Education

Austin ISD, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Texas A&M University, charter schools, legislative issues, and anything else related to K-12, public education, higher education and workforce development in Central Texas, Travis County, and Austin.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program brings approximately 1,700 foreign students to the United States every year to study for one year or longer.
Fulbright logo courtesy fulbright.state.gov; UT photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

Women from Sub-Saharan Africa participating in the Fulbright Foreign Student Program have gathered this week in Austin to participate in a women’s leadership seminar.

The seminar was designed to teach the women in the program how they can use the knowledge they gained in the U.S. to better their communities and themselves when they return to their homes. Participants arrived in Austin on Tuesday and the seminar will continue through Sunday.

Nomoa Mazwai is a South African participant in the program and has been studying economics at Fordham University. She plans to work in education when she returns home.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, eager to get an education under the new post-Sept. 11 GI Bill.

Many vets looking for a school find they are inundated by sales pitches from institutions hungry for their government benefits. Now, lawmakers are looking for ways to protect vets without narrowing their education choices.

Photo by KUT News

The Austin school district has a budget of almost a billion dollars to spend next year, and it wants your input on how to do it.

AISD is hosting two public meetings on its preliminary budget and facilities master plan this month. The first meeting is tonight, at Reagan High School, 7104 Berkman Drive, 6-8:30 p.m.

As KUT News previously reported, the 2012-13 preliminary budget would increase spending slightly while assuming the district will lose $8.7 million in federal money and $53.6 million in state funding.

Photo by KUT News

Seeking to boost students’ on-time graduation rates, the University of Texas is refining its orientation program.

A recent report from UT’s Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates looked at ways to increase four year graduation rates. As KUT News wrote at the time of the report’s release, UT’s four-year graduation rate is currently about 50 percent, and the university wants to increase that amount to 70 percent by 2016. Speeding up graduation rates is seen as one solution to the problem of crowded and increasingly expensive college educations.

School Districts Take Advantage of STAAR Rule Change

Mar 21, 2012
Photo by Rune Mathisen, Texas Tribune

As the first of 2.5 million Texas public school students prepare to take new state-mandated standardized tests next week, ninth graders in at least a third of the state’s school districts won’t have to worry about how the test will affect their end-of-year grades. 

As of Tuesday, 405 of the state’s roughly 1,200 school districts had told the Texas Education Agency that they would not factor State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores into students’ grades for the 2011-12 school year.

The districts have said they will defer the implementation of a rule that says the new end-of-course exams must account for 15 percent of high school students' grades for one year. They are taking advantage of a change in the rollout of the exams the Texas Education Agency announced in February. For many, it was a welcome compromise as the state transitioned to the new system.

Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Ask Phyllis Causey what time she goes to lunch, and the third-grade teacher will give a very specific answer: 11:55 a.m.

“I live on a timer,” she said.

Every minute is accounted for in her meticulously planned workdays. To some extent, that is true every school year. But last fall, for the first time in her 12 years of teaching, 23 students were enrolled in her San Antonio elementary school class — making those minutes even more precious.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has weighed in on the use of so-called pink slime in beef served in the government's free and reduced-price school lunch program.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is in Austin, where he was a keynote speaker at South by Southwest’s second annual SXSWedu conference. But Duncan also took time today to speak to a crowd at Austin Community College’s Eastview campus for a “town hall” discussion on education issues.  

But once applause greeting Ducan settled, he received  a more abrupt welcome: Three Occupy Austin members stood and shouted out a prepared statement attacking the privatization of public schools and other educational grievances.

The "mic check" can be read on Occupy Austin Twitter magnet Kit O'Connell's website. It reads in part (emphasis in original): "As Secretary of Education, Your job is to discover a way to provide schools & teachers PUBLIC resources & funding, NOT from private charters & corporations."

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin school district wants to ask voters for more money. But it’s still trying to determine when to do that. Holding a tax rate vote during the November general election potentially could be less expensive, but one seasoned political consultant suggests it would be “cheap and stupid.”

College and university presidents are wringing their hands over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to revisit the issue of affirmative action next fall. Critics of racial preferences are thrilled because the court could significantly restrict the use of race in admissions, but proponents of affirmative action say this would be a huge setback for institutions struggling to diversify their student body.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Parents with children at Allan Elementary school now have an extra two weeks to decide if they want their kids to enroll in a controversial charter school program launching next year. The Austin Independent School District announced this afternoon that it has set a new deadline for March 9. The original deadline was last Friday, February 24. 

Photo by KUT News

The U.S. Supreme Court will revisit the issue of race in college admissions

Today, the court agreed to hear a challenge to the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas. The case was brought by Abigail Fisher, who argues she was denied admission to the university because of UT's race-conscious policy.

It's the second time the court has taken up the issue in the past 10 years. In 2003, the court upheld the University of Michigan's use of race in assessing law school applicants by a vote of 5-4. But today's court is more conservative. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinion in the Michigan case. She's since been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito – who tends to vote with the court’s more conservative bloc.

Yale law professor Peter Schuck tells KUT News a number of factors outside the court’s University of Michigan ruling could be in play, as each state university system differs. Here in Texas, Schuck points to the effect the UT system’s “top 10 percent” rule could play.

Photo by KUT News

The Austin ISD school board will discuss alternatives to their current, longstanding consultation agreement with Education Austin tonight.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Bowing to pressure from parents, superintendents and state lawmakers, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said he will defer for one year a rule that would have required a new standardized test account for 15 percent of a student’s final course grade. The waiver applies to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR test). 

Photo by ChrisMPowell http://www.flickr.com/photos/85175437@N00/

In an early morning drug bust on the Texas Christian University campus, 17 students were arrested — a record number for the school — for allegedly dealing drugs including marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, acid, and prescription drugs such as Xanax and hydrocodone.

The arrests were the result of a six-month investigation conducted by the Fort Worth Police Department in conjunction with TCU Campus Police into drug selling in an around the TCU campus. According to university officials, 17 of the students have been "separated" from the TCU campus and face expulsion if found guilty.

Photo by jrandallc http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrandallc/

The Lake Travis Cavaliers won the last five Class 4A state football championships. But now the University Interscholastic League is bumping up Lake Travis to 5A, the division populated by the state's largest high schools. As the Austin American-Statesman notes, that puts Lake Travis in a district with Westlake, Bowie, Austin High, Anderson, Del Valle and Akins.

Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

Some high profile members of the education community aren't pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott's speech yesterday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools. 

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators' annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured "what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day." He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students. 

The Austin school board will vote tonight on the schematic design for a new $40 million district-wide performing arts center to be built next to the Dell Children’s Medical Center at the corner of Mueller Boulevard and East 51st Street. The board approved buying the empty 3.5 acre lot last April for about $4 million.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin ISD board will vote tonight on whether to spend $16 million left over from the 2008 bond package. But at least one item on the plan dealing with an in-district charter school is likely face some opposition.

Back in 2008, Austin voters approved  $345 million in spending for the school district. Then the recession hit. Construction prices dropped. And AISD wound up saving a bunch of money.

Now, the school district wants to spend $16 million of the $19 million in left over “bond contingency funds.”  The school district’s lawyers say that’s okay as long as it fits with the original intention of the bond.

Some of the money would pay for dozens of critical renovations at schools across town, like replacing an elevator at Anderson High School, repairing the heating and cooling system, and fixing waste pipes under the kitchen at Eastside Memorial High School.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/jesabele

A judge has been named to hear several lawsuits brought by school districts against the State of Texas, to protest the way public education is funded.

Judge John Dietz, of the 250th Judicial District Civil Court in Travis County, will preside over the suits. The news was trumpeted by the Equity Center, a coalition of several poorer school districts. An Equity Center offshoot, the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition sued the state last year alleging Texas’ system of school funding was unconstitutional. As the coalition wrote in a complaint, “Taxpayers in low wealth districts who are willing to tax themselves at the highest rates allowed are unable to access the same dollars for education as taxpayers in high wealth districts who tax themselves at a lower rate.”

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The lockdown at Manor High School has been lifted, after it was determined the "suspicious device" in question was a non-explosive replica of a military grenade.

Meanwhile, Pflugerville ISD police and the Pflugerville police department briefly investigated a threat at Hendrickson High School before giving the all-clear.

The following statement is from the Manor ISD website:

This morning an unauthorized adult brought a suspicious device onto the Manor High School campus. The device was only seen in the school parking lot and the person never entered the building. All students and staff were moved to Manor Middle School as a safety precaution. Travis County Sheriff’s Office has determined that the device was a replica grenade. Law enforcement and school officials are in the process of returning students to their campus. Students can be released to parents from Manor High School but we prefer that students remain on campus so instruction is not disrupted any further.

Photo by KUT News

A year-old report on “Texas’ School-to-Prison” pipeline is spreading across the Web, due to a report in The Guardian looking critically at police arrests and citations in Texas (and Austin) schools, and follows recent efforts within AISD to change the way it disciplines students. 

The Guardian describes the story of Sarah Bustamante, a 12-year old student at Austin’s Fulmore Middle School. She was issued a criminal misdemeanor citation by a campus police officer for what she describes as spraying herself with two bursts of perfume during class.

This phenomenon – issuing criminal citations for student behavior that, in the past, wouldn’t earn offenders much more than a trip to the principal’s office – is examined at length in a report from Texas Appleseed.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Teacher salaries have not budged for the last two years in Austin ISD. And it was that way for a lot of districts across the state in the wake of last year’s $5 billion in cuts to public education.

But now some school districts, including several around Austin, are thinking about raising salaries next school year. And AISD may not want to be left behind.

According to one analysis that will be presented to board members tonight, Austin ISD ranks 15th in teacher pay, compared to other Texas school districts. That’s only if you include employees' social security contributions paid by the district. Otherwise, AISD is 18th.

Photo by Callie Richmond for the Texas Tribune

As Texas schools whittle their budgets in response to the state’s multibillion dollar education cuts, they are eyeing every expenditure, from athletics to busing and even field trips.

Photo by Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Opponents of an Austin ISD’s in-district charter school are trying to wage a boycott campaign against the program. Members of an Eastside Memorial High School community group have organized as Pride of the Eastside and are trying to prevent South Texas-based IDEA Public Schools from operating college prep programs in two eastside schools.

Lake Travis Middle School sits right next to Lake Travis High School.

The Lake Travis school district has fired a custodial worker who said she saw a man with a gun at Lake Travis Middle School in early December, prompting a four-hour security lockdown of that campus, the neighboring high school, and an administrative building.

“Upon extensive review of the incident, District officials have concluded that there exists no evidence to substantiate the claim” of seeing a gunman, the district said in a letter sent to parents. The letter says the employee was fired at 4 p.m. Friday.

The lockdown on December 9 rattled nerves as law enforcement swarmed the scene, scouring for a suspect. Agents from the Travis County SWAT Team, several local police departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted several sweeps but never found a gunman.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin and Round Rock school districts have joined more than sixty school districts responsible for educating 1.5 million children in the fourth recent lawsuit against the state over its school finance system. With one-third of Texas’ student population, it’s the largest group of school districts ever to file suit against the state over how it funds education, according to plaintiff attorneys Thompson and Horton.

“The group represents rural, big town, small town, suburban, urban, fast growth, property poor, property wealthy, and average wealth districts,” the law firm wrote in a news release.

AISD trustees voted to join the lawsuit in October. The suit says the state has increased the academic requirements for school districts, but failed to provide funding to pay for it.

School funding in Texas is in turmoil. State lawmakers slashed more than $4 billion from education this school year — one of the largest cuts in state history — and more than 12,000 teachers and support staff have been laid off.

Academic programs and transportation have been cut to the bone. Promising reforms are on hold or on the chopping block. Next year, the cuts could go even deeper.

Rarely do Austin school board meetings get this heated. But a marathon session on Monday drew more than a hundred people, most of them disgruntled over the elected body’s push to bring a charter school into the district to operate college prep programs at two East Austin schools.

After a public input session in which opponents of the IDEA charter school plan lambasted board members for moving quickly to adopt the proposal, trustees held a lengthy debate and ultimately approved the plan in a 6-3 vote.

In case you missed the meeting or wish to relive it again, the AISD board has posted the full six hours on YouTube. Check out part one above. You can also watch part two and part three.

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