The big education finance bill from this legislative session--HB3--has made its way through the House, the Senate, and it's now in conference committee where a team of reps from the House and Senate are assumed to be making the best decisions for Texan students.
When HB3 left the Senate, it included a lot of stuff.
Some just kind of meh.
But probably the most ridiculous choice surrounded the decision to include a new funding mechanism based on the performance of 3rd graders on their reading STAAR exam.
Now, I'll be upfront: I don't think outcome-based funding is necessarily bad. Particularly when it's implemented at the local level alongside a series of other locally developed stipends and incentives, outcome-based funding has the potential to provide teachers with a considerable bump in their income while simultaneously supporting student growth.
...the outcome-based funding mechanism in HB3 is just about the most ridiculous piece of policy I have ever seen.
It. Is. So. Bad.
Let me explain.
First, understand that the outcome-based mechanism in HB3 directly conflicts with the stated goals of this piece of legislation.
At the beginning of their April 25 committee meeting, Senator Larry Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, provided a brief overview of the changes HB3 would make to Texas school funding that included the following statement:
"These changes significantly improve equity in the system. A student's zip code or geography shouldn't dictate a student's value and our funding should target the neediest of our students."
Target the neediest students.
Please keep that quote in mind as you work your way through this post.
If you'd like to read the full text outlining the "bonus" mechanism, you can go here. Scroll to page 50 and start at "Third Grade Reading Outcomes Bonus."
Senator Taylor briefly described the "bonus" concept on April 25:
Now, if the mechanism was as simple as Senator Taylor makes it seem, it might actually be a decent concept, or at least a workable concept.
However, here's what is actually laid out in HB3:
1) The commissioner will compare the 3rd grade STAAR reading meets standard percentage for every district to create a 0-100 percentile ranking.
2) A "line" will be drawn at the 25th percentile. Every district above that line will receive a "bonus" based on three categories of students:
- $4,000 for every economically disadvantaged student over the 25th percentile
- $1,000 for every non-economically disadvantaged student over the 25th percentile
- $1,000 for every student enrolled in a special education program over the 25th percentile.
3) Obviously, if a district performed below the 25th percentile, they would not receive any "bonus" funding.
I could probably just stop here because I think most people can see an inherent flaw in the logic behind this policy: we're going to reward the already successful districts by giving them more money.
With greater success comes even greater sums of money.
As for the less successful districts, they're expected to chase the dangling "bonus" carrot so that they too can enjoy additional funding.
Is it just me or does this in no way seem to support the concept of providing funding that "targets our neediest students"?
Most people who know me personally know that I'm a big believer in giving people the benefit of the doubt.
Assume positive intentions. Always.
I'm genuinely struggling here, though.
A moment ago I indicated that "I could probably just stop" at pointing out the obvious conflict between the stated goal of HB3 and this "bonus" mechanism.
I could have just stopped...
...but I didn't.
The beauty of our overly complex accountability system is that it produces tons of data. And all of it is available online, ready to be analyzed by any random nerd with a computer and a blog.
I downloaded the 2018 3rd grade reading results for every district in Texas using the TAPR data download. I also pulled the economically disadvantaged rate and total number of participating third graders for every district.
With this data, I was able to apply the "bonus" mechanism to the 2018 results and see how the chips would have landed had this policy already been in place.
Below are my three key takeaways:
1) The 25th percentile meets standard "line" for 3rd grade STAAR would have been at 33% meets.
Of the 1202 districts for which data is available from 2018, only 888 districts had a 3rd grade meets percentage indicated on the 2018 TAPR data download.
The distribution of the 3rd grade meets standard for those 888 districts looks like this:
With the 25th percentile "bonus line" drawn at 33% meets grade level, 216 districts would have missed out on any bonus funding. The other 672 districts would have received at least some sort of "bonus" based on their 3rd grade STAAR performance.
How much of a bonus?
So glad you asked.
2) Assuming a distribution of economically disadvantaged (EcoDis) students that matches each district's overall EcoDis rate, the total amount of bonuses would have ranged from as small as $1,000 to as much as $3,497,000.
In order to calculate the approximate bonuses for each district, I used the 2018 EcoDis rates to "weight" the $1,000 vs. $4,000 allotments outlined in HB3. You can download the full spreadsheet here if you'd like to see how specific districts would have turned out.
(Caveat: I did not include the $1,000 for students enrolled in special education programs. The data for that population isn't as clear on the TAPR download, so the following "bonus" estimates are slightly lower than what the true values would actually be.)
If you look at the bonuses as a total figure, the top ten "earners" would have looked like this:
Now, obviously, these are some of the larger districts in the state, which accounts for the large bonuses. However, I think it's important to point out the interesting arrangement of Katy ISD and Dallas ISD.
Katy ISD, a fairly affluent district (31% EcoDis rate) had 6,033 3rd graders take the STAAR reading test in 2018, versus Dallas ISD, a much less affluent district (87% EcoDis rate) had 12,556 3rd graders test in 2018, or more than double the number of students of Katy.
Yet, had the "bonus" mechanism been in place during 2018, Katy would have received almost $100,000 more in funding, even with less than half the students and a 56% lower EcoDis rate.
I'll ask it again: how does this support the neediest students?
When I got to this point in my analysis, I realized that a total dollar figure for the bonuses wouldn't tell me as much as a per student bonus figure, so I calculated that as well. Here's the top ten list for that figure:
Of course, this brought up a new question: how do these bonuses correlate to the A-F ratings from 2018?
3) Districts that earned an 'A' would have received over 10 times the per student "bonus" as 'F' districts.
An average of the per student "bonuses" split into the five possible ratings districts received in 2018 looks like this:
I'll bring it up again: how does this sort of distribution of funds support the neediest students?
Because to me...it looks like it supports the already successful and leaves the struggling districts in the dust.
Now, in a previous post, I explained how under the A-F system, 'A' seems to stand for 'Affluent' because the distribution of ratings in 2018 was very closely correlated to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students within each district. You can read that post here, but this is the main chart I discussed:
So stop and think about these two charts together.
First, we have a distribution of "bonus" funds that is heavily weighted towards districts that are already experiencing success.
Second, we have a rating system where an individual district's success is highly correlated to their level of poverty.
Taken together, those points pose a pretty significant problem.
The outcome-based "bonus" mechanism in HB3 will distribute funds in a way that actually provides more funding to the less needy than to the needy.
And we don't even have to guess that this will happen.
Past data proves that this is the case.
I mean, just look at this comparison:
I wish I was making this stuff up.
Sadly, I'm not.
The formulas are exactly what's outlined in HB3.
This is just bad policy.
Or dishonest policy.
Either way, if you're someone who values equity in education, someone who believes all students should have access to a high-quality education, someone who thinks our legislators should live up to the expectation that they "support and maintain an efficient system of public schools," there is probably no better time to make your voice heard than now.
Contact your representative.
Tell them what you expect them to do when it comes to truly supporting ALL students.
If you really want to be pointed with your advocacy, contact the Senate and House members on the conference committee for HB3: