Posted: 7:29 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
Continuing coverage: School funding
Testimony in school finance trial shows low-income students far behind on new tests.
Texas school districts need an additional $6 billion a year to get students up to the high academic standards lawmakers have put in place, a school finance expert testified on Monday during the ongoing trial.
“I don’t believe that we’re going to close educational gaps and reach … college and career (readiness) without spending additional money,” said Lynn Moak, a consultant who has testified at all six school finance trials in Texas.
Texas school districts spent a total of $43.1 billion for operating cost in 2010-11, the school year before the Legislature enacted $2.5 billion in education cuts. Moak estimated that in addition to restoring the cuts, schools would need an additional $6 billion to boost the performance of low-income students and English-language learners, in particular.
Moak said he found a strong relationship between a student’s socioeconomic status and that student’s performance on the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which is intended to be more rigorous than the previous generation of tests.
In the first year of testing, so far only 53 percent of students have passed all the ninth-grade tests, meaning that 47 percent are not on track to complete graduation. Among economically disadvantaged students, 40 percent have passed all the ninth-grade tests, compared to 69 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students.
Beginning with the class of 2015, students must take 15 end-of-course exams and achieve a cumulative passing score in each core subject.
“I cannot recall any change of this magnitude during my experience,” Moak said of the impact of the changes to the state’s accountability and testing system.
Lawyers for Attorney General Greg Abbott will have an opportunity to cross-examine Moak on Tuesday. But questions the state’s lawyers have posed to other witnesses suggest they will argue that there is not a strong connection between money and student performance.
Moak’s estimate struck a happy medium between two other outside studies that determined another $3.7 billion to $25 billion would be needed to meet the college- and career-readiness standards.
David Thompson, a lawyer representing one of the school district plaintiff groups, quickly acknowledged that the $25 billion figure was “aspirational” and aimed at getting 70 percent of students to the highest “commended” level on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which is being phased out. Currently, 31 percent of students earn the commended status.
Six plaintiff groups have sued claiming the state has failed to live up its constitutional obligations to public education. About two-thirds of Texas school districts, which together serve three-quarters of the students in the state, have joined the litigation.
Monday marked the beginning of the second week of testimony in what is expected to be a three-month trial.