PolitiFact: TEA-backed training fulfills Abbott’s principal promise

Back when he was campaigning to be governor of Texas, Greg Abbott called for training school principals to be better leaders.

Legislative proposals to get such training off the ground floundered, however, leading us to previously rate this Abbott vow a Promise Broken.

But the Texas Education Agency has since alerted us to other efforts focused on bolstering school leaders, and we decided to look afresh at progress on this promise and give it a new rating on the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter, which tracks progress of the governor’s campaign promises.

Abbott’s 2013 campaign compendium, his “Bicentennial Blueprint, Greg Abbott’s Working Texans Plan,” called for a “public education campus leadership program to train principals and other campus leadership staff.”

Abbott declared that the effort should ensure that campus leaders have the skills to spearhead reforms stressing character development and infusing campuses with a focus on college preparation and graduation, parental involvement and students learning to achieve as individuals and learning to work collaboratively.

Abbott specified that the state should offer financial support enabling school principals and others in leadership positions to receive optional advanced leadership training through partnerships with organizations such as KIPP and Rice University.

When we inquired about progress last year, we didn’t hear back from Abbott or the education agency.

Legislative records showed that Democratic lawmakers filed proposals in March 2015 in the spirit of Abbott’s call. Senate Bill 1036 by Sen. José Rodriguez of El Paso didn’t draw a hearing. House Bill 2224, by Rep. Joe Deshotel of Beaumont was heard in April 2015 by the House Public Education Committee, where it drew the support of school groups, the Texas PTA and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce before dying without further action.

Deshotel’s proposal directed the state education commissioner to develop and award grants to school districts, regional education service centers, nonprofit groups, and colleges and universities to create and provide advanced leadership training to principals and other administrators, with a focus on improving student achievement.

Rodriguez said in a statement conveyed by his district director that he filed SB 1036 at the request of Abbott’s office but it didn’t get a hearing, likely because it would have required state spending.

Deshotel told us that Abbott’s office asked him to file the “good bill” and said he suspects the House education panel didn’t move to send the legislation to the full House because it imposed costs at a time when money wasn’t available.

HB 2224’s fiscal note, prepared by the Legislative Budget Board staff, says the legislation would entail $1.5 million in first-year spending to develop training programs — one for administrators in small school districts, another for urban counterparts and one open to any school administrator. Once launched, the note says, the programs together would annually cost $750,000 to operate.

In January, a spokeswoman for the education agency, Lauren Callahan, told us that the agency had committed millions of dollars to provide leadership training to select principals and other campus leaders as a “direct result” of discussions between Abbott and Mike Morath, the governor’s appointee as state education commissioner.

Tim Regal, the TEA’s director of instructional leadership, said the agency last spring started initiatives devoting more than $17 million in state and federal education aid to training more than 800 principals and other campus leaders through the 2018-19 school year. Regal also said the agency was trying to prepare workers in the state’s 20 regional Education Service Centers to offer training to leaders across the state’s 8,500 campuses.

An agency timeline provided by Callahan shows the initial training being developed and delivered from March 2017 through August 2019. Through the 2017-18 school year, Callahan said, 325 educators from 62 campuses were participating in training in the Houston, Kilgore/Mount Pleasant and Fort Worth areas — with another area to be designated this spring when some 500 additional individuals are to be trained.

Some perspective: Texas schools in 2016-17 allocated nearly 20,500 full-time positions to administrators, including principals and assistant principals, Callahan said.

Callahan identified the initial training providers as Dallas-based Teaching Trust, which says it has focused on training school employees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; New York-based New Leaders, which says it has “prepared 3,200 outstanding education leaders who reach nearly 500,000 students” in more than 30 U.S. cities; and the Relay Graduate School of Education, which lists offices in 15 cities, including San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.

Callahan wrote: “Participating districts and campuses bring principal supervisors, principals, assistant principals and teacher leaders to leadership development training. The trainings focus on personal leadership, team efficacy, coaching other educators, data-driven instruction and student culture.”

It looks as if it could take awhile before every current or potential Texas school leader gets a shot at the touted training. But we rate this vow a Promise Kept.

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