Lone Star State’s modest proposal for failing schools

Lone Star State’s modest proposal for failing schools
Michael Williams (credit: Texas Education Agency)

The strategy in brief is “If you can’t beat ’em, close ’em.”

Five Texas school districts are ticketed to shut down next year after failing to meet state standards.

The state-ordered closures — the most in Texas history — affect some 10,000 students. Flunking academic or financial tests are:

  • La Marque Independent School District, in Galveston County.
  • Premont ISD, near Corpus Christi.
  • Jonesboro ISD, an hour west of Waco.
  • Pearsall ISD, in the Rio Grande Valley.
  • Marlin ISD, southeast of Waco.

“This is long overdue,” education advocate Peggy Venable said of La Marque. “It is one of those dropout factories where the adults need supervision and the students are a second thought at best.”

La Marque obtained a one-year reprieve in 2014, but its performance did not improve. The district’s 2,500 students will be enrolled in a neighboring school system in July.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) revokes accreditation of districts that fail to meet scholastic or fiscal benchmarks for four consecutive years. Like many small districts around the state, the five failing systems have experienced declining enrollment.

“Closing a district is painful. It is a step that we take only as a last resort,” said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. “We try many other routes before closing a district, but there comes a point where it is in the best interest of the children to close.”

Venable said, “Hats off to [outgoing TEA] Commissioner Michael Williams, who clearly has the kids’ best interest at heart. It is tough to shut down schools and to disrupt the status quo.”

But, she added, “Why aren’t legislators outraged and calling for opportunities for parents to pull their kids out of [failing] schools, providing more charter schools and scholarships to private schools?”

Robin Lennon, president and co-founder of the Kingwood Tea Party, sees a double-standard bias against school choice.

“Legislators were proud of the quick two-year failure trigger on charter schools, but couldn’t explain why public schools were allowed to fail entire families for years without closure,” Lennon said.

Marlin superintendent Mike Seabolt told Watchdog.org his district obtained a reprieve until next summer, when this year’s financial and academic records will be reviewed.

Describing the accountability metrics as “straightforward,” Seabolt said, “The process seemed pretty smooth to me.”

Venable, who is policy and legislative director at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation of Texas, says the state should have moved faster at La Marque.

“Students in La Marque are not getting the education that they deserve and that taxpayers are paying for. This district has over $10,000 per pupil, but is spending only $4,000 per pupil on instruction. It is top-heavy, exceeding even the state average of one nonteacher for every teacher,” Venable said.

With just 2,500 students in eight schools, La Marque is $28 million in debt.

TEA’s Ratcliffe said terminating failing districts doesn’t mean community schools are lost.

“The receiving district’s school board determines whether to continue to hold school in some of the buildings it has inherited. Typically, the size of the student population and the quality of the facilities will determine whether a building remains open as a school,” she said.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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