Month: <span>August 2016</span>

Passing the buck on school funding


Believe it or not, folks, with Texas already woefully behind in per-student funding and enrollment growing by about 80,000 kids each school year, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is asking the Legislature for a REDUCTION of $2.1 billion in basic state funding for public schools.

Yes, the education commissioner has asked legislators, when they convene next year, to budget $2.1 billion less for the Foundation School Program for 2018-19 then they did for 2016-17.

The Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) that Morath filed on behalf of the Texas Education Agency is the product of complicated calculations that are based on rising property values. That means public schools, at least theoretically, won’t lose $2.1 billion. It means that the state will pay that much less and local property taxpayers will pay that much more because the values of their homes and business properties are increasing.

And the so-called property rich school districts – although many of them aren’t all that wealthy – will transfer more of their local tax dollars to poorer districts.

In other words, according to my interpretation of an analysis prepared by the school finance experts at Moak, Casey & Associates, Morath has showed the legislative majority how it can continue passing the buck to local property taxpayers for an inadequate and unfair school funding system.

Texas pays about $2,700 less per student than the national average each year for public education, and the Texas Supreme Court recently wrung its hands over how unfair, unjust and awful Texas’ school funding system is. But the same Supreme Court also let the legislative majority off the hook for improvements by declaring that same unfair, unjust and awful school finance system was constitutional.

In his appropriations request, Morath also recommended that the Legislature wipe out funding for a special mentoring program for young teachers. Instead of encouraging the professional development of young educators, Morath would rather under-fund their classrooms, over-test their students and then tie their evaluations to test scores.

Remember, T-TESS is the plan Morath approved to base at least 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores.

Educators and their students deserve better than this.



Dan Patrick’s latest bad idea for education


If he weren’t the lieutenant governor of Texas and in a position to do a lot of hurt to education and other public programs, Dan Patrick would be the punchline to a bad joke. As in, did you hear what Dan Patrick wants to do now?

One of Patrick’s latest brainstorms is to curb increases in college tuition by making it more difficult, if not impossible, for many low-income young people to attend college.

The idea, which The Dallas Morning News strongly rebukes in an editorial linked below, would be to eliminate the current requirement that state-supported universities set aside 20 percent of the tutition that they collect and dedicate it to financial aid for students who need the help.

The legislative majority imposed that requirement several years ago to partially take it off the hook for under-funding higher education with tax dollars. Patrick, of course, has a record of under-funding education at all levels.

According to the newspaper’s research, eliminating the tuition set-aside would save the average college student about 7 percent, or $482 a year. But it would cost some low-income students who depend on the assistance as much as $3,600 or more a year and cause many of them to drop out of college.

The program generates $345 million a year in financial aid for more than 200,000 needy students, many of them the first-generation in their families to attend college.

A spokesman for Patrick suggested the Legislature could replace the lost financial aid by appropriating more money for higher education. “The Legislature should step up and provide those funds,” the spokesman said.

That’s a good idea and a sensible way to reduce college tuition for everybody. But the problem is that Dan Patrick is probably the single biggest obstacle to the legislative majority actually stepping up and adequately funding student aid, higher education or any other public program, except maybe “border security,” whatever that is.

When it comes to programs that benefit most Texans, Patrick’s middle name is “Cut.” As far as he is concerned, if that hurts the needy and our state’s future, too bad.

And that’s no joke.



Campus miracle workers can do only so much


During the new school year, thousands of teachers across Texas once again will prove themselves to be miracle workers, of sorts, as they help students not only tackle their studies but also cope with a number of issues and distractions originating outside the classroom.

But even miracle workers have their limits, as the Houston Chronicle editorial, linked below, accurately points out.

Public schools and the people who work in them cannot “fix” deep-rooted, intergenerational poverty that continues to haunt tens of thousands of children in Texas. State leaders have failed them for years and continue to fail them with an inadequate safety net of health care and social services. These same state leaders – who also refuse to pay for an adequate and equitable school funding system — pass the buck to educators and then wring their hands when the same kids, year after year, continue to under-perform on standardized tests.

The editorial cited the case of Kashmere High School in Houston, which has been rated “improvement required” on the state’s accountability system for seven years.

Here’s why. Some 48 of adults in the community served by the school don’t have a high school diploma, and fewer than 7 percent have a college degree. Fifty-three percent of adults make less than $25,000 a year, the community has no Head Start programs and it lacks sufficient health care providers.

As the Chronicle wrote: “No matter what hours Kashmere’s principals, teachers and administrators put in, no matter how well they use data, no matter their dedication, school personnel cannot fix intergenerational poverty. They can’t amass the resources to meet these students’ basic needs or those of their families, whose engagement is vital to student success. Yet until students have full stomachs, a roof over their heads and a safe environment, it’s at best challenging for students to learn.”

A community school model in the Kashmere feeder pattern is attempting to coordinate social services and other community resources that the students and their families need. This is a good step, but the legislative majority also needs to provide more resources.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that once the state implements it’s new, A-F grading system for campuses next year, Kashmere will get an “F.” And so will hundreds of other campuses with classrooms full of improverished children.

That is a stigma that will do absolutely nothing to help these kids. But it was much easier for the legislative majority to insult low-income children and their educators with this law than it was to begin to realistically address the challenges that these children and their teachers face.


Watch out when education “reformers” join forces


When two self-styled “education reform” groups announce they are joining forces to improve public schools, educators and parents need to be skeptical. Most of these groups are more interested in taking tax dollars to privatize education, not improve it.

The latest privatization effort is a new group called Texas Aspires, which represents a merger of Texans for Education Reform and the Texas Institute for Education Reform. “Reform” may be the most over-used and misused word in the political vocabulary, right up there with “unprecedented.” Bad ideas are not “reform,” and neither are they “unprecedented,” but unfortunately they won’t go away.

The most encouraging thing I can say about Texas Aspires at this point is that the group claims not to be interested in promoting vouchers, a direct theft of state tax dollars to pay for tuition in private and religious schools. Other alleged “reformers” will be pursuing that goal when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Texas Aspires, however, will push for other things that – if the privatization motive is not curtailed — could under-cut public schools, including expanded online learning and more charter schools.

Online courses have their place, but an online learning bill proposed during the 2015 legislative session was all about profit for vendors, not improved educational opportunities for children. It was so potentially expensive that even senators in lock-step with most of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bad education ideas gagged at it. It was about the only bad idea of Patrick’s that the Senate majority didn’t pass.

Expansion of charter schools also can be another expansion of privatization, since corporate run charters – which take tax dollars but are operated by for-profit management companies – are increasingly trying to make inroads into public school districts and the education budget in Texas.

According to the Associated Press, Texas Aspires claims to be focused on strengthening public schools. If so, the best way to do that is to put aside the costly, unproven gimmicks and join real educators and parents in demanding that the legislative majority draft an adequate and fair funding plan for all of Texas’ schoolchildren. That is the first and most important step toward strengthening public education in Texas.