Sabin, Harman, Rico: Restore what works for Texas schools

Foundations prioritize outcomes and big returns on investment. As a result, billions of dollars in private assets have been linked with the State of Texas’ efforts to improve educational outcomes. While significant, these dollars are a literal drop in the bucket of the state’s investment in education.

Philanthropy has always been an important partner with the state. Foundation grants are seed funding for innovation and quality improvement. Some of the most exciting things in public education have come about as a result of the state and foundations working together. Unfortunately, large cuts to the state budget in 2011 weakened, and in some cases, eliminated many of these public-private partnerships.

Cuts to Texas public schools totaled nearly $5.4 billion, with a $4 billion cut to the Foundation School Program and a $1.4 billion cut to “discretionary grants.” These grant dollars are often used by school districts to leverage private and foundation dollars onto school campuses. Cuts to these grants undermine the ability of the private sector to support public education.

In response to these cuts, eight foundations from across Texas commissioned a yearlong, mixed-methods statewide study to objectively assess how budget reductions impact public schools — for better and for worse. Hundreds of school districts responded to the voluntary survey. The survey findings revealed some encouraging and troubling things. Key findings include:

School districts found ways to do more with less. Texas school districts did everything from selling ads for car dealerships on the sides of school buses to raising local taxes. Many superintendents planned ahead for the cuts and adjusted spending and staffing accordingly.

School districts cut many of the things research shows work best, particularly for children from low-income families. Foundations have long partnered with the state to promote research-based best practices. Pre-kindergarten, science labs, teacher development, after-school mentoring, and extra help for struggling readers were all cut. Fast-growing school districts used teacher attrition instead of layoffs to reduce costs — meaning bigger class sizes in all grades and subjects, including math and science.

The worst is yet to come unless the Texas Legislature acts now. In many cases, districts used one-time sources of funding to pay for ongoing costs such as teacher salaries and protecting full day pre-K programs. While commendable, these measures are not sustainable. Districts are burning through their reserves and contingency plans, and many communities are prohibited from raising local taxes to replace dollars cut by the state.

The Texas courts recently reminded the Legislature of its constitutional obligation to educate the state’s children. We understand that the conversation about the Foundation School Program and the core of education funding must wait for the courts. However, our future cannot wait. The Texas foundation community respectfully asks that the state restore some of the discretionary grants cut from public schools in 2011.

Philanthropy understands that everything cannot be restored. In order to maximize our funds and those of Texas taxpayers, the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium urges the Texas Legislature to prioritize those policy interventions most likely to achieve positive educational outcomes and save taxpayer money. Let’s continue to invest our dollars together in what we know works for Texas kids.

The Texas Legislature has the resources necessary to immediately restore cuts to full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher preparation and development programs, science labs, mathematics instruction, and reading assistance for elementary students. Foundations that have long partnered with the state are returning to the Capitol this week to share their research and express their concerns about cuts to evidence-based efforts. Together, the public and private sectors can support our students and the future of our state’s economy.

**Members of the Leadership Committee – Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium**

Caroline Sabin Janet Harman Victoria Rico

Executive Director President and Founder Chairwoman

Powell Foundation KDK-Harman Foundation George W.Brackenridge Foundation

Houston, TX Austin, TX San Antonio, TX

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