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85th Texas Legislative Special Session Recap

On June 6th, Governor Greg Abbott called a special session and listed 20 priorities to be addressed during the 30 day special session, which began on July 18. Gov. Abbott later added school finance reform and Teacher Retirement System TRS-Care funding. The Legislature passed very few of Governor Abbott’s priorities, leaving the possibility of a second special session open. Most notably, the Legislature did not pass either school voucher or bathroom legislation. Additionally, teachers will be missing out on their raises, as the chambers failed to agree on how to finance a teacher pay bump. Perhaps the biggest “victory” of the special session was the extension of important state agencies via sunset legislation, a bill that was held hostage during the regular session that ended in May, and forced Abbott to call the special session in the first place. The Legislature also passed legislation on school finance reform – HB 21 by Representative Dan Huberty – initially a $1.8 billion influx to public schools in Texas, which would have added $1.5 billion to the basic allotment. The Senate stripped the bill down to ~$300m, focused primarily on various special education grants, support for small and rural schools, and extension of ASATR to prevent many districts from shuttering schools. This bill will have little to no effect on the school districts in Dallas County. However, the bill did establish a School Finance Commission to evaluate and suggest changes to Texas’ school finance system. It remains to be seen whether this commission will be a serious effort to overhaul the beleaguered school finance system, but we will keep an eye out as the members are selected and the commission’s efforts are underway. Overall, little was accomplished during the special session – for better or for worse. Our efforts remain on interim charges, such as supporting development of the EC-3 teaching certificate and the Early Childhood Institute at DCCCD.

Bright Spot: Dallas ISD’s Academic Improvement

With the recent release of campus and district level STAAR data for 2016-17, it’s important for The Commit! Partnership to highlight growth in academic achievement among all of our district partners…and none are more important to Dallas County’s success overall than Dallas ISD given its substantial enrollment (158,000+ students) and its relative size (the district educates 1 in 3 County students). In 2016-17, Dallas ISD continued its strong academic progress. Highlights included the following: Math achievement across Grades 3-8 grew another 5% in 2017 at the state’s “Meets” or post-secondary pace level, exceeding the County’s growth of 3%. Since 2012, math achievement has grown a substantial 14% across Grades 3-8, again exceeding the County’s strong growth of 9%. In 2016-17, Dallas ISD reading achievement across Grades 3-8 was flat at the state’s “Meets” standard but actually exceeded the change in County achievement (which declined slightly by 1%). Since 2012, Dallas ISD Grade 3-8 reading achievement has grown 5% vs. 3% for the County. More importantly, reading achievement in the critical area of 3rd grade has grown 8% in just the last two years, reflecting the district’s strong budgetary commitment to early childhood. Achievement growth has been shared across all Dallas ISD ethnicities since 2012, particularly in math where proficiency growth rates for Anglo students (+15%), Hispanic students (+15%) and black students (+11%) have all exceeded County and state growth by several percentage points for those same ethnicities. One of DISD’s most impactful strategies to deliver equity to disadvantaged students has been its “ACE” program, where the district’s more effective teachers (as determined by the district’s innovative evaluation system) are financially incentivized to work together in the district’s most challenged schools. This strategy has been particularly effective at the elementary school level; over its first two years across four pilot elementary schools, math achievement has grown an average of 34% (and now exceeds the district) while reading achievement has grown 19%. ACE will be expanding at the administration’s and board’s direction to six more campuses in Fall 2017, and other area districts are exploring similar strategies based on ACE’s initial success. Based on this cumulative achievement growth, Dallas ISD has made tremendous progress in reducing the number of schools (and students educated within) rated by the state as “Improvement Required”, declining from 43 schools in 2014 to potentially as few as 15 schools in 2017 (final ratings will be released later this week from TEA). Students educated within an IR campus have declined almost 75% during that time frame – a remarkable achievement – and Dallas ISD has substantially led every other large urban district in the state in IR campus reduction. Dallas ISD’s expansion of its Early College programming to eight new comprehensive campuses saw STAAR achievement proficiency at the Meets standard that was 2x to 4x greater than those students who did not enroll in the program while also reflecting higher attendance rates and 9th to 10th grade retention rates. The Early College program will be expanding at the [...]

What Did HB4 Mean for Dallas County Schools?

When House Bill 4 was passed by the 84th Texas legislature in 2015, it was simultaneously applauded and criticized. The author of the bill, state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he wanted “to make sure that we do the right thing for our little kids.” Governor Greg Abbott heralded the bill as a move toward advancing quality Pre-K education. Lawmakers championed the bill as a way to boost quality Pre-K programs. It did not seek to expand Pre-K to serve children who are not eligible under federal guidelines. The bill, they said, was to make sure quality Pre-K was offered, and provided $118 million in grants for school districts and charter schools that adopted new standards for Pre-K curriculum and teacher qualifications, as well as improving parental engagement and progress monitoring measures. Almost two years later - and with the Texas legislature heading into its 85th session - the grant is up for renewal, and without action by the legislature in the upcoming session, the funding will disappear, leaving districts across the state scrambling to maintain quality Pre-K programs with fewer resources. With this in mind, The Commit! Partnership (as part of a statewide effort commissioned by Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, and in partnership with Texans Care for Children) took a deep dive into the data generated since the grant was funded. Specifically, Commit! analyzed HB4 participation and implementation in six districts in Dallas County - Dallas, DeSoto, Duncanville, Irving, Richardson and Mesquite ISDs - and one district in Collin County, McKinney ISD. These districts represent 321,053 students, 64 percent of Dallas County students (not including the students from McKinney ISD), and make up 6 percent of Texas students. Many of the schools participating said they applied for funding for a range of goals meant to enrich their existing Pre-K programs, including enhancing supports for their teachers and aides, strengthening their family engagement programs to equip parents with the ability to engage in learning with their child, and expand their programs to include some full-day options. But a program with an expiration date also caused districts to proceed with some caution. Districts expressed reluctance to use the funds to invest in long-term goals like program expansion or additional teachers for fear that later - if the legislature opted to let the program die either by vote or neglect - they would have to dial back those plans and reduce staffing later. For those same reasons, many did not use the grant funds to expand to a full-day program. In fact, one district (Duncanville ISD) even opted to decline the funds completely because of the insufficient funding for full-day Pre-K, and several opted to only add full-day programs in a few select schools. Make no mistake: high-quality Pre-K is absolutely imperative for Dallas County, and the legislature renewing HB4 will help school districts sustain new quality measures that have been implemented. This will also give additional time to measure the impact of the program in terms of student performance. The [...]

Uplift Education Integrates Data to Drive Student Success

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By |November 30th, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Dallas County Family Empowerment Pilot: How Dallas is Building Brains and the Future

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By |November 16th, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Coppell ISD: Pre-Kindergarten Registration Campaign Increases Pre-K Applications

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By |November 1st, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Readers 2 Leaders and Jubilee Park Help Reverse Summer Reading Loss

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By |October 20th, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Dallas ISD’s ACE Program: Bringing Together Great Educators Leads to Turnaround Success for High-Needs Schools

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Cedar Hill ISD Helps More Students Access Financial Aid and College

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By |September 22nd, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Mesquite ISD: Eco. Dis. Students Outperform the State’s

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