Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Long-Range Plan work ramping up

Members of the steering committee for the Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Public Education met Monday morning in Austin to get down to the work of preparing a report due this fall to the State Board of Education (SBOE). The work consisted of developing vision statements and recommendations for each of the four deep dive topics identified by the committee: Student engagement, family engagement and empowerment, equity of access, and teacher preparation, recruitment and retention.

Long-Range Plan steering committee meeting April 9, 2018.

The meeting began with an update from SBOE Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), who recapped her testimony before the March 19 meeting of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance regarding the LRP. Cargill informed the commission that almost 700 people attended ten public meetings around the state, and nearly 11,500 people participated in an online survey regarding the LRP.

Members next discussed the purpose of the LRP, which has tentatively been described as sharing a “vision for where Texas could be in 2030 and how the state can work together to get there.” In addition, members aim to inform legislation and to inform stakeholders how to use the report. The group also discussed the primary audience for whom the report is intended, and chose to focus broadly on all education stakeholders, including teachers, administrators and elected officials.

Steering committee members discuss educator preparation, recruitment and retention.

Those participating in a focus group on educators Monday indicated several important areas in pursuit of an overall vision statement. These included a competitive teacher compensation system, elevating the teaching profession, highly qualified educator preparation programs, an effective support system for all teachers, teachers equipped for the classroom environment, and helping teacher demographics better mirror student demographics.

SBOE Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) was vocal in advocating for hiring more teachers trained by minority serving institutions (MSIs). This has been shown to correlate positively with better teacher retention rates when serving an increasingly diverse student population. Members engaged in a spirited debate about the role of less rigorous alternative certification when one of the committee’s goals is to promote education as an elite profession.

After Monday’s meeting, members will provide feedback and revisions before meeting again on May 14, when the committee will discuss, revise and finalize recommendations before submitting the report to the SBOE. Facilitators suggested an additional meeting in June may be required, depending upon how much work remains to be done. SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston), who also chairs the 18-member steering committee, suggested submitting the report before the June SBOE meeting. This would allow the SBOE to offer the report up for public comment, then approve the report at its September meeting.

School finance commission talks property taxes

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Thursday morning in Austin to discuss the role of tax revenue in the school finance system. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by apologizing for comments about disabled children he made during a meeting of the working group on expenditures.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting April 5, 2018.

“I never suggested that any group of kids should be excluded from public funding or from being educated,” said Brister. State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, blamed the media for taking Brister’s comments about “slow” children out of context.

Brister followed by announcing that the working groups are not working as intended, specifically noting that attempts to hold meetings by teleconference have yielded less than stellar results. The chairman suggested members may instead call additional witnesses to the full commission’s May and June meetings and postpone working group recommendations to later in the year.

Additionally, Brister indicated what sort of recommendations he is seeking. Those recommendations include “how to get more with what you’ve got,” “all you can get from the taxpayers otherwise,” and how to address the concerns of those who argue still more funding is needed.

The chairman also offered a brief recap of suggestions submitted during public testimony last month. Those recommendations included raising the basic allotment for all students, increasing funding for gifted and talented and special needs students, funding pre-K, funding smaller class sizes, mentoring teachers, restoring additional state aid for tax relief (ASATR) funding, increasing teacher salaries and reducing health care costs for active and retired teachers, updating the cost of education index (CEI), and restoring state funding to at least 50 percent of the burden of paying for schools.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez was the first to testify, and outlined state sources of school revenue. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) argued for recapture, or “Robin Hood” taxes paid by local taxpayers, to be counted as state funding. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) pointed out that the state comptroller has consistently counted recapture as local funding. If recapture were counted as state funding, it would falsely inflate the percentage of school funding contributed by the state, which is currently around 38 percent.

The next panel featured a pair of representatives from the comptroller’s office. Texas does not have a statewide property tax, but it does have a statewide sales tax. Various sales taxes account for around two-thirds of all state revenue collections. Collections from the business franchise tax, which was initially created in order to help ease the property tax burden on homeowners, have steadily shrunk as lawmakers have chipped away at the tax over time. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked the comptroller’s office to prepare a report on education funding streams that have been cut by the legislature over the past ten years.

San Jose State University Professor Anette Nellen presented what an ideal tax system should consider, and her presentation led to a spirited conversation about whether the internet should be taxed. Nellen was followed by former chief revenue estimator James LeBas, who offered a summary of a book he wrote on tax law turning points. LeBas concluded that previous attempts to “buy down” local property taxes were thwarted by increases in property values, bond elections and other factors. He argued no such effort will be successful without continuously increasing funding, restricting local tax increases, or some combination of both.

The final panel involved testimony from several businesses, including Phillips 66, Texas Instruments and P. Terry’s Burger Stand. Business interests emphasized that taxes are a major consideration when it comes to where companies choose to locate and do business. A representative from the Texas Association of Builders testified that high property taxes are a hurdle to home ownership, however many homeowners choose where to buy based upon the quality of local schools. Patrick Terry, the founder and owner of P. Terry’s, testified that the rapid increase in property taxes is making it more difficult to provide discretionary benefits to employees and make charitable contributions to community organizations. More significantly, Terry suggested it is likely discouraging more entrepreneurs from entering the economy. Wayne Gerami, vice president at Austin Habitat for Humanity, suggested that some states utilize a “circuit breaker” provision, which caps an individual’s property tax burden at a certain percentage of their income.

Before adjourning, Brister confirmed that the reports from commission working groups will be delayed until September. The commission is scheduled to meet again on April 19.

Finance commission working group on outcomes meets

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Wednesday evening for the subcommittee’s first formal public meeting. The group is led by Todd Williams, the education advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and includes House Public Education Committee Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Killian, Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Melissa Martin, who was absent.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes meeting April 4, 2018.

The first invited witness was former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Tom Luce, who emphasized that education is the future of Texas. Luce began by warning that Texas schools are not preparing students for post-secondary success. Furthermore, an ill-prepared workforce will lead to decreasing median incomes and an increased financial burden on the state.

“We have to do more with more, not more with less.” said Luce, who suggested looking to current tax exemptions for ways to generate additional revenue. “Money matters.”

Luce served as chief of staff to the Texas Select Committee on Public Education in 1984 and participated in the last major reform of the Texas school system. Without another reform, Luce predicted Texas is doomed to fall behind academically and economically. Reforms suggested by Luce include offering incentives for students to take AP exams, full day pre-K, and boosting overall funding. In order to secure the necessary additional funds for public schools, Luce argued stakeholders must explain to taxpayers what the system is going to accomplish differently than what it is currently doing.

Other witnesses laid out similarly concerning views of the state’s current success preparing students for post-secondary success, whether that means pursuing career certification or finishing college. Failure to achieve post-secondary success means graduates entering the workforce and settling for lower-wage jobs, leading to more reliance on government entitlement programs. Together, this means a degraded tax base increasingly unable to support the social safety net programs upon which it relies.

A representative from the Commit Partnership in Dallas, of which Williams is chairman and CEO, drew attention to student demographics and the link between race and poverty in Texas. In addition, performance gaps between demographic groups have remained constant despite improvement in the overall student population. In order to close these gaps, Commit suggested focusing on pre-K and third grade literacy. Dr. Killian indicated he has seen the number of children who are unprepared for kindergarten increase over time, but access to pre-K has proven an effective way to counter this trend.

Commit managing director Sagar Desai suggested that internal surveys indicated just one in four new teachers felt adequately prepared by alternative certification programs with less rigorous training. Additionally, higher rates of poverty correlate with higher percentages of beginning teachers, which also correlates with lower student achievement.

Deputy Commission David Gardner from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) was the last to testify, and offered an explanation of the “60×30” graduation goal. The plain aims for 60 percent of Texas high school graduates to complete a post-secondary degree or certificate by the year 2030. Gardner pointed out that the longer students wait between graduating from high school and entering college, the less likely they are to graduate from college. At the end of the meeting, Killian told Gardner he believes the higher education system should have an accountability system just like the K-12 education system.

The full commission is set to meet Thursday morning, when it will discuss issues related to tax revenues.

TEA seeking public input on special education plan

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday it is accepting public comments on the draft strategic plan for special education through noon, April 18.

As reported previously at Teach the Vote, the agency released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response last month to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking additional input on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release last month, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.

The TEA will aggregate feedback and send a final version of the special education improvement plan to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education by April 23, 2018.