Author: suem

A triple whammy for public education in Texas

Like hundreds of school districts around the state, Manor ISD in Austin is struggling with its budget after Gov. Greg Abbott shut the door on additional state education funding last year in his misguided campaign for private school vouchers.

Manor, now struggling to address a $6 million deficit, has lost more than $115 million in tax revenue over the past five years to charter schools moving into the district and poaching its students, taking funds that Manor could have used to improve programs and meet other student needs. This is another bad idea that should be against the law but, unfortunately, is legal and championed by Abbott’s appointed education commissioner, Mike Morath.

One of the last things Manor ISD needs right now – in addition to the enactment of a voucher law – is another charter school in the neighborhood. The district certainly doesn’t need the Unparalleled Preparatory Academy. Unparalleled in what I am not sure, but Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency have advanced its charter application to the State Board of Education for consideration and possible approval later this month. The charter school proposes to serve students from grades 6-12 with a maximum enrollment of 800, all from Manor ISD.

In their application, organizers of the proposed Unparalleled Preparatory Academy claimed there is little charter enrollment in Manor ISD. In truth, Texas Education Agency data show that Manor lost 36 percent of its student enrollment, more than one-third, to charter transfers last year. This was one of the highest percentages of charter transfers from any school district in the state.

If approved by the state board, Unparalleled Prep would be part of the Building Excellent Schools (BES) charter chain, which has been plagued by poor academic performance and low enrollment.

Eleven BES charter schools have been approved in Texas since 2016, and only one has come close to meeting its enrollment projections. Seven are underenrolled by more than 50 percent. Five of the six BES charter campuses that were rated by the state in 2022 received an F for student achievement. The sixth received a C. Five campuses were not rated because they did not serve tested grades.

The proposed Unparalleled Prep plans to offer a Career and Technical Education (CTE) component that supposedly will focus on developing an “entrepreneurial mindset” among students. Manor ISD already has 16 strong CTE programs that offer students opportunities for well-developed course sequences in careers such as finance, biomedical science, graphic arts and applied agricultural science.

The school district also has established business partnerships with such companies as Dell, Tesla and Samsung.

Unparalleled Prep, if granted a charter by the State Board of Education, would quickly begin raiding Manor for students and tax dollars from these established CTE programs, worsening the school district’s financial troubles.

Should Manor ISD and its students and educators suffer from program cuts and maybe lose jobs because some charter operators with a poor record want to tap into the district’s tax revenue?

Pro-public education advocates don’t think so, and that is why TSTA is opposing this application and four other deficient charter proposals, scattered across the state, that soon will be before the board.

The Texas Education Agency gave preliminary approval to all five applicants. Even worse, if the board grants the charters, Commissioner Morath and TEA will soon be able to amend the charters to allow the operators to open additional campuses, whether they are needed or not. And most aren’t.

That’s been Morath’s practice. Keep adding charter campuses, while school district budgets grow tighter and tighter.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott, Morath’s boss, stiffs public schools of additional state funding, while promoting a multi-billion-dollar tax giveaway for private school vouchers to speed up the destruction of the Texas public school system. It is a triple whammy, and it is deliberate.

Clay Robison

Despite his continuing denials, Greg Abbott is responsible for school budgetary shortfalls

Gov. Greg Abbott continues to claim that voucher opponents, not him, were responsible for killing additional funding for public schools last year. But educators in those schools, which are now suffering serious budgetary shortfalls, know better. The governor can lie and try to mislead all he wants, but the truth remains that he – Greg Abbott – killed the school funding bill.

Given the opportunity, every member of the Texas House of Representatives likely would have voted for additional public education funding and higher pay for school employees during the last special session of 2023.

But once a House majority voted to remove the governor’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher plan from the funding bill, the measure was pulled down and never came to a vote. It never came to a vote because Abbott had vowed to kill any additional funding for public schools without the tax giveaway for private schools.

Abbott also blames schools’ financial problems on the pending expiration of the federal COVID relief funds and declining enrollments. Those are contributing factors for some districts, but the governor’s blatant refusal to increase the public education budget at a time when the state was flush with $33 billion of surplus cash is the main reason many schools are now struggling and preparing to cut programs and lay off teachers and other employees.

The governor also tries to confuse people by claiming that his failure to allow lawmakers to increase the annual basic student allotment of $6,160 for school districts is “misleading.”

“The average funding per student actually exceeds $12,000,” he said in a recent news release. But that is nothing to brag about.

According to the National Education Association’s latest analysis of Texas school finance data, the average spending per student in average daily attendance in Texas is now $12,781, but this is $5,220 less per student than the national average and ranks Texas 46th among the states and the District of Columbia, almost scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Only someone as anti-public education as Greg Abbott would be proud of that.

And what about that basic student allotment of $6,160, which Abbott doesn’t seem to think is very important?

The basic allotment is the foundation of Texas’ complex school finance system. Other formula funding, based on factors that vary among school districts, is added to that to determine each district’s actual per-student allotment of funds.

The basic allotment hasn’t been increased since 2019, and school finance experts say it would take an increase of at least $1,000 simply to help school districts catch up with inflationary increases in their programs. An extra $1,000 in the basic allotment would increase Texas’ average spending per student to close to $14,000, a significant step in the right direction.

The governor of Texas should understand that, but this governor obviously doesn’t care.

Clay Robison

Gov. Abbott’s nose is getting longer

We already knew that Gov. Greg Abbott has a problem understanding that his constitutional duty to provide for public education doesn’t include promoting a multi-billion-dollar tax giveaway for private schools.

We also knew that Abbott has a problem with the truth. Most recently, during his GOP primary campaign to purge the Texas House of the Republicans who helped kill his voucher plan last year, he and his pro-voucher allies wrongly accused his targets of killing additional funding for public schools.

Abbott himself, of course, was responsible for killing the additional funding because of his vow not to increase state funding for public education without approval of a voucher plan, which he did not get.

Now that Democratic lawmakers are urging him to call a special session to provide the extra funding that is desperately needed by school districts fighting budget deficits, the governor’s problem with the truth has erupted again.

Now, he is blaming schools’ budgetary problems on local issues and the pending expiration of federal pandemic funding. Those issues are secondary. The main problem is Abbott’s refusal to approve increased state funding for public schools without a voucher program – even with a record, $33 billion state budget surplus.

“You’ll be shocked to hear this, but it’s not me that ‘s responsible for this (school funding crisis),” Abbott said, as reported by KXAN-TV and the Nexstar network.

No, I am not shocked to hear Abbott’s denial. It is what he does – deny blame and ignore the truth.

Liar is a strong word. But how do you have any confidence in a governor who, out of sheer political spite, creates an emergency for public schools, then denies any responsibility and wrongly shifts the blame?

Clay Robison

Teacher appreciation means more than free donuts and hollow plaudits from politicians

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, a few days of cheap freebies from fast food joints and other businesses working to increase their customers while giving educators some well-deserved attention.

That’s the commercial version anyway, and it is certainly better than the political version from hypocritical officeholders issuing hollow plaudits with one hand while slapping teachers with the other. Not all politicians fall into that category, but those that do – people like Gov. Greg Abbott and his legislative allies — really stink.

I haven’t seen a Teacher Appreciation Week message from Abbott yet this year. Maybe I missed it, or maybe he figured out it was pointless, but here is last year’s message:

“Texas teachers play a vital role in shaping the Texas of tomorrow. We thank them for all they do as they educate the future of our state – our students.”

That message was issued in May of 2023, in the middle of a year in which the Legislature – in one regular session and four special sessions – failed to use one penny of a record, $33 billion budget surplus to increase funding for teacher pay or public school classrooms.

Why? If you must be reminded, it was because the Legislature also failed to enact Abbott’s real education priority, a voucher plan that soon would have diverted billions of tax dollars from underfunded public schools to private schools. So, Abbott, in a snit fit, kept his vow not to increase public school funding, creating serious budgetary problems for many districts and, in some cases, putting educator jobs in jeopardy.

The real purpose of Teacher Appreciation Week is to recognize and thank teachers for their dedication and hard work in educating all students who come their way and, to the best of their ability and resources, preparing those students for successful futures. All students means all students, including those with gender identities whom Abbott has chosen to harass and bully.

Appreciation means more than free donuts, two-for-one chicken wings or half-price hamburger combos, for which many teachers doubtlessly are grateful. Appreciation also means higher pay for teachers and school support staff and more resources for their classrooms, all of which has eroded under Abbott’s watch, while political attacks on educators have grown.

According to the National Education Association’s latest national survey of financial support of public schools and educators, the average teacher pay in Texas is now more than $9,000 less than the national average, and Texas spending per student in average daily attendance is more than $5,000 less.

The teacher pay deficit has increased by about $3,000 since Abbott became governor, and the per-student funding gap by more than $2,000.

Does Abbott appreciate teachers – or public education? What do you think?

Clay Robison