Author Archives: Andrea Chevalier

Major Texas education groups agree on charter school policy agenda

This month, 15 major education groups in Texas agreed on a policy agenda for charter schools.

The groups include the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, the Coalition for Education Funding, Pastors for Texas Children, Raise Your Hand Texas, the Fast Growth School Coalition, the Texas Association of Community Schools, the Texas Association of Midsize Schools, the Texas School Alliance, and the Intercultural Development and Research Association.

In Texas, 5.5% of students attend charter schools yet they receive 10% of state funding for education. Because charters cannot levy taxes, charter schools are 100% funded by the state. Each charter school student generates the sum of the statewide average adjusted allotment (basic allotment adjusted using various weights for special populations and circumstances) and the statewide average property tax revenue across school districts. Last session, charters gained access for the first time to $60 million in facilities funding, or about $200 per student.

While charters are subject to the same accountability as traditional school districts, there are many differences in how charters operate. Texas law allows charters to accept and expel students based on academics and discipline, to employ non-certified teachers, and to choose whether or not to employ any counselors or school nurses. Additionally, the majority of charter expansion is under the charter amendment process, which allows for uninhibited growth of charter schools.

The joint policy agenda of the groups listed above focuses on increasing the transparency and efficiency of charter schools through seven recommendations for lawmakers:

  1. Allow for public transparency and input before any new charter amendments are approved in a certain community.
  2. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should consider creating a standard charter application process and maintain an accurate charter school wait list to correctly document the number of unique students desiring charter admission.
  3. Charters should not be able to admit and expel students based on academics and discipline, as this creates inequality between charters and traditional school districts despite the fact that both receive public funds and are expected to educate all students.
  4. The Commissioner of Education should adopt procedures to analyze and report on the expected fiscal, academic, and program impact of each new charter school in order to maintain efficiency of the entire public school system.
  5. Since charters receive nearly $3 billion in public funds each year, they should publicly disclose their financial dealings, including leases, mortgages, contracts, and bond debt.
  6. Parents need to make informed decisions about where to enroll their children and should therefore have access to information on each charter school’s website such as student rates of expulsion, teacher certification and attrition rates, and the percentage of special education students.
  7. Charters received an estimated $882 million more than the school districts in which they reside during the last biennium. It is important to equalize this funding and require charters to pay into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) just as districts do in order to create parity.

ATPE and others testify on school finance commission recommendations

This week, the House Public Education Committee received feedback from various stakeholders regarding recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Tuesday and Wednesday, committee members heard testimony from panels including three former House Public Education Committee chairs, superintendents, trustees, teachers, and representatives of education associations. Rural, suburban, and urban districts were represented, as well as charter and traditional public schools.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers expressed support for the commission’s recommended increase in the spectrum weight and the dual language weight. These would help create equity by funding certain student populations at higher levels. Most witnesses also commended the commission’s recommendation to fund early childhood education, but were concerned with its sustainability and with tying it to third-grade reading scores.

Among the concerns commonly expressed by stakeholders was outcomes-based funding. District leaders said they would like  local flexibility in implementing merit-based, outcomes-based, or performance-based funding mechanisms for their teachers. Apprehension with outcomes-based funding derived from mistrust or lack of confidence in the current assessment system’s ability to accurately capture student learning. In fact, an equal proportion of Tuesday’s discussions seemed to focus on assessment as on school finance. Some leaders expressed that tying funding to tests would reinforce teaching-to-the-test, and some stakeholders suggested that base teacher pay be addressed before additional incentive mechanisms.

Stakeholders representing small and midsize districts (up to 5,000 students) also expressed concern with the commission’s recommendation to move the small and midsize funding adjustment out of formula, which could alter funding to these special student populations, affecting the districts’ ability to meet federal obligations for financial maintenance of effort under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Overall, stakeholders also expressed concerns with any funding changes that were not part of the base formula, given that similar funding approaches in the past have been less reliable. An example cited was Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) funding under House Bill (HB) 4 of 2015, which created an optional grant program should districts decide to offer high-quality Pre-K. Another potential funding change discussed this week was the Cost of Education Index (CEI). While some testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of the CEI being eliminated, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) reiterated his intent for definite removal of the CEI in any school finance overhaul this session.

While this week’s testimony nearly always touched on teacher compensation, an important aspect of teaching beyond pay arose in the conversations: mentoring. A few witnesses expressed that the best first-year investment is a mentor teacher and that having mentor teachers is another way to provide extra compensation. Special education is another topic that came up during the hours of testimony, even though it was not widely broached by the commission last year other than through a discussion of funding for dyslexia. In testimony, several special education advocates suggested revamping the way special education is funded, which is currently done by placement rather than services. Chairman Huberty was favorable to the ideas presented.

Monty Exter

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, was last to testify Wednesday evening. He shared that ATPE supports the commission’s recommended changes to the weights, local flexibility in spending weighted dollars, and increases to the basic allotment. He expressed concerns with outcomes-based funding and suggested an adequate base increase for teachers and others on the education team first. Exter also offered that inputs should be incentivized as well, in a similar way to how high-quality Pre-K was incentivized through the HB 4 grant program. Lastly, Exter testified that teacher quality is related to educator preparation, another topic that cannot be forgotten when discussing increasing teacher effectiveness.

House Public Education Committee dives in on school finance

The House Public Education Committee held its second and third meetings of the session this week, Feb. 5 and 6, both designed to get committee members up to speed on the school finance system ahead of beginning their work attempting to improve the system.

During the first of this week’s two meetings, the committee heard invited testimony from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The topics covered included implementation reports on previous education bills, a school finance and legal overview, and an education budget overview.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath reported on a range of topics including the status of two bills that were passed in the 84th session back in 2015. House Bill (HB) 1842, in addition to creating districts of Innovation (DOIs), altered the school turnaround process and created the A-F accountability rating system. Senate Bill (SB) 313 was a bill that ended up being vetoed, but the State Board of Education (SBOE) still implemented its requirements of reviewing and narrowing the content and scope of each foundation curriculum subject.

Commissioner Morath testifying before the House Public Education Committee

The Commissioner also touched on the Dallas Independent School District’s “ACE” program and Achievement School District models as potential alternative options for school districts before they reach their fifth (and final) year of “improvement required” status under the accountability system.

Finally, Commissioner Morath addressed the school accountability system for the second time in as many hearings. This time, the discussion included the interplay between state and federal law and where it would be possible to trim our accountability and assessment system without running afoul of the feds.

TEA General Counsel Von Byer presented on Texas’s school finance court cases that have shaped our current system, most notably Edgewood and West-Orange Cove. The system of Recapture was created through these court cases. TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez gave a high-level overview of the school finance system, including how some of the elements are outdated. For instance, the bilingual education funding weight hasn’t changed in 35 years, the special education weights haven’t changed since 1993, and the weight for low-income children hasn’t changed since 1989.

Yesterday, the House Public Education Committee met for the second of its two hearings this week to hear invited testimony from three members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance.

Todd Williams, CEO of the Commit Partnership in Dallas, presented on the changing demographics in Texas and how the investment of public education funding will help to reach our education goals. Some of Williams’s suggestions are broadly supported, such as utilizing a more nuanced approach to differentiating degrees of poverty and focusing resources on campuses with high concentrations of harder to educate students. Other suggestions, like teacher evaluation and pay systems based heavily on student performance and outcomes-based funding, are significantly more controversial.

Dr. Keven Ellis, who is also an elected member of the SBOE, testified on the commission’s findings about expenditures. He shared that the commission was recommending a $100 million appropriation for dyslexia identification and support, $50 million for dual language, transportation funding based on mileage, and reallocating the cost of education index funding, among others.

Nicole Conley Johnson, Chief Finance Officer for the Austin Independent School District, presented the commission’s findings regarding revenue. She shared that the commission had several suggestions, including using the state’s Economic Stability (or “rainy day”) Fund, allowing districts to tap into sales tax revenue, and providing more flexibility on spending rules (e.g. allowing the bilingual allotment to be used for teacher salaries).

Next week, on Feb. 12 and 13, the House Public Education Committee will hold two additional meetings to hear invited testimony from stakeholders such as ATPE, school district leaders, and teachers. We look forward to contributing to the conversation.

State of the State and Union: Where does education fit in 2019 priorities?

On Feb. 5, 2019, both the Texas Governor and President of the United States delivered high-profile speeches in front of a large audience of lawmakers and the public. In his 2019 State of the State address Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott began by touting the “economic prowess” of Texas.

The U.S. Capitol, where Pres. Trump delivered his State of the Union address, Feb. 5, 2019

Later that same day, in his 2019 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump similarly expressed sweeping admiration for the successes of our American economy. Despite the idea that the foundation of a great economy is a stellar education, our governor and president differed greatly in the amount of attention they focused on educating our children.

Pres. Trump mentioned education twice during his address. In one instance, the president expressed that our schools were overburdened due to immigration. In another, he said, “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.” Other than these two remarks, the president gave no other details regarding education.

Standing ovation for teacher pay during Gov. Abbott’s 2019 State of the State address

Gov. Abbott spent a large portion of his address speaking on the importance of improving student outcomes. He said that, in order to address low rates of third-grade reading readiness and similarly low rates of college and career readiness, we must target education funding to the people who matter most (other than parents). These are our educators.

According to the governor, nobody plays a more vital role in our children’s education than teachers. He noted in his address that he wants Texas to recruit and retain the best teachers, pay teachers more, provide incentives to put teachers in the classrooms that need them the most, and create pathways to earn a six-figure salary. Gov. Abbott even declared teacher pay an emergency item, along with school finance reform and school safety.

Perhaps we can consider ourselves lucky that education is mostly left up to the states and that – at least for the early weeks of this legislative session – our governor is talking about making teachers and students a priority and not prioritizing harmful distractions such as private school vouchers. As we move forward with the legislative session, it is important to continue making the voice of the teacher heard on topics such as pay, incentives, and recruitment and retention. ATPE members can help by using our tools at Advocacy Central to send messages to lawmakers about these issues and our legislative priorities.