The Texas economy has been among the fastest growing in the nation for a number of years.  With more major corporate relocations and expansions than any other state, Texas is expected to continue to outperform most areas.  Here is a look at key patterns affecting performance and a summary of my latest long-term forecast.  The United States is currently in the process of negotiating or renegotiating several trade agreements which are vitally important. The fewer impediments to trade, the better the Texas economy will perform. About $1 of every $6 of U.S. trade is from Texas; the future of trade and the future of Texas are inextricably linked. view article arw

Parents, taxpayers and school board members like me tend to get sticker shock when we learn how much money our school districts have to send back to the state as part of the recapture, or “Robin Hood,” program. This often-criticized element of our school-finance system redistributes locally collected property taxes to the state to distribute to lower-wealth districts and charter schools. I have come to learn, however, that recapture is both an innovative system to boost equity in education and a tiny piece of the broader challenges with our school-finance system. Texas enjoys a growing economy, and our public school-finance system should give all children a fair shot, regardless of where they live. Though it is the state’s responsibility to provide a substantial share of school funding, Texas relies heavily on local property taxes to fund our schools. view article arw

When the state leadership fails to adequately pay for public education, as it has failed to do for years, parents and local businesses step up, not only with higher property tax payments but also, in many cases, with private donations.  These donations, although well-intended, worsen an already inequitable funding system, not only among school districts but also among schools within the same district. And, to no surprise, the low-income kids who often need the most help are left behind. view article arw

In the spring, fifth-graders across Texas took standardized tests to measure their comprehension in reading and math, just like they do every year. But when the scores came back for 2018, the Dallas Independent School District saw something highly unusual: Students at Blanton Elementary, previously one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, had outscored their affluent fifth-grade peers in neighboring Highland Park ISD. Blanton, where 91.7 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, is one of Dallas ISD’s Accelerating Campus Excellence — or ACE — schools, where teachers with strong performance records are recruited and paid more for longer hours and then supported by extra counselors and strategic administrators. view article arw

(Austin)—The Local Government Purchasing Cooperative Board returned approximately $8.4 million in the form of rebates to 1,001 members of the BuyBoard online purchasing system in 2017-18. Established as a nonprofit to support and serve public schools, municipalities, counties, local government agencies, and nonprofits, the Cooperative has rebated a total of just over $49.7 million to members since 2006. view article arw

Austin ISD rolled out a long list of proposed budget cuts to help save $55 million over the next several years. This year, AISD faces a $29 million budget shortfall and the district expects that number to grow unless cuts are made. One of the proposals includes gradually closing the doors on twelve Austin schools. Parents at Lee Lewis Campbell Elementary School in East Austin say they hope their children's school isn't on the list. "I would be highly upset, I love that school," says parent Frances Benavides. view article arw

Facing a shortfall and declining enrollment, the Austin Independent School District is considering consolidating schools, among other options, to cut its deficit by as much as $55 million over the next few years. A budget document sent to the Austin School Board shows the district is considering two possible options for consolidation. One would consolidate 12 under-enrolled campuses – most of them in East Austin – saving the district $12 million over the next three years. At a news conference today, Superintendent Paul Cruz said the 12 schools have not yet been identified. view article arw

A government watchdog group asked Georgia’s inspector general to look into whether a group that did work for the State Charter Schools Commission violated state law by not reporting it paid for agency staffers to attend events across the country and offered them stipends.  The filing by Common Cause Georgia on Tuesday was the second such action since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the vendor gifts to employees at the commission in September. view article arw

Twelve schools could be on the chopping block as the Austin Independent School District looks for ways to stay afloat. It is facing a $29 million shortfall this year and projects even fewer dollars in the coming years. The district will exhaust it's reserves in a few years if nothing changes. view article arw

Parents of students living outside the Tomball ISD attendance boundaries will have an opportunity to apply to enroll their children in selected Tomball ISD schools for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year through the Year-Round Limited Open Enrollment program. Limited Open Enrollment allows school districts to enroll students residing outside their district boundary lines. The program will help Tomball ISD because state funding is based on enrollment. view article arw

An early estimate shows Gov. Greg Abbott's proposal for a school finance fix would provide three times more dollars for property tax relief as it would additional money for school districts in 2020.  That gap would widen to five times more by 2021, costing the state an additional $3 billion over that time period, according to a Texas Education Agency estimate released Tuesday during a meeting of the state's school finance commission.  In raw numbers, estimates show Abbott's proposal would give taxpayers a break of $992 million in 2020, which would increase to $3.7 billion by 2023. It would provide $301 million additional funds for school districts in 2020, a figure that would drop to $74 million by 2023. view article arw

Directing more money toward schools educating poor children, updating outdated funding formulas and curbing property tax growth are among ways the state should overhaul its beleaguered school finance system, according to draft recommendations made by a state commission on Tuesday.  The final report from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance is due to the Legislature by the end of the month. The Legislature, in lieu of pumping more money into Texas classrooms, created the commission last year to develop ways to fix the way the state funds public schools.  The commission has spent the last nine months learning about the state’s complex funding formula, how to redirect money to districts that need it the most. The group also has studied how to drop property taxes, the main source of local revenue for schools, a goal some say runs counter to bolstering school funding. view article arw

With the additional funds expected through Frisco ISD’s tax ratification election, the district is adding 80 new positions as well as investing in new technology and adding a classroom supplies stipend. FISD board of trustees approved amending the 2018-19 budget during the Dec. 10 meeting to allow for the additional expenses. view article arw

Ferris is the first independent school district in Ellis County to incorporated solar panels and the superintendent calls the partnership with the vendor a win-win. “We are trying to be progressive as it relates to energy efficiencies and to be good stewards of tax dollars,” said Ferris ISD Superintendent James Hartman. A plan to utilize renewable energy from the sun was approved in a board of trustees meeting in November 2017. It then took a full year before the first solar panel was installed. view article arw

School finance is priority number one for many Texas lawmakers, but some proposals include strict limits for local government budgets. Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, renewed last month a proposal from January to cap annual increases by local taxing entities at 2.5 percent. If that cap had been in place the past five years, Austin leaders said they’d have to dismiss half the police force, 90 percent of the fire department or shut down the Parks and Recreation Department. view article arw

The 86th Legislature will begin in 2019 with a familiar set of particularly gnarly issues: public school finance, property taxes and a tight state budget, to name a few.  The 150 state representatives and 31 senators working on those problems will be working in a new political atmosphere, with Democratic gains in both the House and Senate—both still remain in Republican control—and a new speaker in charge in the House.  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both fresh off re-election, return to leadership roles. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, completes the leadership set. He announced commitments from 109 House members to succeed outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. The vote will not take place until the first day of the legislative session on Jan. 8, but Bonnen’s announcement cleared the field of other candidates. view article arw

After Frisco ISD voters passed a tax proposition in November, changes may be made to the state’s funding formula for school districts in the upcoming Texas legislative session. The changes, proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott, could slow the revenue growth for FISD and other school districts. The passage of FISD’s tax ratification election in November increased the district’s maintenance and operations tax rate to the state maximum of $1.17 per $100 valuation. The district also decreased the interest and sinking tax rate, doing what is called a tax swap. The M&O increase is expected to bring in an additional $35 million per year for the district as well as cause FISD to resume paying into recapture a year earlier than projected. view article arw

As we’ve traveled the state during the interim, people have told us they are primarily concerned about two things: property tax relief and school finance.  They also recognize these two issues are intertwined—both need to be addressed simultaneously. They want measurable relief in their tax statement and they want more investment in their public schools. Solving these issues will require funding commitments from the state—far more than an additional billion dollars in a $50 billion dollar education system. view article arw

Shoulders hunched and a worried expression plastered on his face, Principal Brian Sparks walked briskly through the halls of Lamar Elementary toward the cafeteria. It was lunchtime on the first day of school in August, and Sparks alternated between directing students precariously balancing their lunch trays and milk cartons to their seats and helping calm a shrieking, red-faced kindergartner who refused to eat until teachers retrieved her mother. view article arw

At the final meeting of Austin ISD's Budget Stabilization Task Force on Nov. 14, Eric Ramos pleaded with the committee to recommend cost-saving measures that would avoid impacting teachers and the students they serve. "When we're making these cuts, it feels like we're only making them in one place: the classroom," Ramos told the dozen or so exhausted task force volunteers assembled in the library of Martin Middle School. view article arw

One of the key issues in the upcoming legislative session will be school finance. That’s the word from the legislators — Rep. Eddie Lucio III, Rep. Oscar Longoria and Rep. Ryan Guillen — who spoke yesterday at the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Luncheon. They discussed items that will be important for the 86th Legislative Session. view article arw

Corsicana Independent School District received a rating of “Superior Achievement” under the Texas’ schools Financial Integrity Rating System financial accountability rating system. The 2017 — 2018 ratings are based on annual financial reports provided to Texas Education Agency by districts and charters from the 2016 — 2017 school year. Created by the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001, FIRST is designed to encourage public schools to better manage their financial resources in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes. view article arw

North Zulch Independent School District officials announced that the district received a rating of “A” for “Superior Achievement” under Texas’ School FIRST financial accountability rating system. The “Superior Achievement” rating is the state’s highest, demonstrating the quality of North Zulch ISD’s financial management and reporting system. “We are very pleased with North Zulch ISD’s School FIRST rating,” said North Zulch ISD Superintendent Alan Andrus. “This rating shows that our district is making the most of our taxpayers’ dollars. This rating shows that NZISD’s schools are accountable not only for student learning, but also for achieving these results cost-effectively and efficiently.” view article arw

Two years after receiving $6.3 million in additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR), Decatur ISD received just $89,902 this year in the form of a hardship grant. Boyd and Slidell were the only two Wise County districts to receive a payment as the state continues to weed out the funding program ASATR put in place in 2006 when property taxes were cut by one-third. With ASATR, the state guaranteed to keep funding levels per student the same as districts received in 2005-06. The funding of ASATR was pulled in 2017 with the legislature establishing a $100 million hardship grant program for 2017-18 and $50 million for 2018-19. view article arw

The full commission will meet again Tuesday, December 11, and Wednesday, December 19, at 10 a.m. A December 5 meeting was canceled. read more arw

Dallas ISD discusses a revamp to attract more private money for district expenses  Dallas education leaders say they need a more aggressive way to funnel private donations to schools, especially with state funding on the decline.  More wealthy suburban school districts such as Highland Park, Plano and Carroll have raised millions from private donors over the years through education foundations. The money can be used for almost anything, including college-prep, teacher grants and even staff salaries. view article arw

Houston ISD administrators on Monday forecast a budget deficit of about $76 million in 2019-2020, which would require a second consecutive year of significant cuts and a freeze on virtually all employee salaries. District leaders cautioned that the projected deficit could be reduced in the coming months if conservative estimates for property value increases are exceeded. HISD leaders also floated the possibility of asking voters to approve a tax increase that could generate up to $130 million dollars for district operations, though Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said she would not recommend seeking an increase amid administrative and governance tumult. view article arw

Inside Texas Politics (12/2/18)

December 0407:45 AM

Inside Texas Politics began with a discussion about the upcoming legislative session. Top state lawmakers have said that reforming the school finance system and lowering property taxes are top priories. Republican State Representative Jeff Leach from Collin County and Democratic State Representative-elect Ana-Maria Ramos from North Dallas joined host David Schechter. Schechter filled in for Jason Whitely. Joining in the questioning was Bud Kennedy from the Star-Telegram. Leach and Ramos discussed the 2019 legislative session. view article arw

On Friday, officials with Canutillo Independent School District announced that their district received honors in two different fields. CISD officials first shared that the district is one of six to be recognized for having a Model Parent and Family Engagement Program. The district is being honored for making their parent and family engagement an integral part of their culture, via active participation in programs, communication and collaboration between the students, school, and parents. view article arw

Spring Hill ISD trustees will meet with a consultant Wednesday to officialy start their search for a permanent superintendent. The board hired Texas Association School Boards’ Executive Search Services to find a new chief after Superintendent Steve Snell was named the lone finalist by Liberty Hill ISD this month.  Trustees hired former Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend to lead the district in the interim. view article arw

La Joya ISD went from an “A” to a “B” in this year’s F.I.R.S.T. report for 2017-2018. Before the La Joya Independent School District’s regularly called board of trustees meeting, the district held a public meeting to hear the state Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (F.I.R.S.T) report from Assistant Superintendent of Administration and Finance Alfredo Vela. view article arw

Texas Commission on School Finance

November 3005:30 AM

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance will meet November 30 at 1 p.m. in Room E1.016 of the Texas Capitol. On the agenda are the recommendations from the Revenues Working Group. Watch the meeting online. - Agenda read more arw

Valuable legislative updates from presenters who are working for the children of Texas. One-on-one sessions with the state’s keenest school finance and legal minds. Perfect conference for Superintendents, Business Officials, and Board Members.Excellent networking opportunity view article arw

Calhoun City Schools Chief Financial Officer Dee Wrisley was recognized by Superintendent Michele Taylor during Monday’s board meeting for being recently identified as a finalist on the state level for the 2018 Financial Innovator of the Year. Taylor said Arista Financial Group sponsors the award each year and announces the finalists and winner at the Fall Annual Georgia Association of School Business Officials Conference in Augusta. “We are so very proud of her for being recognized as a finalist,” Taylor said. “She does an outstanding job for Calhoun City Schools. She’s been a financial officer for several school districts, but we are blessed because we have her now.”   view article arw

Springtown ISD board of trustees approved the district’s 2017-18 financial audit during their meeting Monday at the Springtown ISD Administration Office. The district added about $3 million to the fund balance during the year and is now about $1 million short of the state’s recommended optimum fund balance, Springtown ISD Superintendent Mike Kelley said. Increases in student enrollment and property values allowed the district to add to the fund balance. The tax ratification election, approved by voters, also increased revenue. Kelley said he expects the district to add more to fund balance by the next audit. view article arw