Thursday, February 9, 2017

Transparency and School Choice

In November, I had the opportunity to pose a question to the Lt. Governor during one of his visits to Ft. Worth.  My question focused on two angles, one being transparency and accountability for how dollars under a voucher (by any name) program would be tracked to ensure that funds were spent for intended purposes and the second dealing with how such a program would define accountability for non-ISD campuses.  As I noted in a prior blog, I did not get an answer to either question but have had discussions with the Lt. Governor’s office.  At least there is dialog but whether there is any interest in expanding requirements relating to either transparency or accountability remains to be seen.  For now, the dialog must continue.

I recently received a copy of the “Report on School Mandates: Cost Drivers in Public Education” (click here), a report prepared by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB).  In the introduction, TASB defined the objective as one of identifying state mandates passed from 1995 through the 84th legislative session and how those impact the cost of education.  In the vast majority of cases, these are unfunded.  As a side note, HB798, introduced by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, would require that the legislature define costs of any mandates as passed by the legislature.

I found it particularly interesting as I scanned the report to not only review the summary and description of mandates but also to note the reporting requirements of each.  Another interesting element of this report was to look at how many of these are not directly related to student outcomes.  With all of the focus on outcomes, wouldn’t it make sense that mandates should also be focused on the classroom?

So back to my interaction with the Lt. Governor.  I wonder how many of the requirements imposed on our public schools will be part of the set of requirements for non-ISD campuses.  We’re already starting to get a sense of some of this and there clearly is not a level playing field.  The best example of that lies in the requirement for STAAR testing in public schools and the weighting used in the A-F grading system.  Under SB 3, the only requirement is for a non-ISD campus to adopt “annual administration of a nationally norm-referenced assessment instrument”.  That certainly leaves it wide open for the non-ISD campus. 

The Lt. Governor and his staff have repeatedly stated that accountability for campuses other than public schools lies with the parents; as he has said, they alone know better what is best for their children.  Yet this same belief in parents and their recognition of what is best for their children doesn’t seem to be of importance in public schools?  That makes no sense to me.

Transparency and accountability are two very critical elements of any educational system.  To suggest that the structure is imposed on our public schools but not on other forms of school choice is not fair to parents, students and the communities our schools serve.  The stated goal of the Lt. Governor and school choice proponents, as it is with public school advocates, is to serve the needs of students.  As we undertake this effort, however, transparency and accountability are essential for all forms of school choice as we make education of over 5.4 million Texas public education students a priority.

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