Who really benefits from Vouchers in Texas?

I would like to offer a different perspective on Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Senator Patrick’s announcements made in Wednesday’s press conference. The expressed goal of Senator Patrick is to rescue public school students that are being subjected to a level of educational abuse that is unacceptable. He stated in Wednesday’s press conference, “students in poverty in low-performing schools have the same right as any other Texas family”.  It is a good statement that no one could or should have a problem with.  There are questions that need to be asked.

 

  • What is happening at the schools these students of poverty are going to attend that is different than where they are coming from? Answer – The private schools that will accept “some” of these students are not held to the same standard of accountability as Texas Public Schools for curriculum, graduation requirements and/or mandated assessments.
  • If this is such a better method of providing an education, why are the Public Schools held to a set of inhibiting requirements? If the state’s system is the best method of measuring success in education, it stands to reason that every student in the state of Texas should be held to that standard to insure the best educated workforce for our economy. Answer – This campaign is not about what is best for all students in the state. It is about tax savings for entities that support the Senator and an agenda to move state tax dollars into private school systems and the families that already have students enrolled.
  • Will all low economic disadvantaged students have an opportunity to benefit from this system? Answer – No! The students that are most effected by poverty will not be able to pay the difference between the voucher and tuition. Students in rural areas will not have a non-public school to exercise the “choice” that will be offered to some. Students with disabilities, both physical and instructional, will be left out of this system because the private school has the right to choose whom they will accept. So the plan promoted by Senator Patrick and Lt. Governor Dewhurst will most benefit those students already enrolled in private schools and a very select few others that may be accepted through the selection process. This is not a plan for Texas; this is a plan for loyal donors to the party!
  • What is a low-performing school? For most people, the term brings visions of chaos in the classroom, no instructions for any students, no discipline in place, or in other words, a complete failure to provide an education to students. Answer – A school campus or district will be labeled AU if any sub-population of students by race, language or economic status numbers more that 30 students and fails to meet the minimum standard on the current state approved assessment instrument (TAKS for now, STAAR on the way). So, “low performing” is an indication that as few as 30 students did not do well on a one shot, multiple choice, bubble sheet exam that has no relevance to what the majority of experts in education are promoting as 21st century learning.

 

The Senate Leadership team also promoted the funding of “scholarships” with funds created by private business in an effort to justify a hands-off approach to the state accountability requirements placed on Public Schools. The fact that this private business fund will come with a 25% tax break, in their minds, does not equate to the use of taxpayer funds for private school finance! Then we are told, as superintendents, we should “go the extra mile with the tax-credit plan” because it does not take money away from the public schools. REALLY! The last time I checked (I check daily), the only way White Oak ISD receives an increase in funds is through an increase in enrollment. In my mind, a decrease in enrollment will equate to a decrease in funds at the local level. A decrease in tax dollars paid by businesses in the state will most certainly equate to further cuts to all programs funded by the state.

The Texas Legislature does not have a constitutional responsibility to grow the private school industry and promote the success of private sector educational enterprises. The Texas Legislature is expected and required to abide by the Constitution of the State of Texas Article 7 Section 1 that states; SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE SCHOOLS. 

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.
The faculty, staff and administrators that make up the approximately 600,000 employees of the Texas Public System are not opposed to scrutiny, accountability and/or competition with any other educational entity. We are opposed to being held to a completely different standard and then being labeled as “failing” in an arbitrary and unjust manner. Every challenge that has been placed before us has been successfully completed and that will continue to be the case. What I ask of my representatives is simple, seek the will of the people in House District 7 and Senate District 1 and represent those interests with a passion! Your constituents believe in their local public school system and have said so over and over again.  They have passed referendums against high stakes testing, passed Tax Rate Elections to increase local funds and approved bond referendums to provide improved learning environments for students and staff. The Public Schools of the State of Texas are not only successful, but they are leading the way in finding ways to provide a 21st century educational experience for their students. Many times, this is taking place in spite of our legislators instead of with legislative support. I want to extend my thanks to Representative David Simpson and Senator Kevin Eltife for their loyal and vocal support of the Texas Public Schools. It is my hope that many more will follow their leadership.

 

 

 

Texas High Performance School Consortium

Texas High Performance School Consortium Update

All hands were on deck for the third meeting of the consortium on November 27th.  100 team members from the 23 consortium schools looked at the issues involved with crating new learning standards, assessments and an accountability system. We are constantly aware that this process and the work being done is, at first, for the students of the 23 districts and ultimately, for all the students in the state of Texas. It is not a responsibility that any of the members take lightly.

We worked in teams for the better part of the day identifying the problems that will need to be solved in this process. Six categories were used to break the problem into workable units.

  • High Priority Learning Standards and Digital Learning Environment
  • Assessment and Accountability
  • Waivers
  •  Communications
  • Transition
  • Evaluation

Each working groups looked at the topic from the standpoint of how it will be created, implemented and explained to districts stakeholders. There were discussions about the resources needed to create a viable product that meets the needs of our students in an ever-changing work and higher education environment.  The bulk of the conversation was dedicated to the identification of problems and obstacles that will need to be solved during the research and development of the new system.  As a result, we have a much clearer understanding of just how big the elephant is that we are gong to have to eat one bite at a time!!

This was the most productive day, in my opinion, that the consortium has been involved in to this point. The conversations of the day, the “to do list” created, the framing of many of the issues and the growing consensus of the group with regard to the big picture, altogether made me feel like we put a dent in the body of work.

All of the information from this meeting and the work done by the original New Visioning Group was used to create the first document presented to Commissioner Williams last week. That document is our “table of contents” as we move forward with the development of our next generation system.

A critical issue at this point is getting the necessary waivers that will allow members districts the latitude to be creative in this process.  SB 1557 tasks the consortium schools with creating something new. This cannot be done inside the existing accountability and assessment system. It is my hope that the next post you read will be the announcement of Commissioner Williams support for the consortium and the granting of waivers needed to move forward. Please continue to speak to your representatives about the need for a new system and put in a request for support of the Texas High Performance School Consortium – Leading the way to a 21st Century Education!

Texas Association of Business Board of Directors

Raise Your Hand Texas (http://www.raiseyourhandtexas.org/) CEO Dr. David Anthony,  published a listing of the Texas Association of Business 2012 Board of Directors. It is thirteen pages long and contains over 200 members that are on the board and/or some advisory position. I believe this gives the supporters of the Texas Public Schools an excellent opportunity to measure the depth of support for the TAB Education Policy Statement promoting vouchers, high stakes testing, unlimited charter schools, teacher evaluation/pay tied to test results, larger class sizes and the privatization of the public school process. I have included the body of a letter sent to the TAB Board Members in the Longview, Kilgore and Tyler area. I do not believe that all 200 contacts are supportive of the TAB position on public schools. I hope to inform those in my area and allow each of them to be up to date on this issue. I would encourage anyone interested in supporting the work of Texas Public Schools to use this information to inform TAB members in their local area.

The TAB Policy Statement can be viewed here.

The TAB Board of Directors list can be viewed here.

Body of the Letter:

I received information that lists you as a member of the Texas Association of Business Board of Directors. I am very interested in your perspective on the TAB Policy Statement on Texas Public Schools (copy included). The lead-in statement announces TAB as “leading the fight for bettering our state’s schools and creating better accountability measures within them”. The statement indicates that the TAB is in the process of creating an accountability system for Texas Public Schools.  I am contacting the members of the Texas Association of Business in East Texas to find out if they/you support the policy statement included in this letter.

 

White Oak ISD is a member of the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium. We are the only East Texas school district to have been selected. This consortium was created through the passing of Senate Bill 1557 in the 82nd Legislative Session. Our charge is to develop and implement new teaching standards, assessment system and accountability system for the state.  There are twenty-three districts that represent just over 200,000 Texas Public School Students in the consortium. It is our firm belief that the current assessment system of STAAR/EOC is not a model for improving the education of our students. The use of outdated, 20th century testing systems is the problem and not the cure for creating a strong, well-educated and innovative workforce for the 21st century.

 

Needless to say, I do not agree with the “mission” of TAB President/CEO Bill Hammond and his claims to be a proponent of a strong public school system. He is a proponent of private business. He is interested in the use of public funds to make a profit in the private sector. Although the members of the TAB are not educators, you are well-educated people. The research is there and readily available that debunks the claims of more standardized testing creates better-educated students.

 

I would ask that you take the time to review the information on the New Visioning Institute, http://www.transformtexas.org/#, and see for your self the powerful work being done by professional educators. If you are not a supporter of the TAB Education Policy Statement, let it be known. The school children of the state of Texas deserve more than to be pawns in a for-profit scheme disguised as a concern for better education. Thank you for your time and any consideration you may give to this matter.

 

Sincerely.

Michael E. Gilbert

Superintendent

Texas High Performance School Consortium Report

Texas High Performance School Consortium

 

The mission of the Texas High Performance School Consortium is to develop and implement methods for transforming public schools in the state by improving student learning through innovative, next-generation learning standards, assessments and accountability.

 

Learning Standards

The learning standards have to reflect the change in the assessment process. We need to pair down the large number of standards and look for common core standards that will be used cross-curricular as well as content specific supporting standards by subject and grade level. One idea was to take Texas Standards, College/Career Readiness Standards and those from one or two successful countries for a side-by-side comparison, document those standards that all/most have in common and start there to develop what will be used by the consortium. The consensus of the consortium is that the standards put in place give the teacher the discretion needed to create and implement 21st century lessons that incorporate the use of technology, collaboration and relevance. These standards and supporting standards will not be limited in scope as to allow for assessment through true/false and multiple-choice answers to be used to show mastery.

 

Assessments (Evidence of Learning)

“We have learned that if we do new work but use old assessments, the old assessments will take us back to the old work.” –The Schlechty Center

Student assessment is the core of Texas Educators dissatisfaction with the direction of Public Education. The use of 20th century tools to assess 21st century learning is not a forward thinking model for preparing our students for tomorrow’s challenges. When the new Learning Standards are in place, the process of documenting mastery will be a multi-method approach. The term “evidence of learning” better describes the goal of the new process. Daily grades, unit tests, collaborative projects, semester exams and final exams will all be part of the documentation that a student is equipped with the knowledge to move to the next grade level or life choice after high school. Students will chronicle this information in electronic portfolios that can be accessed at any time to determine the quality of work being produced. With this in mind, the majority of the assessment process will be the responsibility of the local school district (local control) and the district will be responsible to the local community to document and certify the successful competition/mastery of the learning standards.

 

Accountability

There has to be a new concept for the accountability of school districts if the assessment process is going to be moved to the local level. Accountability for the education of each individual student becomes the responsibility of the local district and State Accountability will be a process by which school districts remain accredited/eligible to receive state/federal funds. All of the systems described in the assessment process will be subject to desk or site audits by the Texas Education Agency. The audit will not be so in depth as to look at the records of every student but will take a random sample of graduates and 3-11 grade students to determine if the district is meeting the requirements for mastery of the learning standards. Standardized testing was discussed and will have a role in this process. An option would be to test in grade 4, 7 and 10. The purpose of the test would be for to add information for the District’s Accreditation but not have any bearing on the grade or promotion of the student being tested. Districts that meet the requirements of the audit maintain their status as an Accredited Texas Public School District. Those that fall short of the requirements will enter into a process of required improvement before losing accreditation and funding. There will not be a competitive system of ratings for schools. Each district will have to meet the expectations of the community that it serves.

 

Messy Process

This is the start of a “messy process” to create something new in the public school system. The ideas and direction I have shared in this document are just my observations of where we are at this time. This consortium is charged with the task of changing a process, and in so doing, changing a culture that has been in place for over two decades. The system will change, grow and evolve over the next year of planning and then change, grow and evolve over the next four years of implementation.

 

The work of the consortium is about the three areas addressed in this document. There are many things about the daily operation of school that will not appear any different. Observations, evaluations of personnel, high expectations and documented student achievement will still be the standard of White Oak ISD. The plus side is that our teachers will have more days to provide instruction, greater freedom to look deeper into the learning standards, as opposed to skimming the top and making sure all areas are “touched” in the current process.

 

It is my plan to keep you informed as this process continues to mature and develop into the next generation Texas Public School Accountability System. It is my hope that as the process continues, there will be opportunities for campus principals and teachers to collaborate with their peers within the consortium on next generation teaching methods. Working together as a cohort, I am confident that a new system can be created and implemented for the 200,000 students represented in the 23 school districts. The success of this consortium will then translate to a new and more effective evidence of learning and accountability system for the 5 million students of the State of Texas.

MORE ACCOUNTABILITY, MORE ACCOUNTABILITY

Today, June 28, 2012, our local paper ran a story covering the press conference for the “Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce” and a very familiar name popped up, Bill Hammond. Mr. Hammond is once again attempting to paint Public Education Professionals as the bad guys that do not want our school children to be successful. The way I read the article, Hammond makes three points that are worth rebuttal.

• Educators have “demonized the test”, “gone about scaring Mom that Johnny is not going to UT”
• “Superintendents are worried that the test will show their school is not well prepared for exams
• 15% rule is designed to ensure that students take the End of Course Exam (EOC) seriously.

To the first point let me assure whoever may be reading this that White Oak ISD and districts across the state are not opposed to the assessment of students. We are not opposed to being held accountable to the taxpayers of our districts for the responsibility of educating ALL of our children. STAAR/EOC accomplishes neither of the statements above. It is a $500 million dollar, 45 day calendar killer that takes a snapshot of how our students performed on bubble sheet multiple choice tests. It is a 20th Century education tool in a 21st Century world. We can and should do better for our students. Give back the 45 days a year for testing. Give back the days spent preparing for the test, (Yes, we do that. If we don’t, your child does not promote to the next grade and/or graduate). Let us teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) with greater rigor and relevance. Let us include the higher level thinking skills, collaborative learning techniques, and hands on projects that will actually prepare a student for college and career success. Mr. Hammond’s answer to student’s not doing well on a test prepared by an overseas company is to make the test harder and give it again. If he was a coach and his player could not lift 150 pounds, his plan would be to put 200 pounds on the bar and try again. When the lift is unsuccessful, Mr. Hammond would announce that the player is weaker than ever before. We are not demonizing the test or scaring mom about college. We are saying the assessment system DOES NOT WORK. The past twenty-five years are a perfect example that more testing does not bring about positive results. TEACHING should be the focus and testing should be one of many tools.
To the second point, REALLY!! Superintendents and their districts have been held accountable in the most unrealistic manner imaginable for the past 25 years. STAAR/EOC is nothing new in the world of high stakes test accountability. Ratings are based on a single day window and assigned based on the results of lowest performing sub-population of students numbering 30 or more. What is there to be afraid of? White Oak ISD teaches every student all year long. We have and will always do well in the world of “window testing”. It will be addressed but will not be the driving force of our district. When you are at the local level, you know the effort being put forth by your team. I am fully confident that when our scores come in on any assessment, we will have given our best effort and we will take the results and continue to teach our students to the best of our collective ability. Again, we are not in fear of the test, we are not in fear of the results. We are tired of wasting valuable time and energy on a system that does not work and is not relevant to the needs of the students we work with every day.
To the last point concerning the 15% rule, Local Control. To say that a student needs this extra incentive to put forth their best effort is truly insulting to students. If we continue to administer EOC’s, how much more incentive do you need than, don’t pass-don’t graduate? This is actually another effort to remove any level of local control from your school district. Never before in the history of public education has the legislature tried to control the actual grade book in the classroom. Set course passing standards, yes. Set graduation requirements, yes. Set attendance requirements, yes. Control the grade of a student in the local classroom, no. What possible benefit is this to the state or the process of preparing students for life after High School?
Bill Hammond is about big business and big money. For Mr. Hammond to call a press conference and call for no increase in funding a school system that increases by 85,000 students per year is irresponsible. To tie funding to the continuation and/or increase in an out-dated and ineffective assessment system is also irresponsible. I have been a Professional Educator in thee Texas Public School System for 31 years. I am unashamed to be extremely bias in my positive opinion concerning students, teachers and the level of success that is achieved in the Texas Public Schools. There is no better place to invest the revenue of the State of Texas than in the Texas Public School System. There are no finer people to trust with the future of our youth than the Professional Educators in our Public Schools. If the Legislature, Business Community and Taxpayers truly want to see the Texas Public School System excel, return to the model that was intended when the system was created. Let the community make the decisions concerning what is best for their students. Local Control, Local Accountability and Local Pride in the product that graduates each and every year is the best answer to the current issues that we face in education. Professional Educators in the State of Texas are trained and ready to meet the challenges of providing a 21st Century Education. The top down control proponents do not want to surrender the tight fisted control they have designed through this standardized assessment model. They need to be encouraged to do so in the polling places every time we have elections.

Accountability

Accountability in Texas Public Schools

What has happened in the last few weeks? Commissioner Scott calls the assessment system a perversion of its intended purpose and wants to suspend the 15% rule for this year’s ninth graders. Bill Hammond (Texas Association of Business) spends TAB funds for a full page ad in the Austin paper to denounce the Commissioner and call for all to press on to a better education. Senator Shapiro first calls for the Commissioner to explain himself and then writes a letter to inform him that he does have the authority to suspend the 15% rule.
This is really good stuff for those that want to write about opposing views on what is best for the students of the Texas Public Schools. Bill Hammond and many of the state’s legislators favor the full implementation of the STAAR/EOC Assessment process developed under the watchful eye of Pearson Education. Students will be rigorously tested in the four core course areas from 3rd grade through 11th grade. Students will be expected to test at grade level for the most part regardless of any learning disabilities identified by the local school district. 9th through 11th grade students will be given 12 End Of Course Exams that must be passed for graduation and the EOC scores will be recorded as 15% of the course grade. This plan as mandated by the state, prepared by Pearson and supported by Bill Hammond will allow the State of Texas to produce World Class Graduates in the areas of Bubble Sheet Multiple Choice Test Taking, Speed Composition Writing/Editing. Our graduates will have a strong background in steering away from courses that will make it difficult to graduate. They will be experts at the process of dealing with stress; after all, they have been exposed to “High Stakes Testing” since they were in the third grade. This is the Vision for a World Class Education in Texas.
A consortium of North Texas superintendents composed a letter that describes the vision most school leaders would like to pursue for the students of this state. (http://www.tasanet.org/images/gr/2012/consortium.pdf) Instead of isolation and bubble testing, we would like to use collaborative learning environments. Instead of four hour timed writing sessions, we would like to incorporate project based learning assignments. Instead of 45 days of assessment on the calendar of a 180 school year, (including the 10% allotment for benchmark testing, 35% of the school year is earmarked for assessment), we want the flexibility to teach Career and Technology skills that can be used to continue a student’s education and/or enter the job market with employable skills in place. Instructional leaders and School Board Members across the state want the return of LOCAL CONTROL of our local schools. The practice of continual increases in state mandates and freezing/reduction of funds to meet those requirements is an unacceptable combination. Texas Public Schools have never been opposed to assessment and/or accountability. The new system goes far beyond the limit of any system meant to measure progress. Let the local school districts teach their students. Use random sample assessment statewide to ensure the curriculum expectations are being met. Let ACT and SAT exams determine college readiness standards and allow parents to hold their local schools accountable if graduates can’t perform in college or the workplace. The call to arms for school improvement always goes back to the era where public school system was “the best in the world”. That was also the era of total local control and accountability to the taxpayer of the local district. Times have changed, funding is more complicated and our students are receiving an education that is by far greater in scope and depth than ever before. We are still a leader in the education of all students. The pubic school systems of the State of Texas and the United States are the pioneers of education for all. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and the world has used the US model to improve the educational opportunities for children on every continent.
Every time a Texas School Superintendent engages in a conversation about school improvement and school finance, he/she is quickly labeled as a whiner just looking for more money to throw at the same old way of doing business. The truth is we want a level playing field for our students. We want the chance to put our young people in front of new age technology and allow them to hone the skills that will make them successful 21st century citizens. We want to do that which is our passion, provide the platform for success that each of our students deserves. The message I have for my legislators, Senator Kevin Eltife, Representative David Simpson and his opponent Tommy Merritt is this:
1. The current STAAR/EOC assessment plan has to go. It is 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century world. Work with the leaders of the public schools and models that are in place around the world and build something that is truly best for students and not in the best interest of business partnerships.
2. Tackle the funding crisis for Texas Public Schools. Target Revenue, Hold Harmless Values and a $6,000 funding gap per student must go away. Create an Equitable Funding system for the students of the State of Texas and do it without having to be sued in court!!
I am a Texas Public School Person! I have been in this business for 31 years. The two items above are my sole concern for the next legislative session. I have no desire to weigh in on pot holes in the streets, bridges that are weak or which town in Texas is the birthplace of Swing! (All bills in the last session) I know that there are people that find these issues to be valuable and they need to make their voices heard. I want you to focus on the Public Schools of Texas. I want you to focus on the Public Schools of Texas in January, not May. In case you made it all the way to the end of this column, thank you for your time.

Why should White Oak ISD join the Equity Center School Finance Lawsuit?

The Board of Trustees for the White Oak Independent School District approved a resolution to join the Equity Center in litigation requiring the state of Texas to fundamentally change the way Texas Public Schools are funded. It is unfortunate, but the Texas Legislature historically is reluctant to change without litigation. The purpose of this legal action is to create a fair/equitable/adequate system of public school finance.
Let me try to give you a quick history of how we arrived at a place where this lawsuit is necessary.
• 2005 – Legislators make the decision to compress the property tax rate by 33%. The maximum tax rate becomes $1.00 per $100.00 value and districts can add 4 pennies to that amount. The state plans to make up the difference (33% loss) with a margins tax on businesses in Texas. That choice leads to a structural deficit of 10 billion dollars over the next 6 years and sets the stage for the shortfall that was addressed in the 82nd Legislature.
• With a full understanding that the margins tax was not going to fund schools as required by the Texas State Constitution, lawmakers came up with the plan to create Hold Harmless/Target Revenue funding values for all but the lowest funded schools in the state. These values were assigned to districts according to 2005/2006 values and have not changed in six years. Districts do not benefit from increases in property values or new businesses that move into the district. Under target revenue, new money that increases local school revenue, decreases state revenue in equal portions. Commonly referred to as “zip code values”, schools have been funded on a per student value that ranges from less than $4,000 per student to over $12,000 per student. The value of a student varies in such random manner that the children in adjoining districts are funded at values more than a $1,000 apart.
• With this information in mind, the 82nd Legislature met and decided the best way to deal with the self-inflected 10 billion dollar structural deficit would be to cut everyone equally. The term that was used was “share the pain”. There was no acknowledgement that the low target revenue schools had been “sharing the pain” since 2005/2006 and high funded districts had yet to experience any discomfort! The Target Revenue system that is blatantly in-equitable is scheduled to be discussed by the legislative body in 2017, three legislative sessions down the road.
• The 82nd Legislature developed a budget that did not meet the Constitutional requirements to fund Texas Public Schools. The budget was 4 billion dollars short of the states obligation. At the same time, there was 9 billion dollars in the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund) that could have been used to bridge the gap. Instead of using available funds, the legislature voted to amend/suspend the constitution and give them the freedom to approve a budget that otherwise would have been in violation of Texas law.

With that information in mind, let me give you the information that is applicable to White Oak ISD.
• WOISD is in the bottom 18% of Target Revenue School Districts in the state. If we had been assign a value equal to the average district’s target revenue, we would receive an extra $250,000 in state and local funds.
• WOISD has a yield per penny of tax at $49. This is on the low end of the scale and includes the extra revenue provided from the 13 cents voters approved by the Tax Rate Election in 2007. Local tax payers add $637.00 of funding per student in WOISD. The budget cuts of 2011 decreased our local contribution by over $70,000. These were locally approved funds and state lawmakers decided to reduce that loss by issuing a one time payment of $30,000. Over two years, that is $110,000 short!
• White Oak ISD is one of more than 250 school districts that operate at a $1.17 tax rate for maintenance and operations. The vast majority of the districts that have voted to approve the TRE are low target revenue schools. Districts with high target revenue can generate more funds with a lower tax rate.
• White Oak ISD does not have a large bonded debt for new construction. The last construction project in WOISD was 1999. The last instructional facility built in White Oak was completed in the mid 1980’s. The district has not been wasteful of the tax payer’s money.

There are six East Texas school districts that rank in the top 25% of Target Revenue Funding. What would it mean to White Oak ISD to be funded at the level fo one of those schools:

District Increase in T.R. Increase in Revenue
Tenaha ISD $892 $1,516,400
Yantis ISD $1,025 $1,742,500
Hallsville ISD $1,199 $2,038,300
Arp ISD $1,398 $2,376,600
Carthage ISD $2,009 $3,415,300
Beckville ISD $2,069 $3,517,300

Two points need to be made about this data. First, I do not believe any of these districts are overfunded by the state. They are using the funds made available to them to meet the needs of their students. Second, these districts do not get to keep all of the funds generated in their local communities. They are Chapter 41 Districts and send money to the state in the form of “recapture” or Robin Hood payments. The system is broken top to bottom and there has been little to no interest in addressing the problem by the state legislature. In the process of creating a new equitable funding system, some districts will see a decrease in funding. The greater goal is to see all students in the state funded at a level that will ensure their opportunity to experience success. Texas is currently the 2nd wealthiest state in the Union (Gross Domestic Product, US Census) and ranks between 37th and 44th in funding per student in Public Education. (politicalfact.com) The 4 billion dollars in cuts approved for the current budget could move the state to 49th in per student spending.
The leadership of the White Oak Independent School District corporately believes it is time to call for a change in this system. It is not something that can wait until 2017, or longer. The board has approved joining and financially supporting the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition. For a one time fee of $1,700.00 (one dollar per weighted average daily attendance) this coalition will petition the state to develop a new funding system that fairly compensates all school districts in a way that allows for the provision of a world class education for all students. This will include fairness for the taxpayer who wants to see his/her dollars put to work in an equitable manner. The key points to the litigation and more detailed financial information can be found on the Equity Center Website, http://www.equitycenter.org/. White Oak ISD has also posted the Equity Center Power Point Presentation on the district’s website (www.woisd.net) I will be happy to visit with anyone individually or in groups that would like more information about the lawsuit and/or White Oak ISD’s participation in the process.

Letter to Legislators

Representative Simpson and Senator Eltife,
I have just returned from Senior Celebration, a program designed to
honor the graduating class of White Oak High School. Each year we
honor the senior class by allowing them to share special
accomplishments and memories from their time at White Oak. During the
program parents and community members heard many wonderful stories of
favorite teachers, classes that will prepare them for the future,
trips, sports, band and other UIL events that will forever be a part
of their life memories. I watched as our students were presented in
formal dress and given the kind of recognition deserved by young
people who have accomplished so much. I am very proud of these
students.
The thought of not being able to provide the setting for these
memories to be made makes me very angry. This legislative session has
been brutal to those of us who are fighting desperately to save our
public schools. The cuts being proposed, especially in the house, are
totally unacceptable. The vast majority of your constituents do not
want this to happen and have been clear on the issue. No program, no
pet project, no special interest is deserving of funds in place of a
well educated, motivated and prepared workforce! These cuts can not be
allowed to become reality!
There are those who will say that the Texas Public School System is
broken. They will say that we waste money and the students I described
above do not exist. They are wrong! Over and over again we have
provided documented evidence of our success at teaching ALL the
children in our care. We provide the platform for young people to
pursue excellence without prejudice as to demographics or
socioeconomic status. We educate children, that is what we do. These
funding cuts will be devastating to that task.
I am angry! My children are under attack! The 82nd Legislature is
stealing the future of my students! I am proud that my Representative
voted against HB 1, but that is just the start. The students of House
District 7 and Senate District 1 NEED YOU! Revenue is the answer. Take
the governor’s corporate welfare accounts, spend the Economic
Stabilization Fund, every dime of it! The fund will replenish, but the
harm done to our students will be permanent.
The outstanding achievements that are happening in White Oak ISD are
not the exception. This story of success is playing out all over the
state. Do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.
Please share this with anyone who will listen.

Sincerely,

Michael E. Gilbert
Superintendent
White Oak ISD

2011 TASA Legislative Conference Report

March 31, 2011

Report from Austin Legislative Conference

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 was a busy day at the State Capital. The day began with a conference attended by 1000 School Superintendents and School Board Members from across the state. We heard from Senator Shapiro and Representative Eissler on the progress from their prospective Education Committees. The message was very different and indicated that there is a deep chasm between the thinking of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Let’s start with the good news first. On the Senate side of the Capital, SB 6 has narrowed the funding gap to 4 Billion dollars over the next two years. You will remember we started the session at a 10 Billion dollar gap. Members of the Senate Education Committee have been willing to look at a wide range of options to bring funds back into the picture of the education of our students. There is even talk of a new funding system being developed that will eliminate the inequity of the Target Revenue System of funding by the year 2014! The news gets even better if you consider that there is no Economic Stabilization Funds (Rainy Day) included in this bill as written. Many of the Senators have already expressed their support for the use of this fund and that would narrow the gap even further bringing the state very close to matching current funding levels.

The picture in the House of Representatives is not as promising. HB 1 was voted out of committee onto the floor at 7.9 Billion dollars short of current law requirements. The members of the committee are not willing to use the “Rainy Day Fund” to close the gap and did not support the strategies being employed by the Senate to create SB 6. Despite a great deal of evidence that this gap can not be closed with cuts alone, the House is moving forward with the plan to create a Revenue Neutral “Balanced” Budget on the backs of the public school children of Texas. The cuts in education and many other service industries in the state will not benefit the economy. Using this level of cuts to balance the budget will cost tens of thousands of Texans their jobs and put an unmanageable strain on the state’s social services. Members of the House will tell you that this is the mandate that they were sent to Austin to accomplish and that the majority of the voters approve of their actions and intentions. I find it very difficult to believe that any group would intentionally promote the destruction of the Public School Education System and the State’s economy just to put a few dollars (very few) in their bank account.

What to do?
• Continue to write, email and call your Legislators and let them know you are still monitoring this issue. Include all the members that were included on the list provided earlier this spring.
• Express your appreciation to the Senators that have exhibited the courage to lead by example during this difficult planning process and encourage them to continue.
• Encourage the members of the House of Representatives to review the Senate plan and move forward to create a budget that does not severely damage the Local School District’s ability to provide services to their students.
• Continue to support the use of the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to close the gap in the funding for Public School Education. The price of a barrel of oil remains well over the $70 per barrel threshold that puts money into the ESF. There is a legal cap on the total amount of money that can be held in the ESF. The money is needed. The fund was created specifically for this purpose and due to the price of oil, the fund will replenish itself. The local school district’s fund balance will not replenish itself if depleted.
• Finally, be vocal in your local community about the positive things that are happening at your school. Many of the people that favor cuts over revenue think that our public schools are a failure. They see money spent on Public Education as money thrown away with no benefits in return. It is our obligation to be ambassadors for the schools that we love.

The news is better but the process is far from over. Thank you for your involvement and your continued contribution to the commitment we all share in providing a quality education for our children. I firmly believe that the destruction of our Public School System will bring about the destruction of our State. Do not allow that to take place.

White Oak ISD’s response to our Legislators

March 23, 2011

White Oak ISD’s response to our Legislators

On March 4, 2011, petitions were delivered to Representative David Simpson’s office in Austin. The petitions included names and addresses of registered voters that were not in favor of the deep cuts being proposed in the Texas Public School System, and more specifically, White Oak ISD. At the same time, a large number of WOISD employees and residents wrote letters to several of our legislators expressing the same opinion on cutting funds for Texas Public Education. In response, we were given the following information:

• The Legislature is in this difficult position with the budget this year due to the downturn in the economy.
• Texas applies between 41 to 43 percent of the total state budget to Public School Education. Even with the cuts being proposed, this percentage remains the same.
• Districts do not need to cut cost by a Reduction In Force of Classroom Teachers. The cuts should be made by downsizing the District’s Administrative staff.

I would like to address each of these issues.

Blaming the current budget crisis on a downturn in the economy is not an accurate statement. The current issue we face can be linked back to a decision made by the Texas Legislature in the 80th Legislative Session. Tax compression was the goal of this session and the desire to make that happen outweighed any level of logic that could have/should have been applied to the process. The decision to compress the property by 33% was intended to fulfill the campaign promises made by those that obtained or sustained their place in office. The loss in revenue from the reduction was to be made up by the implementation of the “Margins Tax” on Texas Businesses. The budget shortfall
we face today started with the vote to compress the tax rate. In a letter sent to Governor Perry dated May 15, 2006 (http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/60515letter.html) Texas Comptroller Strayhorn stated that this rate compression would result in a shortfall of 23 Billion Dollars in five years. The year 2006 plus five years equal the year 2011 and the only thing she got wrong was the size of the shortfall! Comptroller Strayhorn did not predict a “downturn in the economy”. She did let state leaders know that the plan they put in place created a structural deficit that could have/should have been avoided at that time. If, by choice, the legislature voted to create this problem then, by choice, they should look for sources of revenue to solve the problem.
When we start to read about money issues in the form percentages, something is not right. Money is money and can be compared apples to apples across state lines. Representative Simpson uses percentages to indicate the level of commitment the state applies to Public Education. Appyling 41 to 43 percent of the budget to Public Education sounds like a firm commitment. The actual dollar comparisons do not paint the same picture. The latest data that I have been able to find shows Texas to rank between 43rd to 37th in per pupil spending out of 51 states and the District of Columbia. (http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2011/jan/31/wendy-davis/state-sen-wendy-davis-says-texas-ranks-44th-educat/) This information does not support the idea that Texas Public Schools are over funded and riddled with unnecessary personnel. Texas Public Schools have traditionally been funded well below the national average but at the same time, have led the way in school reform, assessment, accountability and improved scores for all socio-demographic subpopulations.
The third point to address is the idea that cuts can be made in administrative cost rather than through a Reduction In Force of educators and support staff. The highest paid employee of every public school district is the Superintendent of Schools. The latest TASBO salary information shows that Texas superintendent salaries average $120,000 per year. If every one of these positions were to be eliminated (1024 public school districts), the 5 Billion dollar cut expected from public schools would be reduced to a mere 4.9 Billion. If you want to use percentages, that would be a 2.4% reduction in the shortfall. Can certain positions be eliminated? Yes, but for the most part that would require the elimination of state and federal mandates that make up the bulk of the duties for these added positions. The cost savings will be very minimal.
As Superintendent of White Oak ISD, I recognize that we are in a financial crisis of greater magnitude than the state has ever seen before. I also understand that there is a need to tighten the belt to get through this difficult time. I do not believe that this can be accomplished with budget cuts alone. The Texas Comptroller told the Legislature in 2006 that this problem was coming and they chose to ignore the facts. The Texas Comptroller is telling the Legislature today that this financial crisis can not be solved with budget cuts alone and this time I hope they listen. For Public Schools, EQUITY IS THE ISSUE AND THE ONLY LONG TERM SOLUTION. As long as there are schools held under a system of Target Revenue that funds some students at less than $4,000 each while funding others at over $12,000 each, Equity can not be achieved. White Oak ISD is a Low Target Revenue School District ($4,954 per wada). We have “shared the pain” much longer than those districts being funded above the state average ($5,200 per wada). Those districts that have been funded at the higher value should absorb more of the cuts in state funding before WOISD sees a loss of state funds. I would ask our Legislative Leaders to listen to the experts and the Majority of your constituents and support the efforts to minimize the damage to our Texas Public School System. I would ask those of you that read this response to continue writing, emailing and calling your representatives. When they stop hearing from us, they assume we no longer care about the issue at hand. Please, do not let that happen.

Michael E. Gilbert
Superintendent of Schools
White Oak ISD