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EduLege Tracker 6-28-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 39
June 28, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

‘Incredibly rare’ agreement…

Most Texans don’t approve of the way that state leaders and legislators are handling public education, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Among all voters—Republicans and Democrats—51 percent disapprove of the job that the state is doing to set policy for, and provide for, Texas public schools.

Republicans aren’t as negative towards state education policy as are Democrats, but it’s only a matter of degree. Where 20 percent of Republican voters approve of the state’s education work, only 10 percent of Democrats do. And where 62 percent of Democrats disapprove, only 42 percent of Republicans do.

“Broadly speaking, you can say that Texans of all stripes disapprove of how the Legislature is handling public ed,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT-Austin’s Texas Politics Project. “The reasons may differ, but the overall sentiment is pretty clear.

“It’s incredibly rare to find Texas Democratic and Republican voter ratings of any institution to be moving in the same direction,” he said. “We expect partisanship to really drive differences.”

Women had a more negative view of the state’s performance than men, with only 12 percent saying they approve of the way leaders and legislators are handling public education, and 52 percent saying they disapprove.  About as many men—50 percent—disapprove, but more of them—21 percent—said that they approve of the job state officials are doing.

Republican voters were more likely to say money for public education should come from local school districts (46 percent) than from the state government (35 percent); among Democrats, 68 percent said the money should come from the state and only 20 percent said it should come from local school districts.

Those partisan differences largely disappeared, however, when a second group of voters were asked the same question but offered choices that explicitly mentioned taxes. Overall, 50 percent said the money for public education should come from “existing state taxes” and 23 percent said it should come from “local property taxes.”  Republicans (28 percent) were more likely than Democrats (20 percent) to say local property taxes were the preferable source of funding for public education.

That said, every cross-section of the poll’s voters strongly preferred existing state taxes for public education rather than local property taxes.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 8 to June 17 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.

To read more about the poll, click here.

Looking more like Texas’ public schools…

Texas' Hispanic population increased from 9.7 million in 2010 to 11.1 million last year, according to new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Meanwhile, the state's white population increased by about 458,000 people during the same period.

With the Hispanic growth rate in Texas continuing to easily outpace other ethnicities, the Census Bureau says it’s likely that Hispanics will become the state’s majority population as soon as 2022.

Hispanic students have comprised the majority enrollment in Texas public schools since 2010-2011.

The new census figures, which account for the state’s population growth through July 2017, reflect the extent to which the white population growth rate pales in comparison to growth among Texans of color since 2010:

 Race 2010 Pop. Estimate 2017 Pop. Estimate Percent Change
 Asian  960,543  1,366,658  42% ↑
 Hispanic  9,460,921  11,156,514  18% ↑
 Black  2,899,884  3,368,473  16% ↑
 White  11,428,638  11,886,381  4% ↑

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Texas has gained almost four times as many Hispanic residents as white residents since 2010. And the increase in the number of Asian Texans, who still comprise a tiny share of the total population, has almost caught up with the increase in white Texans in that same time period.

The explosive growth among the Hispanic community has been widespread, with population gains occurring in all but a few of the state’s 254 counties.

Among the state’s largest counties, Tarrant County was home to the most rapid growth of Hispanic residents. Since 2010, Hispanics have expanded their presence in Tarrant by almost 23 percent, easily outpacing their overall growth rate in the state of about 18 percent.

The debate begins…

Gun control advocates and opponents packed a meeting of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee at the State Capitol this week, as legislators discussed multiple proposals that are contained in Governor Greg Abbott’s school safety plan.

Governor Abbott’s recommendations, released less than two weeks after 10 people were shot and killed at Santa Fe High School on May 18, include considering whether penalties are too light for those who provide guns to juveniles who kill people.

The governor has asked legislators to consider establishing so-called “red flag” protective orders that allow family members and law enforcement personnel to petition a court to temporarily prohibit individuals who might harm themselves or others from possessing a gun. Individuals who have their guns taken away can petition the court to get them back.

“If someone would have flagged a shooter from Parkland (Florida) or the shooter from my very own high school, I would be sitting at home right now like a normal 18-year-old, possibly hanging out with friends, probably still asleep but not terrified of being shot at when I’m in a public place,” Bree Butler, who graduated from Santa Fe High School earlier this month, told the House committee.

But gun rights advocates told legislators that such protective orders could be abused and that there are enough laws in Texas that restrict dangerous individuals from possessing guns. Under current state laws, felons, those who are involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and those under domestic violence protective orders can be forbidden to own or buy guns.

“I do not want to see a good, law-abiding citizen go through the heartache, financial loss, family stress of the red flag law being abused by an unhappy neighbor, someone they disagree with, an unhappy schoolteacher with a student or a disgruntled family member,” said Upshur County constable Gene Dolle.

Ten states, including Florida, have passed red flag laws. 

Beefing it up…

The Conroe school district plans to add 46 officers to its police department over the next two years.

The new officers are projected to cost the district a total of $3.2 million, including personnel, training, equipment and vehicles.

The Conroe school district police department currently has 62 police officers who are spread across 61 campuses in a 348-square-mile area. The district will open two new campuses with the start of the 2018-2019 school year and two more schools next year.

Cutbacks…

Klein school trustees will consider a hiring freeze, provide less towards employee benefits, postpone the opening of its newest elementary school and trim administrators’ salaries as part of an effort to close a $30 million budget gap.

School officials began looking for ways to cut spending after Klein voters rejected a Tax Ratification Election that would have pumped an additional $28 million into the district’s operations budget.

Klein had proposed raising its Maintenance & Operations tax rate from $1.04 per $100 assessed value to $1.13 per $100 of assessed property value. But about 55 percent of voters who went to the polls rejected the TRE.

In 2017, Klein trustees spent more than $21 million from Fund Balance to operate the district. That’s not an option this year, however, as board policy prevents its reserve funds from falling below 25 percent of the district's annual expenditures.

Can’t afford it…

The Longview school district is discontinuing its Early College High School Program that saved students thousands of dollars by allowing them to earn an associate college degree through nearby Kilgore College.

Longview officials say that the Early College High School Program, which it started in the 2015-2016 school year, must end because of the “financial strain that tuition and books will place on the district.”

The district paid approximately $230,000 in the 2017-2018 school year to cover the costs of the program for the 79 Longview students who enrolled.

Kilgore College trustees have raised tuition for 2018-2019 by about six percent for out-of-district students, which includes those at Longview High School. It’s the second tuition increase in two years for the community college.

The Texas Legislature created the Early College High School program in 2005 to target students who are at risk of not graduating from high school, and allow them to earn college credits.

Public-private partnership…

Southwest Key, the Austin-based nonprofit that runs the state's largest operation housing immigrant children separated from their parents, is considering a partnership with the Brownsville school district to send teachers and counselors to its local shelter.

Details of the potential arrangements have not yet been finalized. The federal government hires private contractors to run its shelters and detention centers, leaving it up to them to decide how to educate kids within the specific regulations from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement requires the contracting companies to assess students' educational needs within 72 hours of their arrival and to provide them with at least six hours of structured education Monday through Friday throughout the entire year in several basic academic areas.

Southwest Key is currently using a converted Walmart as a Brownsville shelter for more than 1,500 children.

A new holiday…

Houston school trustees have approved a districtwide holiday to honor César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, two iconic labor activists who helped win greater rights for farm workers across the country.

Mr. Chávez and Ms. Huerta co-founded influential unions, including the United Farm Workers, that shaped employee relations in the 1960s and 1970s. Both continued to advocate for workers in the following decades, each receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr. Chávez died in 1993, while Ms. Huerta continues to advocate on behalf of low-income residents, Hispanics and women at age 88.

The Fort Worth school district enacted a similar holiday in April. 

California has enacted a state holiday in remembrance of Mr. Chávez, while several other states have established optional or commemorative holidays for him. President Obama declared a Cesar E. Chavez Day in 2014, but Congress has never made it a permanent federal holiday.

Houston’s holiday will be on the Monday that falls on or precedes March 31. It will start in 2020, as the district has already has established its 2018-2019 academic calendar.

You’ve got school safety plans to implement, district budget issues to address, back-to-school events to plan—and hopefully you can also catch an occasional three-day weekend before classes resume.

Barring something unforeseen, the next edition of EduLege is scheduled for Monday, July 23.                                                                                                               Andy


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.