Education

Austin ISD, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Texas A&M University, charter schools, legislative issues, and anything else related to K-12, public education, higher education and workforce development in Central Texas, Travis County, and Austin.

As school board members at the largest district in Central Texas gather tonight to talk about fixing elementary school overcrowding and improving grades at the worst performing schools, they’ll have something else to consider: the Austin Independent School District’s budget next year.

AISD financial chief Nicole Conley-Abram, who recently received an award from the state for budget transparency, will lay it all out for board members tonight.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.

Some Austin parents such as Norma Sanchez worry a college education will be the most costly expense for their families. A college fair Saturday at Travis High School was hosted by Con Mi Madre, a non-profit active in Austin schools that encourages Hispanic mothers to seek a college education for their daughters.

Liang Shi/KUT News

Texas public school districts have an estimated 32,000 fewer employees than they may have had if the state hadn’t cut more than $5 billion in public education spending during the legislative session. That includes almost 12,000 fewer teachers.

The numbers are from this report released by an Austin-based school finance consulting firm. Moak, Casey & Associates recently surveyed school districts across the state. 60 participated.

This chart shows Texas performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the past five tests. Hold your mouse over the bars to see the testing years and specific values. 

Texas public schools have shown few gains in how well they teach reading, but schools are making significant progress in math, according to one of the largest and most important nationwide assessments in the United States. African American and Hispanic students in Texas are also outperforming many of their counterparts in other states.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card – tests a sampling of fourth and eighth graders across the country every two years.

Photo by Teresa Vieira

The Texas school finance system is notoriously complicated, which makes it difficult for average people to have informed debates about how a large portion of their property taxes are spent.

Here’s an example: School districts are funded through two separate property taxes. One is called M&O, for maintenance and operations. That tax rate pays for stuff like teacher salaries, water bills, electricity bills, textbooks and so on.

The second tax rate is called I&S, for interest and sinking. That money can only be used to pay down school district debt on school buildings, facilities, and other capital expenditures.

Now here is where it gets interesting. The tax you pay for M&O is subject to the state’s so-called Robin Hood law, a rule that takes money from wealthier districts and redistributes it to poorer districts in order to provide “substantially equal access” to education funding per student.

After the Austin Independent School District’s last attempt at adopting a ten year master plan for its 12 million square feet of property was derailed in the spring, the AISD school board is scheduled tonight to hear some of the most specific proposals yet from Superintendent Meria Carstarphen on how to address issues such as overcrowding.

Image courtesy Texas Education Agency

While Gov. Perry tours the country arguing that Texas is an economic powerhouse, new data from the state’s education agency shows 2.9 million public school students are economically disadvantaged. The number represents 59.1 percent of the student population in the 2010-11 school year. It's a slight uptick from 58.9 percent the previous year.

Ten years ago, 49.2 percent of students were counted as impoverished. The total number of economically disadvantaged students increased from 2 million in the 2000-01 school year to 2.9 million in the 2010-11 school year, an increase of 45 percent. 

Economically disadvantaged students include those whose parents’ income falls below the federal poverty line. That’s $22,350 for a family of four.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

Thomas Lindsay, the man recently selected to head the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education, is no stranger to controversy. That may be considered an asset in the position, given the foundation’s role in igniting much of the debate that has gripped Texas higher ed this year.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

About 100 school districts have now signed on to a looming lawsuit against the state for cuts to public education. The lawsuit is being filed by the Equity Center, a non-profit school equity funding advocacy organization. In an e-mail today the Center said it would release a list of districts next week -- after a state-wide school board convention in Austin.

The Center says the state's per-pupil funding remains uneven, with some districts getting as much as $10,000 per student, while others get half that.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The superintendent who took the helm of the largest school district in Central Texas two years ago just had her contract extended for an additional year. Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's contract now expires in June 2014. The extension did not include a pay raise or increase in benefits. 

The Austin ISD school board gave a redrawn school district voting map the green light tonight in an 8-1 vote, clearing the way for the proposal to be sent to the US Justice Department for approval. Texas is among the jurisdictions that require federal approval to redraw voting boundaries under provisions of the Voting Rights Act intended to prevent minority groups from having their electoral influence reduced. 

Several members of the Mueller neighborhood, a mixed-use development just east of I-35, protested the changes during a public comment portion of the board meeting. At least three speakers said they wanted to be included in East Austin's District 1, an area that includes the highest proportion of African-American voters in the entire school district and the second largest percentage of Hispanic voters.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Austin Independent School District operates more than 100 schools in the city covering 12 million square feet. Some of those schools are overcrowded. Others that are way under-capacity.

A plan developed this year to deal with that was shelved, after school board members found the notion of school closures politically unpalatable.  A revised version of that facilities master plan will be unveiled tonight.

In an unusual move, the Austin Independent School District is refusing to release the proposed facility master plan to the public until immediately before it is presented to the school board.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News.

By January 2013, the University of Texas at Austin will be the host of a new world-class supercomputer as part of a National Science Foundation grant. "Stampede" will be built in a partnership between the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Dell, and Intel and kept at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus - home of another NSF-funded high-performance computer system, Ranger.

Photo by Max Klingensmith http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/

The state legislature slashed $4 billion from public education this year, forcing many Central Texas school districts to lay off teachers. School districts are now considering whether they want to raise student-to-teacher ratios.

State law limits those ratios at 22-to-1 from Kindergarten through the 4th grade. School districts have until October 3 to request an increase of 24-to-1.

University of Texas education professor Christopher Brown says parents need to be aware of the potential impact in their kid’s classroom.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The University of Texas System regents today gave UT President Bill Powers the authority to take any necessary actions regarding conference realignment. Hours earlier, the University of Oklahoma regents empowered their president, David Boren, with the same authority.

The action by both universities is identical to a move Texas A&M University System regents made in August when they granted such authority to Texas A&M President  R. Bowen Loftin — two weeks before A&M officially notified the Big 12 Conference that it wanted out.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

The ratio of Hispanic students enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin rose from 12 percent in 2001 to 17.5 percent this year, according to preliminary numbers from the university.  While the percentage of freshman Hispanic students is down this year, UT-Austin’s Hispanic student population of 8,975 is a new record high for the university.

Photo by Michael J. Cargill

Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders' charter school application was among eight approved by the Texas State Board of Education today.

The decision came after a brief discussion during which members raised questions about the schools' academic rigor and Sanders' involvement.

"I have no idea what the applicant plans to do in the classroom, how they plan to instruct the TEKS," said Michael Soto, D-San Antonio, adding, " I have no idea what they plan to offer in a day to day classroom experience."

Photo by KUT

Average scores on the SAT tests by Texas high school students plummeted last school year in all three subject areas: reading, writing and math. The national numbers also declined to their lowest levels on record.

Here in Texas, the average math score for students, including all public and private schools, dropped two points to 502. Critical reading scores declined four points to 479. Writing scores were down seven points to 465.

National scores declined also, but were still higher than the Texas averages at 506, 494 and 483 for math, critical reading and writing, respectively. The maximum score on the SAT test is 800.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Austin Independent School District is about to begin a long and likely contentious process that could end in school attendance boundaries being redrawn.

Tonight, school board members will look at the district’s plan to develop a committee that would examine attendance zones. It’s all kind of dry at this point – but that could change if the district starts tinkering with which students go to what schools.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa introduced a nine-point plan to increase undergraduate access and graduation rates, emerging research opportunities, teaching awards for faculty and improving efficiency and transparency. The UT Board of Regents voted unanimously to implement Cigarroa’s framework and commit $243.6 million to it. You can watch his address here.

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