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What is the deal with Vanguard funding?

It started with an urgent action email sent to Travis Elementary School parents:

As you may have heard, the Houston ISD Board’s proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year would eliminate HISD Vanguard Magnet funding. These drastic cuts would threaten the viability of the Vanguard program at Travis. (see the April 24 Budget and PUA Workshop: In addition to the loss of Vanguard funding, the budget as proposed would eliminate the beloved and valuable HISD-owned Camp Olympia. This is a perennial tradition for 5th graders to spend 3-4 days camping and having hands-on nature and science experiences.

The Vanguard Magnet funding is used by Travis to fund various staff positions and under the proposed budget this funding would be eliminated, thus threatening the unique programs that directly support the Vanguard curriculum and reach every student at Travis. The proposed 2014-15 HISD budget will be presented during the HISD Board meeting THIS Thursday night, May 8th at 5pm and may be presented for a final vote at the June HISD Board meeting.

If you follow that link and open the April 24 Budget and PUA Workshop PDF file, you’ll see the proposed zeroing out of Vanguard funding on page 14. It’s part of a budget priorities exercise, where various choices are presented with their respective costs or savings, and my reaction when I saw it was that it looked more like a theoretical scenario than a for-serious proposal. I have to think that a truly serious proposal to do this might have been reported on before now, and might have generated a bit of pushback from the various trustees whose schools would take the brunt of that change. This Chron story from April 24 adds some context to the discussion:

Under the proposal, HISD would eliminate extra magnet funding to Vanguard campuses, such as Carnegie Vanguard High School, but would continue to provide busing for those students, officials said. The amount of extra money those schools receive varies by campus.

Vanguard schools would continue to receive the roughly $400 extra that the state provides for each child who qualifies as gifted and talented. District-funded allotments for other magnets would be standardized, including $350 extra for each Montessori student and $50 extra per student at other magnets.

The proposed magnet funding-formula overhaul also gives $1,000 per student at DeBakey High School and $50 per student to International Baccalaureate schools.

“We don’t want people sitting here thinking we’re trying to destroy Vanguard,” Grier added.

Mission not accomplished there, if the email from Travis is any indication. In any event, after this K12 Zone post from May 8 that included the line “cuts to Vanguard funding are on the table” at the end, there weren’t any stories in the Chronicle that I could find, but there were a cople of subsequent K12Zone posts that explained what did happen. The first post reported that the cuts were targeted and limited.

The budget proposal also includes new, standard funding formulas for the district’s specialty magnet programs. The changes are not expected to save the district money but will make the funding more equitable, Grier said.

Grier’s proposal last month would have eliminated funding for the district’s Vanguard magnet programs for gifted students, raising concerns from parents. The new plan would fund those programs at $410 a student. Schools also get another $406 per gifted student based on state funding rules.

A subsequent post went into more detail.

Under HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s latest proposal for magnet funding, roughly two-thirds of programs would see more money while the others would receive less. The changes vary widely.

The gains and losses wouldn’t take effect immediately. Grier’s plan calls for the schools to receive 25 percent of their increase or decrease next school year and the rest in 2015-16.

T.H. Rogers, a combined elementary and middle school with a Vanguard magnet program for gifted students, would take the biggest hit, losing more than $953,000, according to data provided by HISD on Thursday evening. The big loss appears to come because the school had been receiving a special pot of money outside of the normal magnet funding stream for years. (For those in the know, this is called the unique per-unit allocation). The Rice School would lose more than $436,000.

Lanier Middle School, also a Vanguard magnet, would see the biggest bump, an increase of nearly $348,000. Lanier parents and others at Vanguard schools lobbied the school board after Grier’s proposal last month called for eliminating funding for the Vanguard magnet programs.

By all accounts, the current magnet funding system is haphazard. Grier’s proposal calls for funding magnet programs based on their theme, such as fine arts or Vanguard, on a per-pupil basis. That, of course, means that programs with more students get more money. Each program also would get a base amount of $52,820, typically to employ a coordinator over the magnet program.


Grier’s April proposal called for a cost savings of about $3 million for the magnet programs. He and the district’s financial chief, Kenneth Huewitt, said the new plan keeps funding about the same, with local property tax values higher than earlier estimates.

Both posts have tables that give all the relevant numbers, so go click over and see for yourself what the details are. I know a lot of parents responded to emails and Facebook posts about this threatened cut. A petition against such a cute collected nearly 500 signatures in a few days. I could be wrong, but I’ve come to the conclusion based on the overall lack of communication about this that it was never a serious proposal to gut Vanguard funding. Reading these K12 Zone posts, I get where Grier is coming from, but the lack of explanation about how the original and final figures were determined leaves me perplexed. It would be nice to get some kind of official word about this, if only so that we’re better prepared for this kind of discussion in the future. Hair Balls has more.

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