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Interview with Rep. Scott Hochberg

Rep. Scott Hochberg

State Rep. Scott Hochberg, who represents HD137, is generally considered the Legislature’s leading expert on public education and school finance. He’s the Vice Chair of the House Public Education Committee, and he chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. With so many facets of public education in Texas being in the news lately, I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity to ask him a bunch of questions about it:

Download the MP3 file

Normally, my interviews cover a broader range of topics, but in this case I feel like we could have spoken twice as long as we did and still not covered everything. Rep. Hochberg mentioned a couple of items in our conversation that I want to include here. First, he discussed the actual statute that directed the Texas Education Agency to create a growth metric for the schools. That’s Sec. 39.034 of the Education Code, entitled “MEASURE OF ANNUAL IMPROVEMENT IN STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT”, which I reprint beneath the fold. I think if you read it you’ll agree that the intent is pretty clear, and that the TEA is not following that intent. Second is this presentation to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education by the Comptroller about the Texas Tomorrow Fund. See page 6 for the chart in question, which shows how the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan (TGTP) is going to be drained by 2018 as a result of tuition deregulation. Let me know if you have any questions about either of these.

As always, you can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

UPDATE: The Quorum Report was kind enough to pick up on my interview and ask Rep. Hochberg a couple of questions of their own about it. See beneath the fold for the full story, which was sent to me by reporter Kimberly Reeves.

Sec. 39.034. MEASURE OF ANNUAL IMPROVEMENT IN STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT. (a) The commissioner shall determine a method by which the agency may measure annual improvement in student achievement from one school year to the next on an assessment instrument required under this subchapter.

(b) For students of limited English proficiency, as defined by Section 29.052, the agency shall use a student’s performance data on reading proficiency assessment instruments in English and one other language to calculate the student’s progress toward dual language proficiency.

(c) The agency shall use a student’s previous years’ performance data on an assessment instrument required under this subchapter to determine the student’s expected annual improvement. The agency shall report that expected level of annual improvement and the actual level of annual improvement achieved to the district. The report must state whether the student fell below, met, or exceeded the agency’s expectation for improvement.

(d) The agency shall determine the necessary annual improvement required each year for a student to be prepared to perform satisfactorily on, as applicable:

(1) the grade five assessment instruments;

(2) the grade eight assessment instruments; and

(3) the end-of-course assessment instruments required under this subchapter for graduation.

(d-1) The agency shall report the necessary annual improvement required under Subsection (d) to the district. Each year, the report must state whether the student fell below, met, or exceeded the necessary target for improvement.

August 9, 2010 4:24 PM

Signals his intent next session to continue work toward eliminating funding disparities among school districts

Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) looks into the abyss of a potential $18 billion shortfall in the state’s budget next session, and he already knows one strategy he will not favor: across-the-board cuts in school funding.

Hochberg sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Houston blogger Charles Kuffner last week, covering ground from his dissatisfaction with the Texas Education Agency to statewide site licenses for academic materials to the impact of the current budget deficit on school finance.

If the budget deficit is in the range of $18 billion, education funding will not remain untouched, said Hochberg. Education funding is half the state’s budget. Hochberg rejects the notion, however, that every school district should have the same cuts.

The inequity of the school finance system is a top concern for Hochberg. Two school systems teaching the same child with a similar background can be pulling down funding that varies by as much as $2,000 per student, Hochberg said.

“Now when you hear about across-the-board cuts, I have to ask, ‘Wait a minute, shouldn’t the guys at the top sustain the cuts first before the guys at the bottom, if you have this huge variation?’” Hochberg told Kuffner. “That would be a significant political battle when that occurs.”

That doesn’t mean Hochberg supports funding cuts to the districts that pull the most out of the existing school finance system. What he does say, when he was contacted today for clarification, was that the money put on the table next session, large or small, needs to flow in a way to correct inequities. Money needs to target districts at the bottom and pull them more in line with their peers, Hochberg said.

“That’s the only way you’re going to get rid of these disparities,” Hochberg said. “You have a whole lot of districts that are well behind the others, based on what happened (to property values) in 2006, and that’s not the fair way to treat the guy on the bottom.”

Hochberg attempted to flow money in a way that pulled up some of those districts at the bottom with House Bill 3646 last session, increasing the basic allotment. That could be one way to address the problem in the next session, or, if no money is on the table, the problem could require creating a mechanism that forces more equity into the system, instead of providing guaranteed revenue targets.

These types of equity-enhancing school finance bills are far more difficult for lawmakers to explain or tout to constituents, and typically have come out of court case settlements rather than the free will of the Texas Legislature. Next session’s version, unlike last session’s HB 3646, won’t have an additional bump from stimulus funds to provide a sweetener such as teacher pay raise, either.

In his interview with Kuffner, Hochberg also addressed what has been his top priority in the last couple of sessions, which has been to move the state’s school systems away from printed textbooks approved by the State Board of Education and towards statewide site licenses for academic material.

Hochberg said his back of the envelope figures would indicate filling in the gaps for science materials using site licenses would be more in the range $40 million, rather than the $400 million anticipated to purchase new textbooks. The same money now being used for textbooks could be used to both deliver instructional content and provide Internet access to students who don’t have it, Hochberg said.

Such options are not somewhere down the road; they are available now.

“I think it’s doable. I’m committed to getting it done,” Hochberg said. “It was my No. 1 project until I ran into this TPM thing and got diverted from it. And I think it’s going to happen, and Texas is going to be a leader in it.”

By Kimberly Reeves

Copyright August 09, 2010, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved

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