ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann provided this report for Teach the Vote.
The Senate education committee met yesterday, Aug. 5, to discuss the following two interim charges that the committee is expected to study and report on prior to the legislature’s reconvening in January:
- Conduct a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes. Study performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance. Identify any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.
- Examine the structure and performance of the two remaining county-based school systems, Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. In particular, study the efficiency of these entities and determine whether those services are duplicative with education service centers or could be absorbed by education service centers.
ATPE attended the hearing with a focus on the first charge and was eager to hear the discussion surrounding how exactly the committee intended to study the idea of “performance-based funding.” The invited panel of testifiers included representatives from the Equity Center, the Education Resource Group, Knowledge Works, and the Smart Schools Initiative, which we’ve reported on previously and is funded by former Comptroller Susan Combs. The committee and panel members approached the charge with a focus on finding ways to improve “productivity” in Texas public schools.
“Productivity” is a great-sounding buzz word, particularly in business, and financially incentivizing districts that perform well academically with their given resources sounds useful on the surface; but neither public schools nor school finance can be boiled down this simply. While we haven’t seen a true proposal for a performance-based funding system, we at ATPE are concerned that it could expect low-performing districts to improve while being allocated fewer resources. This is despite the fact that many of these districts are deemed low-performing based on STAAR scores because they are currently under-resourced to serve their higher percentage of harder- and more-expensive-to-teach student populations. We should not be taking resources away from low-performing schools; we should be focusing more available resources in their direction.
Such a system is especially concerning because of the fact that the seemingly agreed upon metric for performance is the increasingly less-trusted state standardized test, STAAR. The idea of basing the state’s school funding formula on the STAAR test only raises the high stakes already associated with the test, when state and federal lawmakers, parents, and stakeholders alike have agreed that such high stakes should be reduced.
There is more to come on how the “performance-based funding” discussion will play out. Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote.
Related content: ATPE’s Monty Exter was quoted in The Texas Observer’s article about yesterday’s hearing.