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Texas Association of School Administrators

Lawsuit filed over STAAR exams

Interesting.

A backlash against this year’s STAAR exams escalated Monday when a group of parents sued the state in an attempt to keep schools from using 2016 test scores to rate students — including deciding whether students should advance to the next grade or attend summer school.

The lawsuit, filed against the Texas Education Agency in Travis County district court, argues that this year’s scores are invalid because the exams were not administered under parameters laid out in House Bill 743. The legislation, passed last year with bipartisan support, requires the state to design STAAR exams so that a majority of elementary and middle school students can complete them within a certain period of time (two hours for third-through-fifth-graders and three hours for sixth-through eighth-graders.)

The law was set to take effect during the 2015-16 school year, but the education agency — which did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article — has taken a phased-in compliance approach. Fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests administered this spring were revamped to comply with the law, but the rest of the exams were not.

“TEA will gather data during the spring 2016 administrations to determine how to adjust the remaining grades 3-8 assessments to meet the testing time requirements of HB 743,” according to the agency’s website. “The remaining redesigned grades 3-8 assessments will be administered beginning in spring 2017.”

“Despite knowing that the assessments did not comply with statute, and despite a lead time of over nine months to comply, the TEA failed and refused to develop assessments that comply with the statute,” according to Monday’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of four parents from Houston, Wimberley, Austin and Orangefield, who are members of a grassroots group called The Committee to Stop STAAR.

“As a result, approximately 2 [million] Texas students were administered illegal assessments. The results of these illegal assessments are now being used to enact punitive measures against students, teachers and schools across the state.”

I don’t know enough about this to have a comment on it, but as a parent of two kids who both took STAAR exams this year, it is of interest to me. There were definitely some screwups related to the administration of the STAAR test this year, and it would not have been unreasonable for the TEA to declare this year a wash. Whatever happens in court, I feel confident that the Lege will do further tweaks and revisions to the standardized test system, and that a significant number of people will not be happy about whatever they do. The Observer and the Press have more.

That next school finance lawsuit is coming

Look for it when school starts this fall.

Texas lawmakers who left town recently after cutting public education and doing little to fix school funding disparities have guaranteed another school finance lawsuit, according to educators and lawyers involved in the case.

They expect to file a lawsuit later in September.

“There’s going to be litigation. The timing of it is really nothing more than putting together the case. We’re still analyzing all the impact of the mess that they passed,” veteran school finance lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood said.

School superintendents across Texas are “very frustrated,” said John Folks, superintendent of San Antonio’s largest district — Northside ISD — and a respected veteran among the state’s school leaders. Folks is past president of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Folks sees litigation as a certainty: “If the only option that school districts have to force the Legislature to do what is right — as far as public education is concerned — is a lawsuit, that’s pretty sad.”

Another topic we discussed on that Houston 8 episode I was on was school finance. The mantra Sen. Dan Patrick repeated was that school districts supported the legislation that allowed them to do things like reduce teacher salaries. He’s right about that, but I hope this makes it clear that school districts were not supportive of the rest of the things they did. Lord knows they have no reason to be.

The lowest 10 percent funded school districts in Texas average $5,246 per student from a tax rate averaging $1.15, according to the Equity Center, an Austin-based consortium of nearly 700 Texas school districts. In contrast, the top 10 percent funded Texas school districts average $7,742 per student from an average tax rate of $1 per $100 of property valuation. Simply put, the state’s lesser funded school districts get about $2,500 less per student than the wealthiest districts, despite being forced into levying much larger tax rates.

The system is irrational, unfair, unequal and inefficient, lawyers say.

And they complain that state leaders and legislators willfully ignored the problem.

[…]

Humble ISD is one of about 220 school districts that have hit the maximum school operations tax rate of $1.17 (per $100 of property valuation) and cannot increase revenue.

The district’s administrators have made cuts every year for most of the past decade and now face “even more devastating cuts,” spokeswoman Karen Collier said: “Our backs are truly against the wall.”

The district must accommodate an additional 1,000 children every year.

School districts no longer reap the benefit of property value increases. Increased local property values results in school districts getting less state school funds.

“There’s no way to win. It’s a losing battle,” Collier said. “We’ll go to court.”

Everybody agrees that the Lege did not provide funding to accommodate the continued growth in public school enrollments. We all know that the Lege didn’t come close to addressing the structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut, which will be a big driver of the next deficit. This lawsuit may eventually force a change in how the Legislature addresses school funding, but then it was the last lawsuit that led to the 2006 changes, and we see where that has gotten us. The only way this will truly change is with a different mindset in the Legislature, and that’s going to require throwing a bunch of the current members out. If you want something different, you cannot vote for those who are part of the problem.

A little budgeters remorse?

Just a little. Not much.

As a vote looms on a bare-bones budget that would slash education and threaten nursing homes with closure, House GOP leaders softened their rhetoric on Tuesday to emphasize that it is a starting point and that cuts could be eased later without raising taxes.

“I think there’s people out there that want to keep it right the way it is right now. But I think we’re going to be able to do things that are better,” said Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Pitts – who last week said the budget proposal approved by his committee might be as far as many House Republicans were willing to go – said after a closed-door House Republican Caucus meeting that GOP members raised many of the same concerns that have been aired by Democrats.

“There’s a huge concern about what’s going to happen in nursing homes,” said Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “And what’s close to all of us – we all have a public school in our district – is what’s going to happen to our schools?”

I guess I’m glad to hear someone on the Republican side of the House express those concerns, though Pitts has been pretty realistic about this from the beginning. There’s not much in the story beyond hope for good news from Comptroller Susan Combs and a few accounting tricks to make you think there’s any action to back it up, however. Maybe they’re waiting to see what the Senate finds in the couch cushions.

“It is the beginning of the process,” Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said Tuesday. “I would say judge us by the budget we pass as a Legislature, not as a first, early-in-the-process budget proposal.”

Where you end up is certainly what ultimately matters, but where you start out says something about you, too. I think we’ve learned a lot already.

Whatever the case, the budget debate begins today. There are a lot of voices urging a No vote on HB1.

School districts across the state are urging their House members to vote no on the proposed budget that will be taken up on the House floor Friday. A letter sent to House members by the Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of School Boards and Texas School Alliance said the bill “proposes unsustainable cuts to your public schools” and should be rejected. “The significant reduction in state funding for school districts proposed in House Bill 1 inevitably will force districts to lay off employees, reduce salaries, or both,” the groups said.

[…]

“Before you vote on House Bill 1, we encourage you to consult with the superintendents and school board members of your school districts to understand the impact the proposed state funding cuts will have on your schools and students,” the letter concluded. “On behalf of the students of Texas, we urge you to vote against House Bill 1 until all budget balancing options are utilized to mitigate the proposed funding cuts for public education.”

You can view a copy of the letter here (PDF). I doubt it will have much effect, but I sure hope it serves to remind everyone associated with those organizations who to vote for and vote against next year. Remember that while the Senate version of the budget so far would cut funding less than what HISD is currently planning for, the House version cuts funding quite a bit more than that.

Also worth watching will be the hundreds of budget amendments, many of which would be as damaging as the budget itself.

At least three proposed amendments would prohibit funding of any organization that provides abortion services or refers pregnant women to facilities that provide abortion services. This is clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood.

Texas Conservative Coalition Chairman Wayne Christian has one to require universities to provide traditional family values centers if they support “a gender and sexuality center” for gay and lesbian students. Another of his would require universities to dedicate at least 10 percent of their courses for undergraduates to the study of Western Civilization.

Because there’s never a bad time to stick it to the gays, as it were. The only thing that could be better is denying health care to women who need it. Do yourself a favor and find a nice, solid wall on which to bang your head now. You’ll need it for later. The Trib has a list of all the budget amendments that will be debated, plus information about who proposed them.

Superintendents speak out against school funding cuts

More of this, please.

Speaking at a press conference during the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Midwinter Conference, superintendents and trustees urged the Legislature to use the Rainy Day Fund and search for new revenue through fees instead of the proposed $10 billion in cuts. They also asked the Legislature to fix the current school finance system, which Northside superintendent John Folks called one of the “most inequitable and inadequate” funding mechanisms in the country.

In remarks that could portend a new school finance lawsuit, school leaders reminded legislators that the Texas constitution mandates that the state provide a “free and adequate” education to all children, saying that “there’s no clause that says ‘if funds are available.'”

Folks, who serves as superintendent of the San Antonio district and president of TASA, said it was “totally irresponsible” for lawmakers to ask districts to make cuts when the legislature had created a structural deficit in 2006 when it compressed property tax rates, limiting the amount of money districts could raise locally. As his district faces what could be a 28.5 percent reduction in funding, he said there’s “no question” there will be layoffs — as many as 565 positions.

There’s that structural deficit again. How much are schools going to be asked to cut in 2013 when we have to deal with this then? Here’s what the budget would mean to Folks’ district:

His school district has cut or not filled 192 staff positions and is in the process of making 373 additional cuts. But that won’t be nearly enough to meet the state’s budget cuts.

It would take another 400 job cuts for his district to reach a 10 percent budget cut.

The state’s budget proposals would demand even more slashing at the local level, Folk said – about $97 million per year for Northside.

“I don’t know how we could operate. When you take almost $200 million out of an operating budget of $680 million, that’s a 28.5 percent cut,” Folks said.

[…]

“It’s that extra help that have allowed school districts all across Texas to raise student achievement and narrowing the gap. That’s going away,” Folks said. That’s one of my biggest fears. It’s going to hurt student achievement as we eliminate jobs, as we raise class size.”

If the proposed budget is not significantly changed, Northside has to cut nearly $100 million a year.

“At $50,000 a pop, that’s 2,000 teachers. We have 7,500 teachers at Northside. We can’t operate,” Folks said.

There’s the achievement question again. What are we going to do when test scores go down and the dropout rate increases? I don’t see the Republican leadership expressing any concern about that. Are they oblivious to it, or are they just hoping really hard that it won’t be quite that bad? The latter is my guess. It’s going to take another lawsuit to force the issue, but who knows how long we’ll refuse to do anything about it and how much damage that will cause until then.