Advocacy issues for the 2017 Session
Save Texas Schools works with other education partners around the state. Here are helpful links to information about key education issues and policies.
Texas has consistently trailed most states in per pupil education spending, ranking in the bottom five, even before the budget cuts of 2011. This represents a serious slip from just 2005, when Texas was ranked 25th and was only $281 below the national average in per pupil funding. By the 2013-14 school year, Texas per pupil funding had dropped to nearly $2,600 below the national average.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court decided not to force the legislature to act on school funding, finding the current system “lawful but awful.” In other words, it meets the minimal constitutional standards, but is by no means fair or adequate to serve the children of Texas. They urged the Texas Legislature to do their job and fix school funding.
During the 2017 legislative session, the House and Senate have taken very different approaches to school funding. House Speaker Joe Strauss made funding reform a high priority, and asked that $1.5 billion be added to the state budget to help public schools while the legislature figures out a new funding system. The Senate, on the other hand, has focused on privatization of schools and choice options, including vouchers. Little is being said about reforming the funding system.
At the same time, teachers have experienced a de facto pay cut because of the rising cost of healthcare over the past decade, and teacher retirement funding is also threatened.
Texas can do better!
Save Texas Schools asks our legislature to continue looking at high-stakes testing that is draining both time and resources from the education of Texas children.
It is time to reevaluate the role of standardized testing on our campuses and apply common sense limits. Test results should be used to target areas for improvement, not punish individual students and schools. Let’s make Texas lawmakers accountable for an “accountability” system that really works!
Under current law, public schools that are identified as struggling face only punitive and disruptive sanctions. When a school is closed, a gaping hole is left in the community. These measures are detrimental to the students, families and surrounding communities and do not fulfill the purpose of improving them.
Our solution, Community Schools, is a nationally recognized model and locally proven success. This model requires a community-based, “all hands on deck” approach to address the multitude of needs a student might have. They create partnerships with existing local organizations to efficiently and effectively coordinate support. Typically, for every $1 invested in a community school effort, $3 is added through community partners. Schools serve as the hub for the community while focusing on academics, health and social services, and youth and community development, which produce improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. There are currently about 4,000 community schools nationwide, but Austin holds its own examples of success with Webb Middle School and Reagan High School. Community School efforts are also underway in Dallas, El Paso, and being planned in other Texas cities.
The Community Schools model not only provides for a strong, effective and efficient alternative to the ineffective sanctions imposed on schools, but also promotes higher academic achievement, minimizes disruptions for students and families, and returns increased control to local communities.
A-F Grading System for Campuses and Districts
Currently, Texas schools receive one of two ratings: met standard or improvement required. In 2015, House Bill 2804 created an A-F grading system, copied from other states, that requires the TEA Commissioner to create rules to evaluate campuses using A-F grades. While the new requirements come into effect in the 2017-18 school year, a trial run produced results for Texas schools in January of this year. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said that these grades were for development purposes, and that campuses and the public should not draw any conclusions about schools based on them. However, the grades left many district administrators, teachers and parents dismayed at a flawed system that may reinforce “apples to oranges” comparisons between schools.
Rep. Mary Gonzales (El Paso) has filed HB843 that would get rid of the A-F system and return to the previous grading system of improvement required, satisfactory, recognized and exemplary. In a recent interview, she said, ““Public education is at a crossroads. There are active people trying to truly dismantle the public education system in order to encourage privatization of our public schools, therefore incorporate charters or vouchers. Do I think it’s part of a larger dynamic of harming our public schools? Definitely.” (Austin American-Statesman)
Flaws in the A-F system include its reliance on standardized test scores for 55% of the grade, along with poorly defined standards of college readiness. The system also compares schools with vastly different populations and needs, rewarding schools with lower-needs children and castigating schools that serve our most at-risk children. For example, a school of choice may weed out, whether through the choice dynamic itself or through returning children to the public school, many high need children, including the homeless, special education students or children other external challenges.
Texas needs to move towards a more balanced system, with tests used for diagnosis and support, not shaming and punishment. Several states have moved towards portfolio assessment systems that rely less on “snapshot” testing.
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