2:00 p.m.

 

On the second day of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's policy orientation, TCTA sat in on a panel discussion of how to save money in education. Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) talked about the need to reform school finance to address inequities; he maintained that the best schools are the ones with great teachers, great administrators and involved parents, not necessarily the ones with the most money. Patrick said Texas has increased education spending five-fold (factoring in enrollment growth) and we still have inordinate numbers of Latino and African-American male students dropping out. His solution is to free up high-performing districts from state mandates, sending state money with fewer strings but holding districts more accountable for how the funds are spent and the results obtained. He noted that money should be shifted from administration into the classroom, and said that the last place the money should come out of is the classroom. However, Patrick supports eliminating hard class-size caps and replacing them with a district-wide average. He agreed with a school district official in the audience who argued that schools in some areas of her district could provide a great education with 30 students to a classroom, while other schools might need a 16:1 ratio.

 

Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) encouraged legislators to "think outside the box;" among his ideas are continuing to move from hardbound textbooks to technology, and allowing students who perform at a certain level of a standardized test to be exempt from testing the following year. He said data from TEA show that a student with a test score well over the passing standard is extremely likely to do as well the following year - so additional testing of that student is a waste of resources. Schools should, instead, be focusing on lower-performing students. He acknowledged that his proposal might not conform to federal testing requirements under NCLB, but posed the possibility of obtaining a waiver from the federal law.