Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

September 4, 2007

Looking at numbers

Filed under: Education Finance, Texas Education Agency — texased @ 11:38 am

Study finds inequality in Texas education funding – Houston Business Journal:

High schools also tended to receive 18 percent more funding than elementary or middle schools, as did schools with more senior teachers.

So what do you think accounts for the 18% difference? A need to pay teachers more for teaching advanced subjects like physics and calculus? Are there really that many calculus teachers in high schools or are they really paid that much more than other teachers?

Where is that 18% going? Now I’m going to guess that it’s going to improve the “quality” of the high school experience by providing a variety of enrichment activities. Yeah, I think a lot more is being spent on high school athletics than any one cares to admit.

And until the districts and TEA are willing to show otherwise, I think I’m probably on the right track, at least in terms that the TEA and school districts aren’t anxious to reveal their funding breakdown. What in the world am I talking about?

You can go to the TEA website and generate AEIS Reports for Texas school districts. If you look up the Bexar County Northside district, you will find a breakdown of “Actual Expenditures by Function” and “Actual Program Expenditure Information.” The functions include “Cocurricular activities” and the program information includes “Athletics/Related Activities.” These items constitute only 2% or less of the budget, pretty small potatoes. But then why doesn’t the report list the number of students enrolled in Athletics/Related Activities when it does so for a select number of other programs?

Furthermore, when you get to the campus level, these categories go missing completely along with the functions “Student Transportation” and “Food Services” among others. Is this the start of the 18% increase in spending in high schools? We certainly can’t tell from the data since the date aren’t provided.

So why aren’t the categories listed at the campus level? Could it be because the disparities would be that obvious?

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June 17, 2007

This passes for leadership in Texas

Unbelievable.

MySA.com: State Government

Higher education cuts included a $6 million veto for a San Antonio Life Sciences Institute. The University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas Health Science Center had jointly asked for it, saying it would stimulate growth of the city’s biomedical and biotechnology industries and spur commercialization of research products.

UTSA and UTHSC officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but Perry said he doesn’t want to create more top research institutions before a new commission on higher education and global competitiveness drafts a long-term plan for efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Texas A&M University-International in Laredo lost $5 million from Perry’s vetoes that had been earmarked for “student success” initiatives to expand doctoral degree programs in business and outreach in math and science.

There may or may not have been good reason to line item veto some of the “pork” in the higher education funding bills. However, Perry’s argument that he “doesn’t want to create more top research institutions” is absolutely mind boggling.

Excuse me, did he miss the entire Top 10% Rule controversy this past session? How there simply wasn’t enough room at UT Austin to accommodate all the students who were qualified to attend? How many of these students would rather go out of state rather than attend another college in Texas?

He wants to wait before creating another top research institution because we might create more than we need? And just out of curiosity, since he only cut $35.9 million out $123 million in higher education earmarks, what was so special about the $87 million he didn’t cut?

May 19, 2007

And this is going to be a fair process because?

Filed under: Accountability, Education Finance, Higher Education, Rick Perry, Texas — texased @ 10:05 am

MySA.com: Metro | State

AUSTIN — A proposal touted by Gov. Rick Perry to boost university funding based on graduation rates is getting a new push from some leaders who worry he may veto a big swath of the higher education budget unless he gets some reforms he wants.

And people complain about how unfair NCLB is. Do you think UTSA’s graduation rates would come close to UT Austin’s if they received as much money from the state per student as UT Austin and could restrict admissions as does UT Austin? UTSA has to get approval from the UT System before changing it’s admissions policies. So is Perry going to punish UTSA for not graduating a higher percentage of students while the state also requires them to admit virtually all high school graduates regardless of qualifications?

I really think Perry doesn’t want to go there. Imagine the controversy it will generate when the inequitable funding of higher education is brought into the spotlight.

May 8, 2007

But $200 million would be too expensive

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities — texased @ 9:07 pm

House OKs plan to suspend gas tax for summer | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

The Texas House tentatively adopted a measure today that would suspend the state’s 20-cent gas tax through the summer months.

That would mean an immediate 20-cent drop in the price per gallon.

House OKs plan to suspend gas tax for summer | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

While the state is sitting on a record surplus, state leaders have suggested saving that money in order to give property tax relief in two years. Perry has suggested using some of the nearly $8 billion expected to be left unspent to give Texas homeowners more property tax relief.

Martinez Fischer said the proposal could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $700 million.

But, he added, it only seemed fair to give Texans a break from soaring gas prices when airlines already are exempt from state fuel taxes.

And Senator Tommy Williams thinks it’s too expensive to fund college tuition breaks for top ten percent graduates because the cost could “balloon to $200 million by 2012″. Guess who sponsored the fuel tax cut in the senate? Tommy Williams.

So short term tax relief for a lot of people with no future benefit to the state is good. Long term investment of money to improve the state’s education levels and ultimately its economic performance is bad.

It’s sort of a vicious circle isn’t it? We elect idiots who reduce access to education with the result being electing more idiots. Or maybe it’s something else, Williams is just protecting the privileged status of well to do Texans by reducing the rest of the population’s access to the class through education.

Think about it. The fuel tax cut will go to those with the most cars who drive the most. So rich people driving SUVs all around town will be spared the hardship of higher summer gas prices while the less fortunate (or those interested in reducing pollution and traffic congestion) take the bus and get nothing. But I’m sure the economic benefits of this fuel tax reduction will ripple through the Texas economy for years to come–just not in a positive way.

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May 6, 2007

It’s more than I expected

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities, Florence Shapiro — texased @ 3:13 pm

Without ever showing how the top ten percent rule was hurting the University of Texas at Austin, UT President Bill Powers managed to get a cap on the number of admissions.

Top 10-percenters may face UT admission limit | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

After admitting half of its 2008 freshman class under the top 10 law, UT would then be required to admit another 10 percent of the top-ranking high school students using such criteria as college test scores, leadership traits and special talents.

That would leave 40 percent of the incoming class it could admit for whatever reason.

UT President Bill Powers, who directly negotiated with senators in closed-door meetings behind the chamber, helped forge a compromise allowing the cap to expire in eight years.

“We have to keep the onus on the back of universities. That’s why I wanted the sunset,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, whose allies to block the bill entirely had begun dwindling.

“It keeps the pressure on the University of Texas or any other institution to come back to the Legislature and show that they are doing what we want them to do as it relates to maintaining diversity,” he said.

The bill that emerged after more than two hours of debate would expire in 2015 and give top 10 students at least $1,500 a year in tuition breaks.

The idea to reward top 10 students with tuition breaks was hatched by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

Under his amendment, top 10 students would no longer pay state-set tuition of $51 per semester hour, starting with the 2008 school year.

Even though $1,500 would probably only cover a third of tuition and fees at most public universities, Senator Williams makes it sound prohibitive:

Top 10-percenters may face UT admission limit | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said the proposal sounded too expensive. The two-year cost would start at $25 million but balloon to $200 million by 2012.

But lets put this into perspective. Remember the sporting goods tax that wasn’t being used to fund the state parks? The parks were only getting $20 million of the over $100 million generated by the tax annually. Now I’m not suggesting we raid the sporting goods tax to fund colleges. I am suggesting that it probably isn’t that difficult to find the money if we had a little leadership.

And ultimately, $1,500 isn’t enough of a bribe to make these “undeserving” top ten percent go away. Why? Think of it this way. Would all those prospective UT Austin students from Collin county change their preference for UTSA for $1,500 a year? No. In fact, their parents are willing to spend a lot more than $1,500 to send their kids to out of state schools rather than have them go to some other school than UT Austin.

What is needed are some serious improvements in our other state schools to make them as attractive as UT Austin and Texas A&M. Given that UT Austin spends $11, 344 per student and UTSA spends $5,396, I think the state could redirect some of it’s efforts to non-“flagship” schools. Imagine what UTSA could do if it had twice the amount to spend on its students which would be just under $1,000,000. Whatever it would take to get a UT Austin wannabe to enroll in UTSA is what it’s really going to take to change the system.

There is plenty of evidence that the system needs help. Only 37% of the students attending public universities in Texas are at institutions that have a 50% or higher six year graduation rate according to College Results Online. Of the ten most populous states, only Georgia has a lower rate.

Table of Top Ten States in Population

2005 Undergraduates at Public Intitutions

But what do you expect? Some very well to do parents got the state to take care of their interests. They don’t have to worry about any tax increases, they actually save money since they don’t have to send their kids out of state. And just how diverse do you think the student population will be at UT-Austin in ten years? I know, I know, the poor people should take their $1,500, be grateful, and shut-up.

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April 28, 2007

Meaningless numbers?

Filed under: Accountability, college rankings, Education Finance, Higher Education — texased @ 8:00 pm

I’ve been spending way too much time on the College Results Online website but it provides basic information that you won’t find on any college website. I’ve actually downloaded some of the Texas data into a spreadsheet to take a closer look at patterns and such–what can I say, my thesis was on dropout statistics?

Anyway, some interesting information from 2005.

  • Number of students in public four year institutions listed on the website: 316,417
  • Percentage of those students enrolled in schools with less than a 50% six year graduation rate: 63%
  • Percentage of students in public four year institutions considered under-represented miniorities: 35%
  • Percentage of under-represented miniorities enrolled in public schools with less a 50% six year graduation rate: 80%

Other facts:

  • Student Related Expenditures per FTE for UTSA in 2002: $5,752
  • Student Related Expenditures per FTE for UTSA in 2005: $5,396
  • Student Related Expenditures per FTE for UT-Austin in 2002: $9,205
  • Student Related Expenditures per FTE for UT-Austin in 2005: $11,344
  • Number of public schools that had a decrease in student related expenditures from 2002 to 2005: 5
  • Number of public schools that had an increase in student related expenditures from 2002 to 2005: 21

April 10, 2007

Reap what you sow

Filed under: Education Finance, education priorities, Higher Education, Texas — texased @ 4:07 pm

Isn’t it a business axiom that you’ve got to spend money to make money?

MySA.com: State Government:

Ellis wants lawmakers to invest close to $1 billion for the TEXAS Grant program that helps middle-class and lower-income students pay for college. That would more than double current spending on the scholarship program.

Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he supports “more financial aid and keeping tuition and fees low.” But he laughed and walked away when asked about Ellis’ pitch for a hefty financial aid budget increase. Ellis acknowledged getting a “chilly reception” from his colleague.

Stagnant funding for the TEXAS grants have combined with soaring college costs since lawmakers deregulated tuition four years ago, resulting in 70,000 students losing their grants in the past two years.

MySA.com: State Government:

Texas ranks No. 41 among the 50 states in producing college graduates. That status could drop even lower, according to the U.S. Department of Education, as Hispanics and African Americans become a larger majority of the state’s population.

MySA.com: State Government:

Georgia spends $51.99 per person for college financial aid compared with the $16.08 per person Texas spends, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs. Texas ranks last in per capita spending for college grants among the 10 most populous states.

I guess ten years is too much to expect for an investment to payoff. What do you expect from someone who tries to cut children’s health insurance recipients by increasing the administrative hassle in making families apply every six months rather than yearly? But then again, if these kids never make it to college, the state wouldn’t have to worry about funding financial aid either. Good thing since there wouldn’t be anyone around capable of paying the taxes to do it.

March 20, 2007

If only they would give us money

Filed under: Education Finance — texased @ 9:22 am

Charter school network could rival HISD | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle:

“If we learn from (KIPP’s expansion), then it will be great for the district,” said HISD trustee Harvin Moore, a former KIPP board member. “If we continue to treat them as if it’s us against them and make excuses for why they do better than some public schools, then we won’t learn from them.”HISD school board President Manuel Rodríguez Jr. said he wishes philanthropists would invest their money in the traditional public school system.

“This is private monies, and I’m sorry they’re not coming to the public school system,” he said. “It would be my hope that all the different facets of the community could come together and work to make the public school system better.”

While charter schools are public schools, Rodríguez contends that they don’t face the same funding shortages, high number of state and federal mandates, or struggles to get parents involved as HISD.

I understand the issues concerning parental involvement and having to provide services to special need students works to the advantage of charter schools and disadvantage of public schools. But I think Harvin Moore has a point. Go to the KIPP Houston webpage and you’ll see one of the major navigation buttons is “Support KIPP” which then has six sub-menus. If you want to donate money, they make it as easy as possible for you.

Now go to the Houston ISD webpage and try to figure out where to donate money to the district. The one link on the front page, Donors Choose, is not a specific program for HISD. Try to figure out how to give the district money. As far as I can tell, there isn’t an education foundation devoted strictly to the district.

So the first lesson I think HISD can learn from KIPP is that if you want “private monies,” I suggest you make it easy for people to give. Whining isn’t go to get you anywhere.

March 5, 2007

Do as I say–it’s not about the money

Filed under: Education Finance, Education reform, Teacher issues — texased @ 7:55 pm

Except it is if you are going to reward effective teachers.

Star-Telegram | 03/03/2007 | Report: Future rests on teachers’ shoulders:

“Five years with an effective teacher, not just an average teacher, is sufficient to close the achievement gap between middle- and low-income youngsters,” said Sandy Kress, an Austin-based lobbyist and author of the report.

As former chief education adviser for President Bush, Kress helped construct the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He is also education adviser to the Governor’s Business Council, a nonprofit organization of Texas business leaders.

So it takes five years for a student to catch up? Is that with the same teacher or within the same subject? Is the improvement distributed evenly over the five years or does it start off slowly and then accelerate? How do they match the students and the teachers? If it takes five years, why are schools expected to get students on grade level within a year? And most importantly, how is a poor school district going to keep these effective teachers from moving to wealthier districts and better teaching conditions?

Star-Telegram | 03/03/2007 | Report: Future rests on teachers’ shoulders:

The initial cost of implementation, Kress said, would be between $125 million and $150 million.

Which will be funded how?

MySA.com: Metro | State:

As outlined by Kress, the system would develop over several years, take into account factors such as test scores, test score growth, principal and peer evaluations and ultimately allow the state and school districts to offer higher pay to teachers who demonstrate better results and take on more challenging assignments.He said no new money would be tied to the legislation this session, but that business leaders would endorse bonuses for teachers once a fair evaluation system was in place.

Are these the same business leaders that refuse to disclose the selling price of property to avoid paying their fair share of school property taxes? Until these business experts get real and address school finance, why are we even listening to these people?

February 1, 2007

It’s the money that matters

Filed under: education, Education Finance, Education reform, Texas — texased @ 6:41 pm

Texans for Excellence in the Classroom Unveils 2007 Education Recommendations | Excellence in the Classroom:

The report recommends strengthened standards and coursework aligned with those standards; improved collection of education data; improved tools to measure academic progress; dramatically improved teacher evaluation methods; increased pay for highly effective teachers; support for teachers through enhanced professional development; removal of persistently ineffective teachers; improved principal leadership; and improved teacher preparation.

I’m not impressed. I actually broke down and skimmed the 15 page report. It does make some very good, very specific suggestions. But ultimately it wimps out because it fails to address how these programs should be funded.

We propose that funds be appropriated for TEA to develop and implement within two years PEIMS II, the second generation of the PEIMS system. pg 5

We propose that the state develop a growth model incorporating the best elements of these models, and implement a system that could be used both for school accountability as well as the evaluation of teacher effectiveness. The state should pay for and create incentives for this model to be used by local districts. pg 6

Necessary funds should be appropriated to the TEA to utilize the best available expertise and resources to develop within one year the essential criteria of a solid evaluation system and an actual model evaluation system. pg 7

The legislature should commit to provide additional funding to districts that have adopted such systems to pay more for highly effective teachers as soon as the new evaluation methods are operational for identifying highly effective teachers. pg 8

Local districts would be encouraged to utilize programs that are deemed most effective and would be provided additional funds or services, as was the case with the Reading Initiative, for professional development programs determined effective by the Best Practices Clearinghouse. pg 10.

Notice a pattern here?

There’s nothing wrong with the recommendations. They’re just useless without addressing the finance issue. What we really need is a Governor’s Business Council report on how the legislature should finance public education in Texas. That would be a report worth reading.

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