The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Education Stories

By Richard Whittaker, January 1, 2016, News

1) Goodbye NCLB, Hello ESSA

The U.S. Department of Education will take more of a backseat in education policy, with the signing by Pres. Barack Obama in December of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill, which hands more powers back to the states, is the final death knell for the expiring and unloved No Child Left Behind.

2) Empty Coffers, Again

It's been over a year since Judge John Dietz told lawmakers that Texas public schools are underfinanced, and yet they still refused to add any serious additional cash to public education. Now the final decision lies with the Texas Supreme Court, and many legislators expect they will demand immediate action, requiring a special session in 2016.

3) Gunning for Higher Education

Students don't want them. Academics and administrators don't want them. Cops don't want them. Hell, even UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven, the retired U.S. admiral who oversaw the assassination of Osama bin Laden, doesn't want them. But the NRA and every pandering politician wants guns on campus, so the Legislature approved it, and Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion that would essentially make gun-free zones a thing of the past.

4) Bad Ideas Defeated

Education advocates were terrified that, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick running the Senate, every backdoor privatization tool pushed by the education reform movement would get passed. But from vouchers to more funding diverted to private charters, they were all rejected with bipartisan opposition.

5) Pearson Ejected

For 30 years, Pear­son Education has run the ever-growing testing regime in Texas schools. This year, the Texas Education Agency broke their monopoly stranglehold, handing the bulk of the next four-year contract to rival Educa­tion­al Testing Service. State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff warned that the change doesn't matter, because opponents of high-stakes testing are "vendor agnostic" in their concerns.

6) Shake-Up On Sixth Street

Major changes in Austin ISD. First, Superintendent Paul Cruz revamped his cabinet in May, and the departure of seeming fixtures general counsel-turned-chief of staff Mel Waxler was seen as an overdue changing of the guard. Then board president Gina Hinojosa stepped down from her leadership position (while staying on as a trustee) to run to replace retiring State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. Her exit means a vacant seat on the Nov. 2016 ballot, and trustee infighting to replace her as president in January.

7) IDEA Still Here

Remember when the Allan community scored a victory by pushing IDEA Public Schools out of their AISD campus? The charter operation is still here and expanding, with two campuses (Allan, whose name the group purloined for their new campus in Montopolis, and a facility on Rundberg), with one more planned for 2016.

8) New School Uniform: Flood Pants

As the city of Austin still wrangles with buyouts for residents of Onion Creek, AISD is dealing with water damage of its own, with House Park stadium wrecked by rising water on Memorial Day, and half of Palm Elemen­tary rendered unusable after the Halloween storms.

9) Farewell, Linda

Children and classroom workers lost a leading advocate in Jan­uary with the sad loss of Texas American Federation of Teachers Pres­ident Linda Bridges. AFT President Randi Weingarten called her "a great leader [and] a great friend."

10) Don't Stand So Close To Me

A surge in the reported number of inappropriate and potentially illegal relationships between teachers and students was the focus of the first out-of-session hearing by the Texas Senate Education Committee. Now lawmakers are questioning whether social media makes such relationships more likely, or just more likely to be detected.

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