Friday, February 04, 2005

"Roadmap to Results" -- HB 2

HB 2

Grusendorf (R-Arlington)

"The Big Ass School Finance Bill"

This massive 137-page bill would:

1) Allocate $3 billion in new money to school districts;
2) Maintain the "Robin Hood" plan that requires rich districts to send money to poor school districts; however, this bill would cut the Robin Hood plan by 88%;
3) Set a "uniform" starting date for public schools back to after Labor Day;
4) Restore the $1,000 health care stipend that legislators cut during the 78th Legislature two years ago;
5) Replace the TAKS with end-of-year exams for high school students and reward teachers whose students achieve higher results on these exams with incentive-based pay raises, which are not across-the-board (read this section to learn about a new potential tax on local districts**).

1) This bill would allocate $3 billion in new funding to school districts. Don't worry Republicans, it's not coming in the form of increased property taxes - HB 3 (Jim Keffer, R-Eastland) cuts the property tax by 1/3, from $1.50 to $1.00 per $100 valuation of taxable property. Not to say I'm for increased property taxes, but this change will ultimately be offset by increased sales taxes, which are more regressive than property taxes. But not to stray from the subject at hand.....

Overall funding for public school districts would purportedly increase by anywhere from 3 to 8% this fall. To make up the lost property taxes and cover new spending, the Legislature would have to find about $14 billion from other revenue sources for the two-year budget cycle. But nobody knows where this money would come from.

2) The targets of this bill who would receive huge increases in funding are the wealthiest school districts. One example is Highland Park, a ritzy part of Dallas and one of the richest school districts in the state, whose per-student funding would increase from $5,883 to $8,948 (so says the Houston Chronicle; the Dallas Morning News has that figure at $9,128, a 55% increase overall).

Grusendorf claims that except for about 10 percent of districts, per-student funding will be equal. But he doesn't spell out how that would be possible since the amount of money redistributed from rich to poor school districts would drop from $1.2 billion to $145 million statewide; the number of property-rich school districts that have to send the state money would drop from 135 to 63. The Eanes district would decrease the money it sends elsewhere from $50.4 million this year to $22 million next year. Austin ISD and Round Rock ISD, who combined gave hundreds of millions of dollars this year to poorer school districts, would give a total amount of $0 next year.

3) The state would set a statewide starting date for school that would be after Labor Day. This would save the state $85 million because of air conditioning costs. However, this wouldn't allow students more lazy summer days since the school year wouldn't end until mid-June.

4) Teachers would get $500 of their $1,000 health care stipend restored. Their stipend was cut in half last session but HB 2 would restore it in full. Good for them. Maybe then lawmakers could see some way to restore health care for starving children that they cut last session and look like heroes for it.

Oh, and the Lege. won't restore the cuts that they made two years ago for other school employees - auxiliary workers such as janitors, bus drivers, and cafeteria chefs had their $1,000 health care stipends cut by $750 last session; this bill would erase their stipends altogether.

5) "We're dropping the hammer on low-performing schools"

Grusendorf wants to require students to take state tests online. And not TAKS, which would be abolished for high schoolers, but another, tougher end-of-year exam. Additionally, Grusendorf wants the state to pay for all "college readiness" exams such as the SAT and ACT (and he still doesn't mention where the state will get the money for this).

"Accountability" is a huge buzzword for Republican lawmakers who care about education; they want all students to take the same standardized tests and penalize those who don't make the grades. (So much for standing for small government...) Anyways, the plan is to impose sanctions on those students by firing the principals of public schools and closing charter schools that "underperform" in the eyes of the state.

For those teachers whose students perform well on those new tests, they would receive merit increases. There is no across-the-board pay increase on the table right now, and I doubt that there will be one this session. Merit increases do not attract more teachers into the field, and the students are the ultimate losers; if the state could simply pump more money into teacher pay and financing textbooks and other school materials, Texas students would be rated better than they currently are - which is close to bottom. The average pay for a Texas teacher is $41,000 annually; the national average is $45,891.

**Potential NEW TAX: This bill allows for a 10 cent increase in the local enrichment tax to locally raise pay raises for teachers since districts would be required to spend 1 percent of their basic allotment for teacher performance bonuses and mentoring, which could total anywhere between $200-300 million statewide (some say its ~$275 million).

If teachers and students constantly operate under threat of serious consequences, more schools will pull do what teachers did at Sharpstown H.S. in Houston a few years back - force low-performing students to drop out of school before the big test and not report those drop-outs. That's much easier than actually teaching them, and the teachers still receive their merit pay increase.

And besides, the over-reliance of standardized tests does not help students become better students. By encouraging teachers to teach just for the test, they'll do just that. There will be less critical thinking in the classroom as teaching for the test is usually more of an exercise in memorization.

This part of the bill is ludicrous, but it allows for the right-wing public education model in Texas to gain even more ground by emphasizing standardized testing and the importance of charter schools. Wooo.

The above information was adapted from the bill, as well as an offical Texas House of Representatives press release, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and from The Quorum Report, all of which had articles specifically on HB 2.


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