Red Apple Project Salutes Sen Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz from Texas introduced legislation this week to provide for education savings accounts for DC elementary and secondary students. Sen. Cruz filed is the Educational Freedom Accounts Act which is modeled after Nevada’s recently passed Education Savings Account law. Education savings account as giving parents the most flexibility in directing their child’s education. The legislation, SB 2455, introduced on January 20, 2016, would dramatically expand school choice in the District of Columbia. The bill provides that very student who has attended public school in the District of Columbia (or entering kindergarten) and who wants to leave DC schools could establish a parent-controlled Education Savings Account would receive up to 90% of DC’s per pupil spending in a parent-controlled Education Savings Account.  The funding would vary based on the parents’ income. Instead of replacing the current DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. this bill allows students receiving scholarships through the DC-OSP to use the savings account option for greater flexibility. Those students won’t have to use their voucher just for private school tuition. The education savings account funds could then be used for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, curriculum for self-study, individual courses or extra-curricular activities at public and charter schools, and other qualified education expenses including college. Participation by non-public schools and other providers is optional, but the legislation includes safeguards to prohibit government intervention and overregulation for those choosing to accept funds. School choice has the potential to transform the educational delivery system and encourage a student-focused approach to education as well as educational...

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Five Failing ISD’s in Texas Get the Axe

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Michael Williams has ordered five school district closures — the most in Texas history. These closures impact students in five school districts, which are failing academic or financial tests. These districts are: La Marque Independent School District, in Galveston County, Premont ISD, near Corpus Christi, Jonesboro ISD, an hour west of Waco, Pearsall ISD, in the Rio Grande Valley, and Marlin ISD, southeast of Waco. Watchdog.org reported this week that more than 10,000 Texas students have been relegated to these districts which have been failing for years.  We counted the students as just over 6,500 – but that is still a large number of students which are not getting the education they deserve and that taxpayers are paying for. The TEA revokes accreditation of districts that fail to meet scholastic or fiscal benchmarks for four consecutive years.  Like many small districts around the state, the five failing systems have experienced declining enrollment at a time when enrollment across the state is growing. While it is a painful process for the community, education is the ticket out of poverty for these students.  Assigning them to failing schools is a unacceptable. Who is to blame? While the state and federal government provide some funding, mandates and guidelines, public schools are the run by elected local school boards, which hire a superintendent who is responsible for the district’s administration. While the school board members serve without compensation, the superintendents of the five school districts identified for closure earn hefty salaries. And what were the Superintendents making in these schools which had been failing for years?  It may surprise some citizens to know. According to the TEA’s website: La Marque ISD’s superintendent is making $138,054 and has 2,300 students; Premont ISD’s superintendent makes $120,000 and has 507 students; Jonesboro ISD’s superintendent makes $85,000 with 190 students; Pearsall ISD’s superintendent makes $130,000 and has 2,560 students; and Marlin ISD’s Superintendent makes $140,000 and the district has only 945 students.   Superintendents in these five failing school districts made a total of more than $613,000 in salary alone, not counting other perks usually provided in superintendent contracts.  These superintendents had in their combined districts only 6,500 students in a total of 18 schools. Salaries are set by the local school boards, often with input by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators as they often provide the proposed contracts. The state average economically disadvantaged students is 60% and two of the failing ISD’s had lower than average percentages of disadvantaged students – La Marque ISD had 53% and Jonesboro had 54%. Some ISD’s appear to have more money than sense. Premont ISD spends over...

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Fate of Charter Schools Uncertain in Washington State

Washington state’s Supreme Court has become the first in the nation to decide that taxpayer-funded charter schools are unconstitutional, reasoning that charters are not truly public schools because they aren’t governed by elected boards and therefore not accountable to voters. The opinion, released Friday, weeks after the school year began, breaks with high courts in several other states that had faced similar cases challenging charter schools’ legality. It means the future is uncertain for the state’s nine charter schools and the 1,200 students who attend them. Stay tuned – we will be providing...

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Texas Schools Will Be Getting Report Cards Too

How good is your neighborhood school?  Many taxpayers and even parents don’t know how their local schools are rated.  While students get report cards, why not schools? In the recent legislative session, State lawmakers passed a bill which will enhance accountability that by providing an A-through-F ratings for individual school campuses.  Currently, districts and campuses are assigned a rating of “met standard” or “needs improvement” based solely on how students perform of state-mandated standardized STAAR tests (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test.) Under the new system, five measures including the STARR and end-of-course exam scores would be used to rate schools.  Americans for Prosperity-Texas supported this legislation introduced by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).   The law also calls for a new commission to study assessment and accountability issues. These new tools including the A-F campus rating system and the creation of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessment and Accountability, will provide the public more information and help improve schools.   The new ratings will be based on progress made on the STARR tests from one year to the next as well as how well schools are able to close the gab between the students scoring high on the tests and students in groups that historically scored lower. Additionally, graduation rates, dropout rates, attendance and AP completion rates as well as college readiness and completion of other programs including technical education certification will be among the things considered.  The new law, passed as HB 2804, will finalized over the next two years with the first set of ratings to be released for the 2017-18 school year.  In addition to putting a new rating system in place, HB 2804 creates the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessment and Accountability (TCNGAA).  The 15-member commission is charged with creating new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. The commission will be comprised of the chairs of the House Public Education and Senate Education Committees and the Committees on Higher Education, a member of the State Board of Education, educators, an assessment research expert, a parent representative and civic, business and community leaders from across the...

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$400,000 Checks & Grand Pianos: The Edgewood ISD Story

Who gets a pink slip and a check for $400,000?  The superintendent of one of the poorest school districts in Texas, that’s who. Here is yet another example of why putting more money into the Texas school system doesn’t help the kids. Edgewood ISD is giving a pink slip (they call it a buy-out) and a $400,000 check to outgoing Superintendent Jose Cervantes. This move will cost the iSD an add’l $200K in state funding, so this district – where 94% of the kids are economically disadvantaged – is out $600,000.   http://tablet.olivesoftware.com/Olive/Tablet/SanAntonioExpressNews/SharedArticle.aspx?href=SAEN%2F2015%2F09%2F02&id=Ar00103 No wonder only 50% of the education dollars are spent on instruction.  Edgewood ISD is the ISD which two years ago spent $150,000 to purchase a Steinway grand piano.  That would have paid the salaries of three teachers for a year.   At this district with 12,000 students, out of the 1,500 staff at the school, only 700 are teachers.  The Edgewood ISD superintendent was the among the highest paid in the San Antonio area, particularly considering the size of the district. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/San-Antonio-school-districts-with-the-6327542.php.  This is an ISD where 98% of the students are Hispanic, 99% are economically disadvantaged, the dropout rate is double the state average and only 1% of those tested for college readiness were deemed to be at or above criteria.   Yet the district spends well above the state average in spending per pupil.  It isn’t only how much we spend on education where it is spent that counts.  Sadly, this appears to another case of an ISD which has put the adults in the system before the kids....

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Some Colorado Students & Parents Dealt a Blow Today by Colorado Supreme Court Decision

June 29, 2015 Some Colorado Students and Parents Dealt a Blow Today by Colorado Supreme Court Decision  By Peggy Venable, Sr. Policy Fellow, AFP Foundation Today, in a blow to education freedom, the Colorado Supreme Court denied families in Douglas County Colorado school district the right to school choice.   AFP Colorado state director Michael Fields said “We are certainly disappointed in today’s decision. Unfortunately, the courts have decided to put special interests above the needs of our students.”  Here is the full statement AFP Colorado issued today: http://americansforprosperity.org/colorado/article/afp-colorado-disappointed-in-school-choice-court-decision/ The Friedman Foundation issued a statement: http://www.edchoice.org/Blog/June-2015/Colorado-Supreme-Court-Rules-Douglas-County-Vouche In March 2011, the Douglas County School Board enacted a pilot school choice program to determine whether providing greater choice to its residents yields benefits for its students similar to those realized by programs enacted in other states.  Under the program, the school district offers modest scholarships to 500 students. The scholarships can be used at private schools that parents believe are best for their kids. Douglas County school district had voted to provide scholarships to 500 students, allowing the parents to select the school best for their child.  The state court’s ruling hinged on what is commonly referred to as the Blaine Amendment The Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit and the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice, has an extensive background on the Douglas County decision and how it is positively impacting students: https://www.ij.org/douglas-co-colorado-school-choice-background. It is important to note, as IJ does, that the Blaine Amendment which exists in many states, is an outgrowth anti-Catholic sentiment.  Here is the Blaine Amendment as explained by the Friedman Foundation:  Blaine Amendments, still found in about two-thirds of the states’ constitutions, came about in the 1800s during a time when America’s public schools were distinctly Protestant in orientation. The growing Catholic immigrant population found the Protestant public schools were inhospitable to their families because of their religious differences, so Catholics sought public funding to start their own schools. To maintain Protestant control of public education, Blaine Amendments were created. Blaine Amendments prohibited the public funding of any “sectarian” schools or institutions. It’s important to note that the term “sectarian,” during that period in time, was synonymous with “Catholic.” In fact, after the passage of Blaine Amendments, the teaching of the Protestant religion remained in public schools for many years. The following is a statement issued today by IJ: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  June 29, 2015 CONTACT: J. Justin Wilson, (703) 682-9320 ext. 206 Colo. Supreme Court Denies Families’ Right to School Choice   Institute for Justice and Intervenors Will Consider  Appealing to the United States Supreme Court Arlington, Va.—In an unfortunate setback for the right of parents to choose the schools that are best for their children, this morning the...

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Gov. Abbott Appoints Donna Bahorich SBOE Chairman

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed Donna Bahorich as Chairman of the powerful State Board of Education (SBOE).   The SBOE is a 15- member board elected by Texas voters and has responsibility for curriculum and textbooks for Texas public schools as well as overseeing the state’s massive Permanent School Fund.     SBOE member and lobbyist Thomas Ratliff has expressed his disapproval of the appointment, in a Texas Tribune article : Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich’s appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job. That is a narrow window to determine who qualifies.  Should all public school teachers have their kids in public schools? (Many do not.)  Public education is important to our state’s economy and to all citizens.   The real question is this: should a lobbyist who uses his own daughter’s testing experience to set policies be making education decisions impacting all Texas students?  More pointedly, should a registered lobbyist even be serving on the State Board of Education?   Having kids in public school today is hardly a prerequisite for serving on the SBOE.   Nor do should we simply say it is a good appointment because those who advocate for one-size-fits-all public-school-only policies criticize the appointment (though it provides another layer of information).   The criticism from the Left is likely because Bahorich has worked for now-Lt Gov Dan Patrick, an advocate of empowering parents to make decisions regarding their children’s education.  Moreover, she has a BA in financial management and a MA in counseling.  She has extensive experience volunteering in her community, and an impressive professional resume which includes financial experience.  As Manager, Mountain Bell Telephone Company, she lists her accomplishments as: Negotiated multi-million dollar contracts Led development of software programs to track expenditures of over $700 million Forecasted and monitored $40 million corporate budge One of top 5 of 317 managers at Mountain Bell The SBOE oversees the Permanent School Fund (PSF) – a fund created in 1854 to benefit public schools in Texas.  It has grown from $2 million to $36.3 billion and the interest of that is used to purchase instructional materials while the corpus is used to guarantee school district bond debt, providing schools with better credit ratings and lower interest rates.   While Bahorich has extensive experience in financial management, her key critic on the SBOE is a lobbyist.  According to the Texas Ethics Commission filings, Robert Thomas Ratliff (he files his lobby reports using Robert Thomas Ratliff but campaigns as Thomas Ratliff) had 11 clients and was paid as much as $350,000 in 2015 to lobby.   According to Ratliff’s campaign contribution reports, his major donor is Charles...

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