Welcome to the December issue of the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium newsletter! As grantmakers committed to protecting and improving public education in the state of Texas, we welcome you to learn more about TEGAC and become involved. This special issue will highlight the results of the November election and what to expect in the upcoming Texas 2013 Legislative Session. The newsletter also highlights a recent op-ed in the Austin American Statesman by KDK-Harman President and Founder, Janet Harman, and Bob Sanborn, President of Children At Risk. Please take a moment to read through this newsletter and contact us with any questions or comments, or if you are interested in becoming a member of TEGAC.
The Tea PotAn easy way to think about the Texas Legislature is to imagine a tea pot. The House of Representatives is usually the place where the water is boiled with fiery and often very contentious debate. The Senate is the chamber where the tea has time to steep and emotions have a chance to cool. The 2013 Texas Legislature will likely see this traditional format reversed with hot button issues already emerging from Senate debates and a House of Representatives still working to settle shifting committee chairmanships. Add in a looming and massive school finance state budget overhaul and possible re-districting and 2013 looks particularly challenging.
Deceptive Stability in the Texas Senate:
The Texas Senate that convenes in 2013 will be divided along the exact same partisan lines as 2011 with 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. While the numbers may be the same, the Senators sitting in the Republican caucus will be very different. Some of the Senate's more moderate Republican voices, like Florence Shapiro (Plano) and Jeff Wentworth (San Antonio) will be replaced with more Tea Party affiliated members like newly elected Republican Senators Ken Paxton and Dr. Donna Campbell. As a result of this shift to the right, some education issues that have never fared well may have new political life, including vouchers, teacher evaluation, and charter school expansion. Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has already been named as the chair of the Senate Education Committee. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Senator Wendy Davis (Fort Worth) won her re-election campaign, which was one of the state's most closely watched and expensive races. Senator Davis' last minute filibuster on education funding issues triggered last session's Special Session.
Shift in the Texas House (or Not?):
Perhaps surprising to some in Texas, Texas Democrats made considerable gains in the November 2012 elections - thanks in large part to newly drawn legislative districts recognition of the state's changing demography. At the end of the 2011 legislative session Republicans held a super majority of 102 of the House's 150 seats, leaving Texas Democrats with just 48 seats. In 2013 the lower chamber will host 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats. Uncertainty exists about leadership around education issues in the Texas House of Representatives. The primary defeat of Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) leaves a big hole in Speaker Joe Straus' leadership team. The House Public Education Committee is referred more bills than any other committee in the Texas Legislature and its chair assumes a huge responsibility. Capitol whispering seems to be coalescing around Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen) as a likely successor to the chairman's seat at the middle of the dais. Other names listed as possible successors also include Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) and Dan Huberty (R-Humble). Interestingly, all three Members cited most frequently as possible chairs have publicly expressed concerns about public school vouchers.
It's All about the Benjamins:
While the 2013 session is expected to include considerable debate about education policy, underlying concerns about public school finance will be the most important issue at the Capitol in 2013 and beyond. Most Capitol watchers are already predicting Special Sessions of the Texas Legislature to deal with whatever decisions may emerge from the Texas courts. Interesting, some conversations suggest that an effort may be afoot to remove the courts from the school finance process. You can read more about this potentially very controversial proposal at:
Monday, December 10th
from 11 am to 12 pm
This fast-paced webinar will provide foundation staff and trustees with the latest news about education politics and policy in these last few weeks before the 2013 Texas Legislature convenes. Participants in this important webinar will receive:
To log on to the webinar go to:
- An update on the work of Children at Risk and the Consortium's local budget impact analysis. As you undoubtedly saw, the preliminary findings of the survey were released to great interest this fall. While many school districts were able to minimize the negative effects of the cuts, across the state pre-kindergarten programs were reduced and class sizes have increased. This webinar will provide an update on the next iteration of the study and information about how your foundation can get involved.
- A review of the 2012 election and what the changes (or lack thereof) mean for education policy in Texas. When the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2013, the Texas House will include 7 more Democrats but most likely little change in policy or politics. On the east side of the Capitol, the Texas Senate's numbers will remain the same, but the legislators in those 31 seats will be markedly more conservative. Foundations need to understand what has and has not changed at the Texas Capitol and what these electoral transitions mean for Texas philanthropy.
- Prognostications about what will be up for debate at the Texas Capitol in 2013. Public school vouchers, budget cuts, public school finance, elimination of the cap on charter schools, universal school breakfast, pre-k restoration, and oh-so-much-more have already been discussed. Foundations can expect massive changes to the policies and funding of every facet of education this session, notably around education reform initiatives. Understanding what could lie around the corner after the session ends is critical for everyone who cares about education in Texas.
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Please send me an email if you are planning to participate at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing you online!
Media Coverage of First Phase of Data Project Findings
Sanborn, Harman: Budget cuts put children at risk
By Robert Sanborn,Janet Harman
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012
by the Austin American Statesman
When the Texas Legislature last convened in January 2011, lawmakers faced a substantial budget shortfall. Cuts were made across the board, and the final budget signed by Gov. Rick Perry cut a historic $5.3 billion from Texas public schools. These cuts included both the core funding of schools and grants for items such as pre-kindergarten, science labs, and public-private partnerships with numerous Texas foundations.
Texas schools are growing fast, and reductions were made despite an average enrollment growth of more than 83,000 new students. Children who are English language learners and/or are from lower-income backgrounds make up an increasing portion of our population, further straining districts asked to serve more, higher need students with fewer resources.
The size and extent of the cuts to schools has garnered considerable attention both inside and outside the Texas Capitol. Parents, policymakers and stakeholders wondered about the effect on classroom learning. Private foundations and taxpayers worried about the viability and effectiveness of existing programs.
Almost two years later, the dust is beginning to settle. Districts have adjusted to the decreased funding levels. With a new legislative session beginning in January, the time has come to move the discussion forward through evaluation of the cuts. With the support of the KDK-Harman Foundation, the Kathryn and Beau Ross Foundation, and other foundations from across Texas, Children at Risk conducted a yearlong, mixed-methods study to objectively assess how budget reductions have impacted Texas students and schools - for better and for worse.
Every school district responded to the cuts differently. Our survey data and supplemental interviews show both effective stewardship in uncertain times and areas for improvement. Given the cards they were dealt, the majority of superintendents minimized immediate impact on classroom instruction. Many anticipated steep reductions and took early steps to implement cuts as smoothly as possible. Common cost-saving maneuvers included freezing administrative salaries, deferring major maintenance and technology upgrades, thereby passing costs down the road for future trustees and administrators.
Innovative school leaders looked beyond district boundaries and forged new collaborations with other districts to brainstorm, raise new revenue, and conduct business cooperatively. Districts did everything from trademarking school mascots to selling advertising space on buses. Districts in Central Texas recently kicked off an attendance campaign to boost achievement and raise much-needed revenue. They also conducted extensive energy audits, reconfigured transportation operations and rebid contracts when possible. An influx of businesslike best practices implemented by school districts was a significant and positive outcome.
Despite all this creativity, the cuts were far from casualty-free. Our research revealed particular concerns about increases in class size at all grade levels and large cuts to pre-kindergarten. The research-focused Texas Legislature has long known the value of small classes and high quality pre-K. While students from all incomes have been negatively affected, students already at-risk stand to lose the most. Drastic cuts to the very programs that we know help students learn and close achievement gaps should give all Texans pause.
Teachers constitute more than 80 percent of school district spending and in most cases districts were unable to avoid reducing some teaching staff. New students are entering a school system with 10,717 fewer teachers than 2010-2011. Any such reduction in workforce makes it harder to keep pace with both student population growth and our increasingly rigorous school accountability system.
More students and fewer teachers mean larger class sizes. In fact, three times more districts requested a waiver from the state's K-4th grade classroom size cap of 22 students in the 2011-2012 school year than just one year before. The individualized attention and one-to-one instruction that research supports is impossible with ever growing classes.
Our interviews revealed admirable efforts from teachers who worked longer hours and weekends to make up the gaps in staff. We also found widespread and growing fatigue among these teachers, whose herculean efforts will be difficult to maintain in the long run as well as make entering the teaching profession less attractive.
While stopgap measures and deferring facility and technology improvements may save costs in the short term, the center cannot hold. We urge policymakers to consider the impact of reduced funding on evidence based educational policies and programs. Before we ask school districts to again do more with less, let's be certain they have the basics they need to educate our state's children. A leaner, more evidence based business model is a good thing. We need to make sure our product, the student, doesn't emerge with a leaner breadth of knowledge.
About the Consortium
In 2011 the Texas Legislature approved historic cuts to funding for public education. Foundations across Texas have seen successful public/private partnerships threatened or eliminated by budget cuts. Also, demand for scarce foundation dollars is increasing as community groups see their revenues eliminated from school district budgets.
In response, a geographically and politically diverse consortium group of foundations is joining together to promote, protect and improve public education. The Consortium is designed to be a forum and serve as a focal point for organizing philanthropic efforts. In some cases the Consortium seeks to pool funds from multiple foundations to increase the impact of its advocacy efforts. The Consortium is partnering with policymakers, the media, the business community, academics, advocates, parents and others to ensure the broadest dissemination of its work.
Foundations with all levels of interest and experience in advocacy grantmaking are welcome to participate. Because every foundation is different and the needs of the Consortium are so diverse, there is a place for every foundation in the Consortium.
How do foundations join the Consortium?
Foundations are encouraged to become members of the Consortium. When appropriate, members may decide to make a financial contribution to the Consortium. Contributions will cover the costs of research on the impacts of budget cuts, support for multi-foundation events like the 2013 Education Funders Day at the Texas Capitol, and basic administrative overhead such as printing and travel costs. The suggested contribution is $5,000 annually; however, Consortium members are encouraged to contribute at an amount commensurate with their endowment size. The Consortium has created a fund at the Austin Community Foundation to accept contributions. Contributions can be forwarded to the Austin Community Foundation at:
Austin Community Foundation
C/O: Paula Lange, Finance Manager
4315 Guadalupe, Suite 300
Austin, Texas 78751
Tel: 512 472 4483
What are the benefits of membership?
Foundations that join the Consortium will receive:
- Bi-monthly legislative and policy updates
- Up-to-the-minute information on the localized budget impact data produced by CHILDREN AT RISK and available via the Texas Tribune website
- Annual summary of the impact of changes to education funding for all school districts
- Media related exposure (if desired)
- Logo placement on Consortium materials (if desired)
- On-going training on the legal parameters of foundation and nonprofit advocacy
- Participation in the Education Funders Day at the Capitol in February 2013 and 2015
Additionally, members can self-elect to be involved in developing the Consortium's strategy by participating in the Consortium Advisory Circle.
To learn more, please contact Jennifer Esterline, Executive Director, KDK-Harman Foundation, at email@example.com or 512.796.4530.