School finance commission approves final recommendations
School Finance Texas Legislature
Date Posted: 12/19/2018 | Author: Mark Wiggins
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Wednesday for the final time to unanimously approve the final recommendations and findings to be included in the commission’s final report due to the Texas Legislature by December 31.
The commission was created by House Bill (HB) 21 during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature in August of 2017 after school finance reforms and additional funding proposed by the House were rejected by the Senate. The commission was charged with examining the school finance system and recommending potential reforms.
Members were appointed in the fall of 2017, but the commission did not meet until January 2018. Members heard roughly 80 hours of testimony from more than 150 witnesses, including ATPE. Progress on the final report had been stalled awaiting the product of a working group on revenues led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).
The final report contains 34 separate recommendations, which members spent hours wordsmithing Wednesday. Chair Scott Brister, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, resisted wording that would have called for “adequate” school funding or described current funding levels as “inadequate.” The chair’s suggestions centered on insulating the state against any potential for future school finance litigation, while other members of the commission argued for more explicit and specific funding increases.
Changes to the final draft considered on Wednesday included a new section containing significant and previously undiscussed suggestions for the construction of local teacher evaluation systems for implementing the differentiated pay program proposed by the commission. The suggestions outline the required components of district plans, which include student achievement as determined by test scores, administrator observations, and student perception surveys. Furthermore, the suggestions included minimum percentages for each category, requiring test scores to account for a minimum of 25 percent of an educator’s overall evaluation rating.
ATPE successfully lobbied for the commission to remove the percentages from its final report in order to avoid starting the legislative conversation with artificially predetermined weights for each of the recommended components. Despite the language in the report labeling these components as mandatory, they will in actuality serve as the starting point for bills that will be drafted and debated when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in January. The same goes for all of the recommendations contained within the commission's report.
The full report is titled “Funding for Impact: Equitable Funding for Students Who Need It the Most" and can be found here. ATPE responded to the final report with a press statement, which recommends the following additional considerations in light of the report:
- Current public education funding levels are inadequate to meet the state’s education goals and the needs of our 5.4 million students enrolled in public schools in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Texas remains among the bottom one-third of states in per-student funding despite educating a disproportionate level of students who are economically disadvantaged and/or English language learners, both of which require significantly more resources to educate. There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy. ATPE is disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the limitations of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.
- ATPE rejects the implication that school districts do not efficiently allocate the money they receive under the state’s current funding system. In 2015-16, school administration counted for little more than three percent of district expenditures, while instruction and direct student supports combined accounted for more than 70 percent. The state’s share of public education funding also has fallen dramatically. A decade ago, there was a roughly even split between state funding and local taxpayers; in 2021, it is projected that state funding will be as low as 32 percent.
- Texas teachers should be paid a salary that acknowledges their excellence in the classroom and contributes to statewide efforts at recruitment and retention of outstanding educators. Focusing on initiatives that would provide a premium salary only for “top teachers,” as the commission has suggested, would address compensation concerns only for an estimated two to five percent of our state’s teachers. A large percentage of the remaining educators serving our state’s students are doing so effectively and deserve additional compensation. In order to achieve the stated goal of providing all Texas students with an effective teacher, ATPE recommends that the legislature set a statewide goal of paying all effective teachers a salary that is suitably competitive and commensurate with the work they are doing—in addition to rewarding the top teachers in the field.
- The commission has recommended an educator effectiveness allotment to help school districts boost salaries of their most effective teachers with state funding that would commence in the 2019-20 school year. However, the final report also suggests new and prescriptive criteria that school districts would be forced to meet in order to receive the allotment, which would amount to a major restructuring of teacher evaluation systems without appropriate vetting or study. Considering the years of research and piloting that have gone into previous design changes to teacher evaluations in Texas, ATPE strongly cautions legislators against mandating any rapid, wholesale changes to teacher evaluation laws based solely upon a four-page excerpt in this school finance commission report that did not receive adequate vetting by commissioners or stakeholders prior to its adoption.
“ATPE appreciates the long hours devoted by commission members to researching the complexities of school finance and listening to the many concerns by our association and other stakeholders,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes.
In particular, ATPE members have expressed gratitude for those who stood up for Texas students during the commission’s deliberations by arguing for the inclusion of additional public education funding. State support for public education has been inadequate to fully overcome the growing list of challenges that Texas schools face. How to address these challenges became a key issue during the 2018 election cycle.
“Texas voters have sent a strong message,” said Holmes. “The state must do a better job funding our schools, and Texans will no longer accept excuses for failing to act.”
ATPE looks forward to forging real solutions on school finance when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in 2019. The association pledges to continue working with legislators to implement policies that will benefit all 5.4 million Texas schoolchildren.
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