing schools” and are creating a new statewide bureaucracy to take troubled schools away from their local districts. However, years of data from the Texas Education Agency show that local districts have a laudable track record on turning around schools that receive the lowest ranking.

In fact, districts move 80 percent of schools out of that category in the first year after receiving substandard rankings. A new bureaucracy is not needed.

Why Not Tell the Truth About Choice?

Some politicians push for “school choice”—but in truth, parents already have many choices and are exercising those choices: In addition to Texas public schools, parents can consider private schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.

Furthermore, there are often many choices within the public school system: magnet schools, transfers within districts, and transfers to other districts. School choice already exists.

Why No Adequate Funding? 

The number of students in Texas is growing by approximately 80,000 each year. We topped 5 million students recently. Schools are caught in a squeeze between rising student numbers, increased daily costs (e.g., electricity, transportation, food, supplies), and unfunded mandates from state government.

However, the Legislature cut school funding by $5.4 billion in the session before last and now appears unresponsive to the judge’s ruling that public school funding should be improved. The state has plenty of dollars to fund schools, but some lawmakers seem inclined to withhold those much needed dollars.

Why Vouchers?

Vouchers are designed to allow students to attend private schools using public tax dollars, and some lawmakers are going through all sorts of gyrations to find ways to divert funding from public schools to private schools. They want to take dollars away from the many students who attend public schools (almost 94 percent) to pay for the few (about 7 percent) who attend private schools—schools that will have no accountability for tax dollars or academic achievement.

Why Not Support Public Schools?

As you see, much of the rhetoric simply does not add up. Texas public schools are doing better than ever before. They deserve our applause and support.

Some lawmakers are working hard to support public schools, and we deeply appreciate that. Others, however, are denigrating this state’s public schools with statements not based on facts or needs. As we move forward in the future, it’s critical that all Texas lawmakers work together to Stand Up for Texas Public Schools.

Andra Self, a Lufkin ISD trustee, is 2014-15 president of TASB.

Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE. Reprinted with permission from the July 2015 Texas Lone Star magazine, published by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Copyright 2015 TASB. All rights reserved.