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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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Fourteen-year-old Karyme* has missed 14 days of eighth grade this school year. Her school, part of the Manor Independent School District, has taken her and her mother to court.

Now she and her mother stand in an Austin courtroom facing the presiding judge, Hon. Yvonne Williams.

Jon Shapley/KUT News

If you’re a homeowner, start checking your mail. You should receive the most recent appraisal of your home value from Travis Central Appraisal District by the end of the week.

And expect those values to have gone up.

The average home value in the county increased by 11 percent in 2015, to $355,312 from $320,032 last year. Taxable values rose about nine percent.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

Jennifer Mullins is sitting in her office at Eastside Memorial High School when a staff member comes in and asks for a stress ball. There’s a student outside that needs help. Mullins walks out the door and immediately takes control. 

"Hey bud, hey! Stress ball! Just breathe," Mullins says.  The student was having a negative reaction to a medication.

Mullins is one of two school counselors at Eastside Memorial High School who handles both emotional and academic support. Every student there is labeled at-risk. Mullins says she spends half her time dealing with students' needs outside the classroom.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT News

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wants to end a decade-old ban on deep fried food in Texas public schools. 

Miller, who was elected last year, believes local school districts — not the state or federal government — should decide whether schools serve fried foods. He says the ban on deep fat fryers goes against his philosophy at the Department of Agriculture. 

“We’re about giving school districts freedom, liberty and individual responsibility," Miller says. "We’re all about local control and not big brother, big government control.” 

Sarah Montgomery for KUT

Today, the Senate won’t vote on a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students, known as the Texas DREAM Act. The bill from New Braunfels Sen. Donna Campbell seemed to have enough support for a floor vote yesterday, but the bill was taken off the chamber’s intent calendar today.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Enrollment at Travis Heights Elementary School has dropped by seventy students this year — about 13 percent of the student population. 

It's a uniquely diverse school in an increasingly economically segregated Austin Independent School District. 

The median home price in the neighborhood is $689,000, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. But last year, 76 percent of the students who attended Travis Heights were considered economically disadvantaged. 

As the school celebrates its 75th anniversary Saturday, parents, staff and alumni must also consider its future. As affordable housing complexes scattered around the neighborhood become more expensive, more low-income families are leaving Travis Heights for cheaper housing.

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Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

There are girls on campus at Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy, and some of boys are trying to take advantage of that situation.

“He’s asking that girl out, and if she says no I’m going to laugh in his face," says sixth grader J.D. Gomez between bites of cookies and lemonade. "Me too!" says another student.

Greg Westfall/flickr

The Texas Senate has approved a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would guarantee Texans’ rights to hunt and fish, and it is now headed to the House for a vote.

The amendment would not affect any current laws but would add a constitutional provision that would legally prohibit any future limitation of hunting or fishing.

KUT News

A press conference criticizing the $52 million bond package proposed by the Eanes Independent School District grew heated Tuesday after some Eanes school board members showed up, challenged the critics to a debate and accused them of spreading false information. 

Two former Eanes School Board Presidents, Al Cowan and Clint Sayers, organized the press conference. They run a group called Citizens for Academic Excellence in Eanes (CAEE). They say the bond package is borrowing money for unnecessary and "luxury" items and will only increase Eanes' budget problems. The school district is expecting a $5.4 million dollar budget gap next year. 

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT

James Brewster and Candace Hunter have tough jobs.

They teach U.S. history at the new single-sex middle schools in Northeast Austin: Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy and Bertha Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy. Both schools are located in low income neighborhoods with majority minority students.

Teaching students in low income neighborhoods brings its own set of challenges, but teaching social studies brings more difficulties. Many times their students have had little to no exposure to U.S. history before entering their classrooms.

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.

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.

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.

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? 

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.”

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.  

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.

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.

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." 

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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