New Report Examines High Cost of School Discipline in Budget-Stressed Texas Districts

The Austin-based advocacy organization Texas Appleseed recently released a report examining the financial impact on several Texas school districts of using exclusionary discipline techniques, including expulsions, out-of-school suspensions and alternative education program referrals. The findings in “Breaking Rules, Breaking Budgets: Cost of Exclusionary Discipline in 11 Texas School Districts” stem from an evaluation of about 25 percent of the state’s 4 million public school students. According to researchers, the total “cost of discipline” for the 11 school districts studied resulted in a combined $140 million in expenditures from 2010 to 2011. The combined cost includes a number of factors, including the cost of operating alternative education campuses, security and monitoring expenses and overall lost state funding due to out-of-school suspensions. Researchers said that budgetary constrictions – including a recent $5.4 billion cut to the state’s public education budget – means Texas school districts will have to be more strategic in selecting effective, evidence-based programs to improve student outcomes.

Honor student Diane Tran, 17, was arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail and $100 dollar fine. Photo: CNN

UPDATE: Contempt Charges Dropped Against Texas Honor Student Diane Tran

UPDATE, MAY 31: Following an intense public backlash, Texas Judge Lanny Moriarty dismissed contempt charges Wednesday against Diane Tran – a 17-year-old high school student punished last week for truancy. Tran, an 11th grade student at the Houston-area Willis High School, spent 24 hours in a Montgomery County jail last week and was ordered to pay a $100 fine for excessive truancy, Houston’s KHOU-11 reports. Under Texas law, students are allowed to miss no more than 10 class days during a six-month window; reportedly, Tran had missed 18 days for that school year. Following her parents’ separation, Tran has been financially supporting her siblings, working full time at a dry cleaning operation and performing part-time work as a wedding planner. Considered a legal adult under state law, Tran was warned about her absences – considered a misdemeanor offense within the state – by a judge in April.

Financial Aid office, Kennesaw State University. Photo: Clay Duda/JJIE

Pell Grant Cuts Begin in Summer School

It might make for a more leisurely summer, but Kennesaw State University student Steven Welch didn’t dump college courses to have more free time. He did it because he couldn’t afford the cost. Welch, 24, had to make the move because he no longer qualified for a Pell Grant to cover the cost of summer tuition. Restrictions on the grant program, long used to help low-income and some middle-class students stem the cost of higher education, were enacted by Congress last year — but students are feeling the impact for the first time this summer as the changes are implemented across the country. Before this summer, students could use more than the allotted $5,550 per year to help cover the cost of tuition and other school related expenses.

‘Drop Out Factories’ Decline, Nation Pushes for Graduation Benchmark

Drop out factories. Since coined by a Johns Hopkins researcher working on high school dropout issues in 2004, that’s the name given to schools that lead our nation in dropout rates, graduating less than 60 percent of their students each year. Around the country, half of the more than 1 million students that fail to graduate high school each year come from just 12 percent of the nation’s schools, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. President Barack Obama, retired General Colin Powell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others, have taken notice. Since 1980, dropout rates around the United States have decreased – and graduation rates are up – but nearly one in four public school students still leave high school without a diploma.

Joe Biden

Higher Education Must Be Kept Affordable, Biden Says

Following the defeat by Senate Republicans of a bill that would have prevented student loan interest rates from doubling July 1,  Vice President Biden addressed students and representatives from higher education and youth-service organizations about the importance of keeping college affordable and accessible. His remarks were preceded by a panel discussion with policy experts from the Domestic Policy Council, the Department of Education and the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Update:

This morning, Biden talked about how it is a “gigantic priority” for the President and his administration to make higher education affordable and to prevent interest loans from doubling on July 1 of this year. He began by expressing how much he and the President appreciate people for participating in “this critical debate.” He called making higher education affordable his passion and his hobbyhorse, saying that the first bill he ever introduced helped more people qualify for Stafford loans. He then talked about his “typical middle class life” growing up and how his dad was so ashamed when he couldn’t get a loan to send his son to college.

college success

Performance-Based Scholarships May Improve Academic Progress of College Students

A new policy brief states that performance-based scholarships – financial aid incentives allotted to students based upon one’s ability to achieve certain academic benchmarks – may serve as a catalyst for both improved grades and greater odds of finishing college, especially for low-income students. The brief, Performance-Based Scholarships: Emerging Findings from a National Demonstration issued by the Manpower Demonstration Research Center (MDRC) was published earlier this month. The policy brief examines the effects of performance-based scholarships on students in select colleges in, among other states, New York, California and Florida, with the authors saying that their findings seem to indicate a slight, yet positive impact on the academic progress of students enrolled in such financial assistance programs.

In 2009, an MDRC report on Louisiana’s Opening Doors program exhibited improved grades, higher credit accumulation levels and greater likelihoods of retention for several college students that were enrolled in the performance-based scholarship program. A year earlier, MDRC began a six-state study, the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, to gauge the overall effectiveness of scholarship programs contingent upon ongoing student academic progress. Although the authors say that the preliminary findings for the six states surveyed for the brief were not as pronounced as the Louisiana data, they still noted that performance-based scholarship programs resulted in several statistically-significant influences for students, including an increase in credits earned and an increase in students’ abilities to meet end-of-term benchmarks during program terms.

MDRC research on the impact of performance-based scholarships will continue until December 2014.

school vending machine

Want Fries with That? Only if it’s Regulated

Care for a fizzy soda pop with that lunch room meal? How about a thick slice of pizza to add to that loaded-up cafeteria tray? Want a bag of chips or fries with that? Chances are, many public school kids would say yes to any of the above. It might not be a healthy choice, but rest assured, these foods are served widely in school cafeterias.

Nationwide Funding for State Pre-K Programs Lowest in a Decade, Report Finds

For decades, study after study have shown that children who attend pre-kindergarten programs are better prepared for the rest of their education, beginning in kindergarten and lasting all the way to college. They perform better on tests, repeat grades less often and need less special education than kids who did not attend pre-k regardless of socioeconomic status, according to research by The Pew Center on the States. But funding for pre-k programs across the country is steadily declining. In fact, a new report released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Brunswick, N.J. campus of Rutgers University, finds most states aren’t even giving their pre-k programs enough cash to maintain quality standards and calling the “overall picture” of pre-k education “dim.”

The report, “The State of Preschool 2011 Yearbook,” ranks the states on their funding of pre-k programs and their availability to children using 10 benchmarks of quality pre-k standards. Only five state programs met all of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks.

A Look Inside Atlanta Public Schools [INFOGRAPHIC]

When the U.S. Department of Education released the latest installment of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), statistics covering the 2009-10 academic school year, last week it made headlines around the country. The CRDC represents a wealth of information from just about every corner of our country’s educational landscape. The report also shined some light on a number of gaps in educational opportunity and discipline on a national scale. Every state, school, district and county with a public school system is in there with detailed numbers attached. The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education, has been collecting CRDC information since 1968 to help identify gaps, disparities and trends in educational achievement and opportunities.

Past due student loan balance by age. Q3, 2011.

Student Advocates Raise Concerns over Pending Student Loan Interest Rate Increase

Student advocates worry that a pending interest rate increase on federally-administered student loans will further burden borrowers, potentially adding thousands of dollars to the cost of financing a college degree. Student loan interest rates are set to increase from the current rate of 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for loans made after June 30. Rates have been at an artificially low 3.4 percent since Congress pasted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, a plan to improve educational access by incrementally reducing rates over a four-year period. The rates will jump back to 6.8 percent July 1 if Congress fails to extend the bill, the New York Times reported. Students rallied at the nation’s Capitol last week to protest the increase in subsidized loans, generally made to low- and medium- income undergraduate students through the federal Stafford program, the Associated Press reported.