Month: <span>February 2020</span>

School vouchers are not a “conservative moral value”; neither are some other things

TSTA’s opposition to President Trump’s proposed $5 billion-a-year voucher giveaway to private and religious schools prompted an email from a teacher, who wrote, “Thumbs down to TSTA’s constant bashing of Trump…your constant bashing of our conservative moral values.”

Wonder which one of these “conservative moral values” the teacher meant. Trump’s decision to tear apart immigrant families at the southern border? The kiss-and-don’t-tell hush money that landed his former lawyer in prison? His almost constant stream of exaggerations, misrepresentations, lies and lack of respect for the Constitution? Or maybe she means the “moral values” he so eloquently expressed in the Access Hollywood tape….Surely not.

Yep, someone has been bashing our conservative moral values, and it hasn’t been the Texas State Teachers Association.

More to the current point, adequately and equitably funding public schools IS a conservative moral value because public schools are where the vast majority of the children in this state and country will continue to be educated. Improvements in public school funding are essential to the future of this country, and TSTA is committed to fighting for those improvements.

Taking $5 billion a year in taxpayer money from those public schools, including the one in which this complaining teacher teaches, and using that money to enrich private school owners is not a conservative moral value, regardless of who proposes it.

Clay Robison

Share the blame for Austin school closures with private charter operators

The Austin ISD school board took a lot of heat from parents and other members of the public when it recently voted to close four elementary schools – Brooke, Metz, Pease and Sims – in East and Central Austin.

Much of the anger centered around the fact that the minority community in East Austin, which has suffered through a history of racial discrimination, was being targeted again. But William J. Gumbert writes that another factor was at play in the district’s decision – raids by charter schools that have taken millions of taxpayer dollars from AISD while giving minority parents dreams of academic success for their children that don’t always come true.

Gumbert, a former school financial adviser, decries the damage that privately operated charters are doing to the Texas public school system, and he has zeroed in on the damage to Austin ISD alone in an article published on Last year, he wrote, state-approved charters took about $110 million in tax funds from an underfunded AISD and are expected to take more than $1 billion from the district over the next 10 years.

A full copy of his article is linked at the bottom of this post, but here are some highlights, which the author said he cleaned from the Texas Education Agency’s website:

  • With little or no input from parents and other taxpayers, the state has approved more than 50 charter campuses that intend to recruit students (some already are) from existing AISD schools. The more students they recruit, the more tax dollars they take from AISD. These are not district-operated charters. These charters are run by privately operated charter companies and private boards of directors.
  • Thirty-one of these campuses are within a five-mile radius of Sims Elementary, one of the East Austin schools scheduled for closure.
  • Despite promises to improve student outcomes, only two of the 16 charter holders (some have multi-campuses) that operate in AISD have a higher academic rating on the state’s accountability system than the school district.
  • Three of the 16 have the same rating as AISD.
  • Eleven have a LOWER rating than AISD.
  • The average academic rating of the 16 charters is 80.3, or almost 10 percent LOWER than AISD’s rating of 89.

The quality of teachers and stability of the teaching force obviously have something to do with this, and here are some reasons why:

  • AISD employs more experienced teachers, with an average experience of 10.5 years. Average teacher experience at the charter schools in AISD is 4.4 years.
  • AISD’s teacher turnover rate is 15.6 percent. The charter teacher turnover rate is 35.8 percent.
  • AISD employs certified teachers. The charters in Austin have, on average, 58.5 percent certified teachers in their schools.

Gumbert also writes that Austin ISD spends more per-student on instruction and less per-student on administration than the charters.

“The state’s unilateral efforts to deploy a separate system of privately operated charter schools is to blame for AISD’s school closures. AISD is only delivering the consequences of the Legislature’s orchestrated efforts to privatize and take over the public education system in local communities,” he says.

“The frustrations and concerns regarding AISD’s school closures are valid, but the root cause is in the Capitol, not in AISD.”

Clay Robison

Now, IDEA is raiding Round Rock ISD for tax dollars

The IDEA charter chain continues to raid public schools for students and tax dollars, and one of the latest districts it has targeted is Round Rock ISD in suburban Austin, one of the better districts in Central Texas. Round Rock got a B for “recognized performance” in the state’s latest accountability ratings.

About three-fourths of its campuses got As for “exemplary performance” or Bs on their report cards, and 29 campuses earned a total of 109 distinction designations. Only a few campuses got Ds or Fs.

You may recall that the reason the Legislature authorized charter schools more than 20 years ago was to create a new class of “public” schools that would be free from some state restrictions. The idea was to give these schools the freedom to be innovative in teaching children who may have more difficultly learning in traditional public schools.

So, if Texas is going to allow a charter chain that claims to perform educational wonders to continue expanding, it would seem that there are other districts that would offer IDEA a greater challenge. I suspect though that IDEA, in preparing to open its Round Rock Tech campus, is more interested in the tax dollars it will take from Round Rock ISD than it is in taking on a more challenging student body.

Round Rock Tech, by the way, doesn’t mean wood shop. It means high tech. The new school will be located very close to Dell’s Round Rock campus. I don’t know if there will be a working relationship between the two institutions, but the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been a major donor to IDEA and other charter schools.

One of IDEA’s Round Rock recruiting emails was shared with TSTA. It was addressed to a family with a child at Brushy Creek Elementary School, an A-rated campus with special distinctions for ELA/reading and closing the gaps. It would seem that this particular school doesn’t need much help, and it isn’t located in the Dell-IDEA neighborhood.

So, IDEA may have blanketed the district with its emailed letters, in both English and Spanish, soliciting parents to enter a lottery that will be held this weekend. I wonder though if it solicited students from D and F campuses as aggressively as it did students from A and B schools. The charter is seeking applicants for the 2020-21 school year for most elementary grades with plans to add additional grades later.

In the letter, IDEA all but promises that all of its students will graduate not only from high school but also from college. It also claims, “All IDEA schools are rated either A or B by the TEA (Texas Education Agency).” In fact, there is no way that any school can guarantee that all of its students will graduate from college, and it is NOT true that all IDEA schools have been rated A or B on the state accountability system.

Two of IDEA’s schools, one in San Antonio and one in Austin, got Ds on the 2018-19 TEA report cards, and five in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley got Cs.

The parents who received the letter that I saw were particularly upset that it referred to their child by name. In an obvious pressure tactic, the letter also urged parents to hurry because “we already have more applicants than seats.”

The existing Round Rock schools in the vicinity of the new IDEA campus include one F-rated elementary school, two D-rated schools (an elementary and a middle school), one C-rated elementary school, a high school and an elementary school with Bs and two A-rated schools (an elementary and a middle school).

The principal of the B-rated elementary, Berkman, was a finalist last year for an HEB Excellence in Education Principal Award.

IDEA will conduct its lottery, exclude those students with disciplinary problems, as is its policy, and prepare to take a bite out of Round Rock ISD’s and the state’s budget, a statewide bite by all charters that is approaching $3 billion a year.

Meanwhile, Round Rock ISD will continue accepting every child who lives in the district and registers, even as it loses tax revenue to IDEA. They will include the children with discipline problems, who IDEA refuses to accept, and eventually some of the special education students who may enroll in IDEA, only to learn that most charters don’t provide the level of services that traditional public schools offer.

Texas needs to stop this transformation into a dual “public education” system, at least until it adequately pays for the underfunded public schools that are being raided.

—Clay Robison

Public education in Texas is not abysmal; political support for schools is another issue

After TSTA issued a statement opposing the Donald Trump-Betsy DeVos-Ted Cruz voucher proposal, which would divert $5 billion a year in federal funds to private and religious schools and home-schoolers, we received an email from a woman who disagreed.

Her reason? “The state of education in public schools is abysmal at best now,” she said.

Abysmal? Public education in Texas has problems, but it is not abysmal.

The Texas public education system graduates thousands of young people every year who will go on to successfully complete college, many with honors. That is not an abysmal education system.

Thousands of products of Texas public schools are successful leaders in business, academia, the military and their communities. Millions more live productive, comfortable lives made possible by the strong educational foundations they received in Texas public schools.

But the Texas public education system does have issues that need to be addressed. Foremost among these is inadequate funding. The hardest hit by this government failure are struggling schools overwhelmingly populated by low-income children who not only suffer from inadequate resources for their classrooms but also from insufficient health care and social supports, which also are essential to student success and which the political-powers-that-be in Austin and Washington refuse to adequately address.

Instead people like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick want to take tax money from these kids and send it to private and religious schools. What kind of thinking is that?

It reflects a low level of respect for public schools, the dedicated men and women who work in them and the vast majority of children who — all privatization gimmicks aside — will continue to be educated in them.

Clay Robison