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TPPF report: Education Service Centers have ‘need for clarity’

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Regional Education Service Centers are entities which provide support to Texas public schools, but in recent years – especially with the controversy surrounding CSCOPE, the controversial curriculum management system created at taxpayer expense but with no public oversight – their existence is attracting new, much-warranted attention.

In a new report Regional Education Service Center Spending: A Need for Clarity, James Golsan, an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, calls RESCs “an industry unto themselves” and cites the need for significantly strengthening their transparency.

Golson reports the RESC network was statutorily established by the Texas Legislature in 1967. Per their original charter, “ESCs are established by the legislature for the purpose of: 1) Assisting schools in improving student performance; 2) Enabling schools to operate more efficiently and economically; and, 3) Implementing initiatives assigned by the Texas Legislature or the Commissioner of Education.”

RESC operations have evolved to include a variety of functions largely independent from the Texas Education Agency. Golson says this of these operations:

An examination of how the Centers receive and spend their revenue shows that they have the capacity to generate their own income. Additionally, the operations of the Centers lack transparency enabling Texas taxpayers and officials to see how the public funds are spent. Therefore, Texas should significantly strengthen the transparency measures RESCs must comply with, both from the bottom up (transparency with taxpayers and parents) and the top down, which is to say making their reporting requirements to the Texas Education Agency more stringent, and, in turn, the agency’s sway over the centers stronger.

With funding from a mixture of state, local and federal sources, Golson says about 19 percent comes from the state, federal grants total about 48 percent and school district contracts generate the remaining 33 percent.

Though funding levels for each of the 20 centers is slightly different, state funding comprises the smallest funding segment. Regional center spending also varies based on the size of student populations served.

In offering a representation of RESC operations, the report highlights Region 12, a central Texas region composed of 12 counties and including 77 school districts plus 15 charter schools.

The Region 12 RESC serves 156,002 students, spread across 368 campuses. It employs 11,479 teachers. Spending per student in the region, measured in operating or “classroom” cost only (as opposed to total costs factoring in elements such as transportation, facilities, and other non-classroom expenditures), averages at $8,911 annually.

The Region 12 RESC provides a number of “support services” to districts in the area, including (but not limited to) curriculum/instructional support, technology support, alternative certification, and business/finance support for schools in the area. According to the Region 12 website, it also coordinates several federal programs, including career and technical education, college and career readiness, and No Child Left Behind compliance issues.

CSCOPE created a major source of controversy for RESCs as detailed in the 2013 article Texas’ controversial curriculum termed ‘a shell game – not Enron, but ed-ron’.

Golson writes:

CSCOPE has proven controversial for two primary reasons. The first is a series of early lesson plans, including one depicting the Boston Tea Party as an act of terror, which many Texas parents found objectionable. The second, in what could be seen as a recurring theme, was a lack of transparency. During CSCOPE’s early years, many of the lesson plans were not available to the public.

The public pushback against CSCOPE was intense enough to merit legislation—specifically, SB 1406—that stopped the use of its lesson plans in Texas public schools. However, because many schools continue to implement elements of CSCOPE in their lessons, the curriculum remains under scrutiny.

Because transparency measures like online check registers do not “fully illustrate the degree to which school districts are taking advantage of their services,” Golson contends that no more than two clicks from their front website page, RESCs should be required to provide:

  • A list of programs and grants administered at that RESC.
  • Which school districts participate in each program or grant.
  • How much money is moving between the RESC and the districts for a given program or grant.
  • Itemized revenues the RESC receives from districts and private entities.
  • Optional accountability recommendations are also offered as follows:
  • Conducting an on-site investigation of the center.
  • Requiring the center to send notice of each deficiency to each school district and campus in the center’s region or served by the center the previous year.
  • Requiring the center to prepare for the commissioner’s approval a plan to address each area of deficiency.
  • Appointing a master to oversee the operations of the center.
  • Replacing the executive director or board of directors.
  • In the case of deficient performance in two consecutive years, closing the center.

Click here to read the full report.

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