Sunday, May 28, 2017

Texas Senate passes bill overhauling Houston's troubled pension systems

This piece illuminates the very serious implications of SB2190 that is currently on the governor's desk awaiting his signature.  It primarily affects Houston where the city is currently facing shortfalls to the tune of $8 billion with respect to its police, firefighter and municipal employee pension funds.  

A crisis indeed, but the policy "remedy" that SB2190 represents is a slippery slope for other cities, and a portent of bad things to come, specifically for Houston firefighters.  It thus concerns us all as a state.

This May 1, 2017 piece by Brandon Formby of the Texas Tribune provides important detail to SB2190 that you can read about here.  You can also get important additional detail on shifts from defined to contribution (401K or 401K-like plans) in other areas of the country in my April 13, 2017 blog post titled, SB 2190 Is Bad News for Public Education: This will KILL our already injured, hobbling profession...  [I've since re-titled it to read "Could be Bad..." as I posted it on the basis of info that I had back in April; apologies for any confusion this may have caused.] 

I'll take the liberty of quoting myself here from my updated April 13, 2017 blog post piece, too:

A longer-term agenda for our community and organizations is to upgrade our civic capacity in this arcane policy realm of pension plans. I know less than a handful of people and organizations that advocate in this area. Civil rights groups and the nonprofit sector, educational advocacy organizations, etc. need to step up to the plate. Thankfully, one such organization is Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems (TEXPERS):

Not sure who in academia is keeping track of these things either. Of all the volumes of education research and policy analysis that I read and come across, I simply do not see much at all on pension plans. Perhaps folks in public management are on top of this....

In any case, we all need to up our game on this. Myself, included. I'll of course continue sharing what I learn.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick himself said: "I cannot think of a more challenging bill in my 11 years in the Senate." Patrick said.  Read why below.

Angela Valenzuela

Texas Senate passes bill overhauling Houston's troubled pension systems

On a 25-5 vote, the Texas Senate passed a bill aimed at overhauling Houston's troubled pension funds. The bill's author also added a provision that could shift future employees to new retirement system if shortfalls worsen or persist.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, during a meeting of the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 27, 2017. 
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, during a meeting of the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 27, 2017.
Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune
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Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Texas Senators overwhelmingly passed a bill Monday that aims to overhaul Houston’s troubled pension funds, but not before including a last-minute amendment that could switch future first responders and City Hall employees to a new kind of retirement system.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 2190 in a 25-5 vote. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised the work of the bill's author, State Sen. Joan Huffman. The Houston Republican spent months working with Houston city officials, police officers, firefighters and city employees in an effort to rewrite the statute that governs the city’s severely underfunded pension systems. Her bill was at least loosely based on a plan that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner worked on with the three employee groups.
"I cannot think of a more challenging bill in my 11 years in the Senate," Patrick said.
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But the city’s firefighters opposed the legislation because, they said, it required too many cuts to features of their benefits even though their fund is not in nearly as bad a shape as the police and municipal funds. Huffman said from the Senate floor Monday that she made tweaks in the bill that aims to at least partially appease firefighters.
“Although progress was made, it is my understanding the firefighters do not support this bill,” Huffman said.
Houston fire pension chairman David Keller said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon that the benefit features cut from that fund to help the city afford its contributions to all three pension systems could prompt firefighters to leave the department. He also said that could exacerbate existing problems in the firefighters' fund in the same way that Dallas’ pension fund has been bombarded by asset losses.
“There, the anticipation of future benefit cuts caused waves of early retirements, forced liquidations of immature assets, and a spiraling decline of pension fund balances,” Keller said.
Huffman amended her bill so that if the police or fire systems have less than 65 percent of the money they will need to cover future retirement costs after 2021, new employees will have to go on a different kind of retirement plan called a cash balance plan. If the municipal fund isn’t funded at 60 percent after 2027, those city employees will also have to shift future employees to the new retirement plan.
Currently, the city's police system is funded at 62 percent, the firefighter fund at 81 percent and the municipal fund at 48 percent, according to credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s.
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A cash balance plan can be similar to a pension, but instead of money being pooled into one large fund, each employee has their own separate account. But it was unclear Monday if such plans would be pooled or not if Houston is eventually required to use them.
"We did leave some flexibility for the city and the pensions to develop the fine details," Huffman said after Monday's vote.
Houston leaders last week said no such plan was offered to police, firefighters or municipal employees while they were negotiating a pension reform plan with city officials. They said they didn’t know enough about the idea to support it so late in the legislative session. But Turner on Monday praised passage of the bill in a prepared statement. 
“Studies are still out on whether they will work in the long run,” Huffman said Monday of cash balance plans. “The beauty is there's certainty in the cost to the city and the taxpayers.”
The idea for the cash balance plan came from some Houston business leaders worried that Turner’s plan would not adequately shore up the shortfalls and would lead to cuts in city services or employee layoffs.
“It only kicks in if his plan doesn't work,” said Houston investment manager Chris Zook.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, had wanted to amend the bill to let Houston voters decide whether the city should send all future employees to defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s. That’s a highly controversial idea among first responders who say that the promise of dependable pensions is something cities have long used to keep from paying them higher salaries.
Bettencourt said Monday that he liked the cash balance plan idea because it would end the use of costly pension funds if the current financial crisis doesn’t ebb.
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“It’s a recognition of the obvious,” he said.

Missed payments and growing debt 

Houston faces more than $8 billion in shortfalls in its police, firefighter and municipal employee pension funds. But credit ratings agency Moody’s estimates the unfunded liabilities exceed $10 billion. That firm ranked Houston as having the nation’s fourth worst pension shortfall when unfunded liabilities were compared to the annual operating revenues.
Those shortfalls are far worse in the police and municipal employee funds than in the firefighter retirement fund. The unfunded liabilities in the police and municipal systems stem from years in which those respective board agreed to let the city underfund its pension contributions. City officials estimate they now owe the police fund $750 million and the municipal employee fund $250 million.
To repay those underfunded amounts, the city plans to issue $1 billion in pension obligation bonds. But the Senate in March passed a bill that could complicate that plan because it would require voters to approve a city’s attempt to take on bond debt to fill pension funds. Huffman's bill also includes a provision saying that if voters reject pension obligation bonds, the benefit cuts that employees agreed to will not go into effect. 

Budget woes ahead 

Houston is already facing a $90 to $100 million shortfall in its budget that has to be approved by the end of next month. In July, when Houston's 2018 fiscal year begins, the city will have to pay $130 million into the police retirement fund. If pension reform legislation goes through, the city plans to quickly issue its $1 billion in planned bonds to avoid draining $130 million from its general fund. If the city has to use its the general fund for that payment, it will create a $220 to $240 million budget shortfall that will lead to layoffs for city employees, including police officers and firefighters, according to Turner.
“No group of employees is going to go unscathed in this process,” Turner said at a press conference last week.
Houston officials have warned that a shortage in first responders will lead to higher crime rates and lower response times throughout the city. Houston fire chief Samuel Peña said at a press conference last week that his department wouldn’t be able to respond as quickly to car wrecks, house fires or medical emergency.
“We are already strained to the max as far as being able to provide the service that this community has come to expect,” he said.
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Friday, May 26, 2017

Johnson: Poor investment, higher dropout rates for Texas' English-learners

As school finance goes down in flames this legislative session (that you can read about here), we should be mindful of who is getting disproportionately harmed, namely, English language learners [ELLs], the majority of whom are Latinos/as.  And in very large numbers...!
According to this October 2, 2015 article written by Roy Johnson at IDRA, "They have the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups, at 71.5 percent statewide." That's far too many young people in our state without a high school diploma.  For a sense of perspective, check out this 2015-16 report by the Texas Education Agency titled, Enrollment in Texas Public Schools, 2015-16 - Texas Education Agency [pdf] which offers the following sobering statistics:

In 2015-16, 50.0 percent of students were identified as at risk of dropping out of school (Table 14 on page 24).
• The percentage of students participating in bilingual/ESL programs increased from 14.6 percent in 2005-06 to 18.3 percent in 2015-16, an increase of 47.3 percent (Table 14 on page 24 and Figure 8).
• The number of students identified as ELLs increased by 269,091, or 37.8 percent, between 2005-06 and 2015-16. In the 2015-16 school year, 18.5 percent of students were identified as ELLs, compared to 15.7 percent in 2005-06.
• The percentage of students served in special education programs decreased from 11.3 percent in 2005-06 to 8.7 percent in 2015-16.*
• Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the number of students participating in Title I programs increased by 23.9 percent. In the 2015-16 school year, 64.8 percent of students were enrolled in Title I programs.**

* Do check out this policy brief by UT Masters student in Education Policy and Planning, Rob Walker, who brings much-needed attention to the 8.5 percent arbitrary cutoff in services for special education services that took place in 2004.  The analysis in fact reveals that, in effect, the state preyed on its sub-population of ELLs by not providing them with the special education services to which they were entitled.

**Title I is a federal program that provides resources to schools with high percentages of low socioeconomic students.

Hopefully, this will move more of us to do more for these children, our children, to obtain not just equitable school finance in our state, but also better monitoring of our programs serving special populations like English language learners in bilingual education and English as a Second language programs, as well as Special Education students.  

A couple of such worthy attempts with legislation that didn't get far this session—in part because we're too busy fighting the "show me your papers bill [SB4]" as well as the "bathroom bill [SB6]"—were by State Representative Diego Bernal with HB184, as well as by Senator Judith Zaffirini SB61.  

It's ridiculous and tragic that neither of these bills had much of a life this session.  This has got to change if Texas as a state is to prosper and if our ELL and Special Education children are to receive the quality education to which they are legally entitled.

Angela Valenzuela

Johnson: Poor investment, higher dropout rates for Texas' English-learners

Published 10:13 pm, Friday, October 2, 2015
All across Houston recently, our children and youth stepped back into school hallways, meeting their new teachers, sorting their supplies and looking ahead to what the year might bring.

But many will disappear by May. Some seniors who start this year by dressing up for graduation photos will not walk the stage in caps and gowns at the end of the year.

According to a new report by the Texas Education Agency, 88 percent of students in the class of 2014 graduated. In school districts across Harris County, graduation rates ranged from 79 percent to 95 percent. Across Houston districts, the rates range from 79 percent to 93 percent.

On the surface, since the rates are generally better than before, this sounds like fabulous news. And progress certainly should be celebrated.

But a deeper look shows a picture that is not as rosy, specifically for English language learners. They have the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups, at 71.5 percent statewide.

ELL students are one of the fastest-growing student groups in Texas with almost 1 million students, making up 18 percent of the school population. In the Houston area in 2014-15, ELLs are one in four students with 202,000 ELLs in Harris County and 198,000 ELLs in Houston alone.

To teach English while at the same time teaching math, science, and other subjects, schools provide instruction in bilingual education classes. Older students receive English as a second-language instruction.

The oftentimes poor quality of instructional programs for ELL students, particularly in middle and high school, has been a concern of educators, communities, parents and civil rights advocates for a number of years.

A decade ago, I served as an expert witness in a court case filed against the state for its poor monitoring of schools' ELL instruction. Texas relies on standardized test results in ways that merge data for students of all ages - elementary and secondary - and thus prevent targeted improvement efforts. So we can't tell which programs are working and which need improvement.

The late Senior U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ordered the state to establish an effective monitoring system and a language program that would fulfill the requirements of the Equal Education Opportunity Act. Apparently unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to ensure ELL students were effectively educated, the state appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded the order.

Not surprisingly, the problem did not go away. As the numbers of ELL students grew, schools found themselves ill-equipped. Fewer than one in five elementary bilingual and ESL teachers in Texas are fully certified to teach ELL students. Schools with high concentrations of ELLs tend to have higher student-to-teacher ratios and are more likely to be property-poor schools. 

One year ago, Texas District Court Judge John Dietz ruled in the largest school finance case in Texas' history that the current system of education funding was "constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable and financially inefficient." The San Antonio-based nonprofit Intercultural Development Research Association conducted research and provided expert testimony finding that the funding system is inequitable and fails to provide the adequate funding for educating ELL and low-income students. Judge Dietz agreed.

His ruling was heard on appeal in September. Regardless of the final ruling months from now, federal policy requires schools to serve every ELL student.

The results of Texas' neglect are clear. ELL students in Harris County and the city of Houston are not graduating with comparable percentages as other student groups, and they are dropping out at higher rates.

In fact, the average longitudinal dropout rate for ELLs is more than twice that of all students. In Harris County, the all-student rate is 6.3 percent compared to 14.1 percent for ELLs. In the city of Houston, the all-student rate is 7.3 percent compared to 16.1 percent for ELLs.

In February, more than 80 education and community leaders, and experts in law and education research gathered to examine this issue and hear the results of research conducted by Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos, IDRA's inaugural José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow.

Participants were alarmed to hear from the research that no secondary schools in Texas are consistently exceeding academic benchmarks with ELLs. 


And those schools with highest ELL achievement spend significantly more general funds than other schools. Texas is significantly underfunding ELL education, and it shows.

Only 10 out of 613 secondary schools had a high proportion of ELL students passing all end-of-course exams, according to research by Dr. Jimenez-Castellanos.

While 56 percent of Texas students were considered college-ready in math and English language arts, only 8 percent of ELL students were considered ready.

This cannot go on. We cannot start filling our champagne glasses celebrating when our schools across the state are losing three out of 10 ELL students.

We would not be OK with only seven in 10 airplanes landing safely at their destination. We would not sit idly by if our electricity only worked seven out of 10 days. And we would not sit still if our banks lost $3 of $10 from our paychecks. And yet, the loss of hundreds of students hardly gets a second glance.

It doesn't have to be this way.

A few weeks ago, families from across the Texas Rio Grande Valley convened to encourage superintendents to set as the standard graduation plan one that gives students the opportunity to graduate college ready. Parents in the poorest parts of our state are calling for rigorous college-prep courses for their children. One high-poverty school district that serves a large ELL population has decided it's not OK to lose thousands of students and has taken steps that have cut its dropout rate in half. And they're not done.

Houston ISD itself has almost tripled the number of dual-language campuses in three years. And some Houston students made headlines when they joined other Texas teens in submitting an amicus brief calling for more school funding.

With greater attention to the quality of instructional programs for ELL students and to adequate and equitable funding for ELL education, we can secure educational opportunity for our all of students.
And all means all.

We must make sure every student is counted, because here in Houston, every student counts.

Johnson directs evaluation work at the Intercultural Development Research Association and is the lead author and researcher for IDRA's annual school attrition study.

Announcement: Public Lecture by A. Valenzuela, "Community-Based, Educator Preparation: Teacher and Community Empowerment"

Giving a talk at UC Boulder this Summer.  
Thought I'd share.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Less Funding and School Privatization are a Retreat from Demographic Trends

I'm re-posting this Texas Tribune piece from a year ago as it speaks to our future as a state (link to the actual piece to view the graphs).  I share this in the wake of the death of HB21 that you can read about here.  Sadly, our legislature can't seem to fund public schools despite decades of court cases that speak to how they're inequitably financed.  In the meantime, our state demographics reveal growth in both numbers and diversity.  

We're all looking at the same trends.  Yet the Senate's response is to not only not adequately fund education—not that HB21 doesn't have its own limitations—but to privatize public education instead.

Less funding and privatization together amounts to a dog-eat-dog world where our human right to a quality education vanishes with education literally reduced to that which one can afford as a consumer.  

How is a consumer society visionary by any stretch of the imagination?  To the contrary.  It represents a retreat from the demographic shifts and realities facing our nation. It also represents meanness and stinginess when we see the challenges facing districts that are on the front lines already, losing revenues to charter schools that don't perform any better, and frequently worse, than public schools.  Plus, since such schools have their own corporate governance structures, you as a consumer are beholden not to a democratically-elected school board, but to a corporation through your signed, contractual agreement.  Good luck with that if your kid differs in any way from the norm.

And then there's what the research shows—which doesn't make a lick of difference with privatization advocates in the Senate.  Go to this link to read a recent analysis comparing neighborhood schools to charters by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig.  The results shouldn't surprise you, since this is a struggle that is more about ideology than evidence.

My friends, we must all vote, get others to vote, get involved in the political process, and then vote our interests as a polity.  For starters, this means getting these private school advocates out of power—and frankly, re-committing to democracy lest we become the fascist, corporate state that Benito Mussolini envisioned and wrote about.

Angela Valenzuela


Young Texans Make Up Most Diverse Generation

If demographics are destiny, the youngest Texans appear destined to make the state dramatically more diverse.
While white Texans still make up the largest racial group, the state's
demographic future is in the hands of younger Texans, according to new
age, race and ethnicity figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census
Bureau. The
estimates, which track population change from July 2014 to July 2015,
show that older generations of Texas are more white while younger Texans
are much more likely to be part of a racial or ethnic minority group.
Almost 68 percent of Texans aged 19 and younger are non-white. That's
a reversal of the racial breakdown among Texans 65 and older, almost
two-thirds of whom are white while only about 36 percent are people of

Both of those breakdowns stand in contrast to the state’s overall share of Texans — 57 percent — that are non-white.

The new figures, particularly the diversity among young Texans, fuel predictions
that Texas may be the next state where Hispanics become a plurality,
comprising the largest racial or ethnic group though not a majority. If
that happens, Texas would join New Mexico and California.
As of July 2015, Hispanics made up 38.8 percent of the state's population while white residents made up 43 percent.
The state’s white, black
and Hispanic populations all grew in size last year, but the overall
share of white Texans continued to drop slightly. And it was the
Hispanic population that grew the fastest.
Nationally, the continued
growth of the Hispanic population is due largely to natural increase —
Hispanic parents having more babies — and not immigration from other
countries. Research by the state demographer
has shown
that while people born in Latin American countries continue to make up
the largest group of immigrants in Texas, the rate at which they are
moving to the state has decreased in the past decade.
Once again, Starr
County — located in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border
— had the highest share of Hispanics in the country with 95.8 percent,
followed by several other border counties. 
But the recent rapid growth in the Hispanic community is not limited to the border region.
The state's urban cores
have seen consistent growth among the Hispanic population. Among the
state's 25 most populous counties, suburban counties surrounding
Houston, Austin and Dallas have experienced the fastest growth in
Hispanic residents since 2010.
This analysis includes people who are identified as non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black or Hispanic.
Correction: As originally published, the second chart
accompanying this story showed incorrect numbers for all the county by
county statistics on fastest Hispanic population growth.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Náhuatl crosses borders, arrives in Austin

This is a really neat piece by ¡AHORA SÍ!/Austin American-Statesman columnist, Liliana Valenzuela.  In English, the title translates as  "Náhuatl crosses borders, arrives in Austin." Náhuatl happens to be the original language spoken by the Aztecs in Mexico.  It is also a living language with at least 1.5 million speakers who are mostly reside in Mexico.  That's a really large number when taking into consideration more than 500 years of colonization since the conquest of Tenochtitlán—where Mexico City is located today.

Native Náhuatl speaker from Mexico, Sabina Cruz de la Cruz, teaches a course on Náhuatl at The University of Texas at Austin Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.  This piece tells a painful story of having to grow up in a society that forced her to assimilate into the Spanish tongue.  Since it was her home language, however, she held onto it.  She has a law degree and has also collaborated in the writing of a Nahuatl dictionary.  

I and others are fortunate to have gained access to some Nahuatl through the Aztec danza (or danza Mexica) that gets taught as part of the Academia Cuauhtli curriculum.  "Danza" doesn't mean "dance."  It means "ceremony."  What this column doesn't say is that the knowledge and symbolic system of the Mexica is vast, with a great deal of it having gotten preserved through the danza itself.  So yes, while their books were burned by the Europeans, the oral memory to which their knowledge was also committed has allowed it to largely survive.  There are also generations of ancestral families, dating back to the fall of Tenochtitlán in the 1500s that have intentionally and with great personal investment, sacrifice, and effort, held on to the ancient knowledge.  

Europeans who knew nothing about them and further judged them through their cultural lens, deemed them as superstitious "pagans."  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  They were actually extremely scientific in their way of thinking and theorizing of the world and universe. The Aztec calendr itself speaks to this.

Hernán Cortés and his men encountered a city that easily rivaled economically, socially, and aesthetically the great European cities of its time, including Venice, to which it shared great similarities with its surrounding bodies of waters and waterways.  Tenochtitlán had schools, institutes, and universities. They had higher education.  A great book to learn about these things was written by Loyola Marymount University Professor Dr. Ernesto Colín titled, Indigenous Education through Dance and Ceremony: A Mexica Palimsest.

Remember that we, as Mexican Americans/Chican@s, were stripped of our indigenous tongues before getting stripped of the Spanish language through the schooling process. Stated differently, the assimilation process not only "Americanizes" or "assimilates" in a way that eviscerates the Spanish language and its accompanying identity, but this form of colonization is layered over an equally profound erasure generations earlier of our indigenous tongues and identities. These are macro processes, of course, that play out differently across different contexts in place in time.

This very story about Sabina Cruz de la Cruz speaks directly to this ongoing process today in Mexican schools that disparage native languages, rendering assimilation to the Spanish tongue a painful, laborious process—not unlike assimilating to English for Mexican-origin people in the U.S. (I wrote a whole book about this. It's titled, Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring.)

So yes, while we need to appreciate, recover and revitalize indigenous tongues like Náhuatl, we also need to be aware that they, too, continue to struggle under the oftentimes crushing weight of what I term, "subtractive cultural assimilation"—or simply, "subtractive schooling."  That said, exceptional individuals like Sabina Cruz de la Cruz live and teach to educate and inspire another generation.  Read on.

 Angela Valenzuela 


El náhuatl traspasa fronteras, llega a Austin

El náhuatl es la lengua materna de Sabina Cruz de la Cruz y ahora ella disfruta de poder compartir su amor por su lengua con los demás. LILIANA VALENZUELA / ¡AHORA SÍ!
De niña la regañaban por hablar su idioma materno. Ahora en edad adulta, ella da clases de náhuatl a estudiantes en Estados Unidos.
“El náhuatl es mi lengua materna, mi primera lengua”, dijo Sabina Cruz de la Cruz, de 34 años, nacida en Tecomate, en el distrito de Chicontepec, al norte de Veracruz.
El náhuatl no es sólo el idioma original de los aztecas en México, sino una lengua viva, la cual siguen hablando al menos 1.5 millones de habitantes en México.
Pero este idioma podría estar en proceso de extinción y ella quiere hacer todo lo posible para evitar que eso suceda.
Cruz ha estado dando clases de náhuatl en la Universidad de Texas en Austin (UT) durante dos años y sus alumnos dieron una presentación de cierre de cursos en náhuatl, inglés y español esta primavera.
Los estudiantes presentaron una canción, un poema y una obra escrita originalmente en náhuatl. Un ejemplo de uno de los parlamentos de la obra en náhuatl, con traducción al español e inglés, y proyectado sobre una pantalla decía: “Pan nopa tonatiuh, Chela huan Mela itzoqueh altauhco tlachicueniah huan iuhquinon zaniloah ica tlamachtiliztli then Chalino. (En ese día, Chela y Mela están en el arroyo lavando la ropa y hablando de los estudios de Chalino.).
El náhuatl Cruz lo aprendió, dijo, “con mis papás, con mi pueblo, con mi gente”.
Y aunque Cruz lo hablaba de niña, no lo aprendió a escribir hasta que ya era adulta. “Fue algo bonito para mí, emocionante”, dijo, cuando llevó su idioma natal a otro plano, el de la escritura.
Aunque Cruz se recibió de abogada con un diploma en Derecho, no ejerció esa profesión, dijo, ya que desde el tercer o cuarto semestre de la licenciatura la habían invitado a colaborar en la elaboración de un diccionario de náhuatl como nativo hablante, del cual es coautora con el profesor John Sullivan y otros 7 u 8 participantes.
Posteriormente, Cruz dio clases de verano en un instituto de lenguas para estadounidenses desde 2007, el Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas.
En Estados Unidos, fue asistente de un profesor de náhuatl en Nueva Orleáns cada dos años, del 2009 al 2015, y desde hace dos años ella es la profesora de náhuatl en el Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS Benson).
“Fue mi primera experiencia frente al grupo yo sola”, dijo, “me gustó más”. Espera que le renueven el contrato para el 2019, agregó.
Un comienzo difícil 
Cuando Cruz tuvo que aprender español en su pueblo natal, este fue un proceso doloroso debido al rechazo a su lengua materna. Los maestros les decían, “aprende español porque el náhuatl no te va a ayudar, el náhuatl no te sirve de nada”. Los maestros no eran bilingües y no había en esa época, ni ahora, un concepto de educación bilingüe, dijo.
“Nosotros de niños llorando porque no sabíamos español, más que náhuatl…fue difícil porque a fuerza teníamos que aprender”, recuerdó. “Luego nos castigaban si decíamos una palabra en náhuatl, nos pegaban”.
Sin embargo, Cruz siguió hablando náhuatl en casa y entre sus hermanos, aún cuando ya todos cursaban la universidad. “Hasta nos daba pena hablarnos en español, porque ‘¿cómo nos vamos a hablar en español nosotros?’”
También le daba pena hablar en español con sus padres, “me sentía rara”, dijo.
Hoy día siente que en su vida tiene un balance entre las dos lenguas y realidades. “El español me ha ayudado mucho, estando fuera de mi comunidad, al comunicarme”.
Y tener dos lenguas, le ha permitido viajar y conocer otras culturas, dijo. Además, el náhuatl la reconecta a sus raíces, a cómo era todo antes.
Desafortunadamente, si los abuelos ya no les enseñan a sus nietos el náhuatl y los padres tampoco se los enseñan, el idioma materno es algo que “se puede perder”.
“Ojalá que no se perdiera, que a los niños en las aulas les enseñaran, porque ahora sí no soy la única maestra interesada en que se aprenda el náhuatl, habemos más”, dijo.
Comunícate con Liliana al 512-912-2987.
Algunas palabras en náhuatl
Cualli yahuatzinco Buenos días
Cualli tiotlac Buenas tardes
Cualli yahualli Buenas noches
Nimechtlahpaloa Saludos
Piyali Hola

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TCEP Policy Brief: Abolishing the Arbitrary 8.5 Percent Cap for Identification and Enrollment of Students for Special Education Services in Texas

Happy to share another Texas Center for Education Policy brief that is germane to a bill that is currently sitting on Governor Greg Abbott's desk.  Senate Bill 160 is about a scandalous under-reporting in Texas of students qualified to receive Special Education Services.  You may have read some of the writeup on this in the Houston Chronicle last fall.  Education Policy and Planning Masters student, Rob Walker, does a great job in capturing not solely the travesty, but also the importance of a solution through statute.  You may also link to this piece [pdf] here.

Angela Valenzuela

Policy Brief

Abolishing the Arbitrary 8.5 Percent Cap for Identification and Enrollment of
Students for Special Education Services in Texas


Robert Walker, Research Assistant

Texas Center for Education Policy

The University of Texas at Austin

May 23, 2017

Executive Summary

            Currently at play in the 2017 85th Texas Legislative Session is Senate Bill 160 (SB160), authored by Senator José Rodriguez and co-authored by Senator José Menéndez, is a bill that is aimed at abolishing the 8.5 percent indicator or cap for identification and enrollment of students receiving Special Education services in Texas public schools.  With Senate Bill 160 currently on Governor Greg Abbott's desk awaiting his signature or veto, the purpose of this brief is to provide a brief history and policy context for the 8.5 percent performance indicator that was put in place by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in 2004.  Specifically, this cap keeps the number of children enrolled in and/ or receiving Special Education services in all public school districts at or below an arbitrary 8.5 percent in order to avoid an over enrollment of students (Rosenthal, 2016a).

            According to surveys administered to Texas Special Education teachers, as well as listening sessions with teachers, administrators and parents conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, enforcement of the 8.5 percent indicator has led to several thousands of students not receiving services to which they are entitled under the law (Texas American Federation of Teachers, 2016). It was further found that under the cap, English Language Leaners (ELLs) were the most at risk to not receive services to which they would have otherwise been due in the absence of it (Rosenthal, 2016c). In order for every child that has special needs to receive the services that they require to be academically and socially successful, Governor Abbott must sign Senate Bill 160 into law.

Abolishing the Arbitrary 8.5 Percent Cap for Identification and Enrollment of
Students for Special Education Services in Texas


Robert Walker

Brief History and Policy Context
            Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975, any school-age child with a disability, whether they have a visual-, auditory-, physical-, mental-, emotional- and/or learning-related disability is to receive full access to a district’s Special Education services. (IDEA, 1975). Yet, despite this being the law of the land, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) implemented an 8.5 percent performance cap in what many believe to be an effort to avoid the costs of providing Special Education services (Rosenthal, 2016a). Texas currently has the lowest percentage of enrolled Special Education students in the nation (Rosenthal & Carrol, 2016). Districts have had to meet this indicator or cap to be labeled as being compliant with the TEA standards listed in the Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) (Texas Education Agency, 2004).  PBMAS was implemented under state education commissioner Shirley Neeley Richardson and continued under the current education Commissioner Mike Morath. If districts provided Special Education services to more than 8.5 percent of their student population, they were labeled as guilty of over enrolling students and were subjected to corrective action plans. These corrective action plans included school and administration restructuring, fines, and in some cases, direct takeover of the supervision of Special Education enrollment in the district by the state (Texas Education Agency, 2004).

            The cap was instituted in 2004 after the TEA’s budget was cut by $1.1 billion in 2003  which led to the agency laying off 15 percent of its staff (Rosenthal, 2016a). From available evidence, the indicator was an attempt to save school districts money (Rosenthal, 2016a; 2016b). The TEA has said that the indicator was not meant to be cap on the number of children receiving legally mandated services, but worked instead to identify if a particular category of student fell outside given indicators (Texas Education Agency Full Statement to Chronicle Questions, n.d.).

            The TEA also denies that there has been any observable drop in Special Education enrollment across Texas public school districts and maintains that no student has been denied services (Texas Education Agency Full Statement to Chronicle Questions, n.d.). It is the TEA’s position that the PBMAS and the indicators written within it, were created with the collaboration of experts in Special Education and is in full compliance with IDEA (Texas Education Agency Full Statement to Chronicle Questions, n.d.).

            Despite the assertion by TEA officials that there is overwhelming evidence showing that there has not been a significant decrease in the enrollment of students in educational services across the state, the evidence suggests otherwise.  According to a Houston Chronicle investigation that took place in Fall, 2016, the percentage of identified Special Education students in Texas decreased significantly from 11.67 percent in 2004 to 8.5 percent in 2015 (Rosenthal, 2016a). The following is the exact decrease in percentages  types of special needs services in Texas since the implementation of the cap: There was a 46 percent decrease in the amount of services to children with learning disabilities; a 42 percent decrease in emotionally and mentally disabled children served; a 39 percent decrease of children with orthopedic impairments served; a 27 percent decrease of children with speech impediments served; a 20 percent decrease of children with brain injuries served; a 15 percent decrease in children with hearing impairments served; and an 8 percent decrease of students with visual problems served (Rosenthal, 2016a; Rosenthal & Carrol, 2016).

            In an effort to comply with state regulations, school districts, including the Houston Independent School District, utilized a number of tactics to keep their students from receiving Special Education services. These tactics ranged from not offering testing for mental and learning disorders, distributing Special Education assessment forms geared to blaming other factors for mental- and learning-related disorder symptoms and, in general, creating a system where learning disorder test results were “re-examined,” meaning that they were subsequently characterized as being related to other factors (Rosenthal & Barnard-Smith, 2016).

 Under the cap, it was found that English Language Learners (ELLs) were the most at risk to not receive services (Rosenthal, 2016c).  ELL students’ special needs-related behaviors were often attributed to their lack of understanding of English by school officials (Rosenthal, 2016c). In addition, ELL’s family often did not how attain Special Education services for the child because of the language barrier (Rosenthal, 2016c).


            Though the TEA has held a press conference announcing that in the coming year, the 8.5 percent performance indicator would eventually be eliminated (Disability Rights Texas, 2017), the bill should still be made into law as changing the education code of the state will permanently stop any such cap from being implemented again. In addition, a statewide policy of providing parents at the start of each school year with a list of their rights in terms of getting access to   disorder testing and Special Education services, in general, should also exist.  This list, as well as all other subsequent Special-Education-related information, should be made available and distributed in all the languages spoken in each school district. Lastly, the TEA should monitor and report biennially on all Texas school districts’ provision of Special Education services to ensure that they are in compliance with federal law. 



Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (1975)

Rosenthal, B. M. (2016a, September 10). Denied: How Texas Keeps Tens of Thousands of Children out of Special Education. Houston Chronicle.  Retrieved from

Rosenthal, B. M. (2016b, November 9). Denied: Mentally ill Lose Out As Special Ed Declines. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from

Rosenthal, B. M. (2016c, December 10). Texas Schools Shut non-English Speakers Out of Special E. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from

Rosenthal, B. M., & Barnard-Smith, S. (2016, December 27). Denied: Houston Schools Systematically Block Disabled Kids from Special Ed. Houston Chronicle.  Retrieved from

Rosenthal, B. M., & Carrol, S. (2016, December 24). Denied: Unable to get Special Education in Texas, One Family Moved. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from

Senate Bill 160 85th Legislative Session (2017). Bill History.

Texas American Federation of Teachers (2016). Texas AFT Special Education Survey. Austin, Texas: Charles Luke

 Texas Education Agency (2004) Texas Education Enrollment target. Retrieved from

Texas Education Agency Full Statement to Chronicle Questions [Interview]. (n.d.). Retrieved from