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EduLege Tracker 5-8-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 28
May 8, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Since today is the start of “Teacher Appreciation Week,” take five minutes to:

1. Think of teachers who changed your life.

2. Find their email, phone number or Facebook page.

3. Write them a note, call them or send them a message.

They deserve it.

I plan to call Mr. Luke Oliver—who’s now 80 years old—and was my world history teacher at San Benito High School in 1964-1965.

A cash advance…

The U.S. Department of Education has granted nearly $90 million in recovery aid to Texas public and private schools across a 47-county area along the Gulf Coast that was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The Texas Education Agency will disburse the money to help schools recover from the storm’s damage. The money comes from Congress’ $2.5 billion appropriation to help students affected by various natural disasters last year, including the California wildfires and hurricanes Irma and Maria.

California was awarded $14.4 million, and Puerto Rico was given nearly $590 million as a part of the first round of disaster money for schools.

About 112,000 Texas students were displaced by the storm. According to TEA, 155 school districts have reported $907 million in damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency—as well as the schools’ insurance—are expected to cover the bulk of the recovery costs.

To date, the federal government has spent only about $13 million to help Texas schools recover from Harvey, including help with internet connectivity and crisis counseling.

The latest money will help school districts pay for recovering student and staff data; replacing computer hardware and software; emergency transportation costs; temporary classroom units; leasing of temporary administrative space; replacement of textbooks and learning materials; redeveloping curriculum and minor facility repairs.

Some districts hit by Harvey are also facing declining property tax revenue—the major source of school funding in Texas—and student enrollment.

As a result, state officials have committed to spend an estimated $426 million to help those school districts cope with declining enrollment and property tax revenue. The Texas Legislature will have to decide next year whether to appropriate an additional $860 million to help with funding issues during the upcoming two school years, according to TEA estimates.

School districts have also asked the state for a reprieve from state academic performance ratings this year.

Education commissioner Mike Morath has waived the requirement for Harvey-affected 5th- and 8th-grade students to pass the statemath and reading tests in order to progress to the next grade. The Commissioner is also expected to decide over the summer whether he will grant some sort of reprieve to Harvey-affected campuses and districts from state accountability ratings.

A crap shoot…

The fate of Houston ISD’s 10 longest-struggling schools now rests in Commissioner Morath’s hands.

Texas’ largest school district missed an April 30 deadline to submit plans to TEA, detailing how it would hand operations of those 10 schools to a third-party group. 

Now, Commissioner Morath must decide how to proceed. His options, as prescribed by state law, are limited. The commissioner can either appoint a Board of Managers to take over the elected Houston school board, or he can order the schools closed.

His decision could be months away.

The commissioner has said he would announce in June whether to grant a one-year reprieve from accountability ratings to districts that were affected by Hurricane Harvey, including Houston.

TEA and Houston also will not know if any of the 10 schools managed to meet the state’s academic standards until August, when the scores on the battery of State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests are released. That means the state could move to close the Houston schools just weeks before the 2018-2019 school year is scheduled to begin.

A long shot. At best…

State representative Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has launched a long shot bid to be elected by his colleagues as the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

“What Texas needs is a strong, pro-growth, progressive leader presiding over the Texas House to act as a counterbalance to a far-right Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I am running for Speaker to help restore normalcy to Texas state politics,” Representative Johnson said.

Representative Johnson, who is running unopposed in his November election, faces an uphill battle to win the top post in the chamber, where Republicans outnumbered Democrats 95-55 during the last session. Three Republicans are already running for House Speaker—Representatives Phil King of Weatherford; John Zerwas of Richmond and Tan Parker of Flower Mound.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced back in October he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Representative Johnson would have to earn the support of all Democrats in the House and at least a dozen moderate Republicans, depending on the results of the November election, to win the speaker post, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Realistically, no Democrat has a chance of winning the Speaker’s race. And were a Democrat to have a glimmer of hope, it wouldn’t be someone on the far liberal end of the spectrum like Eric Johnson,” Professor Jones said.

That didn’t go well…

Education secretary Betsy DeVos recently met with the nation’s top teachers and asked them to discuss what obstacles they face in doing their jobs. At least one of those teachers told Secretary DeVos that some of her policies are hurting public education.

“We have a problem where public money is siphoned off from the public schools and given to children who are going to charter and private schools,” Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Jon Hazell said.

Secretary DeVos’s response shocked him.

“She immediately answered that it was her goal to redefine what education is, and that she wants to call all of it public education,” said Mr. Hazell, a high school science teacher.

Mr. Hazell was among 50 teachers who were in Washington D.C., representing their states as Teachers of the Year.

Mr. Hazell said he told Secretary DeVos that funding for charter schools and private school vouchers had further strained his state’s education budget—which has seen some of the nation’s most dramatic cuts over the past decade.

Other teachers in attendance also reacted with shock and concern on hearing the nation’s top education official describe private schools as part of the public school system.

“One of the things that was so stark and memorable in that exchange was. … Secretary DeVos trying to redefine what the word ‘public’ is,” said Michael Soskil Sr., Pennsylvania’s Teacher of the Year. “It was almost like Orwellian doublespeak to me.”

Pay up…

Last November, Dallas County voters decided to shut down their embattled school bus operator.

This November, those same Dallas voters might be asked to help pay for the aftermath.

The Dallas school district is considering placing a $60 million bond on the November ballot, proposing to use the funds to buy school buses as it develops its own transportation operation.

The Dallas district was allocated nearly 1,000 buses following voter dissolution of Dallas County Schools, and is now in the process of obtaining titles for the vehicles, and hopes to have them refurbished before the start of the 2018-2019 School Year.

Even with such a large fleet being handed over, district administrators say that there needs to be a plan for how to replace those buses in the coming years.

Voter-approved bonds is about the only way to fund such purchases.

“It’s very difficult, and almost unrealistic, to fund buses within the general operating fund. Most school districts just don’t do that,” said Dallas deputy superintendent Scott Layne. “They do it through bond funds or some other avenue, or rather than buy, they lease buses to reduce the costs.”

“Thoughtless and insensitive…”

A Spring elementary school principal has apologized for suggesting that police would respond faster to a special-needs student with a history of running away from campus if school officials were to report that he was armed.

Ponderosa Elementary School principal Shanna Swearingen was overheard by several school staff members as joking, “We won't chase him. We will call the police and tell them he has a gun, so they can come faster.”

A Spring school district spokeswoman would not say whether Principal Swearingen has been disciplined.

“We are aware of the situation regarding a thoughtless and insensitive comment made by the Ponderosa Elementary School principal to three staff members," district spokeswoman Karen Garrison said. “While the comment was made in jest, it was inappropriate and should never have been made.”

Michael Burnett, the school’s Parent-Teacher Association president, defended Ms. Swearingen.

“The principal has been awesome," Mr. Burnett said. “She broke her back during Hurricane Harvey (to assist students and their families), and worked in homes of all races.”

Failure to stop…

A parent of a female student at Carthage High School has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district, claiming that officials didn't act after a member of the football team recorded a nude video of her daughter—and then shared it with teammates, students and even an assistant coach.

The lawsuit alleges that the Carthage school district created a hostile environment for the female victim by failing to stop the spread of the video.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court at Marshall, alleges two counts of Title IX violations and three violations under Fourteenth Amendment rights to Due Process protection.

Besides the school district, the lawsuit also names former principal Otis Amy, athletic director/head football coach Scott Surratt and superintendent Glenn Hambrick as defendants.

The lawsuit, which demands a jury trial, states “a minor student at Carthage High School who also plays quarterback for the state champion varsity football team, clandestinely recorded video of the girl nude, as she was in a private shower/dressing area.”

The lawsuit also alleges the football player “systematically and continuously distributed the video to fellow students, including faculty.”


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.