Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium Newsletter 
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Issue: #14

November 2015
It's hard to believe we are already at the end of a year, but what a great year it has been! 2015 was a huge success for the Consortium. In the last year, the Consortium has:
  • Created policy work groups, undertaken innovative research projects to fill critical data gaps for policymakers, and disseminated that research through a broad network of partners leading up to and through the 2015 Texas Legislative Session;
  • Convened grantmakers for an extremely successful two days at the Texas Legislature;
  • Expanded Consortium membership to 33 Texas foundations from across the state.
The work continues as we have been using the summer/fall to plan out our
efforts for the months ahead. We are gearing up for a busy 2016 with our policy work groups and community stakeholders to ensure that critical education research is available and that the changes to education policy from the 84th Legislative Session are implemented effectively.

Over the last few months, we have gathered input from TEGAC members and key stakeholders to identify our policy issues moving toward the 2017 session. These decisions were formally adopted by the TEGAC Leadership Committee in September 2015 and include: Guided Pathways to College and Career; Pre-Kindergarten; and Teacher Development and Support. Below, you will find details on the proposed research as it relates to each of these policy issues. We have had a great response in support of these policies work groups from our members and encourage others to join them in supporting one or more of these important groups.

The Consortium keeps growing! We are thrilled to welcome two new members to the Consortium: The Community Foundation of North Texas (Fort Worth) and the Texas Pioneer Foundation (Texarkana)! This brings our total membership to 33 corporate, private and community member foundations from every corner of the state. Our members are thinking bigger than individual programs and toward strategies that have the power to impact true equity and systems-level change.

Thank you for your continued support of the Consortium. We are excited to see what great work comes in 2016!
2016-17 TEGAC Policy Work Groups
The Consortium will commission, conduct, and communicate research on its 2016 - 2017 policy priorities to the Texas Legislature.  The top three themes selected by Consortium members are:
1. Guided Pathways to College and Career
2. Early Education and Pre-Kindergarten
    3. Teacher Effectiveness

While we are still in the process of narrowing down the scope of work for each of the three work groups, below outlines plans for each policy work group to date. Of course, once all of the policy work group investors are identified, the members of the work group will review, refine, and approve the final scope of work for each work group.

Guided Pathways to College and Career
In 2013 the Texas Legislature passed sweeping changes to Texas high school curriculum.  In response, the Consortium and others scrambled to examine the capacity of Texas public schools to implement the bill, including issues like the availability of counselors to explain changes to students and parents.  The Ray Marshall Center Report commissioned in 2014 by the Consortium had tremendous impact on policy and informed the passage of House Bill 18, a piece of legislation that provides millions of dollars to support counselor training, in 2015.  Research on how districts are actually implementing the changes remains to be done.

The Consortium is not the only entity interested in examining the implementation of House Bill 5 from 2013.  The Texas Education Agency, Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently contracted for a survey of school district endorsement availability and graduation requirements.  The Consortium competed for and was awarded a Capstone project from the George H.W. Bush School at Texas A&M University.  The Bush School will provide the Consortium with support to supplement the state's research with qualitative analysis, case studies, and policy recommendations.

Proposed Research Questions:  The Consortium will work with the Bush School to produce credible research that explores how Texas school districts are implementing HB 5 in individual districts across the state. The research will include policy recommendations to prepare for the 2017 Texas Legislative Session. Key research questions may include:
  • Are there regions of the state experiencing a lack of endorsement offerings? What are the attributes of a district that offers all five endorsements? 
  • How many districts are "opting in" to the distinguished/college-ready plan?  What challenges and obstacles are districts experiencing?
  • What are some examples of districts exhibiting best practices in endorsement offerings and capacity? What are the key factors for a district to consider when replicating best practices?  What are the obstacles?  What supports are needed?
Early Childhood Education and Pre-Kindergarten
The passage of House Bill 4 in 2015 marked a turning point for early childhood education in Texas.  Governor Greg Abbott promised to address the quality of Texas pre-k during his campaign and followed through on that pledge.  Significant changes to data collection and the restoration of $118 million in funding will improve the quality of pre-kindergarten in Texas. 

Research commissioned by the Consortium informed the debate around pre-k at the Texas Capitol in 2015.   For the first time school districts are now required to report many of the basic indicators of pre-k quality, including class size, staff to student ratio, half-day or full-day, and assessments administered.  A foundation now exists for school districts and their partners to make real comparisons about pre-k quality across Texas. 

Now, the real work begins.  Because the restored pre-k funding will be distributed as a grant, local school districts will need to apply for new funding.   The Texas Education Agency is responsible for setting the rules by which funding is distributed.  School districts are not required to apply and the state is not required to fund all school districts that do choose to apply.

In 2017, both legislators and education stakeholders will want to know how House Bill 4 is being implemented. They will want to know which districts applied for the restored funding and which were selected to receive funding.  They will want to know if patterns emerged in the types of districts volunteering to accept the legislation's required quality enhancements.  Before any further expansion of pre-kindergarten access or quality will be approved, House Bill 4 must prove itself.  House Bill 4 demands more transparency and higher quality.  The Consortium can fill the data gap concerning which districts applied for funding and which did not and the reasons behind that decision.
Proposed Research Questions: 
  • Which Texas school districts applied for funding under House Bill 4?  Which school districts did not apply for funding and what were the reasons behind that choice?  Do patterns emerge among the school districts that chose to apply for pre-kindergarten funds?  Did school districts in all regions of the state (on the Texas/Mexico border, in urban areas, and in rural communities) apply for funds?  Are available funds sufficient to meet demand from school districts? 
  • How specifically are districts that successfully applied for funding using pre-kindergarten dollars?
  • What role does teacher availability play in districts' decision-making about applying for pre-k funds?  What options are available to increase the supply and quality of pre-kindergarten teachers?
Teacher Preparation and Support
The single most important variable in student achievement is the teacher in his or her classroom. While Texas has a variety of district and state initiatives focusing on teacher recruitment, training, development and retention, there is room to improve. Knowing how important each individual teacher is, it is critical that we consider how teachers are prepared to lead classroom instruction.

Educate Texas will inaugurate and convene the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative for 2015-2017 working with school districts and higher education institutions to share and scale research about supporting the Texas teacher corps. The Collaborative will provide a platform for practitioners and policy makers to focus on teacher preparation and highlight the best practices and policies that Texas can adopt to make real change for current and future Texas teachers.

The Collaborative will be chaired by Jim Nelson, former Commissioner of Education and will meet from the fall of 2015 through the fall of 2016 in order to examine the best practices and policies at the district, higher education, state and national levels; review the research on effective teacher preparation practices; share the shifts programs have made to their teacher preparation practices and policies; and make recommendations that can be implemented for both policy and practice of teacher preparation.

While the Collaborative is doing its work, the Consortium's Teacher Preparation Policy Work Group will engage a diverse array of voices including the faith community, teachers' associations, education reformers, and others to create consensus and develop shared messaging around the Collaborative's policy recommendations.
Legislative Interim Charges Announced

Not surprisingly, the Texas Senate and House of Representatives took very different approaches in their announcement of Interim Charges.  Interim Charges are the "to do list" of the Texas Legislature during the 18 months between legislative sessions. Instead of sitting idle, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker charge the Senate and House of Representatives respectively with a list of topics for study and debate in the legislative interim.  

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick jumped out of the gate first with bold interim charges concerning education reform, particularly a focus on school choice or vouchers.  The continued expansion of charter schools also takes precedence in Lieutenant Governor Patrick's thinking for 2017.  Teacher preparation, guided pathways, school governance, and access to technology are also highlighted. Read the full list of the Senate's Interim Charges for the Education Committee here.  

Speaker Joe Straus took a slightly different approach than his Senate counterpart. While also tackling school choice, the Speaker has directed the Public Education Committee to examine the importance played by the middle school years. The House is taking a more explicit look in the legislative interim at recent changes to high school curriculum and workforce connections. Like the Senate, the House will be examining issues related to technology access and student safety. Read the full House of Representative's Interim Charges for the Public Education Committee here.  
Announcing the Community Foundation Subcommittee
In August, TEGAC hosted a meeting in Dallas with the Dallas Foundation to bring together community foundations from across the state to discuss the role of community foundations in advocacy. After a great day of discussion and the realization that there is strong alignment around an interest in public education (broadly defined as early childhood to post-secondary success and workforce), it was proposed that the community foundations form a subcommittee under TEGAC to more deeply explore opportunities to collaborate around public education policy and advocacy.

The subcommittee is being chaired by Charlotte Rhodes of the Amarillo Area Foundation. We will be gearing up to help this subcommittee work on specific talking points and meetings with legislators, as well as continue to explore ways to supplement the work of the policy work groups and TEGAC in general by focusing on the roles that community foundations specifically can play in this work. A big thanks to Dallas Foundation and Amarillo Area Foundation for leading this initiative. We are very excited about the potential here. More on this soon!
About Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy 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. 

If you are an advocate, it's hard to find foundation money to support advocacy. If you are a foundation, it's hard to find advocacy organizations that your board of directors will choose to fund. The Consortium bridges the gap between pragmatic advocates and impact-oriented foundations to support advocacy for the 5.15 million children in Texas public schools.

Who is involved in the Consortium?

The Consortium's members include more than 30 family, corporate, community, and private foundations from across Texas. Membership dues are low and grants for advocacy and research pass through the Consortium. Participating foundations represent Texas' smallest communities and largest cities. The Consortium represents the largest foundation policy collaborative in Texas history.  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 by making a financial contribution to the Consortium. Contributions will cover the costs of the Consortium's operations. 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: Alison Waxler, Finance Manager
4315 Guadalupe, Suite 300
Austin, Texas 78751
Tel: 512 472 4483
What does the Consortium do? 
  • Biennial survey of and statewide meetings with foundations to determine common interests and priorities across a huge and diverse state
  • Direct engagement with legislators and staff concerning the priorities of philanthropy without lobbying for specific legislation or bills
  • Pooled grantmaking opportunities with foundations from across Texas to maximize small grants through joint funding of research and advocacy. Research topics have included impact of budget cuts, pre-kindergarten quality, business attitudes on out-of-school time, and middle and high school counselor availability.
  • Partnerships with unusual suspects to highlight research supported by the Consortium, including Chambers of Commerce, Pastors for Texas Children, active duty police officers and sheriffs, and retired United States Admirals and Generals.
  • Engagement with social and print media, including opinion pieces in the state's largest newspapers authored by foundation trustees 

To learn more, please contact Jennifer Esterline, Project Consultant, Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, at jennifermesterline@gmail.com or 512.796.4530. 
2016-17 TEGAC Policy Work Groups
Legislative Interim Charges Announced
Community Foundation Subcommittee
Quick Links

Jennifer Esterline, TEGAC project consultant, at the Philamplify Debate in Washington D.C.
Word about the Consortium model and its great work is getting around! The Consortium was invited to Washington, D.C. by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy to talk about its work in Texas as part of their Philamplify debate on education reform. Check out Jennifer's blog: Bringing Big Texas Thinking to Education Advocacy.  

Jason Sabo presenting at the Exponent Philanthropy Conference
TEGAC was also invited to speak at an Exponent Philanthropy conference in Phoenix in October to discuss catalytic philanthropy by mobilizing foundations around advocacy and public policy. Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy, recognized the work of TEGAC in his recent blog, Is Playing It Cool Holding Us Back in Philanthropy.