EduLege Update Volume V, Number 84
December 7, 2017
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association
The good, the bad, and the ugly…
The tax bill that narrowly passed in the U.S. Senate in the wee hours of the morning last weekend could have massive implications for schools and universities, students and parents.
Public education advocates warn that certain provisions of the bill place pressure on state and local spending for public schools, while providing parents with new incentives to send their children to private schools.
The legislation passed 51 to 49 after senators worked through the night on last-minute revisions and amendments—including some that were scribbled in the bill’s margins. The legislation now has to be reconciled with a version passed by the House before being sent to President Trump, but many of the provisions affecting education are likely to stay.
Public education advocates attacked the bill for offering incentives to private school parents through tax-free school savings accounts, while curtailing the deduction for state and local taxes that fund public schools.
“It’s crazy that we’re eliminating the ability of people to deduct their state and local taxes that go directly to local services, including schools . . . while at the same time providing a $10,000 incentive for folks to send their kids to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, with the American Association of School Administrators.
Here’s an overview of what the Senate bill could mean for education:
1. It’s good for private school parents
Hours before the bill was passed, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced an amendment that would allow parents to use a special tax-free college savings account to pay tuition for private K-12 schools, a provision that would largely benefit wealthier families who can already afford private schools.
The amendment narrowly passed, facing opposition from all Democrats and from two Republican senators—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Ultimately, Vice President Pence had to be summoned after midnight to cast a tie-breaking vote.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised the amendment, which is similar to one already approved by the House: “This is a good step forward, reflecting that education should be an investment in individual students, not systems.”
2. It’s not so good for public school budgets
Like the House bill, the Senate legislation curtails the federal deduction for state and local taxes. Advocates worry that school districts will now have a tougher time raising money for schools—which receive nearly all of their money from state and local tax revenues — because those taxes will no longer be fully deductible.
3. It saves the school supply deductions
The House bill eliminates a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies, a move that enraged educators, who spend an average of $500 annually on supplies, according to one survey.
The Senate bill not only saves the deduction, it doubles it, to $500. It is unclear what will happen to the provision as the two bills move towards congressional reconciliation.
4. It’s good for Hillsdale College
Much of the high-drama wrangling over the Senate bill centered on Hillsdale College, a tiny conservative Christian institution in Michigan whose benefactors include Education Secretary DeVos, and whose graduates include her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the troubled security contractor Blackwater. After Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, authored an amendment that would exempt the college from a tax on endowments, Democrats slammed Republican members for protecting an institution with connections to the administration.
5. It’s better for college students than the House version
When it comes to loan interest deductions, and tuition waivers, the Senate tax legislation is a better deal for college students and college graduates than is the House version.
The House bill would repeal the tax deduction for student loan interest. The House version also taxes tuition income waivers—raising the ire of students who say such a levy would make their education unaffordable.
But the Senate bill leaves both provisions intact.
House and Senate Republicans say they hope to overcome their differences, and have the tax bill to President Trump before adjourning for Christmas.
The creep of segregation…
Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, according to an Associated Press analysis—an outcome critics say is at odds with their goal of offering a better alternative to traditional public schools.
National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools that minority students attend. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.
The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement.
In the AP analysis of student achievement in the 42 states that have enacted charter school laws, along with the District of Columbia, the performance of students in charter schools varies widely. But schools that enroll 99 percent minorities—both charters and traditional public schools—on average have fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.
“Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” said Daniel Shulman, a civil rights attorney in Minnesota. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”
Even some charter school officials acknowledge that student segregation is a concern.
Nearly all the students at Milwaukee’s Bruce-Guadalupe Community School are Hispanic, and most speak little or no English when they begin elementary school.
“The beauty of our school is we’re 97 percent Latino,” said Pascual Rodriguez, the school’s principal. “The drawback is we’re 97 percent Latino ... Well, what happens when they go off into the real world where you may be part of an institution that’s not 97 percent Latino?”
More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, desegregation efforts have stalled, and many public school advocates contend that renewed racial imbalances are worsening in American schools.
Charter schools have been championed by the Education Secretary DeVos, and as the sector continues to grow, it will have to contend with the question of whether separate can be equal.
TEA’s got more Special Education problems…
Two statewide education groups are calling on the Texas Education Agency to suspend its $4 million analysis of Special Education data, saying that privacy concerns must be addressed.
Disability Rights Texas—a federally-created group that advocates for people with disabilities—and the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education both say the project needs further safeguards, in light of recent complaints.
At the heart of the dispute is an ongoing TEA data project surrounding Individualized Education Plans, the student-specific blueprints for the kind of services that Special Education students should receive. Those IEPs, crafted by both educators and their parents, contain personal information such as academic performance, medical care, psychiatric conditions and family relationships. The documents are protected by federal and state privacy rules.
TEA is paying a Georgia company, SPEDx, $4.4 million to “data-mine” IEPs, giving the firm access to up to 350,000 Special Education student records.
Texans for Special Education Reform—an advocacy group comprised of parents and other disability rights advocates—raised red flags about the project earlier this year. They objected to the use of SPEDx, saying the company does not have an established record of IEP data analysis, and protecting children’s privacy.
They were also concerned that the state did not advertise for the project, instead entering into a no-bid contract with SPEDx.
The protest comes two weeks after TEA fired its new Special Education Director Laurie Kash.
State officials say she was fired because she is accused in a lawsuit of trying to hide allegations of sexual abuse by a six-year-old child who attended school in the district where Ms. Kash previously worked in Oregon. Ms. Kash denies those allegations.
But the firing also came one day after Ms. Kash filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, questioning the legality of TEA’s data-crunching Special Education project.
Probably won’t be working in Florence any more…
Parents of about a dozen middle school students in Florence, to the northwest of Austin, say that their children came home with their hands covered in blisters and bruises, after a substitute Physical Education teacher ordered them to perform a punishing exercise.
Reportedly, Child Protective Services and the Florence Police Department are both investigating.
One parent told an Austin television station that the substitute ordered the students to perform “bear crawls” around the outdoor track, after they allegedly did not follow instructions the day before.
A student says the substitute PE instructor was yelling at them, “This will show your respect!”
In a statement, Florence superintendent Paul Michalewicz says the district is aware of the allegations, adding, ”Our students’ safety and well being is our top priority, and we deeply regret when any student is injured at school.”
Probably won’t be working in Pearland any more…
Meanwhile, another substitute teacher assigned to an elementary school in Pearland called police to report that a six-year-old Muslim child with Down's syndrome was a possible terrorist.
The teacher claimed to police that she heard the child say "Allah" and "boom" several times in class.
The student's father, Maher Suleiman, told a Houston television station that his child "doesn't speak at all," making the teacher's claims impossible.
Houston-area social activist Quanell X says he has reviewed the substitute’s allegations, and met the special needs child, concluding, “This is a case of some of the worst religious bigotry I have ever seen, and it's specifically targeting a Muslim family."
The Red Lick school board has named Brandon Dennard as the lone finalist for superintendent.
After the required 21-day waiting period, the board will officially offer Mr. Dennard the position, and he’s expected to begin his new job on Jan. 8.
Mr. Dennard is currently an assistant superintendent for nearby North Lamar school district.
Red Lick is located in rural Bowie County, on the Texas-Arkansas border. It serves students from kindergarten through the 8th grade.
What’s most surprising is that the job of managing a small, rural K-8 district attracted 39 applicants.
EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.
Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege. Questions or comments may be directed to him at email@example.com.
For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.