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

Note: This story will be updated as it develops.

Texas public schools can once again can have deep fat fryers and soda machines on campus, starting this fall. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who oversees school nutrition policy in Texas, announced Thursday he’s lifting the decade-old ban as part of his new five-point plan to combat childhood obesity. Miller says schools don’t have to put in deep fryers or soda machines.

"We're just saying if you want [a deep fryer], go get one," Miller said in an interview at his office Thursday. "I'd be surprised if there's a dozen schools [that] put in deep fryers. One thing, we're not going to give them any money. They're going to have to go buy those."

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

In light of an expected $3 million budget gap next year, Eanes Independent School District has started making preliminary cuts to staffing positions, but district leaders are still unclear exactly how much money they’ll be working with when school starts in August, or whether those cuts will be permanent. 

Now that the legislative session is over and there wasn't a major school finance overhaul, the school district knows how much money it’ll get from the state next year. The problem is that the district is unclear on exactly how much it will receive from the assessed valuation of property in the district boundary.

Mobility35

A new plan to improve Interstate 35 would add an additional lane on the upper decks of the highway between 15th and 51st Streets in Austin, according to a modified proposal announced today by state and city lawmakers

"The auxiliary lanes will give you a mile and a half to move into the main lanes of the upper deck and move those exiting to Airport [Blvd.] out of the main lanes," says Senator Kirk Watson, who laid out the new plan at a luncheon on Monday. 

LA Johnson/NPR

This week, NPR Ed is digging into the story behind high school graduation rates across the country. NPR partnered with 14 public radio stations nationwide, including KUT.

At 88 percent, Texas has one of the highest graduation rates in the country, and the Austin Independent School District’s graduation rate has increased 12 percentage points since 2008, compared to the all-time high rate of 81 percent nationally. 

But what's the story behind those rates? Take a look at NPR Ed's interactive below to dig into the numbers.

Kate McGee

A group of elementary school students sit on the floor of a classroom at Sunset Valley Elementary. They’re connecting plastic pieces to build orange ramps and pushing tiny race cars down them. The goal is to see if the car can make it all the way around the loop. 

"One, two, three," says one student before letting go of the race car. It doesn't make it.

"Oh! So close!" they yell. 

A little more than 10 years ago, Texas banned soda machines and deep fryers in public school cafeterias.

Now the state's current agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, wants to do away with that ban. He believes these kinds of restrictions should be in the hands of local school boards — not state regulators. But some students are among those who aren't happy about this idea.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

*This post has been updated since Wednesday.

Two years after the city of Austin banned single-use plastic bags, a new report estimates Austinites have used nearly 200 million fewer plastic bags annually — a 75 percent reduction.

That report was presented Wednesday evening to Austin’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission.

While the estimated reduction in plastic bag use has gotten a lot of attention, another finding of the report has received much less: Single-use bags have been replaced in Austin recycling streams by another type of bag — the reusable plastic bag.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

Raising children isn’t easy, especially if you’re doing it on your own.

At Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, the new all-boys school in East Austin, many of the students are being raised by single moms or grandmas. Principal Sterlin McGruder recognizes that.

"I feel it's important [that] I’m in the cafeteria, I'm in the hallway, I'm in the classrooms, so that they can have a conversation with me," McGruder says. "They don’t have the male role model at home. They need that male role model who they can talk to. You can tell they're yearning."

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Victoria Hernandez and her son Jayden wake up at 5 a.m. each day for Jayden’s pre-kindergarten class at Travis Heights Elementary School. They get ready at their apartment complex on Stassney Lane, four miles away from Travis Heights. Then, they walk to the bus stop to wait for the number one bus.

By the time they embark, it’s about 6:30 in the morning — the sun has just started to rise.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

Driving around the town of Giddings, it's hard to miss the yellow 'Giddings football' flags flying in front of many homes.

“Football is really big with any small town. The school is the hub of the community, so everyone gets involved,” says Shane Holman, assistant Superintendent for Giddings ISD.

Holman’s lived in Giddings for most of his life. Six years ago, he says, there was a community push for something new: a soccer program.

To him, that’s just one sign of the changing demographics in Giddings’ schools.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

High school students from across Texas are spending the weekend launching rockets near Fredericksburg as a part of an aeroscience engineering program called SystemsGo.

The Willow City volunteer fire station just outside Fredericksburg filled up with high school students from all over Texas at 6 a.m. They bend over nearly 20 different rockets, prepping them for launch.

Students ask questions like: “So when the parachute comes out, where is the air resistance going to be? How is it going to catch air? Did we research that?”

One team of students traveled from Kingwood High School in the Humble Independent School District outside Houston. They’ve been working on their rocket for six months — even building part of it with 3D printers.

Sean MacEntee/flickr

Two-thirds of the area’s college students work while they attend school, according to a report coming out next week on Texas' education landscape.

Many students who work while attending college are not full-time students. In fact, in Central Texas, “80 percent of our high school graduates who go into two-year colleges are enrolling part-time,” says Christine Bailie with the E3 Alliance.

Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

Governor Greg Abbott’s bill to improve pre-kindergarten got one step closer to his desk yesterday. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 4 in a 25-6 vote. The Texas House had already approved the bill before sending it to the Senate, but it still has a few more hurdles to jump through.

The bill puts $130 million dollars toward pre-K programs, but those programs would have to meet certain standards to receive the money, including teacher certification and curriculum standards.

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.

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