WAXAHACHIE — Superintendents statewide have joined to repeal three priorities of the 6,200 bills and joint resolutions passed during the 2016 Texas Legislative Session just before the Legislature reconvenes Tuesday, Jan. 10. The priorities include a call to repeal the A-F campus and district grading system, opposition to vouchers or Education Savings Grants, and an increase in funding for Texas’ public schools.

According to the Texas Association of School Administrators [TASA], “As of January 6, TASA had confirmations that 156 school districts had adopted resolutions opposing the A-F school rating system.”

Of the 156 school districts who have approved the resolutions, six are in Ellis County. These districts, including two others, comprise Region 10, which is one of 20 regions established to provide services to school districts by the Texas State Legislature.

The Ellis County districts that have voted to repeal the priorities are Italy, Ennis, Midlothian, Milford, Palmer and Red Oak.

THE BROKEN SYSTEM

As defined by the Texas Education Agency's [TEA] website, “The 84th Legislature passed HB 2804, changing the Texas school accountability system so that every campus and district receives one of five ratings from A-F. Much like students receive grades in individual subjects and those are combined for a GPA, the law requires schools and districts to be issued grades based on five different areas of performance or 'domains,' and those five grades must be combined into a single overall rating.”

The agency notes that the ratings will be issued for the first time in August 2018.

A statement released regarding the accountability system on the website maintained by the Superintendents of Region 10 concerning their "Legislative Priorities" explained that, though the district's favor a strong accountability system, they do not believe the A-F system to be ideal.

The website also shared that, “[...] Letter grades for schools only creates a culture of fear where individual campuses and districts are pitted against one another. Region 10 districts seek a repeal of this new law. Other states have struggled with implementation and, in fact, Virginia has already repealed its A-F system.”

VOUCHERS OR SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

The second of the three priorities focuses on repealing taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools with virtually no accountability measures.

As explained by the Region 10 website, “Education Savings Accounts would give parents a debit card to cover education expenses for private school tuition, tutors or home school materials at the expense of public schools. State lawmakers should reject any attempt to create Education Savings Accounts or Vouchers.”

The Region 10 Superintendents then refer to the vouchers as a “sleight-of-hand” scheme and “unacceptable.” They are also described in the online statement to be “designed to take dollars away from underfunded public schools to allow parents to use state tax dollars to send their children to private, parochial and even home schools.”

'WADA' WE GOING TO DO?

As for funding, the superintends directed their focus to the "Increases for the Basic Allotment per the Weighted Average Daily Attendance [WADA] for the next two years."

The Region 10 Superintendents believe a collection of school district property taxes to be funding the increase in reserves making up for recent reductions in the state treasury as a result of franchise tax relief.

Their statement regarding the increase reads, “While state aid for public education has increased 12.7 percent since 2008, from $17.14 billion to $19.59 billion, local property taxes have risen 44.2 percent, from $18.2 billion to $26.25 billion during the same time frame. [...] In 2008, the percentage of funding for Texas schools was split nearly evenly between local (51.5 percent) and state (48.5 percent) sources. In 2017, the figures are estimated to increase to nearly 58 percent from local property taxes and 42 percent from the state. By 2018, it is further projected that the imbalance will increase to 63 percent from local taxes and only 37 percent from the state.”

The increase is described as an unsustainable pattern, which threatens to shortchange students.

DISTRICTS SOUND OFF

In a press release issued by the Superintendents of Region 10 Education Service Center, as well as in statements from both Italy and Midlothian ISDs, the reasoning and intentions for their collaboration were broken down into three key bullet points.

A-F Accountability System: "We believe in strong accountability, but see no evidence that the A-F grading system will improve performance or help students. The system is designed to rank order schools within each domain to allow for comparison of schools/districts. The bulk of the rankings will be based solely on a once a year STAAR/EOC assessment that has been proven to be defective, not statistically significant or reliable, and detrimental to students and the teaching profession. The present standard setting process indicates that it will be impossible for all schools to earn an A." Vouchers or Education Saving Grants: "We oppose a state voucher plan, tax credit, taxpayer savings grants, tuition reimbursements, or any program that diverts public tax dollars to private entities, homeschool students, or parents with little or no academic or financial accountability to the state, taxpayers, or local communities." Funding: "We believe that the basic allotment should be raised creating additional funding for all districts in Texas. The increased allotment would not require additional revenue from the state, rather revenues generated by increased property values would be returned to local school districts." The Red Oak ISD Board of Trustees unanimously passed the resolution during their board meeting, Dec. 19. Once the resolution passed, a press release informing the faculty and staff within the district was issued.

According to ROISD, “The TEA is releasing something called the 'What If' report. It is expected to be publicly released by Jan. 6. We have been notified that the 'What If' report will act as a preview of the A-F ratings. [...] According to the information from the state, these preliminary ratings are based on different data sets than those to be used for the A-F rating system that will go into effect in 2018.”

The report will have no consequences and is a "bridge rating" that does not reflect the method which will be used in the actual A-F system for the 2018 school year, the ROISD release added.

The press release then explained that further examination of the “What If” report reveals the following:

A-F rating systems have not worked in other states: Virginia repealed its A-F system in 2015. Oklahoma also walked away from the system after research revealed that the system caused test scores to stagnate or decline and that the state’s low-income students had the most significant performance drops, according to the Texas Association of School Administrators. A-F rating systems create a false impression about an entire neighborhood and district: The reduction of a school or a district to a single grade unfairly reduces every student to the school’s assigned grade, according to the Texas Association of School Administrators) ROISD Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Brenda Flowers, shared, “We are blessed in this district to have a phenomenal group of principals, teachers, and staff members who work tremendously hard to consistently deliver a high-quality instructional program for our students. Whatever these ratings show for our campuses, know that this unaligned preview of a yet to be defined methodology is not a valid measure of our work.

"[...] Our program is solid, and our staff, students, parents and community are committed to the academic progress of each student. That is what we measure. That is what we value, and that is who we are.”

Lee Joffre, Italy ISD Superintendent, recently met with Texas State Representative John Wray and discussed the three priorities.

Joffre explained in a press release, “[Rep. Wray] told me that he wants to hear from his constituents. He demonstrated that he understands the needs of community school districts but hearing from the voters helps him develop strategies to gain support from other lawmakers. I hope that every member of the Italy community will review the overview and contact our representatives”.

Midlothian ISD Superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter noted that MISD is proud to stand behind the effort to communicate the needs of the district and the students in Region 10.

According to the MISD press release, “The superintendents from Region 10 have further unified in their efforts by planning a joint press conference on January 9, 2017, which is the day before the 2017 Texas Legislative Session opens. At 10:00 a.m. in the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, 80 superintendents, and their board members are invited to attend to further discuss these priorities.”

An update regarding the conference and priorities will be issued by the WDL at a later date. All school districts in Ellis County were contacted for statements.

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Kelsey Poynor, @KPoynor_WDL

(469) 517-1454