We'll be liveblogging throughout the weekend from the Texas Tribune Festival's public and higher education track — which includes panels on the role research should play at state universities, how to pay for public education, why teacher accountability matters and what's next for the controversial State Board of Education.
Featured speakers include former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, University of Texas President Bill Powers and Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen.
Follow us here for updates from the University of Texas campus.
Bill Powers, President, The University of Texas at Austin
He says higher ed is moving in the right direction, but questions remain.
Powers: "In our plans, we're not anticipating our budget returning to 25 percent [supported by state funds]."
He says state funds are like sand in an oyster that they leverage through other means, including the Longhorn Network. He says this makes the university a great deal for the state.
Sen. Zaffirini says we do need to talk about productivity, efficiency, accountability — but the problem is how do we define those terms. We are here to work with everyone who's interested in higher education, she says even when we don't agree.
Rep. Branch: "I sense that higher ed is in this crucible of fiscal pressure...and this fairly dramatic digital revolution" and then there is the higher ed reform accountability movement — and that combination makes for a lot of stress on the system. There's reasons to have concerns, he says, but there's also reason for optimism.
Sen. Shapiro: mandate parental involvement.
Rep. Eissler: update the cost of education index — the outdated index used in funding schools based on factors like teacher pay, regional costs, etc. "It would go a long way toward narrowing our funding...and come up with $2.5 billion in savings."
Sen. Zaffirini: "If money were no object, I would include early childhood education and higher education as a right for all the children of Texas."
Rep. Branch: "Enhance completions-- the quality and the quantity." More people graduating with better educations in core academic subjects.
Sen. Zaffirini immediately jumps in with her answer: "funding."
Sen. Shapiro: Funding seat time vs. funding brain time. We should instead fund the outcome, the result of learning.
Rep. Eissler: Integrating relevant technology into learning and classrooms — but SB6 passed this session has gone a long way in doing that.
Rep. Branch: Looking at the demographics and making sure that the growing, young Hispanic population is ready for a knowledge based economy.
Sen. Shapiro: Engage parents and talk to them about school districts not doing well. And also engage the business community. They know and should tell policy makers what they need in terms of a workforce.
Sen. Shapiro: We had an $18 -20 billion shortfall. Education is largest part of our budget. We had to cutting it to balance it. We could have taxed, but voters elected people because they said they wouldn't tax. So we had a conundrum. "There was not a single day in the House or the Senate where we weren't working on higher and public education" — we worked to get cuts down to something reasonable after the initial $10 billion cuts. And public ed is not all about money.
Rep. Eissler: And let's not forget — we've tripled what we've spent on education without demonstrable improvement over the past decades.
Sen. Patrick challenges him: I have not heard any Anglo, aged population say I don't want to pay for my grandchildren's education, my neighbor's children.
Rep. Patrick: Business tax was underperforming then and now — and the reason lawmakers haven't been able to deal with it is because the economy has gone in the tank, and that means it's not the right time to start taxing businesses more.
"The problem will be even more difficult" for schools in 2013.
Rep. Hochberg says his biggest frustration was that there was no attempt to find the long term answer, and nobody has figured out how to avoid being in the same place when lawmakers get back there next time.
Sen. Patrick proposes a yearly budget and keeping lawmakers for a shorter time each year so that they can address problems as they come up.
Former Rep. Heflin: You can fix the tax by abolishing it.
Sen. Patrick: I agree that whatever we do, we need to look at those issues — especially the business tax's effect on small businesses — the way it is now, a company has to pay the tax even if it doesn't make a profit.
Says there is mistaken lore in the country that Texas has worst dropout rates in the country. It doesn't, he says.
Natalicio says emphasis is too much on graduation rates because their calculation only counts those students who enroll as first time, full time freshman — leaving out transfers, which account for 70 percent of students. "That's simply trying to find fault," she says. Instead, degree completion should be the measure.
"Don't penalize what you've got to get something new," Loftin says. He says we should have more Tier I schools in Texas, but not by taking money away from Tier I schools, through generating new money.
Khator clarifies she would never support a proposal that would draw money from existing schools. But that Texas is a big state, and needs more schools to keep talent around.
Natalicio says UTEP is about providing access but also producing competitive graduates. "In order to have that competitiveness, you have to have resources that are characteristics of a Tier I university," she said. Tier I can create that capacity across the state, and Texas will be better off for it.
She asks, what's wrong with encouraging everyone to try for Tier I?
Rhodes: the earlier we can start students thinking about college, the better, and the more it goes towards reducing the cost of educating them — particularly low income and ELL kids.
Natalicio: There are lots of ways we inhibit our own goals. Some students finish their associate's degree before they even graduate high school. So what happens is they don't qualify for federal financial aid because they haven't graduated high school. UTEP responded by raising private funds for tuition and fees -- but with one tweak to that, it would save that money. There needs to be a better fix to the disconnect between K-12 education.
Loftin: People wanted to cut higher ed, not public ed. The average person on the street doesn't have a college degree, so if you ask them if their tax dollars should go to pay for someone else to better themselves, they say no, that person is going to get a good job so they should pay for it themselves. There needs to be a better understanding of the value of higher education.
Rhodes: The answer rests in the question of whether higher ed public good or personal benefit. In tough economic times, the pendulum swings towards the latter — that means people should pay for it themselves.
Natalicio: There's a true divergence between the haves and the have-nots. Talent and money and wealth don't necessarily correlate, but low income kids are much less likely to go to higher ed. If we keep doing that we're going to price low income kids outside of college. I'm seeing a group of students full of talent and not wealthy, but what's going to happen is they are going to be the first to lose — and that's going to be our loss. We're all going to be better off if more people go to college. We've always been committed to the idea that everyone has an opportunity — and what's going to happen is that we are going to deny opportunities to students on the basis of wealth.
Natalicio: Many students begin at UTEP with the intention of transferring to another institution in Texas or New Mexico. We see a population of students that have a different goal, to use enrollment as a stepping stone, and then a far greater highly mobile population. Our graduation rate is going up. We're all much more efficient today. If I were to invest our resources to that goal I could increase my graduation rate fastest by not admitting any at-risk students. It's a misguided investment for us to get there.
"All this we're talking about, it's really not about college and career-readiness, it's about creating more students that are likely to drop out," he says.
Folks asks why what's called the "new normal" isn't better salaries and support for teachers.
Culwell and Folks both say that districts aren't going to meet the required metrics required. Culwell says the entire state of Texas is failing to meet them.
Folks says that at some point, someone will realize that schools across the nation are failing and something needs to be done.
He says recruitment of teachers has not been a problem, but retention is a struggle. As long as you provide necessary support, retention will take care of itself.
"We want people in our classrooms who want to be there," he says.
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