Education

Two Post writers take a critical look at the high- and lowlights of school life throughout the county

GAZE           Travis Gumphrey

Titles of shame and pride

13 county schools fail state’s reading and math review

By Travis Gumphrey

FIVE schools in two of the county’s cities have been earmarked for “priority” attention in a new list of low- and high-performing campuses throughout Texas.
And eight campuses in four cities have been given “focus” status in the list, which was compiled by the Texas education agency in a review of reading and math programs.
But four county schools have been given “high progress” status and one has earned the list’s “high performance” top rating.
The list covers Texas’ Title I schools – those with at least 40 per cent of their students from low-income families – and divides the campuses into two main categories, low-performing priority and focus schools and high-performing reward schools.
Among the hundreds of schools given priority status because their students are rated among the state’s lowest achievers in reading and math, three are in La Marque and two in Galveston.
In La Marque, the lowest-scoring schools are Premier Learning Academy, La Marque middle school and Simms elementary.
The affected Galveston independent school district campuses are Weiss middle school and AIM College And Career Preparatory high school.
Schools with focus status are higher in number than priority schools, but the numbers for Galveston County are still lower than in many other areas of the state.
In Galveston, they are Parker elementary, KIPP Coastal Village and Early Childhood University.
La Marque’s focus schools are La Marque high school, Inter-City elementary and Westlawn elementary.
Hitchcock ISD has two focus schools, Hitchcock high school and Stewart elementary, and Ed White Memorial high school in League City is also listed as a focus school.
All the schools given priority and focus status are to be allocated extra funding and turnaround programs by the state through its center for district and school support.
The list does include some bright spots for Galveston County schools, albeit very few.
In the reward schools category, among the hundreds listed throughout the state by TEA, there is only one high-performance school in the county.
The school with this distinction is Austin middle in Galveston ISD.
County campuses listed as high-progress are greater in number but can be found only in Clear Creek ISD. They are Clear View education center, Bay elementary and Lawrence Stewart elementary.
Identification of the schools is a part of the Texas’ conditional waiver from the US department of education for specific provisions of the federal Elementary And Secondary Education Act of 2001, commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, and is based on statewide assessments under the state accountability system and graduation rates.

Title I school definitions

TITLE I schools are defined as campuses with a student population of at least 40 per cent from low-income families.
Priority schools are defined as “Title I high schools with graduation rates of less than 60 per cent and/or schools with the lowest achievement on reading and math system safeguards at all-student level”.
Focus schools are defined as “Title I schools ranked by the widest gaps between reading and math performance of the federal student groups and safeguard targets of 75 per cent”.
High-progress schools are identified as Title I schools in the top 25 per cent in annual improvement and/or in the top 25 per cent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps.
High-performance schools are identified as Title I schools with distinctions based on reading and math performance and, at high-school level, with the highest graduation rates.

 

Teachers: We can’t afford to be ill now

Union says rising insurance costs wipe out annual raises

By Travis Gumphrey

TEACHERS and other Texas public-school employees are making less money each year and taking risks with their health because of rising school-district healthcare insurance premiums, a teachers’ union claims.
The Texas branch of American Federation Of Teachers makes the claim in its report of a survey that revealed that, each year, higher school-district healthcare premiums negate any pay raises teachers receive.
And comments from the 1,885 school employees and 212 superintendents surveyed by Texas AFT reveal that many teachers are not scheduling doctor’s appointments or medical treatments because the costs are prohibitive.
One survey respondent said: “Last year I delayed seeking care for a respiratory infection due to the high out-of-pocket costs. When I became so ill I had to see the doctor, I was sent for surgery to remove a bronchial obstruction. Had I not been so worried about the cost, I would have sought treatment sooner and avoided surgery.”
Texas AFT president Louis Malfaro said the findings are cause for concern.
“The statistics on rising healthcare premium costs in our survey were no surprise, but the stories school employees shared were poignant and often disturbing,” he said.
“This survey points to a critical need for the state legislature to address the stagnant funding for healthcare, since the state’s contribution to employee premiums hasn’t increased since it began contributing in 2002.”
In 2001, Texas passed a law requiring school districts to maintain or increase their level of local funding for healthcare coverage for employees and adding state funding specifically allocated for health insurance.
The state also created an insurance plan called TRS-ActiveCare. School districts that currently employ about half of all public-school employees participate in ActiveCare and the rest are covered by local plans sponsored by their districts.
The law initially provided for a state contribution of $75 per month and required a minimum district contribution of $150 a month for all employees in ActiveCare and on local health plans.
According to Texas AFT, the combined minimum of $225 from the state and each district covered about two thirds of the cost of employee-only health insurance when the law was first passed. Today, however, the proportions are nearly reversed, with school employees shouldering about 60 per cent of their own health-insurance premiums and even more for those covering dependents.
Meanwhile, the union says the survey shows health benefits have been reduced. It said 94 per cent of its respondents reported facing rising health-insurance costs in the past several years and 62 per cent reported a decrease in benefits.
Even though some districts provide additional assistance to cover premiums above the minimum, nearly half of all employees surveyed reported small or no pay increases due in part to rising healthcare costs.
One respondent said: “Any raises have come with higher health costs. When we hear there will be a pay raise, we joke that it must be time for the insurance to go up again.
“In ten years, my take-home pay has risen only $200 per month and all my raises go to rising health-insurance costs.”
Respondents who cover dependent family members reported spending a minimum of $500 per month for coverage, with many paying around $1,000.
The union also said it is common for coverage for children and spouses to be dropped because of the high costs.
“If we’re serious about attracting new, quality teachers to the profession, then we need to get serious about ensuring they aren’t getting pay cuts each year to an already modest salary,” Malfaro said.
“Texas AFT is determined to achieve affordable healthcare for all education employees and retirees. Our ultimate goal is fully paid coverage for every employee and 50 per cent for their families – health coverage as good as the governor’s plan.”

Bernard, Lora-Marie            Lora-Marie Bernard

Pre-K bill heads to Abbott despite Creighton objection

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A BILL that would create a statewide pre-kindergarten program is going to the governor’s office for signature following senate approval on Thursday.
The 25-6 senate vote passing house bill 4 is among the first of governor Greg Abbott’s emergency agenda items to reach his desk.
But among the senators voting against the measure was Republican Brandon Creighton, whose district includes parts of Galveston County.
After the vote, Creighton said: “I support the intent of obtaining more data for pre-kindergarten programs and tying them to outcomes. However, we do not need to spend more money to receive information and data that school districts should already be providing the state. Additional revenue should be spent only after verifiable data and measurable results are gathered.”
He added: “I applaud Governor Abbott’s efforts to enhance the pre-kindergarten program for families that do not have the luxury of keeping their child in a home-learning environment, but our current pre-kindergarten funding level of $1.5 billion is more than sufficient to reach that goal.”
Abbott issued his own statement applauding the senate for supporting high-quality educational standards for pre-K Texans.
“The process of elevating our state’s education system to be first in the nation begins in the critical early learning years of Texas children,” he said.
“Today’s vote is essential to implementing high-quality education standards for Texas pre-K students, providing them with the tools necessary to succeed, and improving accountability and transparency measures for participating pre-K programs across the state.
“Working together we can – and will – strengthen the foundation for the future success of our state’s early education system for generations to come.”
House bill 4 would create a free, high-quality pre-kindergarten program beginning with the 2015-16 school year. Districts and open-enrollment charter schools could opt into the program and receive additional funding per eligible student.
A high-quality pre-kindergarten program would be subject to requirements that apply to existing pre-kindergarten programs.
Supporters say the bill would give districts the flexibility and incentives to boost the quality of their pre-kindergarten programs.
These programs serve students most at risk of not succeeding from kindergarten through third grade, including English-language learners and students from low-income households.
Districts and charter schools that adopt the voluntary standards could use the extra funding to hire new teachers, extend their pre-K programs from half-day to full-day sessions, or otherwise improve program quality.
Supporters say they prefer the opt-in approach rather than mandating full-day pre-kindergarten because it would give districts the opportunity to expand or enhance existing half-day programs.
Districts that opt-in would receive state funding of up to $1,500 per student and for one half-day of the weighted daily attendance.
Opponents say the bill would create an expensive new pre-kindergarten program that might not achieve the improvements in early-schooling success that supporters claim.
The fiscal note reports that the bill would cost $643.9m in the 2016-17 school year. Although the new program would be limited to certain students, opponents say the bill could create a slippery slope toward universal full-day pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old in Texas. That would increase the price tag and require districts to build new classrooms, they say.