Speaking of School Accountability…PTA Mom Grades Texas’ Accountability to its Schools

Spoiler Alert: It’s Not Pretty

September 23, 2013
By PTA Mom

Politicians love accountability. It’s a buzzword that has taken on a life of its own, sending a tingle up the legs of education policy wonks and corporate reformists alike. In fact, if Texas students had a dime for every time a politician tossed around the phrase as if they knew what it really entailed, maybe kids would no longer have to hustle cookie dough or run laps to raise funds to purchase technology for their schools.

So what does school accountability really mean? In Texas it means standardized testing results and not a whole lot more. In 2014 Texas will roll out a new accountability model that will grade its public schools on an A-F system based – again – largely on testing results. (By the way, this is the system that was peddled to Texas’ legislators this spring by Jeb Bush and his quasi-lobbying group. It’s the same system that Florida pioneered under then Governor Jeb Bush in 1999 that has been much maligned in the state, often seen as politically-driven and even referred to as a “scam.”)

Regardless, Texas Education Association (TEA) Commissioner Michael Williams bought the snake oil. Williams seems to believe a simplistic, arbitrary label based primarily on testing results is appropriate for a system as complex and multi-faceted as public education in a state as large and diverse as Texas.  (But that’s another blog for another day…) Since the commissioner and many legislators seem to crave simple, arbitrary labels that hold schools accountable for their outcomes, I think the same should apply to Texas and its commitment to its public schools.

Legislators, remember that making “suitable provision” for Texas’ public education system is your responsibility and yours alone. The Texas Constitution told you so. So let’s see how you grade. And we’ll use that quaint A-F system y’all are so fond of.

So how do you stack up, Texas?

Growth:[themecolor]A[/themecolor] Texas is a big state and it’s only getting bigger. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011 report on education finance, Texas serves 4.8 million public school students – that’s a little less than 10% of all public school students in the United States. I’m going to give you credit for growth, Texas. In 2011 Texas had the highest increase in public school students in the United States. People want to come to Texas, but how well do you educate them once they’re here? Let’s see…
School Spending:[themecolor]D-[/themecolor] Although it has a booming economy that rivals that of some countries, Texas only ranked 43rd in the nation in per pupil spending in 2011 according to the Census Bureau study. (The National Education Association study in 2012 ranked Texas 49th in funding using a different calculation.) Regardless of the study, the results are the same – Texas is an outlier in education funding, spending $1,200 less per student in comparison to the national average. Meanwhile Texas’ education funding wall of shame has continued to grow with recent embarrassments including:

  • For the first time in modern history Texas did not fund new students in 2011.
  • When adjusted to current dollars, Texas students received 25% less state funding in 2012 than it did in 2002.
  • Texas students in 2014-15 will receive state funding $761 less per student than what they received in 2007 when adjusted for 2013 dollars.
  • Texas contributes bupkis to special education costs, vocational programs, and student transportation. That’s $0.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Texas school districts are currently suing the state for inadequate and inequitable funding. Again.

I’m giving you a D- in this category, Texas, only because there are a handful of other short-sighted states like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama that make you look better than you actually are.

Salary and Benefits to Educators:[themecolor]F[/themecolor] The U.S. Census report ranks Texas 28th in the nation in teacher salaries, but when benefits are factored that ranking falls to 40th in the nation. That’s because Texas ranks dead last (51st in the nation) in its contribution toward teacher benefits. Texas contributes 60% less than the national average to employee benefits. Texas makes it clear that attracting and retaining quality educators is not its interest.
Administrative Bloat:[themecolor]B+[/themecolor] I’m sure you’ve heard the urban legend and trite excuse that overpaid “educrats” and bloated administrations are to blame for Texas’ funding shortcomings. Apparently the lore of those overpaid educrats doesn’t quite live up to the reality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, Texas ranks 42nd in the nation in spending on district and campus administrator costs – spending 24% less than the national average of $605 on administrator costs on a per pupil basis.
Making Education a Priority:[themecolor]F[/themecolor] Texas, you receive a well-earned F in making public education a priority in your policymaking. Your cumulative funding cuts, failure to understand the importance of funding early childhood education, use of school funding formulas that haven’t been updated in more than two decades, legislative attempts at voucher schemes and privatization gimmicks, profit-driven over reliance on standardized testing, and failure (session after session) to address a funding system that is widely regarded as broken prove that you’re not interested in the public education of Texans despite your constitutional obligation.
Overall Grade:[themecolor]D[/themecolor] Shame on you, Texas! You earn a D in the PTA Mom legislative accountability system. (Those arbitrary and simplistic labels designed to stigmatize certainly are a bitch, aren’t they?)

Texas’ lack of commitment to public education shouldn’t be of surprise if you’re a Texas student, educator, parent, taxpayer, or casual bystander. The state’s indifference has been decades in the making. You’ve seen classes grow larger, budgets grow smaller, and important student programs eliminated. You’ve seen the cost of public education in a growing state ignored by legislators, shifting primary fiscal responsibility from the state to the local communities (and ultimately local property taxpayers). You’ve seen school districts sue Texas time and time again looking for a solution to an issue that has plagued the state for more than a generation. You’ve seen your elected officials sit idly by awaiting the next school finance lawsuit to force them to slap a bandage on the school funding system bleeding out before them.  You’ve seen your elected representatives leave office to become lobbyists for testing companies seeking to make a buck off your kids. You’ve seen it all.

The important question is: what have we yet to see? Will we see Texas students, parents, and educators demand better of their elected officials? Will we see a grassroots effort to elect pro-public education legislators who will be committed to making education a priority? Will we see legislators work together to develop a school funding system designed to continue Texas’ economic prosperity rather than destined to hamper it? Will we continue to watch a state brimming with a sense of exceptionalism seal the fate of future Texans in its race to the educational bottom?

I guess that’s up to you, Texans.

Leave a Reply