TACS Legislative Update
Friday, September 21, 2018
TACS members, I’m afraid this will be my last legislative update as I will be turning my full attention to the Texas Educators Vote project. I have been honored to be one of your representatives at the capitol for the last 4 years, and I will continue to fight for public education as a TAMSA board member, an APAC member, a parent, and a concerned citizen. Please indulge me as I share my reflections on the struggle to keep public education alive and well in Texas before I delve into the meetings that took place last week.
Part I: Reflections
I recently met with a strong public education advocate who has recently returned to Texas. She remarked that the prevailing public education discussion in the state where she last worked centered on what it would take to provide the best public education in the country. In contrast, the discussion she hears in Texas is about how little can be spent to provide an “adequate” public education. That is a stark contrast. I see the need for two swift actions on our part.
1. Make sure every Texan understands the value of a great public education – to each child, each community member, the state, and the future of our democracy.
2. Make sure that every eligible Texan registers to vote, researches candidates, and votes for leaders who will work to provide the best public education possible.
I was fortunate to be invited to watch the documentary, “Backpack Full of Cash” about the privatization of public education, narrated by Matt Damon. I found some interesting takeaways from the film.
1. Texas educators and education activists deserve kudos for successfully fighting the onslaught of vouchers that have taken over in most other conservative states. While charters are wreaking havoc on our school finance system, Texas has successfully pushed back against wealthy “reformers” (and the politicians they fund) who have pushed for vouchers for years. I believe that we have succeeded so far because we have worked together in a cooperative and coordinated fashion to stand up for the kids and their constitutional right to public education. Urban and rural, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, large and small, our communities support their schools and they have worked together to fight to keep public education alive. Despite efforts at the legislature to divide and conquer along the above-mentioned and other natural divisions, we have held the line. This fight isn’t over. Until we elect leaders who value and support public education, we will need to continue fighting. I urge you to resist the bait to turn against one another, but instead to keep working together to make sure every Texas student gets the education she or he deserves.
2. In the movie, in city after city and state after state, public education systems were starved and decimated by various forms of privatization. In New Orleans, Philadelphia, Indiana, and Michigan, the amount of money invested in public schools plummeted while the amount of money spent on testing, charters, and vouchers skyrocketed. But…in one school district, in Union City, New Jersey, the community came together to create great public schools. This took increased investment of funds and other resources, paying extra for small classes where students engaged in project-based learning. They supported students with counseling, daycare, healthcare, and other services to meet their basic needs. They moved to a funding system that shared the wealth between districts and equalized them, but not at a barely acceptable rate like what we see in Texas. Over twenty thousand dollars was spent on each student. (Texas funds public education more equitably than many states, but instead of sharing to make sure each district has what it needs, every district is starved of funds.) We must continue to advocate for equitable and more than adequate funding.
We are weeks from an election, and just months from the next legislative session. The push to use standardized testing to determine school funding, teacher pay, district grades, and student graduation is alive and getting stronger. Meanwhile, the likelihood that new funds will be put into the public education system is slim at best. We have some heroes fighting for public education at the capitol, but they are not in charge and their ability to orchestrate change is limited. For this reason, among others, I will work my hardest to encourage voter turnout among educators and to encourage them to stand up for the kids at the polls.
Thank you for consistently working your hardest to provide the best possible education to each and every student who walks through your door, no matter what absurd policies are thrown your way from the capitol, and whatever miniscule amount of funds you are given to carry them out. This is true public service.
We can keep fighting to keep the disaster at bay. Or, we can be smart. If every educator votes for leaders who support public education and the state’s constitutional obligation to educate all Texas children, our lives and those of our children will be better. Imagine being able to stop fighting, taking in a deep breath, and expending all your energy on educating the children. Imaging having the resources to provide the best programs and pay the finest teachers what they deserve. Imagine having partners at the capitol who support and respect you. Imagine a Texas that values civic engagement, democracy, and education, and imagine a strong economy built by well-educated and diverse Texans. It is as easy as registering, researching, and voting. We owe it to the kids and we owe it to Texas.
Part II: Meetings
It was oddly chaotic with multiple meetings and hearings overlapping last week. A skeptical observer might wonder if there was a concerted effort to hold several contentious meetings at the same time to keep concerned citizens from participating.
1.Dual Credit hearing
The Senate Education and Senate Higher Education Committees held a joint meeting last Wednesday, September 12th, to review the interim charge on dual credit.
“Review dual credit opportunities throughout the state, examining the impact of HB 505 (84th Legislature) on students in particular. Look at the outcomes of statewide studies completed in Texas regarding dual credit, and examine the current rigor of dual credit courses, as well as how to improve advising for students in dual credit.”
In preparation for the hearing, and to help form TACS legislative priorities, Barry reached out to each of the members of the TACS legislative committee to find out whether their district was using AP, IB, and/or Dual Credit. We received 19 responses, and each one said that dual credit is important to them, their kids, and their district. Reasons for supporting dual credit ranged from helping kids earn college credit, saving students and families money, preparing students for postsecondary work with rigorous college level courses, and giving students options for college level academic classes and career/work certifications. Several respondents said that they prefer dual credit to AP, since students are awarded credit based on the work they have done all semester, rather than only earning credit based on how they do on a single test on a single day. No respondents offer IB classes, and while 13 offer AP, several who previously offered AP have moved exclusively to dual credit.
Some tension was expected at the hearing as two studies had recently been published with conflicting conclusions about the value of dual credit. One was conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) which was commissioned by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. This study<https://www.air.org/resource/research-study-texas-dual-credit-programs-and-courses>, which looked only at two dual credit classes and did not include early college high schools, found limited benefits of dual credit. The other study was conducted by the University of Texas System’s Institutional Research & Decision Support team. This study<https://www.utsystem.edu/documents/docs/ut-system-reports/2018/dual-credit-and-success-college> tracked 135,000 students over 5 years and found that dual credit students are three times more likely to graduate in 4 years than those entering without dual credit.
Chairman Paredes, often a critic of dual credit, was more supportive than expected. He stated that students who have taken dual credit courses in high school experience higher 4-year and 6-year graduation rates than students who have not. He expressed concern that the benefits are not evenly distributed between white and non-white students and those of all economic income levels.
Chairman Paredes had three specific legislative recommendations:
1. Require high school students to demonstrate college readiness on either the TSI, SAT, or ACT before taking academic dual credit classes.
2. Find a way for public high school students to take the above-mentioned tests free of charge.
3. Expand the current requirement for students to file a degree plan if they take 30 or more semester hours of academic dual credit.
The authors of each study testified. Dr. David Troutman, Associate Vice Chancellor, Institutional Research & Decision Support, University of Texas System, reported that they found that students who come in with dual credit, are twice as likely to be retained (not drop out), and three times as likely to graduate in 4 years as students who do not come in with dual credit (not including AP credit).
Dr. Trey Miller, Principal Researcher, American Institutes for Research, reported more limited benefits, and found that white non-economically disadvantaged students saw greater gains and low-income minority students experienced some losses. Dr. Miller and the AIM study came under scrutiny for only looking at two courses (College Algebra and English Composition) and excluding early college high schools. The value of this study’s findings was put into question given the narrow scope of the research.
Dr. Jacob Fraire, President and CEO, Texas Association of Community Colleges was on the same panel as the study authors and addressed the ongoing question about adequate rigor in dual credit courses. He cited the similar positive findings from both studies regarding rigor of courses and college duration. Accordingly, he suggested the concern about dual credit rigor should be retired. He did, however, express concern about the wide variation in costs and how dual credit courses are paid for and he suggested a need-based grant program be put into place. He also suggested that advising become more uniform and intentional for students taking dual credit courses. That recommendation was echoed throughout the day by various witnesses.
Community colleges and school district were represented on later panels and they discussed the many benefits they have found through dual credit programs. Mike Meroney, a business representative on the APAC committee, spoke for the Texas Association of Manufacturers. I cheered silently when he said that they would like to see an accountability system that doesn’t diminish CTE and dual credit. This issue will come up again, and I urge you all to make that a common refrain. Right now, as Commissioner Morath has interpreted the A-F system, dual credit and CTE are given far less credit than other college and career readiness measures. There should be continued pushback on this issue.
My overall takeaway from the hearing was that dual credit provides great opportunities for students, helps them get to and stay in college, and helps them be able to afford higher education. There is consensus on the need for improved counseling and advising of students, and for coordination and communication between high schools and colleges on what courses are transferrable and what they will count for.
2.TEA Budget Request
Last Wednesday, smack in the middle of the dual credit hearing, Commissioner Morath presented TEA’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) to the legislature and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). In spite of the plethora of testimony at the school finance commission hearings about the best way to improve public education through programs that will cost far more than we currently spend, Commissioner Morath requested 1.16 billion dollars less than Texas is spending during the current biennium. He explained that since local property taxes are expected to continue increasing 6.8 percent a year, the state expenditure for public education will drop by 3.5 billion dollars. This would leave the state funding thirty-something percent of public education, rather than evenly sharing the costs with localities. TEA expects to increase spending on special education and school violence prevention.
I didn’t get to watch much of the SBOE meeting as I have not yet obtained a device that allows me to be several places at once. They discussed special education, school funding, and the Long-Range Plan for Public Education. They also presented recommendations for streamlining the social studies TEKS. Apparently, in addition to the controversial decisions on whom Texas students should learn about in their social studies classes, they have recommended some changes to the citizenship and civics TEKS. SBOE doesn’t think 3rd and 4th graders should learn about “holding public officials to their word.” That phrase does remain in the first-grade curriculum, at least for now. Rest assured, I’ll be watching closely to see what else they plan to remove from the citizenship TEKS and will testify if things get dire. You can read more about proposed changes in this Dallas Morning News article<https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2018/09/14/history-curriculum-texas-remembers-alamo-forgets-hillary-clinton-helen-keller>.
4.Expenditures Working Group of Commission on Public School Finance
On Thursday September 13th, Chairman Huberty convened a meeting of the Expenditures Working Group of the Texas School Finance Commission. While I could write an entire update outlining their recommendations, the bottom-line is that they are recommending a three-pronged approach, and would need an additional 1.69 Billion dollars to be able to fund the new programs they recommend.
1. Reallocation of existing programs, to the tune of $5.3 billion dollars that they recommend putting back into the Basic Allotment.
2. Increase spending on existing programs, by changing weights for some existing programs.
3. Provide grant/incentive funding for some programs including dual language, dyslexia allotment, grade 3 reading bonus, teacher excellence bonus, CCMR bonus.
For a full list of the recommendations (official report is not yet out), please read this report from Teach the Vote.<https://www.teachthevote.org/news/2018/09/14/school-finance-commission-subcommittee-approves-expenditures-plan/>
Part III: Conclusion
There is a lot going on. The election and legislative session will be here before you know it. My daughter’s summer assignment for her 11th grade AP English class related to the social contract theory and John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” In her paper, she quoted Steinbeck regarding what happens when the government fails to uphold or enforce the social contract. “When a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed” Public education is part of the social contract as outlined in Article 7 of the Texas Constitution. I would argue that public education (those that work to provide it, those that depend on it, and communities that are built around it) are being repressed by elected officials who are trying to dismantle it. Have your schools been duly under-funded, kids over-tested, and educators demeaned enough to strengthen your resolve and knit yourselves together to vote for leaders who care about you and the kids you spend your lives serving? Let’s hope so! The future of democracy depends on it.
With the greatest respect and admiration,
TACS Government Relations
Past Legislative Updates