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EduLege Tracker 5-20-19

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EduLege Update Volume VII, Number 34
May 20, 2019
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

A major sticking point…

Just one week remains in the 86th legislative session, and with the omnibus school finance bill still stuck in a conference committee, Texas school leaders say that an “accounting ploy” that was placed in the Senate version of the legislation is threatening to keep $1.8 billion from school districts—even though lawmakers promised to funnel more state money into public education.

School and business leaders are calling on conferees to reject the Senate provision that would calculate school funding based upon current-year property values, instead of using the prior year.

"They're going to give money on this hand, and then turn around and take it out of your wallet while you're not watching," Richardson superintendent Jeannie Stone said at a news conference. She called the provision in the Senate finance bill an "accounting ploy."

Local property taxes are the primary source of funding for Texas public schools, and when more local revenue is raised, the state’s share of the cost is reduced.

The sticking point comes down to whether the state should calculate its share of its school funding, based on the prior year's property values—as is done now—or the current year. With property values generally rising across Texas, that would mean that the state has to pony up less for schools.

Both the House and Senate have passed different versions of a school-finance overhaul that funnels up to $9 billion into Texas schools for things like full-day pre-kindergarten or new services for students with dyslexia. The plans also offer homeowners some property tax relief.

But the Senate's version has significant differences, such as requiring districts to spend more money on teacher pay raises and moving the state's property value calculations to the current year, which could potentially wipe out much of the new money that districts wanted.

Traditionally, the Legislature hasn't made significant changes to how schools are funded unless it is directed by a court to do so. But this year, Governor Greg Abbott and legislative leaders promised that school finance was a top priority—along with property tax relief—and would be addressed before the Legislature adjourned next Monday, May 27.

Keeping the IGCs going…

Governor Abbott has signed Senate Bill 213 into law, reauthorizing the use of Individual Graduation Committees to determine whether a student should graduate from high school despite having not passed all of the required End-of-Course Exams.

SB 213 was authored by State Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who first passed IGC legislation in 2015. The bill signed by Governor Abbott extends the authorization for IGCs until September 1, 2023.

Schools can name a three-member IGC to determine whether a high school student qualifies to graduate if the student has not performed satisfactorily on the required state assessment tests but has otherwise met all the requirements for graduation.

The Texas Federation of Teachers hailed enactment of SB 213 as the “Great Bill of The Week,” and applauded Senator Seliger for “ensuring that standardized assessments do not hinder a student from graduating when the graduation committee finds the student has successfully met all other curriculum requirements,” and is entitled to a high school diploma.

Negotiating retirement benefits…

Both the House and Senate have named their conference committee on Senate Bill 12, which would make the Teacher Retirement System pension fund actuarially sound and provide retired teachers with a one-time, 13th check of up to $2,400.

The House version of the bill increases the state contribution to the pension fund by two percent over the next five years, compared to the Senate’s 1.45 percent, and increases the 13th check from a maximum of $500 to a maximum of $2,400.

The House is proposing to pay for its version of SB 12 through $684 million in new General Revenue and $658 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

The conferees are:

  • Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Co-Chair
  • Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham
  • Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound
  • Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood
  • Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas
  • Representative Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, Co-Chair
  • Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio
  • Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston
  • Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston
  • Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond

Adversity averages 50 points…

The SAT college entrance test, which is administered to about two million students a year, is adding an “adversity score” to the test results that is intended to help admissions officers account for factors like educational or socioeconomic disadvantage that may depress students’ scores.

Colleges have long been concerned with scoring patterns on the SAT that seem unfavorable to certain socioeconomic groups: Higher scores have been found to correlate with students coming from higher-income families and having better-educated parents.

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, which administers the SAT, says that a trial version of the tool has been field-tested by 50 colleges. The College Board plans to roll it out officially to 150 schools this year, and more broadly in 2020.

The adversity score would be a number between 1 and 100, with an average student receiving a 50. It would be calculated using 15 factors, such as the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s home neighborhood. The score would not be reported to the student, only to college officials.

Admissions officers have struggled for years to find ways of gauging the hardships that students have had to overcome, and to predict which students will do well in college despite lower test scores.

“We’ve got to admit the truth, that wealth inequality has progressed to such a degree that it isn’t fair to look at test scores alone,” Mr. Coleman said.  “You must look at them in context of the adversity students face.”

The new tool could invite a backlash from more affluent families, and from students who do well on the test and worry that their adversity score will place them at a disadvantage.

To address concerns about the fairness of standardized tests, a growing number of colleges around the country have made it optional—rather than mandatory—for applicants to submit scores from the SAT, or the other main standardized entrance test, the ACT.

The reputation of the SAT has been tarnished recently by the college admissions cheating scandal, which led to criminal charges against more than 50 people, including the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Prosecutors said the defendants took part in a fraudulent scheme to have their children admitted into coveted universities like the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford and the University of Texas at Austin.


U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems an unlikely survivor given the high level of turnover on President Donald Trump's Cabinet.

She has a tendency to land in the news for the wrong reasons, such as when she was forced to defend budget cuts for the Special Olympics. President Trump has privately complained about her, insulting her intelligence on several occasions, according to a former senior administration official who worked closely with Mr. Trump, and another senior official who is still at the White House.

Yet the President shows no signs of asking her to resign, reflecting in part his lack of interest in the issue of education and the department responsible for it. And Secretary DeVos has no interest in departing—after two years of mostly undoing the work of her predecessors, she has shifted to promoting her own agenda.

Topping her list is a proposal for a $5 billion-a-year tax credit that would reimburse taxpayers and corporations dollar for dollar for donations to student voucher scholarship programs. Secretary DeVos came to Washington after a lifetime of advocating for school vouchers and other programs that allow families to channel tax dollars away from traditional public schools.

Passage of such a plan appears unlikely, however, given widespread Democratic opposition.

At the White House, aides do not expect the voucher measure to become law, and President Trump rarely mentions the proposal. But still, White House officials also says that Secretary DeVos receives kudos for pushing the school choice agenda, which is popular with the President’s core of conservative supporters.

Hers for the asking…

Celebrity chef Jose Andres says he has an opening for that New Hampshire cafeteria worker who was fired last week for providing a free lunch to a student who didn’t have any money to pay for it.

Bonnie Kimball had worked at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, through its food vendor Café Services for five years, until she was accused of theft over the $8 lunch tab.

Ms. Kimball said she and the staff all have a good relationship with the students. “We know these kids,” she said.

After her story drew national attention, the school district said that it wanted Café Services to restore her job, but Ms. Kimball refused, telling the local news media, “They all just want me to get the press off their backs.”

Enter Chef Andres, who Tweeted, “If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!”

Chef Andres owns restaurants in Washington D.C.; Los Angeles; South Beach, Florida and Mexico City. He has provided free meals to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and to federal workers who were furloughed during last year’s government shutdown. 

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.