Friday, March 27, 2015

Will School Vouchers Benefit Low-Income Families? Assessing the Evidence

Here are the bills that were heard today in the Senate Education Committee in the Texas House of Representatives.  Melinda Lemke and myself testified from a policy memorandum titled, "Will School Vouchers Benefit Low-Income Families? Assessing the Evidence" and co-authored by Dr. Huriya Jabbar, Dr. Jennifer Holme & doctoral students—Melinda Lemke, A.V. LeClair, Joanna Sanchez and Edgar M. Torres, Education Policy and Planning, University of Texas at Austin.

This policy memo provides a rigorous review of peer-reviewed research and government studies as opposed to research done by think tank organizations with a pro-voucher agenda.  Here is a summative statement from my colleagues' introduction:

We find that the empirical research shows that the effects of school vouchers on student outcomes generally are small or insignificant, and do not have the ability to close the racial achievement gap or generate large gains in student outcomes. In addition, even voucher programs that target low-income families or those attending failing schools have serious access and attrition challenges, calling into question the equity claims of voucher proponents. We conclude that the research on voucher effectiveness shows mixed resultssome studies show small positive effects on student achievement, and some show no effects. Overall these results do not align with the strong claims of voucher proponents. In addition, the take-up and attrition patterns of voucher recipients suggest that such policies might not  benefit  the  most disadvantaged  students.

Not only does this rigorous review of vouchers suggest that we exercise caution if we are to construe this as a policy panacea, but it should also mean something to us that precious little peer-reviewed research on the matter actually exists which means that many questions about the effects of vouchers remain unanswered.  It's important for us to consider all that we still do not know.

Again, from a research perspective, we do not know what happens to children after they are no longer in a voucher program.  We do not know whether when voucher laws are passed, exactly how the private sector (often parochial) schools prepare to meet children's needs.  What happens to those places once children that use school vouchers leave them?  We do not know from a public management perspective how state administrative bureaucracies manage dollars associated with potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of children moving in and out of the public and private sector.  And what costs—especially hidden ones—are associated with this specific kind of management?  All else equal, it sounds like an administrative nightmare.

There are so many questions for which there exist little to no peer-reviewed data that we should exercise utmost prudence before we as a state go down this experimental path, particularly in the name of "progress," "freedom," and "choice."

You may read the policy memorandum here

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., Director
Texas Center for Education Policy
University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Voucher Lobby Launches Full Frontal Assault on Texas Public Schools

Voucher Lobby Launches Full Frontal Assault on Texas Public Schools


interests pushing private school voucher schemes in Texas are launching
today what might be their strongest attack on neighborhood public
schools in years. The Senate Education Committee is hearing public
testimony on three proposed voucher bills — each one of which could end
up draining billions of dollars from public education to subsidize
tuition at private and religious schools.
Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller will testify at the
hearing and remind senators that their responsibility under the Texas
Constitution is to fund public schools, not private and religious
schools. Yet the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education just
four years ago and has yet to restore all of that funding.

Each of the bills under consideration today creates a different
voucher scheme but does essentially the same thing: drain tax dollars
from funding for neighborhood public schools so that the state can
subsidize — directly or indirectly — private and religious schools.

SB 4 by state Sen. Larry Craig, R-Friendswood, and SB 642
by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would give tax breaks to
corporations that donate to organizations providing “tuition grants” or
“scholarships” at private and religious schools. Every dollar that funds
these corporate tax loopholes would be unavailable for the state’s
cash-starved public schools.

SB 276
by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would create so-called
“taxpayer savings grants” that shift a large share of funding for a
public school student over to subsidizing tuition at a private or
religious school instead.

Private and religious schools getting these taxpayer subsidies would
not be subject to the same rules and regulations that govern the state’s
public schools. That means those voucher schools would not be
accountable to the taxpayers who are funding them.

Moreover, supporters misleadingly claim that these voucher schemes
will actually save taxpayer dollars or won’t take money from public
schools because private donors would be using tax credits to pay for the
vouchers. These claims are a charade. The reality is precisely the
opposite, as Kathy and other representatives of other members of the
Coalition for Public Schools will point out today.

You can watch a live-stream of the hearing here. We’re also live-tweeting the hearing: @tfn. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stickers and their Discontents, by Dr. Tane Ward

On the heels of South by Southwest, there has been a twisted conversation about race that Dr. Tane Ward sorts out here from his post on his blog.  It works excellently with my earlier post this morning by Cecilia Ballí who speaks to similar issues.  Austin needs to own its racism and classism and consider how these overlap and the damage that they are doing to communities.

It simultaneously needs to recognize the breathtaking talent and beauty of the Latina/o and African American cultural arts community and how preserving and improving the very communities that have given birth to this art is not only a force for cultural and political power for these communities, but also a matter of self-interest to Austin's Anglo-dominant, middle- and upper-middle class community.

The changing complexion of Austin's future consumers of that art is an inescapable demographic truth.  Rather than trample on the aesthetic contributions of our communities, respect and bridge building need to occur.  We need community conversations around race, ethnicity, gentrification, and the arts so that we can develop policies and attitudes that do not bulldoze over the ethnic, multicultural landscape that has endeared visitors to Austin for generations.

Simply put, aside from being about dispossession and disparagement, gentrification actually works at odds with the very kind of identity that not only makes Austin weird (as we pridefully say here about our city), but that also in the long run makes it profitable, beautiful, and a world-class city that is not only rich in its diversity, but prides itself on that.


Stickers and their Discontents

by Dr. Tane Ward
March 20, 2015 · 9:46 pm 

Some excellent social commentary was made during SXSW this year, something that I would have loved to see years ago. Someone put stickers on East Austin business replete with the COA logo that said, “Exclusively for white people. Maximum of 5 colored customers, colored BOH (Back of House) staff accepted.”
The satire clearly linked the historic institutional racism of Austin with the ongoing consumer-led gentrification and displacement on the East Side. This has stirred discourse in the city, but to a level, which falls short of what we are capable of. All the reaction from the media has been laughable. There is a disturbing collective feign of ignorance floating around about the intention and meaning of the art. Let’s not kid ourselves – it is a pretty straightforward message about race and gentrification.
Main points aside – here are some considerations of Stickergate before it fades into the unfashionable fortune of having happened last week:
  1. The flash issue obscures gentrification.
 There is a lot of gentrification happening in the city and it is partially fueled by SXSW. It would be great to see people take more responsibility in mitigating the negative effects that tourism and consumer-based economies have on historic neighborhoods. I would love the same engagement on revitalizing the East Side and holding exploitative City and capitalist practices accountable as I do from people reacting to relatively innocuous art.
The same week, for example, a beautiful and historic mural on East Cesar Chavez was nonchalantly painted over by a foreign artist. The Lotteria mural is culturally significant to Cesar Chavez as a Mexican neighborhood, but as the makeup of businesses is changing, our culture is being erased. This was not covered on the news, and that layer of paint doesn’t peel off quite so easily. Neither does the displacement of thousands of people from their neighborhoods across the country. Another example is the demolition of Piñatas Jumpolín (see Dale Dale Dale postmarked 2/23/15) – a far worse act in terms of destruction and insensitivity, but one that was defended and as specifically “not racist” by many.
  1. People missed the satire.
 Sadly, many people thought the stickers were made by White supremacists and to be taken literally. Geesh! I don’t know what to say. That would be like reacting the Right Wing ravings of Stephen Colbert. Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the act “appalling” and “offensive”. This comes from a mayor who made no public comment of the demolition of Jumpolín or the destruction of the Loteria mural. It seems like making White people uncomfortable is a greater sin than destroying the culture and heritage of historic Communities of Color (which is exactly the point of the stickers, so maybe Adler is really in cahoots with the artist and is just laying the satire on extra thick).
Others mistook the stickers to be aimed at garnering ire toward the businesses and the city by framing them as overtly white supremacist. This was not an attack on the businesses or the city or the people associated with them. That some civil rights leaders took it there was an unfortunate diversion. The point was to imply that the City of Austin is racist as an institution, and businesses cater to specific class groups that follow racially segregated norms.   There, that’s not so bad, is it?
  1. People misused the concepts of racism and hate-speech.
 People were really offended by the stickers and called them racist. One business owner called it “ hate-speech”. This messaging was also consistently and conveniently accompanied by a message of confusion – “why would they do it?” If you do not experience gentrification as a painful reality resulting in the displacement of your community or understand the racist history and current structure of our city, than you might not understand the point here. However, your ignorance does give you the authority to claim the status of a victim. Regardless of who owns or runs the targeted businesses – they are profiting from a system that is rooted in exploitation. That does not mean we hate you. Please stop pretending that pointing out social reality is hatred because it makes you feel guilty. Racism is real and the stickers probably reflect a painfully accurate depiction of who patronizes these businesses.
I was so flabbergasted by the conviction of the business owner’s whine that I thought about staging a boycott of their business – just because they so distastefully inserted their own self-serving grievance. Instead I decided to write this. You can thank me later (with free cupcakes  – kidding!)
  1. The weak response from POC community leaders is inconsistent with the political history (and I’m not sure why).
Instead of Black leaders seizing the opportunity to bring attention to the plight of their communities and the legacies that have been mostly forgotten, Councilwoman Ora Houston, NAACP chairman Nelson Linder and Representative Dawna Dukes all responded with White protectionism. Completely out of touch, missing the satire and feigning ignorance of meaning and intention, the cadre of Austin’s old guard Black activist seemed to parrot the naiveté of the city’s rookie mayor. How disappointing that even when the door is blown open, these leaders failed to simply walk through it.
Each of these three community leaders has been vocal on segregation, racism, gentrification and fair business practices. How could they have possibly missed the satire and the political opportunity to respond? Why when the clueless enactors of gentrification ask “but why?” do our POC officials not have such a simple answer? This makes the need for disruptive art/activism so important.
  1. Back of House comment should not be overlooked
 How many Austin businesses have POC working in the kitchen and all White, or white-passing, servers up front?
If you answered “probably most of them”, you are absolutely probably right.
Racism is inequitable outcomes where there shouldn’t be. Mexicans are not naturally just better at washing dishes and Whites better at serving because they have fine breeding – no one really thinks that. No one really thinks they are racist either – but take a look in any restaurant in town and it is plain as day – real, live racism! I’m sure there are no business policies or city mandates for BOH/FOH racial segregation. The point is that there doesn’t need to be. Let that soak in before reacting.

  1. It is pretty funny

“Uh, Earth to Brint, I was making a joke, okay?”
With all the horribly racist violence against People of Color, the cultural and historic racism in East Austin, the racist outcomes of profit-driven exploitation and gentrification and everything else POC deal with, can we have a simple joke? The stickers peeled right off.
The fact a few little stickers are such a problem for people is harsh. Lighten up. This is a long haul and there is a lot of real work to be done to heal, undo racism and stop gentrification. Don’t fall too hard.
It’s just a sticker – It’s not like somebody destroyed the neighborhood where you grew up.
Thanks to Native East Austinites Andrea Melendez & Estrella de Leon for your strength and inspiration for this response.
Some links:
kxan news story

#ATX #SXSW #Latino

What Nobody Says About Austin

What Nobody Says About Austin

Is Austin the state’s most segregated city?
Casey Dunn

When I moved to Austin in the fall of 2008 to teach at the University of Texas, I was the envy of nearly everyone I knew. Wasn’t it the coolest city in the state? The country? Quite possibly the earth?! Yet still I was dragging my feet, which many Austinites found offensive (ever tried arguing with one about the superiority of any other place?). I’d lived previously in Brownsville, San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston, and I’d visited Austin countless times as a contributor to this magazine. But I’d always found it wanting in a way that was significant to me: it was the first place in my home state where I was frequently aware of my ethnic difference. Those other Texas cities had their own racial and class problems, sure, but they all had vibrant Latino communities, and they were cities where I could experience myself as both a Tejana and a Texan, an American who was Latina. By contrast, sometimes when I had lunch with my editor in downtown Austin I noticed I was the only non-white patron in the restaurant. Things weren’t much better at UT, where the faculty was just 5.9 percent Latino (and just 3.7 percent African American). I had to ask myself, In a city where Hispanics made up over a third of the residents, why were they so hard to find?
Austin prides itself on its cultural liberalism and sophistication, but given the invisibility of Latinos, it irked me that the city was obsessed with Latin American culture. Austin’s fixation with tacos and migas and queso (“kay-so”) seemed to me a way for locals to fetishize a world most of them didn’t regularly engage with. When I went salsa dancing downtown, a few times a white guy would sashay up to me with a sultry “ Ho-la, ¿quie-res bailar conmigo?” and I had to explain that I spoke English. I also felt persistently overdressed. When invitations called for “Texas chic” or “Austin cool,” I invariably wore the wrong clothes. Once, I showed up at a beautiful Hill Country ranch wedding in a long summer dress and stilettos when all the women were in knee-length frocks and sandals or wedge shoes they could manage the rocky grounds in. I’d never even worn flip-flops out of the house!
I bought a condo in southwest Austin, in a neighborhood with a nice mix of natives and newcomers. For some reason, the area felt to me closer in spirit to the rest of Texas. On William Cannon Drive, I could drive a couple of miles west for lemon–poppy seed pancakes at Kerbey Lane Cafe or east for 99-cent barbacoa tacos at Las Delicias Meat Market. The development was still under construction when I moved in, and a crew of strictly Mexican workers was a ubiquitous presence during the first months I lived there. It was from them I learned about the great Austin divide and began to understand why I rarely saw any Latinos or blacks. A long-standing east-west geographic rift shapes race and class relations in the capital to this day. The workmen lived on the east side of I-35, where the city’s biggest concentration of minorities resides (Latinos make up 35 percent of Austin’s population, blacks 8 percent). The west side of I-35 was mostly white. This was where they came to work, and they literally kept their heads down while they did so. Was the state’s most progressive city also its most segregated?
Austin’s geographic divide has a specific legal past. As I came to learn, African Americans had been living throughout the city in the early 1900’s, until a 1928 city plan proposed concentrating all services for black residents—parks, libraries, schools—on the East Side to avoid duplicating them elsewhere (this was in the time of “separate but equal”). Racial zoning was unconstitutional, but this policy accomplished the same thing. By 1940, most black Austinites were living between Seventh and Twelfth streets, while the growing Mexican American population was consolidating just south of that.
For years Austin has held the dubious distinction of being the only major city in the country clinging to an outmoded model of elective representation that all but ensured its racial exclusivity would persist. Since 1953, members of the city council have been elected on an at-large basis, which means that residents vote for individuals to represent the city as a whole, not their own neighborhoods. Because levels of voter participation, not to mention money, are unequal from neighborhood to neighborhood, this has perpetuated a serious imbalance in who holds and influences power. In the past forty years, half the city council members and fifteen of seventeen mayors have been from four zip codes west of I-35, an area that is home to just a tenth of the city’s population. The few have been governing the many.
The roots of this system are shameful. Until 1950, the system was straightforward: the top five vote-getters on a single ballot would become council members and select the mayor themselves. In 1951, a black candidate, Arthur DeWitty, then president of Austin’s NAACP chapter, came in sixth, which alarmed the city’s white business establishment. The system was rejiggered to create designated seats, or “places,” requiring more than 50 percent of the vote to win, a majority no ethnic candidate could achieve at the time. Not until twenty years later, in 1971, was an African American elected to the council, followed by the first Latino in 1975.
At that point, forced to acknowledge the slowly growing political clout of minorities, the city’s establishment came up with an informal “gentleman’s agreement”: one spot on the council would be reserved for Latinos (Place 5, although later it became Place 2) and another spot (Place 6) for blacks. Though nothing prevented minority candidates from running for another place, they generally complied with the rule, since to do otherwise would disrupt the system, making victory unlikely. To date, no Latino or black has held a different seat.

Continue reading here.

Students of Color and the Achievement Gap by Richard Valencia

Mexican American Studies Department needed at UT-RGV

Mexican American Studies Department needed at UT-RGV

March 20
07:51 2015
Segovia: Mexican American Studies Department needed at UT-RGV

UT-Pan American students attended 'Latino Day of Advocacy for Educational Equity and Opportunity at the Capitol.' (Photo: Roberto Calderon) 
Over the weekend of February 26-28, students and faculty involved in the University of Texas-Pan American’s Mexican American Studies program attended the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco (NACCS) conference in Houston, Texas.

Throughout the weekend students and faculty facilitated and attended several research presentations as well as engaged with community efforts for social justice. While at the conference we learned that there was a statewide neglect of funding MAS in higher education and that in only a few weeks a day of advocacy at the Capitol would take place addressing issues of educational equity for Latina/os.

On March 16, 2015 approximately 50 students representing the UTPA Mexican American Studies Club (MASC), Bilingual Education Student Organization (BESO), La Unión de Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and the Minority Affairs Council (MAC) attended the Latina/o Education Day of Advocacy at the Capitol in Austin. Through the assistance of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Hispanic Senate Caucus, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, students were bused to the Capitol to participate in a press conference by the Latina/o Education Task Force, rally their support, and meet with legislators.

Our effort as students was advocating for the Latino/a Education Task Force agenda, in particular greater funding of MAS in higher education. However, our Valley contingency focused primarily on permanently funding the MAS Center, the Bilingual Studies Center, and the establishment of a department of MAS at the new UT-Rio Grande Valley. MAS has existed at UTPA since 1971, yet still exists today as only a program and not a department. UTRGV has promoted itself as a bilingual and bicultural intuition which boasts a Latina/o population upwards of 90 percent. However in the UTRGV Legislative Appropriations Request there exists no special requests to fund MAS. 

Today only a single MAS department exists in the state. In order to develop politically conscious and socially aware Latina/o leaders it is imperative to fund not only a MAS Center, but also a department in the Valley. We believe we have the potential to become the premier MAS department in not only Texas, but in the nation. Our sentiments were met with vocal support from our legislators. This support is additional affirmation to our ontological vocation of preserving our history and determining our future.

To not create a MAS department after 45 years of existence is to say that the study of the Mexican American experience is of little value. Who will be the legislator to champion our cause? Or will it be the student activism, as it was in 1971, that brings the permanent funding of a center and the rightful establishment of a department dedicated to the study of our Mexican American communities?

One thing is for certain, we will not stand idly by while crossing our arms as our heritage and culture escapes yet another generation. Nuestra Educación Es Nuestra Lucha.

Editor’s Note: The main photo with this story was provided by Roberto Calderon of the UT-Pan American Mexican American Studies Club. It was taken on the south steps of the state Capitol on March 16, 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Invitation: TCEP Graduate Seminar - "Will School Vouchers Benefit Low-Income Families? Assessing the Evidence”

FYI—the First United Methodist Church where our event will be held is a short walking distance to the capitol. So consider joining us for lunch and then heading over for the 2PM House Public Education Committee hearing that begins at 2:00 p.m in room E2.036.  High-stakes testing bills HB 742 & 743, along with 1164 will be considered.

Here is a link to the bill schedule next Tuesday in the Committee on Public Education

You can look up the actual bills here:  http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/


FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC  Please RSVP by clicking here

Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues:

I write to invite you to our next  University of Texas at Austin TCEP Graduate Seminar titled, "Will School Vouchers Benefit Low-Income Families? Assessing the Evidence” (see abstract below).  This seminar will be delivered by University of Texas ProfessorsDr. Huriya Jabbar, Dr. Jennifer Holme & doctoral students—Melinda Lemke, A.V. LeClair, Joanna Sanchez and Edgar M. Torres, Education Policy and Planning, University of Texas at Austin

Date:  Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Time:  11:45AM-1:00PM
Where:  First United Methodist Church Gymnasium
1301 Lavaca and 13th St., Second Floor
Parking:  Metered, street parking is available; limited parking is also available on the TSTA upstairs lot located at 12th and Lavaca.  Otherwise, consider parking at the capitol at 1201 San Jacinto Blvd,  Austin, TX 78701 (n  ear the intersection of San Jacinto Blvd and E. 12th St)

Lunch will be provided.  Please RSVP by clicking here.   Many thanks to the following sponsors:

The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis (IUPRA), University of Texas at Austin
Texas AFT
Education Austin
Texas State Teachers Association


School vouchers are an important issue in Texas this legislative session. Recently, state-level policymakers and advocates have proposed a grant program to give public school families public funds to send their children to private schools. Proponents have argued that school vouchers will save the state money, generate healthy competition between traditional and private schools, and remedy unequal access to high quality schools caused by racial segregation. Opponents argue that voucher policies will draw away much-needed funds from public schools and are just the first step in a broader effort to privatize public schools. These are tense, polarizing debates that, too often, are not based in evidence. In this policy memorandum, we focus on the research, providing rigorous evidence to assess the claims that are being made. Specifically, we focus on the equity claim, that school vouchers will help poor and minority families in low-performing schools to access higher-quality education.

This policy memo assesses the evidence regarding this claim. First, we provide a brief history of school vouchers in the U.S. Then we describe the different types of voucher programs that exist, and the variation amongst them. Next, we review rigorous, peer-reviewed research on who uses vouchers and their effects on low-income and minority students. Finally, based on this evidence, we provide policy recommendations for policymakers considering such reforms.

We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!


Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Director and Professor
Texas Center for Education Policy &
Education Policy and Planning Program
University of Texas at Austin

P.S. For a downloadable PDF to our TCEP Graduate Seminar policy memo titled, “High-Stakes Accountability in Texas Reconsidered," that suggests alternative policy options to our present system, please go to this link

.  Please direct any questions to Dr. Huriya Jabbar <jabbar@austin.utexas.edu>.