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EduLege Tracker 4-9-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 21
April 9, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

The Oklahoma Developmental League…

After years of poor pay, decaying school facilities, classroom supply shortages and overcrowded classrooms, many Oklahoma teachers have decided that the best way to pursue the profession that they love is to leave their home state and head south to Texas.

The harsh economic realities of teaching in Oklahoma—where school salaries are some of the lowest in the United States—have created an exodus to neighboring states—and especially Texas—where wages are higher.

Crossing the Red River into Texas can mean a salary increase of about 40 percent for an Oklahoma teacher who holds a master’s degree.

Since 2010, Texas has seen about 3,500 teachers from Oklahoma apply for teaching certificates, the most of any state, according to the Texas Education Agency.

About 11 percent of Oklahoma teachers leave the state or profession every year, according to data from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

As a result, Oklahoma is grappling with a teacher shortage that has forced school districts to cut curricula and deploy nearly 2,000 emergency-certified instructors as a stop-gap measure.

More than 80 percent of Oklahoma’s teachers say that they leave because of low pay, according to survey data. In constant dollar terms, the pay for Oklahoma teachers has dropped by about 15 percent over the last 25 years, according to federal salary data.

* * *

Striking Oklahoma teachers jangled their keys and chanted “Where’s my car?” at their governor last week, after she compared their salary demands to a “teenager wanting a better car.”

Most Oklahoma schools were closed, as teachers went on strike demanding better pay and teaching resources.

Republican governor Mary Fallin accused the teachers of making unrealistic demands for better pay and benefits, accusing them of acting too much like “a teenager wanting a better car."

Thousands of protesting teachers followed Governor Fallin up the stairs of the Oklahoma State Capitol, chanting “Where’s my car?”

The teachers are pushing for a $10,000 pay increase over three years. They also want a $5,000 increase for support staff.

Oklahoma teachers earn an average salary of $42,460 a year, less than teachers in nearly every other state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

* * *

While teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona and Oklahoma have gone on strike to protest funding cuts for public education, an existing Texas law is quashing talk of teachers here participating in similar walkouts.

The state statute says that any public employees—and that includes teachers—who “strike or engage in an organized work stoppage against the state or a political subdivision of the state” will lose all their “civil service rights, reemployment rights and any other rights, benefits and privileges the employee enjoys because of public employment or former public employment.”

While supportive of the movements happening in other states, several Texas teachers associations are encouraging their members to refrain from leaving their classrooms and going on strike. Doing so, advocates say, could result in having their teaching certificates and Teacher Retirement System benefits permanently revoked.

Texas educators have long expressed frustration over the continued drop in state funding for public education.  

In Fiscal Year 2008, the state provided roughly 48.5 percent of the cost of public education, according to the Legislative Budget Board. By Fiscal Year 2019, the state’s share of public school funding is expected to drop to 38 percent of the total cost.

Dreading the worst…

As local school districts prepare for dreaded state assessment tests to begin this week, the Texas Education Agency remains mum on whether it will impose poor academic ratings on campuses along the Gulf Coast that bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey last September.

Since October, school districts from Port Aransas to Port Arthur have pleaded with state legislators and TEA officials to provide them with a one-year reprieve from the consequences tied to poorer student performance on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests.

School administrators have testified to legislative committees that almost all their students missed at least two weeks of school after the storm. Using their scores to punish schools in flooded communities would be unfair, they said.

Aransas County superintendent Joseph Patek testified that about 200 of his students did not attend any school for longer than six weeks.

“These students are still going to be asked to take the STAAR exams, and I understand the reasoning for that. What I'm asking for is that TEA give our district and districts affected by Harvey a waiver from being publicly graded on a school report card this year,” Superintendent Patek said. “I just don't want to be publicly humiliated over something we have no control over.”

School officials from Harvey-affected areas are also worried about the state's new A-F grading system for local districts and campuses, which is set to debut in August. TEA will use STAAR scores from this spring to calculate letter grades for districts statewide, but officials in Harvey-affected areas worry it will create a negative stigma for schools that are still struggling to recover.

“For us, F stands for flood, not a failing district,” said Charlotte Baker, executive director of the regional Education Service Center at Victoria. “It should not stand for a district dealing with social and emotional challenges of the community and schools as we allocate all efforts towards recovery.”

After Hurricane Ike pounded the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, TEA changed how accountability ratings were given to districts and schools across the Galveston and Houston region. If a school's 2009 rating was either "Academically Unacceptable," or lower than the rating it received in 2008, then TEA issued a rated of "Not Rated: Other."

Education commissioner Mike Morath testified to the House Public Education Committee in November that he would decide by December about whether to relax accountability standards for Harvey-affected school district.

In December, Commissioner Morath informed districts that TEA would not hold back 5th- and 8th-grade students who scored poorly on their STAAR exams. But the commissioner still has not provided Harvey-affected districts with details of how—or if—they will be graded on what amounts to a storm-damage curve.  

In a perfect world, maybe…

The Austin school district should place a licensed medical professional on every one of its more than 100 campus, according to the recommendations of a committee that was tasked with examining school health services.

The group, composed of health care experts, district staff and parents, pointed to various other urban Texas school districts that now provide school nurses at each of their schools, and said Austin should fund its school health program on par with comparable districts.

“Austin ISD should not be the outlier,” the recommendations stated.

But placing nurses on every campus would cost the Austin district millions of dollars more than it already spends on health services.

Austin now has an $8.9 million health services budget, including $7.1 million to the Seton Healthcare Family for student health care. By comparison, the 86,000-student Fort Worth school district, which is close in size to the Austin district, has an $11.6 million health services budget, which includes funding a full-time registered nurse at every campus, plus 21 health assistants spread through the district.

The Austin district eliminated nurses at every school more than 20 years ago. It has since contracted with Seton to provide some schools with nurses and others with health assistants, who must have served for six months in a medical clinic, doctor’s office or similar health care setting, but don’t necessarily have formal medical training. A nurse oversees health assistants at several campuses.

The recommendation for more campus nurses comes as the Austin district continues to grapple with its finances.

This year, the Austin district is projected to pay over $530 million—more than any other district in Texas—to help shore-up declining state funds for public education, through the so-called Share-the-Wealth school funding formula.

Follow the protocols, people…

A former high school football player and his family will receive more than $7 million after a settlement with a San Diego, California, school district over accusations of improper steps by the coaching staff to recognize and respond to concussion symptoms.

The suit stems from an October 2013 freshman football game at Monte Vista High School, during which 14-year-old Rashaun Council started feeling sick and confused. A concerned teammate even told a coach about the star player’s odd behavior, but Mr. Council returned to the game.

Mr. Council was slumped over and throwing up in the locker room after the game, according to attorney Brian Gonzalez, but he never received medical attention until the boy's father took him to the hospital.

By then, Mr. Council's brain had already started to swell, requiring emergency surgery, and he was later placed in a medically induced coma.

Mr. Council is now 19 years old and preparing to graduate from Clairemont High School, which has a program for traumatic brain injury survivors.

Mr. Gonzalez says Mr. Council will never be able to drive, live by himself or pursue the career of his dreams because his coaches were not trained to identify and address concussion-like symptoms.

“Because of the delay in diagnosis, the delay in treatments, he is forever going to be in the condition he is,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “They continued to play him because they wanted to win this game.”

During the civil suit, Mr. Gonzalez discovered none of the freshman coaches on the 2013 Monte Vista Football team had taken state-mandated concussion protocol training, because of a loophole that allowed them two years to complete it. That loophole has since been closed.

We understand their embarrassment…

After a years-long struggle, Idaho will allow its science teachers to provide classroom instruction to students about global warming and its causes.

The Idaho Legislature had scrubbed all mentions of human-causing climate change from its teaching standards last year and directed the state Department of Education to draft watered-down curriculum standards.

But then, the Idaho House and Senate couldn’t agree to the changes, which means that climate change is again part of the state’s science curriculum.

State Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, is glad the issue has been settled.

“To be honest, it’s kind of embarrassing that it’s been so controversial,” Senator Ward-Engelking said.

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 andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.