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16th March 2023
Texas confirms state takeover of Houston schools
Acting on years of threats, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Wednesday announced a state takeover of Houston’s nearly 200,000-student public school district, which is the eighth-largest in the country. The move, made by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, amounts to one of the largest school takeovers ever and deepens a high-stakes rift between Texas’ largest city, where Democrats wield control, and state Republican leaders, who have sought increased authority following election fumbles and COVID-19 restrictions. The TEA will replace Superintendent Millard House II and the district’s elected board of trustees with a new superintendent and an appointed board of managers made of residents from within the district’s boundaries. Morath said the board has failed to improve student outcomes while conducting “chaotic board meetings marred by infighting” and violating open meetings act and procurement laws. He also cited the seven-year record of poor academic performance at one of the district’s roughly 50 high schools, Wheatley High, as well as the poor performance of several other campuses. The Texas State Teachers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas condemned the takeover, blaming the district's challenges on "years of underfunding." The Chronicle's Hannah Dellinger describes how the takeover has raised concerns amongst many parents, students and teachers at a time when the educational stakes could hardly be higher. “My school teaches mostly emergent bilingual kids and so many refugee kids,” comments Maria Benzon, an HISD parent and teacher. “To understand the support necessary in a community like that — someone from the outside will have no idea. The voices of the community I teach will be quieted.” Writing in Education Week, Evie Blad describes state takeovers as a controversial school improvement strategy, particularly when "state leadership differs politically from that of the community targeted." In a January 2022 analysis of state takeovers published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, she notes, researchers found that, for majority-Black districts, their racial makeup was "more of a predictor of state takeover than academic performance." Researchers also found takeovers led to few academic gains, citing disruption of school and district operations associated with a change in governance and strategy.
Federal schools budget 'a long way from finish line'
Linda Jacobson explores a broad range of reactions to President Biden’s budget request for education programs last week and underlines how the debt ceiling is going to affect actual federal spending down the road. If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agrees to demands from his party's more conservative base to roll spending back to 2019 levels and cancel the president’s student loan forgiveness plan, she notes, it would wipe out most of the administration’s budget request for education - including a $2.2bn increase for schools serving poor students and almost $500m to address student mental health needs. McCarthy himself has already indicated that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are “off the table,” so everything else, including funding for schools and children, is vulnerable. The administration meanwhile wants to raise the $31.4tn debt limit to avoid what most economists say would be a global economic crisis. “We are clearly a long way away from the finish line and middle ground,” says Lindsay Fryer, president of lobbying and consulting firm Lodestone D.C. “Talks of addressing the debt limit and overall budget levels are sure to add interesting dynamics to appropriations conversations that could prolong this process for quite a while.”
House Democrats want to tap public schools surplus
Texas House Democrats are proposing to spend much of the state’s record-setting surplus on public education by doling out $15bn to boost funding for schools, salaries for teachers and pensions for retirees. The figure is the same that GOP leaders earmarked from the start of this year’s session for school property tax cuts. House Democrats’ four-point education plan would increase public schools’ “basic allotment” funding by $1,340 a student, which would provide teacher pay raises of $7,000 on average this fall, followed the next year by an additional $3,000 bump. The plan also would peg school funding to student enrollment, not attendance, giving schools more financial certainty – and more money. Retired teachers would see a cost-of-living increase. This year, lawmakers have as much as $69bn in “new money” to spend as they write the next two-year budget. In their “base budgets” filed in January, both the House and Senate set aside $15bn for property tax relief. While inflation has robbed schools of 28% of their purchasing power over the last three years, the basic allotment has remained unchanged since 2019 – at $6,160 per student. House Democrats are proposing a 23% increase, which would cost $11bn over the next two years. They say so far, House GOP leaders only have offered a basic allotment bump of $50 a student. When schools get more state aid, about half of it goes to increased pay for teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and speech pathologists, so about $7bn of the new spending would go to salary increases.
Superintendents now 'younger and better paid'
Superintendents are, on average, younger and making more money than at any time in the last decade. According to a nationally-representative survey by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, the median superintendent base salary for the 20222-23 school year is $145,000, a 17% increase from the 2012-13 salary of $123,775. Most survey respondents (53%) were 51-60 years old. While 89% of superintendents identified as White and 3.85% as Black or African American, only 0.25% identified as Asian and 0.16% as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Reassuringly, almost 90% of survey respondents said they plan to continue in their current role next school year, while the rest said they would retire, leave education, work in a different district, or work in private education.
New Caney ISD sets May vote on bond package
Officials at New Caney ISD have set a $695m bond proposal for May, a package leaders say should help keep up with a student population expected to increase by one-third. The bond package would include new campuses and facilities, expansions and renovations to current facilities, a new career and technology education center and land for future facilities. The district, in southeastern Montgomery County, has more than 18,400 students enrolled but is expected to reach more than 25,000 by 2031. Superintendent Matt Calvert comments: "That's really what's driving (the bond proposal), is the student growth and the need for additional capacity to handle those kiddos when they show up." Other districts within the county, including Conroe, Willis Magnolia and Splendora ISDs, have seen similar growth patterns.
School infrastructure gets poor grades from educators
A large percentage of the nationwide education community aren’t satisfied with the state of their school infrastructure. A nationally-representative survey of 296 district officials, 284 principals, and 478 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center indicates that 45% of teachers, principals, and district leaders gave their buildings a “C” grade or lower in the survey, while only 14% gave their building the highest marks. Seven percent said their buildings fail to comply with federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility, more than 30 years after the law was enacted. Slightly more than half of school and district leaders said one major facilities challenge is navigating the skyrocketing cost of labor and materials for construction and renovation projects, and for many, finding enough workers to keep school buildings humming is a challenge that’s only grown more difficult since the pandemic began. Thirteen percent said a major barrier to maintaining strong school facilities is keeping up with constantly changing best practices around safety and modern technology.

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