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.

University Free Speech Bill Has No Teeth

HB 487

Chavez (D-El Paso)

The only changes this bill carries is:

Regulation by the governing board of an institution of higher education of the time, place, and manner of speech and assembly may not be more restrictive than necessary to protect normal academic and institutional activities.

And they say Democrats have no courage of their conviction to stand up for what's right.

News Flash, Norma: many universities are one step ahead of this. UT-Austin, for example, allows for the entire campus to be free speech, but they have areas that they section off as "elevated noise areas" or something like that. If this bill dies like it did last session, it's because little to nothing would change for college students.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Changing the Top Ten Percent Law***

As of today, there are 3 separate bills looking to either alter or repeal the Top Ten Percent Law in Texas. For those who don't know, the "Top Ten" law was created in the wake of the 1996 Hopwood decision that eliminated the use of affirmative action in university and college admission policies in Texas. Filed by then-Rep. Irma Rangel, the Top Ten law was meant to give a leg-up to minority high school students; however, its impacts have been widely disputed since its implementation.

Following last summer's Supreme Court decision to permit a watered-down form of affirmative action in all public colleges and universities across the nation, everyone knew that Texas legislators would start working against the Top Ten law. So far, these are the only bills filed - all by Republicans.

There are certainly pro's and con's to the Top Ten law. It's getting out of control, especially at UT-Austin, my alma mater - around 65 percent of UT's entering freshman class are admitted under Top Ten. The Top Ten law ought to be capped around 40-50%, with the rest of class admitted under holistic review and affirmative action. But that probably won't fly this session.

In the Legislature's legalese, Top Ten is referred to as "automatic admission."

SB 320

(Sen. Wentworth, R-San Antonio)

Bill Text:

This Senate Bill would wholly repeal automatic admission under Sections 28.026, 51.803, 51.804, and 51.8045 of the Education Code. This bill simply repeals these sections and takes out automatic admission language throughout the Education Code.

*Has not been referred to committee

Note: Rep. Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) has filed HB 750, a sibling bill to SB 320.

HB 37

(Rep. Eissler, R-The Woodlands)

Bill text:

This House Bill allows for public university systems (such as UT, Texas A&M, Texas State, Texas Tech, U. of Houston, etc.) to admit applicants to other component institutions within their system. For example, if a student applies to UT-Dallas under Top Ten, their admissions office may reject them and admit them to UT-Arlington.

The biggest problem with this bill is not only that Top Ten and all its inadequacies are not addressed, but that there are schools - say UT-Brownsville, for a random example - that may admit all the minority students who graduated in the top 10% of their class with a 3.3 GPA while UT-Austin admits only those students with a 4.0 (and probably white). This, coupled with tuition deregulation, could very well make university systems two-tiered.

*Has been referred to the House Committee on Higher Education

HB 656

(Rep. Goolsby, R-Dallas)

Bill text:

This House Bill replaces the Top Ten law with a Top Five law - beginning in the 2009-2010 academic year, all students within the top five percent of their graduating class are automatically admitted into the public college or university of their choice.

*Has not been referred to committee

***In case you don't visit the homepages of Eissler and Goolsby, rest assured they're also white males.