Education

KUT News

A small school district in East Texas became the second in the state to allow some staff members to carry concealed handguns. The school board at Union Grove ISD – just outside Longview – voted this week to allow trained staff members access firearms in the event of an armed intruder.

“It is up to the discretion of the local board," said Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe. "There’s a provision in the Texas Penal Code that basically says schools are a gun free zone unless the school board adopts a policy that permits it.”

Ann Choi, KUT news

The political battle over Texas public schools is heating up as the legislative session shifts into gear. In addition to  arguments over whether to restore $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011, two high profile Senate Republicans want a school voucher system that would give low income students a shot at attending a private school. But critics say all vouchers do is strip money from the public education system and hand it over to private schools.

“We’re going to allow businesses to deduct up to 25 percent of what they would pay in the franchise tax, and that money will go to a non-profit to be distributed to families based on need," State Senator Dan Patrick has explained. "By doing this, we are going to give them an opportunity to get a scholarship if they so choose to send their child to that private school.” So-called "tax credit scholarships" exist in about a dozen states. 

On Thursday, a nonprofit group, the Coalition for Public Schools, argued fiercely against the measure. In a news conference at the Capitol, the Coalition said the State needs to invest more in the existing public school system.

Tamir Kalifa, Texas Tribune

At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, three conservative groups — the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the National Association of Scholars and the Texas Association of Scholars — will release a sure-to-be controversial report alleging that the University of Texas and Texas A&M University offer students "a less-than-comprehensive picture of history.”

The report’s rollout is part of a three-day policy orientation by the TPPF, an Austin-based think tank that has been tied to some of the state's most hotly-debated proposed higher education reforms. It signals a renewed push to reconsider the course offerings in the history departments of the state’s public universities, and particularly to boost the number of courses dedicated to the study Western Civilization.

Carlos Morales/KUT News

The Eanes school district will become one the first in the state to distribute iPads to every single one of its students, kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Texas Legislature paved the way for school districts to adopt tablets two years ago by allowing schools districts to spend textbook money on digital learning materials.

Of course, the school districts still have to buy their own iPads, and that’s what the Eanes school board voted to do last month: Spend $1.2 million to buy enough iPad 2s for every student in the district.

Ben Philpott/KUT News

The state’s top three political leaders met with reporters today as a sign of unity heading into the legislative session.

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus say strengthening the state’s economy by improving its infrastructure and its skilled workforce are the top priorities, all while controlling state spending - even as the state is flush with cash.

Callie Richmond for Texas Tribune

The School Land Board voted Tuesday to release $300 million into the Available School Fund for public schools.

The money will be released in two $150 million installments, one in February and the other on June. The funds had been caught in a standoff between the Legislature and the School Land Board, which operates out of the General Land Office and oversees the state’s public school land. 

KUT News

The Austin school board is set to resume discussion on a boys-only school. The move comes just one month after the topic was postponed indefinitely.

The AISD board is set to discuss a total of three single-sex schools in a special meeting tonight: a School for Young Men and turning Garcia and Pearce Middle Schools into single-sex schools – one for boys and the other for girls.

Holidays are typically a festive time, with breaks from the routine, meals with loved ones, maybe even some gifts. But for many families across the U.S., the season comes with intense stress: Roughly 1 in 5 families with children are not getting enough food.

For some, free or reduced-price school meals have become a major source of basic nutrition. When schools close for the holidays, many of those families struggle to fill the gap.

Texas Tribune

January usually marks a mad rush to the local tax office to pay property taxes. If you are a homeowner turning 65 years old, you can apply for a property tax exemption from Travis County and for a cap to your school taxes. It's a  perk for taxpayers that could affect local school districts. 

First, it’s important to note that thousands of Austinites will be turning 65 this year. That’s why last May, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell appointed task force on aging. Angela Atwood serves on the task force. She say “aging is the issue of our time and Austin and Central Texas is an epicenter nationally.”

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Texas would lose about eight percent of its federal education funding if Washington can’t reach a compromise to avoid the package of spending cuts and tax increases contained in the “fiscal cliff.” Most of that money pays for programs to help children from low income families and to help students with disabilities.

Texas’ share of those so-called Title I and IDEA grants would be cut by $174 million, according to Texas Education Agency estimates. In a school district like Austin’s – where almost two out of three students are economically disadvantaged – federal grants would be cut by more than $2 million. You can see an estimate of your school district's cuts by checking this TEA document

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Speaking in a Catholic school classroom in Austin, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick gave the first details of what they promised would be a wide-ranging set of proposals for public education policy during the upcoming legislative session.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he would carry legislation that would increase the options for public school students through lifting the state's cap on charter schools, fostering open enrollment within and across school districts, and creating a private school scholarship fund through offering a state business tax savings credit to corporations. 

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin Independent School District has released its list of schools that are frozen to transfers for the 2013-2014 school year.

Over two dozen campuses are  frozen to transfers, while another 17 will be reevaluated after requests for priority transfers are approved.

Beginning Jan. 7, parents will be able to submit their transfer requests by mail or in person at AISD's Office of Student Services.

A growing number of lawmakers are indicating they are open to considering new gun control measures in the wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. But while much of the national debate has focused on limiting access to guns, others are suggesting that schools should arm themselves to defend against attacks.

David Thweatt, school superintendent for the small Texas town of Harrold, northwest of Fort Worth, decided in 2006 that it was time to arm his staff. There's only one school in Harrold, a K-12 with 103 students.

KUT News

If you have a school-age child, he or she may have come home today with questions about the Connecticut school shooting. Julia Hoke, a psychologist with the Austin Child Guidance Center, says it’s important for parents to reassure children of the safety plans in their school. You can remind them of the school’s safety measures, like checking in all visitors or having security doors.

Hoke says it’s also important to let children know the chances of a similar shooting happening at their school.

Jason Wiseman/Texas Tribune

A business lobbying group that’s been a big supporter of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR exams, has called for some changes, saying that the program may have gone overboard in trying to introduce accountability so quickly.

The Texas Association of Business wants to reduce the number of tests a high school senior needs to pass in order to graduate, and to push the entire program’s full implementation back three years.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

State education commissioner Michael Williams announced this afternoon that he is removing the entire El Paso ISD school board and replacing it temporarily with a five-member board of managers.

The school district has been embroiled in a testing scandal involving the former superintendent Lorzeno Garcia. Williams says the El Paso ISD school board did not do enough to investigate claims that Garcia was preventing low performing students from taking a standardized test. 

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

On the agenda for Thursday morning's meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents is a discussion on a topic near and dear to the pocketbooks of many students and their parents: student loan debt.

With student loan debt now surpassing national credit card debt, part of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa's framework for advancing excellence, which was approved in 2011, called for the formation of a task force to study the issue. The task force's report, which includes recommendations on how the system can help ease the burden on students, will be presented at Thursday's meeting.

KUT News

A group that formed in 2011 in response to a prominent push for higher education policy proposals it viewed as misguided released a report on Thursday that makes a case for the value of the state's flagship universities: the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education report was written by Michael McLendon, a professor of higher education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University. He previously worked at Vanderbilt University, where he completed much of the work on the report.

flickr.com/wallyg

Fulmore Middle School’s Advanced Girls Choir has been invited to participate in the Distinguished Concert Singers International performance at Carnegie Hall in January.

Composer Francisco Nunez asked the choir to perform his “Music for Treble Voices.”  Nunez, Director of the Youth Choir of New York heard the Fulmore Advanced Girls Choir perform while attending the Texas Music Educators Convention in Dallas. He was impressed with both the girls and their director, Yvette Carroll.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Update: The Austin School Board will continue to talk about the district’s contract with IDEA Public Schools at its regular meeting later this month.

Right now, IDEA is just operating at Allan Elementary. But the charter will grow to include more grades and expand into Eastside Memorial if the board doesn’t make a decision to end or change the contract before the end of the year. Board member Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias proposed that the contract continue but be changed to keep IDEA from expanding into Eastside Memorial next school year.

Under his proposal, IDEA would continue to include more grades but, instead of moving on to the Eastside Memorial campus, seventh graders would stay at Allan.

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