WHAT ROLE DOES THE CONSORTIUM PLAY IN TEXAS PHILANTHROPY AND EDUCATION POLICY?
The Consortium bridges the gap between pragmatic advocates and impact-oriented foundations to support advocacy to protect and improve public education in Texas.
WHO IS INVOLVED IN THE CONSORTIUM?
The Consortium’s members include 44 family, corporate, community, and private foundations from across Texas. To our knowledge, the Consortium represents the largest foundation policy collaborative anywhere in the country.
WHAT DOES THE CONSORTIUM DO? HOW ARE ACTIVITIES PAID FOR?
The Consortium is a campaign, not a new nonprofit. Membership dues of $5,000 per year plus optional research and advocacy grants support the Consortium’s work.
The Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (“TEGAC” or the “Consortium”) is a funders’ collaborative that was created in 2012 to unify grantmakers around a multi-year effort to build support for and improvement in public education in Texas in response to the historic cuts made to public education by the Texas legislature during the 2011 session. Foundations are directly impacted by these cuts and are responding with a united and respectful voice of concern.
The Consortium’s work is changing public education policy in Texas and, maybe even more importantly, changing how philanthropy more broadly approaches public policy. Now is the moment for education grantmakers to make their voices and concerns heard. Policymakers want to hear from philanthropy – particularly from the benefactors and trustees of foundations. Foundation leaders working to make grants in the field of public education should consider themselves to be a resource for Texas policymakers. It is our responsibility as experts in understanding what works in the field of public education to speak up as advocates and thought leaders in the public education space.
Our mission is to empower Texas philanthropy to invest and engage in effective public education policy and advocacy at the state level.
The Consortium’s vision is to protect, promote, and improve public education in Texas so that all Texas students can achieve their educational goals from cradle to career.
Commentary: How Finance Commission can create parity in Texas schools, Austin American Statesman
Every morning, I start the school day by watching the news with my students, so we can both keep up with current events and understand how these relate to our own lives.
For the past few weeks, the news media has been covering the stories of the educators from Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona who are protesting for a livable wage within their state. While watching, one of my students turned to me and asked, “Mr. Piña, why are the teachers walking out of their schools? Don’t you guys get paid a lot of money?” I told him that although teachers in Texas earn more than teachers in Oklahoma, the amount of money that we make isn’t that much, especially since so many teachers use part of their salaries to fund things for their classrooms.
Over the years, I’ve often gone out to buy materials for my students. As a bilingual education teacher, I frequently find myself buying books in my students’ native language. These books, which my school doesn’t provide, are essential for my students to have if they’re to apply good literacy skills in their daily lives.
In 2016, teachers nationally spent an average of $530 on their classroom, according to a survey by Scholastic. Teachers within a low socioeconomic status area spent an average of $672. For Texas, a teacher-led survey found that Texas teachers spent $700 a year on average on their classrooms. What teachers spend their own money on can range from school supplies to books to sponsoring students who can’t afford to go on field trips. Doing this throughout the year starts to add up — and many teachers, myself included, must find creative ways to earn income — like tutoring or driving an Uber before and after school to supplement our pay to continue funding activities for our kids and afford our cost of living.
These issues impact both teachers and students. Teaching is a process that requires patience, energy, passion and a constant focus on engaging students in their learning. When I am not feeling 100 percent, it affects my ability to teach. This, in turn, affects my students’ ability to learn. When teachers spend time working other jobs, it detracts from the time we can use to plan a more extensive and efficient lesson.
We now have an opportunity to do something about it: This year, the School Finance Commission will establish recommendations for the next legislative session. As a teacher, I see several things the commission should focus on:
• First, the commission should address the state’s so-called “Robin Hood” program in which districts that have high property wealth are required to pay money to the state — which is called “recapture.” This money is then redistributed among other districts within the state. Originally, this program was designed to create equity between property-rich and property-poor districts — but with time, it has largely impacted cities such as Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Austin Independent School District, for example, is projected to send over $500 million of its property tax revenue to the state. This, along with many other factors, puts a strain on our district, which trickles down to a strain on teachers and students. Moving forward, we need to address this program in a way that is equitable to ensure every district has the resources needed to help their students succeed.
• Second, the commission should examine how we allocate funds to districts, and rewrite the formula for teacher-to-student ratios. Currently, the number of teachers allocated to a specific grade level is based on the number of students who are enrolled in that grade. Students in fourth grade though kindergarten are capped at 22 students in a class. This changes drastically once students enter fifth grade, when the cap is raised to 32 students per class. Additionally, schools that operate specialty programs, such as dual-language instruction, often end up with mixed classes — classes with students in the dual-language program, and students who are not, which affects the integrity of their programs.
• Finally, we need to focus on special education and high-poverty students. These children are usually our highest-need students, which means that teachers need the proper professional development to help them succeed. We should focus our dollars on high-quality, research-based training for teachers to fully equip them with the tools needed to lower the achievement gap. As a state, we need to add additional dollars to enhance these programs rather than take away from some of our most vulnerable students.
I urge the commission to find ways to put money back into education — and to support our teachers and students. Find a way to ensure that teachers can focus all their time on their classroom, so that we can truly give our students the quality of education that they deserve. Then, perhaps, my students will cheer as they watch the news.
Piña teaches fifth-grade at Perez Elementary School. He is a Teach Plus Texas Teaching Policy Fellow.
Commentary: Why money matters in public education
By Wynn Rosser - Special to the American-Statesman
Texas, like much of the country, is struggling with funding for public education. Some state leaders point out that Texas is putting in more money than ever before. So, what’s the problem? Texas’ funding per student is still below 2008 levels despite the fact that we’re demanding more from our schools. This is especially true in funding levels for small and rural districts, special education services, services for English-language learners, and career and technical education.
The Texas Legislature used to fund a greater share of the cost of public education. And then there were cuts, a painful choice the Legislature made back in 2011 — from which we’ve not fully recovered. The result has been a shift toward local taxpayers shouldering a greater amount of the cost.
It was not so long ago that the state provided about 50 percent of the funding for public schools, but now that percentage has dropped to 38 percent. As the state’s per student amount has stagnated, local taxpayers have been left to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden. It’s time for the state to step up and increase funding for public education.
Higher state investment in our schools would mean lower property taxes — and that is something Texas voters agree on.
As the School Finance Commission — with members appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus, and the State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich — continues its work, there’s already some worry that the outcome is predetermined: Public schools should do more with less.
That’s a position that runs counter to many of the commission members’ own viewpoints — and, as a new statewide voter survey shows, is out of step with the Texas electorate.
The proponents of a “lean and mean” approach to public school funding say the focus should be on “efficiency” and the “quality” of education, rather than the quantity of funding directed to our public schools by the state.
The problem with that is studies from across the ideological spectrum have shown that the quality of education delivered is, in fact, directly related to the quantity of resources a district has. That news grabbed headlines most recently in another state, when Texas A&M’s Dr. Lori Taylor told Kansas lawmakers that a link does exist between spending and a student’s educational attainment.
Money matters in public education — and that money should be well-spent.
We know that well-funded, high-quality public schools shape our future, ensuring a well-trained, highly skilled workforce and better quality of life for Texans. And, Texas voters seem to agree with a bipartisan majority voicing support for increasing state funding of Texas public schools.
More local taxpayers are beginning to understand that real property-tax relief is only possible when the state increases its share of public school funding. Seventy-one percent of Texans favor increasing the state’s share of funding to provide property tax relief, according to results from a statewide voter poll by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium.
The same survey found 86 percent of Texans — after learning that local education tax dollars sent to the state aren’t always used for public education — favor a requirement that education tax dollars be used for education.
Whether it’s our ability to attract new businesses, prepare the workforce of tomorrow, or bring jobs to our communities, there is vital importance in addressing school finance. We all have skin in the game, whether you have children, own or rent your home, pay property or business franchise taxes, all of the above, or none of the above.
Texas’ school finance system is complicated. It’s antiquated. It’s going to take political courage to fix, but Texas voters are making their opinions clear. The time to act is now.
Rosser chairs the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium.
A new statewide voter survey released by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) shows broad, bipartisan support for increasing state funding of Texas public schools.
TEGAC released the polling data ahead of the School Finance Commission’s public hearing in Austin today.
TEGAC Fall Members Meeting, Sept. 19, 2018, 10AM-2PM, Austin Club