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Sunday, January 30, 2011

STEM Diversity Without Borders

STEM Diversity Without Borders


STEM Diversity Without Borders
by Dr. Lorelle L. Espinosa, August 20, 2010

In terms of postsecondary degree completion, the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) landscape largely resembles American higher education on the whole. Despite more low-income students and underrepresented minorities seeking and completing STEM degrees, there remains great inequity between these groups and the country’s majority middle- and upper-income populations.
In addition to racial/ethnic and socioeconomic classification, the dividing lines of inequity can also be drawn by geographical region.
A recent report by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program sheds comprehensive light on the current condition of America’s population centers by way of immigration, migration, households, and workforce (in addition to more traditional measures like race/ethnicity).

Although not addressing the STEM education pipeline in particular, State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation, speaks to social, educational, and industry settings in cities across the country—regions also home to potential generations of diverse STEM professionals. The report both confirms often discussed data on growing population centers while also pulling back the curtain on areas that lie beyond the country’s borders and inner-cities.

According to the report, the greatest growth of Asian and Hispanic groups—the fastest growing racial/ethnic populations—between the years 2000 and 2008 occurred in just 10 metropolitan areas. These groups are also moving away from previous geographical strongholds and into metropolitan suburbs in unprecedented numbers.

In short, the country’s populace landscape continues to change, thus necessitating a parallel change in the way researchers, policymakers, and practitioners approach STEM education and workforce advancement. Particularly when it concerns just where and when diverse students enter STEM higher education.

Fortunately, positive change is occurring at the local level. Federal agencies and philanthropies that focus on K-20 STEM outreach often utilize a community-based model. Such efforts focus on high-need school districts where science laboratories are in dire shape or are non-existent and where a lack of STEM role models is great. Such endeavors foster linkages between two- and four-year institutions, supported by both local industry and community leadership.

The bottom line is this: STEM education policy needs to move beyond a single system or institution. A collective effort—between two- and four-year institutions, public and private, and K-12 and postsecondary education—will create the change that single-approach solutions fail to assemble. This collaboration must also occur in conjunction with local industries and within metropolitan spaces.
And like metropolitan spaces—and indeed like the STEM pipeline itself—we cannot allow policy solutions to take action within state borders alone or within any one geographical or institutional setting.
Given the role of education research in policy shaping, there must also be a more concerted effort on behalf of the higher education research community to think beyond the input categories of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. After all, the families, neighborhoods, and schools from which the nation’s children are borne and educated have paramount influence on their education trajectory.
Such highly nuanced environments are difficult to measure, often resulting in their exclusion from national datasets and subsequent studies. When these contexts aretaken into account—particularly when mixed methods are utilized—findings are overshadowed by the dominant discourse on race and income.

As such, the diversity discourse needs to be broadened. This means posing 21st century questions and designing and utilizing data that capture student movement across geographical and institutional borders. It also means inserting effective education policy at the intersections of research and practice as well as the intersections of other social systems. Only then will we facilitate the change we seek at the speed we require.

Dr. Lorelle L. Espinosa is the director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based independent, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to increasing access and success in postsecondary education around the world.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Online Registration for Feb. 9, 2011 Conference: Leading the Nation: A Texas Retrospective on Education Reform



Here's the link to our registration site:

Leading The Nation: A Texas Retrospective on Education Reform

The Texas Center for Education Policy and its partners are excited to announce the upcoming annual state conference “Leading the Nation: A Texas Retrospective on Educational Reform” to be held February 9, 2011 at the Austin Hilton downtown, 9am to 4pm.

The public event will convene thought leaders from the education, government, business, community, and non-profit sectors with a demonstrated interest in issues of accountability and assessment to identify areas where education reform has a significant impact on education.

The Honorable Paul Sadler, Former Chair, Committee on Public Education, Texas House of Representatives will deliver the luncheon keynote. He will be followed by David Hinojosa, Esq., of Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who will discuss the condition of education for English language learners in the state of Texas.

Preliminary Agenda

8:00 to 9:00AM Registration

9:00 to 9:30AM Welcome, Announcements and Invocation

9:30 to 11:00 AM Reflections on Ten Years of “Texas-style” Accountability

Albert Kauffman, Associate Professor of Law, St. Mary’s School of Law, San Antonio, Texas

Linda McNeil, Professor, Department of Education, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Angela Valenzuela, Professor, Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin

Richard Valencia, Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

11:00 to 11:30 AM Education Policy: A National Perspective

Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (invited)

Q & A

11:30 to 12:00 PM Break and Lunch

12:15 to 12:30 PM Luncheon Keynote, Paul Sadler, Former Chair, Committee on Public Education, Texas House of Representatives

12:30 to 1:00 PM Awards Ceremony

1:00 to 1:10 PM David Hinojosa, Senior Litigator, Mexican American Legal Defense in Education Fund

1:30 to 2:30PM Contemporary Issues in Education Reform in Texas

The Honorable Senator Florence Shapiro, Chair, Senate Education Committee, Texas Senate

The Honorable Representative Rob Eissler, Chair, Committee on Public Education, Texas House

The Honorable Representative Paul Sadler, Former Chair, Committee on Public Education, Texas House

3:00 to 4:00PM Networking Hour

The $30.00 conference fee includes a light breakfast and plated lunch. For more information, contact Dr. Angela Valenzuela at (512) 471-7055. Seating is limited so register today!

Brought to you by:

The Texas Center for Education Policy

The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement

Aztec Worldwide, Inc.

School Finance Reform in Texas: A Never Ending Story?

This is an excellent article [pdf] on School Finance Reform in Texas authored by Economics Professors Jennifer Imazeki (San Diego State University) and Andrew Reschovsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Like I just posted... Texas matters!

Angela

Savage Inequalities Revisited: Adequacy, Equity, and State High Court Decisions

Another really good article by Verstegen, Venegas, and Knoeppel on the financing of our public schools.

Angela

BILINGUAL EDUCATION | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)

BILINGUAL EDUCATION | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)

This is also a good resource for considering as we consider the dynamics that drive states like Arizona and West Virginia toward reactionary policies.

Angela

Friday, January 28, 2011

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009: A Brief Synopsis

I'm happy to share this really excellent report [pdf] that considers the impact of states like Texas to genuinely lead our nation—for better and for worse. This helps us to consider that what we do here in Texas really matters and has the potential, indeed, to change the world.

Although the outcome of this legislative session could prove me wrong, the value of this—at least partially—is to help dispel myths that Texas is a backwater state. The record points to several positive, powerful impacts on the nation through jurisprudence and state law about which we should be proud.

This record helps us to know our history and to be better decision makers today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Texas Children: Canaries in the Coal Mine

Texas Children: Canaries in the Coal Mine

A report by the nonpartisan Texans Care for Children finds that glaring social problems borne by Texas’ children have resulted from its state government’s policies.

By Pamela Oldham

Report: Texas’ Economic Miracle Paid for by Its Kids

The nonpartisan Texans Care for Children reports that Texas children are falling behind the rest of the country in nearly every aspect of child well-being.

Merely mentioning the state’s name evokes a vision of wide-open spaces, rugged independence and, most importantly, unrivaled economic prowess.

The Lone Star State has carefully nurtured its national reputation as an economic leader. In fact, the official website of three-term Gov. Rick Perry includes a brag page; reading the national headlines listed there could lead even the most cynical Texan to blush with pride.

It looks like Texas’ longtime model of cutting spending and never raising taxes works exceptionally well, so it’s not surprising that many states are following Texas’ lead. But it’s less obvious that the state’s fiscal policies and widely admired approach to balancing its budget have created a devastating legacy. According to officials at Austin-based Texans Care for Children, a multi-issue, nonpartisan policy organization, Texas children are falling behind the rest of the country in nearly every aspect of child well-being.

“The perception of Texas across the country is often that we have remained economically strong, while choosing to under-invest in social services,” says Eileen Garcia, CEO of Texans Care for Children. “The lesson of the Texas experiment is that neglecting our people is not a viable way of balancing the budget. We have been a state of haves and have nots that threatens to become a state of merely have nots. Texans shoulder the burden of local taxes due to an anemic state budget, while also having the added burden that community supports and safety nets that families turn to when times are tough just aren’t there. We face a $27 billion shortfall and some of the worst social outcomes of any state in the nation.”

Not that Perry hasn’t acknowledged the difficulties of the pending budget, although he hasn’t focused on social services. “Texans understand the realities of these tight budgetary times, and just like Texas families and employers have been doing, we will tighten our belts in order to balance the budget,” he said earlier this month. “In the end, we intend to give the people what they want and deserve: a fiscally responsible government, which will lead to more jobs, greater freedom, and continued security in their communities and homes.”

For years, services that benefit Texas’ most vulnerable citizens have been the repeated target of state budget cuts. Study after study has warned about the perils of inadequately providing for the future of Texas children. The latest, “A Report on the Bottom Line: Conditions for Children and the Texas of Tomorrow,” was released today by Garcia’s organization.

The 76-page report, drawing upon Census data, demographic forecasts and national and state data sources, finds Texas is on a course for stunning economic failure unless it closes gaps in well-being for the child population, especially Hispanic children.

“A sick, uneducated, unskilled work force does not propel a state forward,” Garcia writes in the report’s preface. “The devastating forecasts depict a Texas that few of us would want to visit, let alone call home.”

The bi-annual Texas legislative session opened this month to news of an estimated $27 billion budget shortfall. But even before legislators took their seats in the capitol, Texas lagged every other state in per-capita spending. Before considering budget-cutting proposals, Texas also ranked 50th among states in health care coverage for children, mental health services for children with diagnosed challenges, preventing childhood homelessness, preventing childhood food insecurity, and preventing obesity among adolescent girls, according to the report.

The cumulative impact of previous budget cuts has put Texas children behind the rest of the nation. When compared to children in the rest of the U.S., a Texas child is 93 percent more likely not to have access to health care, 33 percent more likely not to receive mental health care services, 35 percent more likely to grow up poor, and 16 percent more likely to drop out of school. Given that Texas is not a poor state — its citizens’ median wealth ranks 27th out of 50 — the dire status of its children is all the more startling.

Texas ranks third among the seven worst states in overall child well-being, according to the advocacy organization Every Child Matters; the other six states are the nation’s poorest.

In the area of child protection — a fundamental measurement of child well-being — Texas ranks last again. In the last decade, more children in Texas than in any other state have died as a result of abuse or neglect. The state invests far less in prevention than it does in child welfare services, which are provided after the abuse or neglect has been identified.

Sadly — and more expensively in the long run — budget funds for prevention programs are often the first to be cut when money is tight. According to Texans Care, the Texas Legislature is considering a proposed 84 percent cut in this area, even though there is mounting evidence that investment in child abuse prevention and early intervention programs creates significant savings to taxpayers.

Experts like Rice University professor Stephen Murdock, state demographer under former Gov. George W. Bush, sounded the alarm years ago. Today, Murdock warns that if Texas doesn’t correct course soon, the next generation of Texans will have less education, less wealth and shorter life spans than the generation before.

According to Murdock, the state will face huge setbacks if it fails to provide opportunities and resources that enable Texas children to reach their full potential. In the absence of these changes, he predicts the average Texas household in 2040 will be $6,500 poorer in 2000 constant dollars.

“In 2000, 18 percent of the [Texas] labor force had less than a high school level of education. If we are not successful in educating the young people of Texas, we could, by 2040, have a labor force in which 30 percent of the labor force has less than a high school level of education,” Murdock says. “So when you start talking about the development and education of young people, you’re talking about the future and, I would argue, the economic development and future prosperity of Texas.”

Education, he says, is key to overcoming differences that exist between minority children and the rest of America. For Texas, adequately funding education is crucial because of the state’s shifting demographics — the white student population in Texas is declining while the number of African-American, Asian and Hispanic students is rising.

The Texans Care report points out that inadequate state funding — not immigration — drives the state’s poor outcomes for “minority” children. Murdock agrees. “Most Hispanics in Texas have been here for generations; they’re natives of Texas, citizens of Texas and of the United States,” he says.

“So, one of the things that happens when you talk about cuts in education is the implications are greatest for those that are most disadvantaged. That’s true in Texas or across the country,” says Murdock, who notes that Texas has long had relatively high rates of poverty. “The future can be bright if we will meet this challenge as it relates to providing opportunities. Because we know from the data that exists that there aren’t a lot of differences in terms of the ability to achieve. There are only differences in the opportunities to achieve.”

Among the many policy changes Texans Care recommends are these top three:

• Ensure youth and families have a voice in policy and program decisions that affect them.

• Improve coordination among state services and programs.

• Hold the state accountable for better outcomes for Texans — hold public agencies accountable for effective delivery of services and hold the Texas Legislature accountable for building budgets based on actual need and projections of growth.

Cutting waste and improving efficiency have always been part of the Texas culture. But the complexity of the social issues Texas faces has grown. “The social problems we as a state have ignored don’t go away just because we don’t choose to focus on them,” Garcia says.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Senate budget a tad higher than House's

Check out the Senate's proposed budget as well as the LBB's Summary of Legislative Budget Estimates and the LBB's full Legislative Budget Estimates.

Might be less severe than the House version though no less fatal.

Patricia


Education not slashed as deeply, but plan still cuts 15% from current budget.

By Kate Alexander | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, Jan. 24, 2011

The Texas Senate on Monday delivered a state budget proposal that cuts a little less from education and other programs than the version released last week by the House of Representatives.

But the upper chamber's $158.7 billion budget proposal, which is $2.3 billion bigger in overall spending than the House bill, still whacks 15 percent from the current two-year budget.

The spending differences between the two proposals, however, are dwarfed by the huge challenge facing lawmakers as they attempt to close a massive budget hole without raising taxes or accessing the $9.4 billion rainy day fund.

Given that challenge, the Senate will begin hearings on the 2012-13 budget bill next week, said state Sen. Steve Ogden, the Bryan Republican who was reappointed chairman of the Finance Committee on Monday.

"I know it's urgent," said Ogden, who crafted the Senate proposal. "I think the best thing we can do here in the Senate is to get started."

House Speaker Joe Straus has not yet appointed committees, which will need to happen before House members can take up its budget bill.

The quick start is well advised, said Dale Craymer, president of the business-backed Texas Taxpayers and Research Association .

The Legislature will have to change state law in order to make the level of cuts to public education and Medicaid that lawmakers assumed when creating the proposals. Such cuts won't be politically popular, so budget-writers will need to build a consensus to make them happen, Craymer said.

"This go-round is a much more political exercise" compared to past legislative sessions, Craymer said. "The stakes are clearly much higher, the decisions are much tougher. You've got to be willing to say there are some things that we can do without."

Texas will also have to get approval from the federal government to make the planned changes to Medicaid, a formidable task given the strained relationship between the Obama administration and state leaders.

"Texas has a lot of company in seeking change," said Craymer, noting that many other states are in similar budget straits.

The Senate budget anticipates some extra federal money coming to Texas to pay for Medicaid, which would free up some state dollars. It also uses some dedicated fees to pay for general operating expenses.

In relative terms, public education benefited the most from the additional money in the Senate budget. Direct aid to school districts would be reduced by $9.3 billion rather than the $9.8 billion in the House version.

Some education programs that were nixed by the House, including pre-kindergarten funding and teacher incentives, got $400 million, far less than the $1.8 billion in the current budget.

Cuts to higher education were not quite as deep in the Senate proposal. Four community colleges axed by the House got a reprieve in the Senate.

And the Senate proposes to erase about 1,400 fewer state positions than the 9,600 cut in the House version.

kalexander@statesman.com

Proposed Senate budget

The $158.7 billion state budget released by the Texas Senate is $2.3 billion bigger than the House version delivered last week. The budget figure includes state, federal and other revenue sources. Here's a look at some of the differences:

Senate House Difference

Direct state aid to public schools $33.3 billion $32.8 billion $500 million

Other public education programs $400 million 0 $400 million

Higher education $21.6 billion $21.1 billion $500 million

Criminal justice $4.6 billion $4.5 billion $100 million

Border security $111.5 million $76.6 million $35 million

Source: Legislative Budget Board, www.lbb.state.tx.us

Fewer college students to get financial aid under House and Senate proposals

Number of Texas Grant recipients would drop from 86,830 to 27,135

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, Jan. 24, 2011

The Texas Legislature allocated enough money for 86,830 college students to receive the need-based Texas Grant in the current academic year. Under the proposed House and Senate budgets, the number of students receiving the state's main form of financial aid would decline to 27,135 by 2013.

That's because funding would be cut 41 percent, to $366 million, for the upcoming two-year budget, closing the program to students entering college but allowing those already receiving the grant to continue to do so.

The state's other financial aid programs also would take substantial hits. Work-study aid would be cut 41 percent. A scholarship program for students ranking in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes would be cut 79 percent.

All told, spending on financial aid — just over $1 billion in the current two-year budget — would decline by $431 million under the House proposal for 2012-13 and by $381 million under the Senate version, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who had asked the Legislature to increase financial aid in light of growing enrollment, expressed a mixture of dismay and optimism Monday. He noted that much of the enrollment growth involves students who are poor, the first generation in their families to attend college, and Hispanic or members of other minority groups.

"I am hopeful that we can make a compelling argument that we have an awful lot of poor students coming through the system, and they won't be able to go to college unless we provide some financial aid," Paredes said. "It would be tragic if we have to tell these poor, first-generation students of color as they're showing up in high school graduation classes that we've run out of money."

It's not as if Texas has been generous with financial aid all along. Paredes' agency, the Higher Education Coordinating Board, estimates that only about 70 percent of students meeting financial and academic eligibility requirements currently receive a Texas Grant. That's despite the fact that lawmakers increased spending on financial aid by about 35 percent two years ago.

Thomas Melecki, director of student financial services at the University of Texas, said eliminating Texas Grants for new students would keep some of them from enrolling. Currently, about 4,800 UT students receive a Texas Grant, including about 1,200 freshmen.

UT would try to redirect other grants to students who would otherwise receive a Texas Grant, as well as put more loan money into their financial aid packages, Melecki said. Many low-income students are leery of taking out loans, which, unlike grants, must be repaid.

A Texas Grant can be worth as much as $6,780 a year for a student at one of the state's universities, said Andy Kesling, a spokesman for the Higher Education Coordinating Board. Only students whose families can afford to pay no more than $4,000 toward their education are eligible, he said. The maximum grant for a community college student is $1,780.

Lashaila Mitchum, a sophomore majoring in social work at UT, said of her Texas Grant, "It makes financial hardship a little more sustainable."

She predicted that many students wouldn't apply for admission if the grant program is closed to entering students. "How can you expect people to work, pay taxes and be productive citizens if they can't go to school?" Mitchum said.

Two years ago, the Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, a panel authorized by the Legislature, noted that insufficient financial aid can prompt students to forgo college or to spend too much time working while they are enrolled. Nationwide, only 8 percent of freshmen who work full time earn a bachelor's degree within six years. In Texas, 35 percent of undergraduates work full time, the commission reported.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, referring to GOP majorities in the House and Senate, said: "The Republican budget proposals read like blueprints for making college more expensive. By eliminating financial aid for new students, and pushing up tuition through cuts to colleges, the Republican proposals would put higher education and high-paying jobs out of reach for tens of thousands of young Texans."

GOP leaders say the proposals are intended to ensure that the state lives within its means. The proposals avoid new taxes and use of the rainy day fund.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Young: Lost in legislators' budget-cutting frenzy is the idea that class size matters

This is a really thoughtful piece by John Young. I want to highlight the line,
those who trivialize class size aren't as interested in student success as their dime-store slogans say

Something that comes to mind is how university faculty and doctoral students would cringe at the idea of graduate-level courses having the class sizes that we are unapologetically proposing to impose on children.

I hope the masses come out to voice their opinions on this issue.

-Patricia


John Young | Austin American-Statesman, Regular Contributor
Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011

With budget savings in view, the full-court press is on in state legislatures to deny that smaller class sizes help students do better.

Tight state budgets are forcing the "science," the rationalizing of larger class sizes. In reality, we are talking about the whims of policy makers who can only guess what it actually takes to "leave no child behind."

As a parent, it always was simple intuition to me that a smaller class made a difference. Then one day I saw it in reality — as a teacher.

My intuition now tells me that those who trivialize class size aren't as interested in student success as their dime-store slogans say.

In Texas, state Comptroller Susan Combs has advocated removing a long-mandated 22-1 student-teacher ratio in grades K-4. Her plan would eliminate 11,900 teaching positions statewide.

Combs' report states that classes with a 25-1 ratio "could operate without any loss of instructional effectiveness."

Well, it depends. What kind of class are we talking about? If the issue is the basic skills that second-graders need to compete with Taiwanese second-graders, Combs' claim is specious at best.

How do I know? Because I saw how a smaller class benefited one particular student on a basic skill in a rare snow day in the Sun Belt.

That February day, a dusting left Central Texas streets slippery. About half the students in my 8 a.m. developmental writing class at the community college stayed home.

Remarkably, among those who showed up was one I least expected. Call him Tony. Tony ultimately would not pass the course, for he would find just about any atmospheric event as grounds not to attend. And when he was there, he made himself invisible.

On this snow day, Tony could not hide. And I had to teach something to someone.

To my surprise, when it was him and me, Tony and I were connecting, and he was learning. I felt a great buzz. I knew Tony could succeed in my class. I felt he believed the same.

It didn't happen, partly because of his poor attendance and partly because with a typically large class, in no way could I address his needs to make the requisite difference in his instruction. But the snow-day experience pointed out the absurdity of the claim made by people who say class size doesn't matter.

Of course it does, particularly when the emphasis is on the basic skills on which schools are hammered by state policy makers — math, writing, reading. These are endeavors in which the teacher needs to go around the room and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Class size matters. Anyone who believes otherwise ought to try saddling up 25 mounts from differing starting points and riding them to one destination.

Bracing for cuts, schools face hard choices

This article highlights the important factor of district-level savings accounts. While not all districts have them, there are some who were called out during the Select Committee on School Finance interim hearings. Savings account figures were quite high for some districts present and the response from committee members was explicit-- they were livid.

Be prepared for this to make its way in the budget discussion as well as the soon-to-be filed school finance legislation.

-Patricia


By ERICKA MELLON | HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Jan. 21, 2011

In Austin, top Republican lawmakers are touting a no-new-taxes budget that avoids dipping into the state's rainy-day fund.

Local school leaders, stunned by the magnitude of the cuts reflected in the Texas House's base budget, fear they will have to rely on the opposite strategy — reluctantly — to balance their own spending plans.

"They don't want to spend their rainy-day fund," David Anthony, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district, said of state lawmakers. "I'm not sure why we would want to spend ours."

But Anthony said his district and others across Texas won't be able to avoid tapping into savings if the cuts to public education are as deep - up to $10 billion - as the House proposed this week.

Some school officials also are considering even more unpopular options - increasing property tax rates or eliminating special tax breaks. In some cases, even those moves aren't expected to raise enough money to plug the worst-case budget holes.

"Right now, nothing is off the table," said Candace Ahlfinger, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Independent School District, which could lose between $32 million and $53 million under the initial House budget plan.

Under a 2006 state law, districts must ask voters for permission to increase the tax rate by more than a few cents, and the overall rate is capped.

Jackie Lain, who lobbies on behalf of school districts, said they would have a particularly tough time winning voter approval for a tax hike now.

"How do you sell, as a locally elected official, a tax rate increase when the Legislature has said no new taxes?" asked Lain, the director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards. "It would be a very hard sell. That's like selling ice to Eskimos."
'Not fair to taxpayers'

Pasadena ISD - as well as Houston ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Cy-Fair ISD and about 200 other districts - have another way to increase revenues. Their school boards could decide to eliminate a special tax break, known as the optional homestead exemption, they have chosen to give property owners.

Anthony, the Cy-Fair superintendent, asked school board members to slash the district's 20 percent exemption in half last year, but they voted down his proposal. He said Thursday that he didn't plan to try again.

"That's not fair to our taxpayers," he said.

In HISD, the optional homestead exemption saves property owners more than $100 million a year, according to Melinda Garrett, the district's chief financial officer.

District officials have not suggested revoking the exemption, and Garrett told the school board Thursday that it wasn't clear how much money could be gained by taking this step.

Under the House budget proposal, HISD could lose between $203 million and $348 million - up to a fifth of its budget - according to estimates from a consulting firm. Garrett told the school board that she didn't expect the House plan to be the final word but said the district had to prepare for the worst.
Too much savings?

She said the board could decide to increase the tax rate by a few cents without going to voters because the district hadn't hit the limit yet. Dipping into the district's savings accounts - which total about $285 million - is another option, Garrett said.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs suggested in a school-finance report in December that districts that maintain excessive fund balances, or savings, should be punished with less state funding. In 2009, more than half of the state's districts had more savings on hand than the Texas Education Agency recommends, according to Combs' report. It did not mention individual districts.

HISD Trustee Carol Mims Galloway proposed that the district increase revenue by soliciting advertising on school buses. A plan is in the works, Garrett said, but HISD Superintendent Terry Grier chimed in with a grim reminder.

"You could sell naming rights to football stadiums and wings of schools and buses," Grier said. "That's not going to solve our problem."

Educators, local lawmakers decry cuts

Some response to last week's LBB proposed budget (HB 1). I'm sure this is just the beginning. I hope our media also prioritizes community voice and opinion on this issue.

You can download the entire proposal and specific exec. summaries at an earlier post on this blog.

-Patricia



Danielle Gonzalez, who's studying at the University of the Incarnate Wordto be an educator, sits with 16-month-old niece Aliana Chavez during a news conference by state Rep. Mike Villarreal to talk about the impact the state's base budget bill on schools.
Photo: LISA KRANTZ/lkrantz@express-news.net / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

By Melissa Ludwig
Friday, January 21, 2011

Flanked by local educators, students and parents, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, on Friday blasted a proposed state budget that over the next two years would cut nearly $14 billion in spending on public K-12 and higher education.

“This budget is nothing less than an abdication of responsibility,” Villarreal said at a news conference at Brackenridge High School in the San Antonio Independent School District. “Texas has never been a big-spending state, but we have always made investments in our basic infrastructure. There is nothing more basic than educating our children.”

On Tuesday, GOP leaders released a bare-bones budget that would balance a shortfall of at least $15 billion with deep cuts to education, including cutting funding for four community colleges, yanking financial aid for incoming college students and eliminating grant funds for prekindergarten, high school completion programs and science labs.

The base budget proposal does not account for growth. Taking into account swelling school and Medicaid rolls, some put the gap at $27 billion. GOP leaders have pledged to balance the budget with no new revenue and without dipping into the state's rainy day fund.

“It's impossible. It's a total failure by the state to maintain the infrastructure that supports our economy,” said Blakely Fernandez, a trustee for the Alamo Colleges.

If the cuts stand, Fernandez said local school districts and community colleges may be forced to raise property taxes.

“Money is going to have to come from somewhere. This is a push-down program,” Fernandez said.

The largest chunk — $11.6 billion — would be cut from K-12 education. Higher education would lose $2.1 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, called the cuts “dramatic and deep” and said they would result in more layoffs, enrollment caps and the elimination of entire programs at the system's nine universities and six health science centers.

The cuts “will have immediate and future devastating consequences for our students, patients, faculty, staff and the communities of Texas,” Cigarroa said in a statement.

The budget also shuts out new students from TEXAS grants, the state's chief financial aid program for needy students. Offering only renewals, the grants would serve 85 percent fewer students over the next two years.

The cuts will “make college more expensive and financial aid more scarce,” Villarreal told a group of journalism students at Brackenridge.

School districts could lose 100,000 jobs, according to school finance expert Lynn Moak.

Betty Burks, deputy superintendent of SAISD, said the district would likely cut prekindergarten programs to a half day rather than a whole day, one of many tough decisions they will be forced to make.

“This is a crisis for SAISD. We are the heart of the city,” Burks said.

Elaine Mahler, the grandparent of two children at Hawthorne Elementary, said she moved to the United States from Belize to give her children a better education. It angers her to see politicians “playing games” at the expense of children's education.

“It's a shame on those who choose to do that,” Mahler said. “Pay now or you will be paying more later in prison beds.”

Denise Barkhurst, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas and a parent of two children in the North East Independent School District, said Texas already ranks in the bottom nationally when it comes to education spending per pupil.

“I am proud to be a Texan, but I am ashamed of the ranking,” Barkhurst said. “They want to try to balance a budget with no money, just cut, cut, cut. Economically, it is going to cripple us.”

Community colleges threatened with closure include Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Frank Phillips College in Borger, Odessa College and Ranger College. The measure would save $39 million and affect nearly 12,000 students.

According to a blog on Brazosport College's Web site, school officials found the announcement “very puzzling,” citing record enrollment in 2010.

Villarreal blamed the crisis on an unsound budget structure and said he is proposing a series of measures to overhaul the tax code and close loopholes.

Given the immediate crisis, however, nothing is off the table, including ideas to consolidate school districts, university systems and state agencies such as the Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency.

Waxing psychological, Villarreal compared the crisis to the stages of grief, starting with denial of the impending shortfall.

From there, Texans have moved to anger and will soon begin bargaining, using accounting tricks and Band-aids to try to cover the gap. A period of depression almost surely will follow before lawmakers reach acceptance, he said.

“We need to accept our obligation to balance the budget with foresight,” Villarreal said. “We will not get to acceptance if we do not pass these other stages.”

Castro will take a stronger hand in schools

By Josh Baugh And Lindsay Kastner
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mayor Julián Castro will take an active role in local school board elections and superintendent appointments, he said in an interview Saturday outside SA2020's final community workshop, one in which education was heralded as key to the city's future.

Castro, stepping directly into a domain previous mayors have avoided, said his plan begins with refusing to accept failure from the city's “urban school districts.”

“I envision, for instance, coming up with a system of measuring the progress of these urban school districts in a mayor's scorecard on their progress and holding them accountable for student success,” he said. “I believe that getting more involved in ensuring that there are knowledgeable and strong board members at these school districts needs to be a part of my job.

“We have sat too long and allowed our school districts to not have as top-notch leadership as they could have, both in superintendents and in school boards.”

Castro said he would support candidates in school board elections that he believes would “enhance the level of excellence for students” in their districts. He said the same applies to superintendents, though “not in a political way.”

“I'm looking for every opportunity to champion those superintendents and what they're doing,” he said.

Recently, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Robert Durón notified the board's president, as his contract requires, that he has applied for another job.

His 41/2-year tenure with the district — which already has exceeded the average for urban school superintendents — has been marked by increased test scores, a lengthy effort to close schools and the recent passage of the district's largest bond to date. But SAISD continues to struggle with a high dropout rate and low state ratings, and Durón's relationship with trustees sometimes has been strained.

Backing Radle

If Castro indeed weighs in on SAISD elections, he potentially could have a significant impact on the shape of the board. Trustees Olga Hernandez, Tom Lopez and board President James Howard all have seats up for election in May.

Lopez, the longest-serving board member, said he wasn't concerned by Castro's plan to beef up his involvement in the city's schools, including a “mayor's scorecard” for area districts.

“We're evaluated from all different angles, all different perspectives,” Lopez said.

He was shocked, however, by news that Castro also intends to get involved in school board elections. In the interview, Castro said he would support former Councilwoman Patti Radle should she throw her hat in Lopez's District 5 race.

“I don't know, that kind of catches me by surprise,” Lopez said, noting that he always has supported Castro.

Lopez said it wasn't common for San Antonio mayors to take such an active interest in schools, “but then again that's the mayor's prerogative.”

Radle said Saturday afternoon that she'd been asked by several community members to consider a run for the seat, and she's doing just that.

“I'm still weighing the situation,” said Radle, who's deeply involved in several nonprofit agencies and a capital campaign. “I have a lot of responsibilities right now.”

Radle said she wasn't concerned by Castro's efforts to become more involved in school board elections.

“The issue of children is not out of the purview of anyone, and the issue of job preparedness should be a concern for everyone,” she said. “So I don't think there has to be a divorce between mayor and council on one hand and the school system on the other.”

Char Miller, a retired Trinity University urban studies professor now at Pomona College in California, said Castro is kicking down the wall that's always stood between mayors and independent school districts.

“We have a lot of independent school districts — each one of which is its own political fiefdom — and that may well serve everyone well, but it also means that the City Council and the mayor ... have precious little impact or influence on what takes place there.”

Miller said previous mayors have used the bully pulpit of their office to advocate for change, “but there has never been such a direct insertion by a mayor of the mayor into school board elections and the like, which is kind of astonishing.

“I can only imagine the conversations that are taking place in all of those school boards and superintendent offices,” he said.

‘Education City'

On Saturday, as about 1,000 people wrapped up SA2020, Castro's collaborative long-term planning effort, it was clear that for San Antonio to succeed during the next decade, improving education would be pivotal.

During the session, participants discussed how to connect seemingly disparate issues — from downtown development to economic competitiveness and family well-being.

Ann Stevens, president of BioMed SA, said education “is the river that runs through our lives and binds us together as a community.” Several other speakers, representing the collective thoughts of their working groups, pointed to a strong education system as a game changer — a daunting task made more difficult by looming state budget cuts in the Legislature.

During an activity that required participants to create stories as if they were in the year 2020 looking back over the past decade, one person said: “Once San Antonio became known as the Education City, everything changed.”

For the past several months, thousands of San Antonians have come together to help craft the community-driven vision.

“The hard work, the real effort starts now,” Castro said during closing remarks. “The next months and years are about doing that, accomplishing that.”

SA2020 leaders, such as Daryl Byrd — one of the project's three chairmen — said pointedly that the thrust of SA2020 encompasses everyone here, “from the board room to the family room.” Rackspace Hosting's Graham Weston, also a SA2020 chairman, said that what happens after the visioning process is what will determine whether the project is a success.

“What really matters is doing. What really matters is action,” he said. “If you don't act, the vision means nothing.”

As implementation begins, if SA2020 is to be deemed successful, it'll be because governmental agencies — including the independent school districts — the business community, the nonprofit world and the public all work together.

The SA2020 document will play a role in selecting projects for the city's 2012 bond program, and Castro said the planning project's priorities must be embraced by Bexar County, the school districts and other sectors of the community.

Castro told an impassioned story about when he and his twin, state Rep. Joaquín Castro, were headed to California to enroll at Stanford University. Only their second time on an airplane, the brothers cried all the way to El Paso. About a month later, they were back (temporarily) on their mother's doorstep. It was an intangible attraction to San Antonio that had the Castro brothers pining for home, and now, the mayor wants to foster that same attraction for others to make this city the great place he thinks it can be.

Areas charted

The vision for San Antonio in 2020 comprises these 11 elements:

Arts and culture

Community safety

Downtown development

Economic competitiveness

Education

Family well-being

Government accountability and civic engagement

Health and fitness

Natural resources and environmental sustainability

Neighborhoods and growth management

Transportation

Texas House Budget Proposes Sweeping Cuts

I encourage all of you to give the LBB's proposal (HB 1) a close read. The cuts to public education are devastating and even worse for higher ed.

-Patricia


by Texas Tribune Staff
January 19, 2011

The Texas House opened the conversation on state spending Tuesday with a $156.4 billion budget that's $31.1 billion smaller than its predecessor, a drop of 16.6 percent from the current two-year spending plan.

The cuts are deep, but the proposed budget doesn't call for an increase in taxes or tapping the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund. The budget was released to legislators on Tuesday night and is now available to the public online. The Senate will follow with a proposal of its own next week — lawmakers say the differences are relatively small. And Gov. Rick Perry says he'll follow with his own proposal before his State of the State speech in the first week of February.

The state's current budget totals $187.5 billion, including $88.5 billion in general revenue. The proposed replacement, prepared for the House by the Legislative Budget Board, totals $156.4 billion, including $79.3 billion in general revenue. General revenue is the part of the budget over which lawmakers have direct control; the remainder consists of federal and other funds. In this proposal, general revenue spending would drop by 10.4 percent from current levels.

Estimates of the state's budget shortfall — the difference between the amount of money needed to fund the state and the amount that's actually available — range from $15 billion to $27 billion. Going from this proposal, there's no shortfall in the state budget at all. The House's initial plan cuts spending in virtually every area of government and doesn't include funding increases that would cover current services, population growth and inflation.

The health and human services portion of the proposal would cut Medicaid provider rates — what doctors and hospitals and others are paid — by 10 percent. And it doesn't include funding for population growth or for increased costs or utilization rates. There's also a $4.3 billion cut included to account for the federal stimulus money used in the current budget that's not available for the next budget. The proposal would cut a total of $16.1 billion in health and human services spending. That's a 24.6 percent cut.

Public education spending would drop, too. The notes included with the proposal say it falls $9.8 billion short of the amount needed under current school finance formulas, which means that the Legislature will have to alter them or find the money. The proposed budget doesn't include funding for increased numbers of students, for projected declines in property values and related local school taxes, or $3.3 billion in the current budget from federal stimulus money. Public education spending would drop a total of $7 billion from current levels. Higher education would be cut $1.7 billion, or 7.6 percent, from current levels.

The House proposal chops $3.3 billion from the business and economic development section of the budget, a 14.3 percent drop. Public safety and criminal justice would lose $1.5 billion from current levels, a 12.7 percent drop.

The LBB, which guides lawmakers as they write the state's budget, also revealed its long-awaited recommendations for how to save and raise money to help balance the 2012-13 budget and make the state function more efficiently, from lifting the ban on Sunday liquor sales to tying the summer sales tax holiday to the state's financial condition. Here are the headlines from the LBB's Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Recommendations.

CROSS-AGENCY RECOMMENDATIONS | Download

— Move administration of the Texas Economic Development Act. Allow the comptroller — instead of local school districts — to negotiate property tax breaks based on economic development and separate wind farms from other development categories.

— Reduce the time money sits idle in bank accounts. Shorten the amount of time bank deposits and other instruments lie dormant before going into the state's unclaimed property funds. Worth $72 million to the state.

— Require electronic banking for state business. Replace paper checks with direct deposit for all state employees and others who receive regular payments from the state.

— Make it easier to understand state and local government borrowing. Increase the transparency of the state's constitutional debt limit so people can see how it's calculated and how close the state is to its borrowing capacity.

— Steer veterans to benefits that aren't state-funded. Use national public assistance databases to make sure veterans in Texas aren't using Medicaid — which costs the state money — for benefits that are available from veterans programs that don't use state money.

— Strengthen regulation to improve food safety. Coordinate food safety regulation between the four main agencies involved to cut down on the 6 million cases of food poisoning reported each year in Texas.

— Consolidate the state's poison control centers. There are six now; merging them into one would save $2.6 million annually.

— Raise prices for storing documents for local governments. The state's archives aren't covering their costs with current pricing, and doing so would cut $1.6 million from state spending.

— Charge state employees for parking in state garages. The state could bring in $5.5 million every two years, the LBB estimates, if it charged state employees as it now charges visitors who don't work for the state.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS | Download

— Address solvency of the state's employee and teacher retirement systems. This doesn't have a number on it, but LBB presents three options: Fully fund the systems, which would require the state (and possible the members) to spend more money; lower benefit levels to fit the amount of funding currently in those plans (which the LBB emphasizes are solvent and in better condition than many of their counterparts elsewhere); or create a hybrid plan that would, for instance, provide different benefits for existing and new members.

— Cut state contribution to state employee insurance plans. This would save the state $298.1 million in the next biennium by shifting health insurance costs to employees or by keeping those contributions level and lowering benefits under those plans.

— Raise insurance premiums for state employees who use tobacco. This one would save $24.5 million by adding a surcharge of $30 per month for people who smoke or chew tobacco. And it would extend the idea to members of the Teacher Retirement System and the state's biggest university systems — the University of Texas and Texas A&M.

— Change coinsurance rates for state employees. Using tiered rates would cost employees more for higher-priced procedures while lowering the percentage they pay on lower-cost care, saving the state $59.7 million.

— Create a voluntary pill-splitting program. A voluntary program for state employees that would let them buy prescription pills with twice the recommended dosage and splitting them in half at home would save the state $710,190 in the next biennium, according to the LBB.

— Charge state retirees extra to keep current health benefit levels. The state could save $95.5 million if it charged retirees to pay part of their insurance premiums based on their years of service, and if it lowered the state's subsidies for those retirees' dependents to 40 percent of their premiums (it's 50 percent now).

TAX POLICY | Download

— Watch the streamlined sales tax. It would cost Texas $88.3 million to change state laws to conform to a national standard on origin-based taxes (the idea is that the state should be able to collect sales taxes for items bought online or through mail order from out of state). But if Congress enacts legislation that allows states to require sellers to collect those taxes, the state could net $500 million a year in new sales taxes. LBB filed a report on this without making a recommendation.

— Shrink the discounts for paying sales taxes early. This would save $152 million by limiting the so-called timely filer discount for businesses that remit taxes on time, and the discount rate for sellers that prepay their sales taxes.

— Tie the August sales tax holiday to budget conditions. This would save $111.8 million by canceling the sales tax holiday in August 2011 and 2012 and by then conditioning it on the health of the state budget. If the state has a surplus in 2013, there would be a holiday, and if available revenue for the 2014-15 budget — the one that'll be written in two years — is greater than available revenue now, then they can have the holiday then, too.

— Repeal restrictions on Sunday liquor sales. Getting rid of the state's ban would increase revenue from state alcohol and sales taxes by $7.4 million. Texas is one of 14 states that don't allow hard liquor sales on Sundays.

— Lose the exemption on hotel taxes for permanent residents. Hotels don't charge occupancy taxes on people who stay for 30 days or more. If they did, the state would bring in another $16.1 million in taxes every two years.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES | Download

— Reform how health care is delivered and paid for to reduce costs. The LBB suggests legislation that encourages Texas health care providers to try out new payment and delivery models, and to consider using bundled payments in the Texas Medicaid program. The LBB recommendations also seem to suggest lifting — at least in part — the ban on the corporate practice of medicine, or hospitals hiring doctors.

— Expand Medicaid managed care into South Texas. The LBB suggests lifting the ban on Medicaid managed care in the Rio Grande Valley, which has been offered by the Health and Human Services Commission as a potential cost-saver.

— Reduce Medicaid patients’ reliance on emergency rooms. The LBB says redirecting patients with non-emergency conditions from the ER to a clinic could save $184.2 million a year. They suggest physician incentive programs, making urgent care centers Medicaid clinics and encouraging Medicaid managed care to put tougher restrictions in place.

— Continue and expand the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. Expanding a program that uses preventative screenings to avoid pregnancy-related Medicaid costs would save $3.8 million in the next biennium, the LBB says.

— Allow advanced practice nurses to prescribe certain drugs. The LBB says advanced practice nurses are poised to ease Texas’ physician shortage, if the state allows them to diagnose and prescribe in some capacity. The cost to patients would be less too, LBB argues.

— Decrease the number of state-supported living centers. The state could save up to $16.4 million in the next biennium by closing at least one of its state-supported living centers, the LBB says. Another recommendation calls for improving care at Texas’ 13 institutions, which are now being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

— Strengthen certified nurse aide training. The LBB recommends that lawmakers increase the training required of nurse's aides in nursing homes. Twenty-six states require more education than the federal minimum standard, and Texas isn't one of them.

— Improve abuse reporting of licensed professionals. Although state law requires state agencies to report misconduct by nurses to the board that licenses them, it's not happening consistently. From fiscal years 2005 to 2010, just a quarter of nurses at state-supported living centers and 33 percent of nurses at state hospitals who had committed confirmed acts of abuse were reported to the Board of Nursing.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE | Download

— Establish a supervised re-entry program to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The LBB is recommending that lawmakers consider closing one or more prison units. That's a big deal, because tough-on-crime Texas has never closed a prison. The board says the state could save up to $33 million in the next biennium if the Texas Department of Criminal Justice does a better job of helping released prisoners stay out of the big house, reducing prison population.

— Eliminate statutory barriers to contain costs in correctional managed health care. The LBB says the state could save about $1.2 million in the next biennium by improving health care processes in prisons, like prescription drug distribution and dialysis treatments, and by allowing more really sick and really old prisoners out under the Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision Program. The LBB says that in fiscal year 2009, 74 offenders died while awaiting review for medical parole.

NATURAL RESOURCES | Download

— Implement a fuel inefficiency surcharge. In 2010, Texans bought nearly 566,000 cars with less-than-efficient fuel ratings. The LBB says adding a $100 surcharge to the purchase of new vehicles with poor fuel efficiency could raise $115.3 million over the next biennium.

— Solicit park donations. The LBB recommends amending the limits on private contributions to state parks to enable the development of corporate partnerships and promotional campaigns. It also suggests mimicking states like Washington, which asks for a voluntary $5 donation with vehicle registration, to raise more support for state parks.

TRANSPORTATION | Download

— Maximize the federal funds Texas receives for transportation. Texas could get more than $223 million from federal transportation dollars if lawmakers changed some laws to improve the transportation planning process and the coordination among transportation-related agencies, according to the LBB.

— Increase the state traffic fine to improve traffic safety. Texas could gain about $53 million in general revenue and another $31.7 million in dedicated general revenue over the biennium by increasing the state traffic fine. Already, Texans found guilty of a traffic violation pay a $30 traffic fine to the state in addition to whatever the cost of the citation is. The LBB recommends ramping that fine up to $45.

— Improve traffic safety by banning the use of wireless communication devices while driving. This ought to make state Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, happy, since he's tried session after session to ban cell phone use while driving. The LBB says Texas could save lives and generate about $2.3 million by making it illegal to use your mobile device while driving, and also making it an offense under the much-maligned Driver Responsibility Program.

INSURANCE | Download .PDF

— Develop and operate a state health insurance exchange a la federal health care reform. LBB says creating a marketplace for health insurance would increase the availability of affordable coverage for Texans. Plus, the federal health reform signed into law last year requires it — and if the state doesn’t do it first, the feds will do it for Texas. The version the LBB recommends would be a quasi-independent state agency overseen by the Texas Department of Insurance.

HIGHER EDUCATION | Download

— Monitor outcomes and limit course offerings to ensure dual credit course equality. With the state’s encouragement, enrollment in courses that provide both high school and college credit has been skyrocketing. To ensure the quality of these courses, the LBB would like the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to more closely monitor and analyze the outcomes of such programs — and see to it that courses like physical education are not eligible for funding.

— Strengthen financial oversight of community colleges. The LBB wants to put community colleges on more solid financial footing. It calls for an annual report on the condition of the state’s community colleges based on financial indicators.

— Improve the effectiveness of the Texas common course numbering system. The recommendation would make it easier for students to transfer course credit between state universities and community colleges for their core classes. The LBB recommends guaranteeing transfer credit for all courses in the Texas Common Course Numbering System if the university offers an equivalent course.

PUBLIC EDUCATION | Download

— Limit subsidies for AP exams. The Texas Education Agency currently provides a $30 per test subsidy to help cover the costs of public school students taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as an incentive to increase students' participation and success. The LBB says restricting that subsidy — which while increasing participation rates has not increased students' success rates — only to low-income students would save the state $18 million in general revenue.

— Increase monitoring of alternative schools. In 2007, the Legislature enacted standards for alternative schools — but the TEA still doesn't monitor or enforce the standards beyond examining compliance with placement, suspension and expulsion requirements. LBB says the TEA should use performance measures to make sure alternative schools are meeting the standards.

— Enhance teacher retention programs. In Texas, the least-experienced educators teach in the districts with the most economically disadvantaged students — and the state doesn't have any programs that address specifically the retention problem in those districts. Among the incentives LBB suggests are giving priority for loan repayment assistance to teachers in hard-to-staff districts.

Policy, Fiscal Challenges Confront State Officials

This is a must read. We're already seeing the horrible cuts to education here in Texas with the House LBB's proposed HB 1. I encourage all of you to give it a close read. The cuts to public education are devastating and even worse for higher ed.

-Patricia



By Sean Cavanagh | Ed Week
January 5, 2011

Despite bleak fiscal conditions that could thwart some of their priorities, governors and state lawmakers—bolstered in some cases by new Republican majorities—are expected to press forward this year with ambitious education proposals that could include changing teacher job protections and expanding school choice.

Newly elected and returning officeholders go to work this month as states struggle to climb out of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, with many warning that K-12 education—historically insulated from the budget ax—is likely to face severe cuts.

While state tax revenues have improved somewhat recently, 15 states already have reported new budget shortfalls since the fiscal 2011 year began last summer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And states are likely face continuing budget gaps over the next two years as well, according to the Denver-based research and policy organization.

Advanced Placement courses move from nice add-on to norm on college resumes

By LIAM MIGDAIL-SMITH | The Patriot-News
January 3, 2011

Take the SATs? Check.

Count up activities and community service? Check.

Have three or four college courses already under your belt?

For students hoping to get accepted at higher-end colleges, taking a few Advanced Placement courses — accelerated high school classes that count for college credit depending on how students score on a standardized test — is no longer a nice add-on to college resumes. It’s the norm.

“It’s getting to the point when you don’t see AP courses on a student’s resume, you wonder why,” said Bill Brown, vice president of enrollment at Lebanon Valley College in Annville Township.

Nationally, the Advanced Placement program has grown exponentially since it was introduced in the 1950s.

The number of U.S. students taking AP exams jumped about 50 percent in the last five years, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million, according to the College Board, the agency that oversees AP programs and other standardized testing such as the SATs.

On average, students have access to eight or nine of the 34 AP courses offered by the College Board. They range from calculus to art history.

Several midstate schools are nationally recognized for being far ahead of the pack. Cumberland Valley High School leads with 27 course offerings. That’s more than double the 13 courses the school had in 2005.

Hershey High School offers 21 courses, and West Shore School District’s two high schools each offer 17. Camp Hill High School offers 10, and about half of its students are enrolled in AP courses.

About half of college-bound students take an AP course, said Trevor Packer of the College Board.

“It is very much the norm for students going to selective or highly selective institutions to have taken at least one college-level course,” Packer said.

John Chopka, vice president of enrollment at Messiah College in Upper Allen Township, said AP courses on a resume show a drive to succeed that can be hard to determine from college essays or other parts of an application.

“There’s just a little extra dose of motivation that comes with deciding to take an AP course,” he said.

But can there be too much?

Parents expressed concern at a November Cumberland Valley School Board meeting that the district encouraging AP courses even for freshmen could be stressful for students. The district was looking to cut an honors freshman social studies course so students would be more inclined to take the AP equivalent. There would be an advanced course beyond the college prep track, but it wouldn’t have an honors weight.

Administrators responded to parents’ worries at the meeting by saying that if students are motivated to take the honors course, why not take it a step further with AP?

“The demand of an AP class is similar to a 100-level college class,” said parent Nancy McKinley of Hampden Township. “Developmentally, ninth- and 10th-graders are in a very different place, and it can be very stressful for them.”

McKinley, whose daughter is taking the freshman AP social studies course, said she’s thrilled with the school’s AP program but wants to see other good options for those who aren’t ready to tackle the college-level work.

Kim Clements, a guidance counselor at Cumberland Valley, said most AP courses are offered in the junior and senior years. The honors courses the first two years are designed to prepare students to go into them.

There are students who can take only AP courses, but most of us are not that superhuman, Clements said. It’s important for students to balance their schedules to be rigorous while keeping in mind that college-level courses come with a college-level workload, she said.

“You also don’t want a student to be a basket case of nerves because they’ve overdone it,” Clements said.

The increase in AP programs has brought with it an increase in students overloading and having stress-related issues, she said.

Clements tells her students to home in on their passions. Students should take AP courses in which they’re interested and excel, she said. And when there’s a student doing well in less-difficult courses, she’ll often encourage him to challenge himself and make the jump to AP.

Students say they are happy about AP options but add the classes could be difficult.

“It’s good the school’s really pushing us to take them,” said Cumberland Valley junior Katie Kaplewicz, 16, of Hampden Township. “But sometimes kids take them because they feel they have to, and they don’t really belong in the class.”

Kaplewicz is taking AP English and psychology courses. Her classmate, junior Alison Hellman, said the classes are a few notches above the honors classes she’s taken.

“You definitely have to put more time into the courses,” said Hellman, 17, of Hampden Township.

AP courses carry weight over honors classes on applications because they’re standardized across the board, said Dan Tredinnick, a spokesman for the Derry Township School District. College admissions officers know what’s in an AP course because it’s set by the College Board, versus an honors course that varies from school to school.

“They know they’re looking at apples to apples when they’re comparing different students from different schools,” Tredinnick said.

College admissions officers agree. But they look at the rigor of a student’s schedule as a whole, they added, so it’s fine to have a mix of AP and honors classes.

“I’d rather see a student take a balanced curriculum with some AP courses,” said Brown of Lebanon Valley College.

High School to College: The New Alignment

By Jordan E. Horowitz | Ed Week Editorial
January 3, 2011

For a number of years now, we have been hearing how high schools are not doing the job they need to do and that students remain woefully unprepared for college and careers. In fact, high schools have been doing exactly what we ask of them, but it is time to reassess what we ask of our secondary educational institutions and how we judge the job they do.

To be fair, high schools have been doing just what we have charged them to do for years. They are graduating students who have mastered state content standards in a number of subjects or disciplines, as measured by state standardized tests. We know this is our expectation because this is how we determine success. Passing end-of-course exams, high school exit examinations, or comprehensive single-subject tests is the way we assess students’ knowledge. These tests are linked to state standards in identified subjects, and all are created by educators, content experts, and others in various combinations. Recently, we’ve seen movement from purely academic standards to college- and career-readiness standards, with postsecondary faculty and business leaders joining the panels. Often, these are accompanied by a complete revamping of the assessments linked to the standards. However, this will do little to improve college readiness. This is alignment redux—we continue to align high school curricula and work to state standards and assessments.

If we really are going to improve secondary education outcomes, we need a new alignment. My work with the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS) has made me a believer in this new strategy. We must link high school exit expectations with college-entrance expectations. That said, this new configuration requires some courageous conversations.

Read on...

New Calif. Gov. Shakes Up Education Policy

We shall see how the change in leadership helps CA children. Gotta stay hopeful.

-Patricia


By Michele McNeil | Ed Week
January 14, 2011

Against the backdrop of another smothering budget crisis, California Gov. Jerry Brown has quickly moved to put his stamp on the state’s public schools by shaking up the state board of education and entrusting its members with more power.

In some of his first moves, the newly elected Democrat eliminated the position of education secretary—an advisory post separate from the state’s elected schools chief—and canned seven members of the state board, replacing them with former school superintendents, a teachers’ union activist, and a well-known Stanford University education professor.

Mr. Brown, who served as governor for two terms starting in 1976, replaced, among others, Ted Mitchell, the president of NewSchools Venture Fund; and Johnathan Xavier Williams, the founder of a charter school organization in Los Angeles. Also jettisoned was Ben Austin, a director at a Los Angeles-based nonprofit called Parent Revolution. That group is helping parents take advantage of a new state “parent trigger” law that gives them unprecedented power to turn around their own failing schools. ("'Parent Trigger' Law's Use in California Draws Controversy, National Attention," Jan. 12, 2011.)

Read on...

Early-College High Schools: 'Why Not Do It for All the Kids?'

Great piece on South Texas' Hidalgo ISD.

-Patricia


By Joel Vargas | Ed Week Editorial
January 7, 2011

Hidalgo, Texas, has one of the most successful school systems in the United States. The dropout rate is nearly zero, and the high school regularly lands on a top-school list published by U.S. News & World Report. Last June, when members of the high school graduating class crossed the stage to receive their diplomas, 95 percent of them could proudly point to their college credits as well. Two-thirds of the graduating seniors had earned at least a full semester of credits toward a college degree.

It’s time for the nation to pay attention when any community boasts results like these. These are especially remarkable in one of the most economically depressed areas of the United States, just across the Rio Grande River from Mexico, with one of the lowest number of college-educated adults. Nine out of 10 students in the high school are considered economically disadvantaged, 99.5 percent are Hispanic, and 53 percent entered with limited proficiency in English.

The story of Hidalgo is not only one of success, but of turning around an entire school district. In the late 1980s, student achievement in Hidalgo ranked in the bottom 10 percent in Texas. But local leaders took giant steps to improve student performance, and they gained support from every segment of the surrounding community. Over the next two decades, everyone—from bus drivers to principals, from teachers to school board members—began to focus on doing what it takes to raise the achievement levels of all 3,500 young people in the Hidalgo schools.

Read on...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Appeals Court Upholds Race-Conscious Admissions at U. of Texas

By Peter Schmidt | Chronicle of Higher Education
January 18, 2011

A federal appeals court panel on Tuesday upheld the use of race-conscious admissions by the University of Texas at Austin. In doing so, the judges rejected the argument that the policy is unconstitutional because state lawmakers had created a viable, race-neutral alternative to it when they mandated that public universities in Texas admit students in the top 10th of their high-school classes.

Although the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was unanimous in ruling that the university's policy complies with guidelines for colleges set forth by the U.S, Supreme Court, the judges were deeply divided in their reasoning.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Patrick E. Higgenbotham, attacked the state's admission guarantee based on class rank, known as the "Top 10 Percent Law," as "a blunt tool" of arguably questionable constitutionality. But a second judge, Carolyn Dineen King, refused in a concurring opinion to endorse Judge Higgenbotham's critique of the admissions guarantee, arguing that its wisdom and validity were not even considered by the court. And a third judge, Emilio M. Garza, issued a concurring opinion that heavily criticized the chief Supreme Court precedent the panel felt bound by in ruling in favor of Texas: the high court's 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision upholding the use of race-conscious admissions by the University of Michigan's law school.

In the short term, at least, the three judges' ruling has the effect of leaving intact a 2009 U.S. District Court decision dismissing the lawsuit, which had been brought by two white applicants that the university had rejected.

Patricia C. Ohlendorf, the Austin campus's vice president for legal affairs, said officials there were "extremely pleased" with the appeals panel's ruling because "the university has always maintained that its undergraduate admissions policy is constitutional and is consistent with the U.S, Supreme Court's guidance in Grutter v. Bollinger."

Contributing to the Debate

In the long term, however, Tuesday's ruling, with its sharply differing opinions, could inspire a wide-ranging debate in the likely event that the decision is appealed.

Edward J. Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, a group that helped represent the plaintiffs, said he was not sure whether his lawyers would appeal the three-judge panel's ruling to the full Fifth Circuit or instead ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. "The one thing we are obviously going to do is take it to a higher court," he said.

The majority opinion by Judge Higgenbotham characterized the race-conscious admissions policy that the University of Texas adopted after the Grutter decision as narrowly tailored, effective, and closely adhering to the Grutter decision's requirement that public colleges consider applicants' race or ethnicity only in the context of a holistic review of individual students.

Rather than challenging the university's consideration of race, Judge Higgenbotham aimed his criticism at the state's top-10-percent law, arguing that the admissions guarantee "is in many ways at war" with the pursuit of diversity endorsed by the Supreme Court in Grutter. He based that assessment partly on the law's negative impact on minority students with high-school class ranks below the top 10th of their class, and partly on university data showing that many of those admitted under the policy are clustered in certain programs, such as social work and education.

Judge Garza's opinion said, "I concur in the majority opinion because, despite my belief that Grutter represents a digression in the course of constitutional law, today's opinion is a faithful, if unfortunate, application of that misstep." It said Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's conclusion, in the opinion she wrote for the Grutter majority, that racial diversity yields educational benefits "rests almost entirely on intuitive appeal rather than concrete evidence." And it argues that the Austin campus's consideration of race brings in so few additional minority students that it fails to achieve its stated ends.

The opinion written by Judge Higgenbotham and signed by the two others makes clear that the three expect Texas's admission policy to be under legal scrutiny for a long time to come. "In this dynamic environment," it says, "our conclusions should not be taken to mean that [the University of Texas] is immune from its obligation to recalibrate its dual system of admissions as needed, and we cannot bless the university's race-conscious admissions program in perpetuity."

Complex Measures of Success

Here's the new trend in higher education that should be closely monitored.

-Patricia


David Moltz | Issues in Higher Ed
January 19, 2011

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability, a project that aims to create national metrics gauging how well two-year institutions serve their students and fulfill their assorted missions, unveiled stage one of its proposed measures for pilot testing last week.

Formally introduced two years ago, the VFA is managed by the American Association of Community Colleges and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education. The project has attracted the attention of educators who have long been critical of the federal government's main method of judging community colleges: the three-year graduation rate of first-time, full-time students. Still, some educators have been leery of the project, given the wide range of community colleges' missions, demographics and funding formulas across the country.

Measure for Measure

Last week, the VFA announced 40 pilot institutions that will test its custom metrics. The community college testers are located in 29 states and include 37 individual institutions, two statewide systems and one multi-college district. AACC recently published the draft technical manual that these pilot institutions will use to collect data, so that other institutions can calculate their own proposed VFA outcomes and submit critiques of them.

Prong one of the proposed data to be collected looks at an institution’s “college readiness measures,” such as the proportion of students who complete all developmental education; “progress measures,” such as the percentage of students retained from one semester to the next; and “outcomes and success measures.” These latter will count, separately, those who earn an associate degree, certificate or other credential; those who transfer to a four-year institution without a degree or credential; and those who leave in both good and bad academic standing.

Prong two of the proposed data to be collected focuses on an institution’s “workforce, economic and community development measures.” The data points include “career and technical education measures,” such as the median wage growth of students who complete a program; “non-credit courses,” such as the number of state- and industry-recognized credentials awarded; and “adult basic education/GED measures,” such as the proportion of students who complete a GED, enroll in more postsecondary education or gain employment.

The final, and most debated, prong of the proposed data to be collected aims to assess student learning outcomes. Just how the VFA will make this measurement is still being determined; however, the framework does provide a list of “existing national benchmarked measures of student learning outcomes” that pilot institutions may use, including the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, among others. VFA is also challenging “the field” to develop student learning outcomes assessments that "meet criteria of relevance to community colleges and their unique student populations.”

Why Collect?

The VFA, according to its organizers, is a work in progress. And they argue that this pilot testing will help highlight which measurements are most fair and practical in judging community college success.

Kent Phillippe, AACC's senior research associate, stressed that “these are not the final measures by any stretch of the imagination.” He admitted that some of the measurements being required are not commonly used or may not even be calculable yet.

“The conversation we had was, 'Let’s define things that are important to community colleges, even if we don’t have the data to support those things yet,' ” Phillippe said. "Still, we want to get a sense of, can they collect it? Then, if they think it’s important, we’ll put placeholder measures out there until we can get that data made available.”

Addressing some of the early criticism the voluntary framework has received, Phillippe said, “We’re not trying to recreate the [Voluntary System of Accountability],” a joint effort of the two main associations of public four-year colleges and universities: the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“For example, we’re looking at career and technical education,” Phillippe argued. “We’re looking at progress measures and not just at outcome measures. We’re focusing on developmental education. We’re very different from the VSA, which is very much about the endpoint. Also, we’re still finding ways to look at student learning outcomes in a constructive way.”

Phillippe also noted that while the VFA is collecting measures that are “consistent across all institutions,” that does not mean that it is “always appropriate to compare them.” For instance, he said that a career and technical college may double-count some students in prong one, “the student progress and outcomes measures,” and in the second prong for assessing only its technical programs, but still decide that the latter data set is a better judge of its success when comparing it to a peer.

Potential Federal Impact

Officials affiliated with the accountability framework, including Phillippe, acknowledge their hope that the VFA ends up influencing whatever federal reporting measures are recommended by the Committee on Measures of Student Success -- a group that was created by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and whose 14 members were appointed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The panel met for the first time last October.

Some members of the education secretary’s committee are closely following the VFA’s work and hope to learn from it. Among them is Wayne Burton, president of North Shore Community College, in Massachusetts.

“It’s certainly ambitious,” Burton said of the voluntary framework. “I mean, they’ve got an awful lot of data to collect. I think that’s significant. I’ll be interested in how they do. Obviously, that should be fed into our committee. We’re kind of running on parallel tracks.”

Burton also applauded the “diverse” list of institutions that are pilot testing the program, and its attempt to measure work force success. Still, he said that the final report of his committee, which is due this fall, would be unlikely to mirror VFA exactly.

“This is such a complete list of data,” Burton said of VFA. “It’s unlikely what we produce [in committee] will touch on all of these.... We also have a public mandate to simplify this so that the public can understand it.”

Some participants in the VFA pilot acknowledge that its potential influence over any federal policy is at least part of the reason for their participation.

“We want to be part of that national conversation, and it’s an important one to have,” said Christina Whitfield, director of research and policy analysis at the Kentucky Community & Technical College System. “National benchmarking comes up all the time, so I would hope this would have an impact and synch up with emerging federal requirements. Hopefully we won’t generate lots of different metrics that we have to end up following.”

DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College, echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve been supportive of and have embraced VFA for two specific reasons,” Pollard said. “One, I’m a great proponent of community colleges taking the opportunity to define ourselves and really demonstrate who we are. Community colleges have been traditionally defined by other people and, quite frankly, their definitions are not always adequate. Two, this recognizes the breath and depth of offerings we have in our house.… Any good policy maker should probably want to know how this sector defines itself.”

Data Collection Overload

Even officials from institutions that are pilot testing the VFA are concerned about data collection.

For example, Whitfield noted that KCTCS would be unable to provide the VFA with information about the state’s adult basic education and GED systems because, even though they are housed in many community colleges, they are run by the state government. She also expressed concern about her system’s ability to get through all of the VFA metrics in the time frame requested, before the spring AACC convention.

Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community & Technical College System, whose system is a pilot tester of VFA, remains concerned about how it will measure work force development programs against one another, as some states will have a hard time providing data about the employment and wages of students who have finished technical programs because their data systems are not connected. He also expressed concern about the difficulty of gathering information about noncredit work force development courses, which constitute a large proportion of the offerings at some technical colleges.

Still, May said that the VFA, even in its draft form, is better than nothing at all.

“This is a step in the right direction, and I think it’s being done the right way,” May said. “I see it as an important concept and one that is, in and of itself, a dramatic improvement over what we’ve been doing. It’s just a work in progress right now.”

Critics Remain

Despite a rosy outlook from those involved, the VFA does have its critics on the outside looking in, who argue that its focus on student completion is bad for the community college sector.

“I note VFA’s continued and seemingly primary emphasis on student throughput even as the ubiquitous news today … questions, persuasively, the quality of learning happening at our institutions of higher learning,” wrote Gary Brown, director of the office of assessment and innovation at Washington State University, in an e-mail. “Throughput is not competence. Retaining and graduating more students more quickly is a narrow view of quality learning. It is also problematic that the VFA's proposed outcomes measures continue to target institutional comparisons, though studies confirm there remains more variation within institutions than between them, and there is little evidence that students ... comparison shop based on test scores they or employers value little if at all.”

Brown, who is also the head of the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology at Washington State, cites the American Association of Colleges & Universities' Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative and e-portfolios as “more useful ways to address legitimate needs for accountability that engage students and faculty in embedded and authentic projects.” He argued that “their utility and potential” has not been fully grasped by many educational leaders.

“Projects like the VFA and the VSA, though they purport to engage the good will of the educational community by virtue of their voluntary nature, are much more likely to obtund or eclipse the potential of more creative models that have better validity and, more importantly, much greater utility,” Brown wrote.

Susan Twombly, professor and chair of the department of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas, also expressed a number of concerns about the VFA. Among those she shared via e-mail are:

* “Do ordinary community colleges have the capacity to produce the data required of this system without Lumina or Gates funding?”
* “Who will use the results of VFA and how? This is not entirely clear from the website. If low stakes and for local use, colleges might comply honestly. If the stakes are high, how will colleges react? Will they start taking different students so their data look better? Will they drop remedial education because those numbers make a college look bad?”
* “Assuming a nationally standardized assessment instrument can be developed, will students take it and take it seriously? Will colleges end up teaching to the test? Will the test determine what is taught?”

According to the official VFA schedule, pilot sites are to submit initial feedback on the proposed measures and framework in March. Then, in April, the VFA board plans to vet the measures and further modify the framework.