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The Source: Challenges In The Texas Education System

Flickr user Bill Selak

Governor-elect, Greg Abbott has touted education as one of his key areas when he takes the reigns next month. Texas ranks nearlylast--46th out of 50--in per student spending on education, and dead last in the percentage of residents with a high school diploma. 

Texas was ground zero for the latest education reform movement. Standardized testing, school choice, teacher accountability are all words commonly used in education policy discussions across the country, and many of those conversations began in Texas. 

But when the politicians stop campaigning, the Texas Education Agency is left to oversee the implementation of plans conceived in Austin. The TEA oversees 1,228 public school districts and charters schools. It has an estimated five million students.

A big school system has a big tab, and often becomes a political football. The funding for the TEA--which had a $19 billion budget last year--was cut by more than 25 percent in the 2011 legislative session only to be partially restored in 2013. As a whole, the finance system is currently being litigatedin state courts for being unconstitutional. 

In addition, the TEA has been asked to continue to monitor and assess failing public school districts and charters. This process often results in controversial changes, as in the case of South San ISD's Dwight Middle School, which will see all employees released from their contracts and forced to reapply. This will probably result in a complete turnover in staff. The district made the decision after Dwight failed to pass certain education benchmarks for two years in a row.

In terms of charter school systems, the TEA is the first to admit they have a statistical overrepresentation of these schools on both sides of the bell curve. Revoking charters has been a tool they have just begun utilizing resulting in 14 charters losing state funding. Senate bill 2 gave the TEA these powers in 2013, which have seen five charters in San Antonio having their charter pulled. Some charters remain despite the state order to close, as with Honors Academy Charter. Does the state have enough teeth to deal with enforcing standards on charter schools?

What is the future of education in Texas?


  • Michael Williams, commissioner of education for the state of Texas
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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org