SBOE’s Ratliff defends the public schools

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One of the most dismal aspects about this most dismal of regular sessions was the lack of support for public education among Republicans. Indeed, the infamous Michael Quinn Sullivan went so far as to run TV spots mocking educators–one showed an administrator throwing darts at a board to decide which teachers to fire–in an effort to argue against using the Rainy Day Fund to ease the pain of education cuts.  That’s what I want to do when I grow up. I want to do my part to destroy the future of the state and make sure that we cut the budget as much as possible to ensure that kids grow up ignorant. I’d feel so good about myself. I digress from my purpose. Thomas Ratliff, R-Mt. Pleasant, who won a seat on the State Board of Education in 2010 by defeating former chairman Don McLeroy, distributed some numbers about public education yesterday. I was among those who received his work. The same data can be found in the Quorum Report’s press release section; it was also sent to the Statesman and may appear there. Now, let’s get on with the stats. What Ratliff has done is focus on the difficulties schools have faced as the number of students as grown but the revenue available to schools hasn’t. The 2006 target revenue scheme is a starve-the-beast policy that froze school district revenue, starting in 2006, without making accommodation for enrollment growth, while tying districts’ hands when it came to raising local revenue. This was, in my opinion, the beginning of the end of Republicans’ commitment to public education. From Ratliff: * In the last 10 years, we’ve added 845,000 students to public schools. Of that number, 384,000 are K-5 students. Ratliff does not say so, but I think his point is that these students are often the most difficult to educate because… * In the last 10 years, the number of economically disadvantaged children increased by 897,000. Previously they accounted for 49% of the student population. Now they account for 59%. * Due to the target revenue system, when you consider inflation, schools have experienced an 11% reduction in funding over the past 5 years. Then Ratliff addresses the growth in “non-teachers”: * Campus administration employees account for 2.8% of the staff, compared to 2.6% in 1999-2000. Keep in mind, we’ve added 1.040 campuses and 65 charter schools since then. * Central Administration employees account for only 1% of the staff, compared to 0.9% in 1999-2000. (In other words, there has been no growth in central administration.–pb) * Teachers account for 50.5% of the staff, compared to 51.3% in 1999-2000. (Again, virtually no change in ten years.) * Auxillary staff — cafeteria workers, janitors, maintenance personnel, bus drivers, business office employees — account for 27% of the staff, compared to 27.6% ten years ago. No significant difference. * Aides and support staff (counselors, librarians, physical therapists, nurse) account for 18.7% of the staff today, compared to 17.6% ten years ago. “As you can see,” Ratliff writes, “despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the public education workforce looks remarkably similar to what it did 10 years ago. To look back and compare today’s education staffing to the 1970’s isn’t an ‘apples to apples’ comparison. [Here Ratliff points out significant changes in state and federal regulations, such as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act). One of Ratliff’s pet peeves is the huge growth in state and federal regulations. He writes: * In my opinion, the term “Independent School District” is misleading at best. In fact, I would argue there’s hardly anything “independent” about them. * The word “shall” appears over 2,000 times in the Education Code. * In 1992 the Texas Education Code contained approximately 1,200 pages. In 1993 it was reduced to approximately 1,000 pages. Today, it is approximately 1,500 pages and climbing. This is the WRONG direction in my opinion. Ratliff ends with the good news: * In the last 10 years, the number of exemplary campuses increased by 103% (from 1,296 to 2.637) and the number of recognized campuses has increased by 57% (from 2,009 to 3,160). [This is where I depart from Ratliff. I don’t trust the state’s ratings. I think they’re designed to make things look better than they are.] * The graduation rate for the 2010 class is the highest since Texas began using the TAKS test. * One of the main reason Texas is moving away from the TAKS test is the vast majority of Texas students have mastered the test, so it’s time to RAISE the bar (emphasis is Ratliff’s). [I’d put it this way: maybe the standards were too low.] Ratliff concludes: Many people are asking that our schools do more with less. I would argue that they already are. The problem we will face, when you keep asking them to do more with less, is, before long, you are just stuck with less. Our children deserve better. It’s time to tell Austin and Washington that we want our local schools back. [Ratliff states that the source of his numbers is either TEA or his own research.]

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