Kate McGee

Education Reporter

Kate is the education reporter at KUT, covering the Austin Independent School District, public, and higher education in Texas. She got her public radio start at Fordham University's WFUV. Her voice has been heard on the East and West coasts as a reporter and producer for WNYC and KUNR in Reno, Nevada. She has also appeared on NPR's Morning Edition,  All Things Considered, The Takeaway  and more. In her spare time, Kate enjoys discovering new music, traveling and trying local beers. 

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Education
11:19 am
Fri March 27, 2015

Map: The Cost of Private Schools Under Two Different Voucher Bills

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

This week, the Texas Senate Education committee started to tackle multiple bills that would create school voucher programs. The proposals are strongly supported by conservative lawmakers, especially Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

One bill filed by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would create a grant giving parents 60 percent of the annual cost for maintenance and operations per student, or about $5,200, through the proposed Taxpayer Savings Grant. Another bill would give 75 percent of that annual per-student funding to parents, or just over $6,500 though the so-called Education Tuition Grant.

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Education
2:46 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

Texas House Wants to Tackle School Finance During Session

Texas' school finance system, which a district court judge ruled is unconstitutional, is currently tangled up in the appeals process at the State Supreme Court.
Nathan Bernier/KUT

In a somewhat surprising move, the state House Public Education committee Chair announced Wednesday that the house will try to tackle the state’s school finance system this legislative session.

The school finance system, which a district court judge ruled is unconstitutional, is currently tangled up in the appeals process at the Texas Supreme Court. Many people familiar with education politics in Texas believed the legislature wouldn’t make any decisions before the court ruled. But at a press conference this morning, House Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock said the state must act now.

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Health
10:44 am
Thu March 19, 2015

Texas Pays for Rape Evidence Kits, But Sexual Assault Victims Cover Other Expenses

Evidence collection kit.
Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Five years ago, Moira Foley was a nurse in New Orleans. She remembers the night a teenager, a rape victim, came into her hospital. 

“We had our evidence collection kit, and this poor 16 year old who had been assaulted at Mardi Gras, and we literally had to open the kit and read the instructions," Foley remembers.

"And as I’m standing there doing it, I’m thinking, 'This is her evidence. If this goes to trial, it’s us who this is on, and we don’t know what we’re doing.'" 

That’s when she decided to get certified to perform sexual assault forensic exams, or SAFE exams. Now, she’s one of nine nurses at St. David’s who perform SAFE exams in a small room in the back of the ER.

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SXSW 2015
4:58 pm
Tue March 17, 2015

Lifestyle Startups Gain Attention at SXSW, But Can They Survive?

Companies connect with users and venture capitalists at SXSW Interactive to promote their ideas.
KUT News

Earlier this year, a sometimes-fierce debate broke out between students at Austin High School and the head of an Austin company called #BeSomebody. The company makes money by encouraging people to follow their passions. But when the company’s founder came to speak at the school, the students criticized his message as privileged and disconnected from reality.

Controversy aside, it got us thinking about these lifestyle tech startups — ones based on ideas or messages rather than products and services.

Can they survive? 

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Education
4:23 pm
Thu March 12, 2015

Map: If the Voucher Bill Passes, How Much Would Travis County Private Schools Cost?

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who filed the school vouchers bill in the 2015 legislative session. The bill would allow students and their families to use state dollars to attend private schools.
Ryan Loyd/TPR

For the 61 percent of economically disadvantaged students who attend Austin Public Schools, private school tuition might seem impossible for their families to afford. Sometimes public school is the only option for parents or guardians, and they are forced to keep their children in schools that are struggling academically.

Some Republican state lawmakers say that shouldn’t be the case.

“Not just the wealthy who can send their children to private school, and not just those who have the mobility to move to the suburbs," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session.  "But for parents in the inner cities where their children are trapped in failing schools, it is their right to have those same opportunities.”

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Gender Divide
11:19 am
Fri March 6, 2015

Video: Single-Sex Classroom May Focus Students, But Does It Help Them Learn?

Julio Villaneda (left) and Dorothy Wiese (right) both teach math at single-sex public schools in Austin.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Do boys and girls learn differently?

Some single-sex supporters say yes, but not everyone agrees — not even those who work at the two new single-sex middle schools on Austin’s east side. 

But teachers at these schools do say there are positives to splitting the sexes.  

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Education
9:37 am
Tue March 3, 2015

#BeSomebody Speaker Draws Controversy at Austin High School

It all started with a high school assembly on the first day back from winter break. The guest speaker was the founder of an Austin-based company with a positive message about following your dreams. But what was supposed to be a motivational speech turned into a war of words between high school students and staff and Kash Shaikh, the founder of #BeSomebody, that played out on blogs and social media.

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Gender Divide
10:00 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Students Speak: What It's Like to Attend Austin's All-Boys Middle School

From left: Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy students Chris Guia, Emanuel Molina, Rodrigue Mumbili and Bryce Gable.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

This fall, Austin ISD opened its first all-boys school in Northeast Austin called Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy. It's paired with a sister school, Bertha Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy.

The district turned the schools into single-sex campuses to improve them after years of academic failure at both campuses.

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Education
7:57 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Texas Lawmaker Wants Cameras in Special Ed Classrooms

Sen. Lucio (D-Brownsville) has filed a bill that would allow school districts to put cameras in special education classrooms.
rsinner/flickr

Texas Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) wants to allow school districts to put video cameras in special education classrooms in public schools and charter schools across the state.

The bill is similar to one that had bipartisan support during the 2013 legislature, which passed in the Senate but failed to make it out of committee in the House.

Lucio says he wants cameras in special education classrooms to prevent abuse of students, "especially those that are non-verbal, are afforded the same protections and safety in schools as other Texas children." 

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Education
12:12 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

Tensions Rise as School Board Discussion Turns to Race

Austin school board members Ted Gordon (left) and Robert Schneider.
KUT News

An Austin school board discussion about equity between the district’s campuses grew tense this week when the conversation between two school board members turned to diversity at the district’s nationally recognized high school, Liberal Arts and Science Academy. LASA is a magnet program located on the upper floors of LBJ High School, which mostly educates minority students.

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Education
12:52 pm
Wed February 4, 2015

Bipartisan Full-Day Pre-K Bill Won't Increase Standardized Tests

A new bipartisan bill would increase funding for full-day prekindergarten programs in public schools.
Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

Two members of the Texas House have filed a bipartisan bill that would help school districts fund full day pre-kindergarten programs as long as they fulfill a variety of requirements – and can wait until third grade to assess if the pre-kindergarten program helped students learn. 

Right now, the state funds half-day pre-K programs for students who qualify, who are usually low-income, English Language Learner or special education students.

Under this new bill, written by Representatives Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Furney (R-Georgetown), public school districts could either continue to offer a half-day program or choose to operate a full-day program.

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Gender Divide
12:37 pm
Tue February 3, 2015

Austin All-Boys School Teaches Students How to Interact with Police

Gus Garcia YMLA held a panel discussion with students about how to interact with authority, including police officers. The panel included AISD Police Chief, Justice of the Peace, parents and teachers.
Photos: Filipa Rodrigues, KUT Design: Andrew Weber, KUT

Principal Sterlin McGruder thinks it's his responsibility to teach more than reading and math to his middle school students at Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy. Throughout the first year at the all-boys school in Northeast Austin, McGruder has tried to instill a sense of respect in his students: respect for others and respect for themselves.

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Austin ISD
1:47 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Classified Austin ISD Employees Ask For Five Percent Pay Raise

Francis and Patricia Garza hold up a sign requesting a 5% raise for AISD employees at the Board of Trustees meeting.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

Some bus drivers, custodians and teaching assistants in Austin public schools are asking the school board to give classified employees a five percent pay increase next year. At a school board meeting on Monday, classified employees said as Austin becomes a more expensive place to live, it's getting more difficult to live on their current salaries.

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Gender Divide
2:12 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Timeline: How Austin ISD Decided To Create Two Single-Sex Middle Schools

Former Austin ISD School Board Trustee Cheryl Bradley represented District 1. She suggested AISD turn two struggling middle schools in her district into single-sex schools.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

This year, two middle schools on Austin’s East Side became single-sex schools. Garcia and Pearce Middle schools are located in one of Austin’s most challenged neighborhoods: University Hills. The schools have struggled academically, and school board members and district and state education officials agreed: Something needed to change. But the decision to make these schools single-sex was controversial — even among members of the school board.

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Austin ISD
3:29 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

Austin Mayor Steve Adler Wants Collaboration with Austin ISD

The new Austin mayor says there should be more communication and collaboration between the city and school district.
Joy Diaz/KUT

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has a lot on his plate: housing affordability, traffic, and water resources to name a few.

But he wants to tackle another issue: education.

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Education
10:11 am
Thu January 15, 2015

Austin ISD Plans to Lobby Lawmakers for Full-Day Pre-K

Denise Cisneros helps two of her preschool students practice their letters. Cisneros teachers full day pre-K at the Lucy Read Pre-K center.
Credit Kate McGee/KUT News

The sun is just beginning to rise as Denise Cisneros greets her pre-school students at the Lucy Read Pre-K center as they enter her classroom.

"How are you going to greet me today?" Cisneros asked a student at the front of the line.

"I would like a bug hug please," the little girl replied, giving Cisneros a hug before walking into the classroom.

Austin ISD offers full-day pre-K programs, but has to pay for half of the program itself because Texas only funds half-day preschool programs for qualifying students: low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with learning disabilities. But lawmakers filed at least four bills to require all school districts to offer free, full-day pre-kindergarten classes. Austin ISD would like to offer universal pre-K to all students. This year, Austin ISD also started a few pre-K programs for three-year-olds.

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Austin ISD
8:30 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Austin ISD To Offer Free Online Test Prep To High School Students

More Austin public school students took the SAT and ACT last year than in any years prior.
Shannan Muskopf/Texas Tribune

The Austin Independent School District is starting to offer free online SAT and ACT prep programs to all 21,000 high school students in the district. 

Last year, more Austin public school students took the SAT and ACT, two national tests used in the college admissions process, and students continued to score higher on the ACT. The average overall SAT score for AISD students was 1507, higher than the national and statewide average. 

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Education
5:54 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

Q&A: Texas Legislature to Tackle School Vouchers

Credit David/flickr

The 2015 legislative session is upon us. And while there haven’t been any committee hearings or votes yet, lawmakers are already beating the drum on a variety of issues. When it comes to education, conservative lawmakers, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, are already talking about the idea of school choice for all Texas students.

“Not just the wealthy who can send their children to private school, and not just those who have the mobility to move to the suburbs," Patrick said last week.  "But for parents in the inner cities where their children are trapped in failing schools, it is their right to have those same opportunities.”

Patrick thinks one solution is school vouchers.  But what are school vouchers? KUT's Kate McGee and Nathan Bernier break down the issue:

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College
3:56 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

On College Admissions Essays, Even the Smallest Words Matter

A new UT Austin study found that students who used the words 'the' and 'a' more often than personal pronouns such as 'I' and 'they' in their college admissions essays had higher GPAs.
Credit https://www.flickr.com/b-tal/

Small words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ may say more than you think. New research from UT Austin finds they can tell us a lot – even predicting a student’s grades in college.

Researchers analyzed more than 50,000 college admissions essays, and they found that students who used words such as 'the’ and ‘a’ in their essays tended to have higher grade point averages. Students who used more personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘they,’ tended to have lower GPAs.

Researchers say these smaller words can show what people are thinking about and how they frame that thinking.

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Austin ISD
4:28 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Civil Rights Group Wants Austin School District to Address Inequity

Joe Berra, lawyer for the Texas Civil Rights Project. The TCRP is asking Austin ISD to conduct a self-assessment of equity among campuses districtwide.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

The Texas Civil Rights Project wants the Austin Independent School District to conduct a self-assessment of equity among campuses. If not, the group says it will file a complaint with the federal government which could result in a civil rights investigation of the district.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter to school districts in the fall. It highlighted disparities in educational resources in public schools nationwide and suggested ways to make sure districts are providing all students equal access to resources. The letter suggested a self-assessment and provided ways for school districts to implement one.

“It’s not an issue of laying blame," said Joe Berra, lawyer with the TCRP. "It’s just an issue of saying, ‘Let’s see where we are now. Let’s make a conscious effort to address them.’”

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