Education News

Houston School Board Changes How It Funds Magnet Programs

The new formula gives magnet schools money on a per-student basis.

MagnetVote2.JPGA scene from the Houston School Board meeting.

Last night, the Houston school board approved its budget for next year. It includes raises for teachers and other employees and also sends more money for school operations.

The board also approved a new way to fund magnet or specialty schools – though questions about its fairness remain.

Much of the discussion about money for magnets centered on a bigger idea: equity.

“I think it’s fair,” said HISD Superintendent Terry Grier after the meeting.

There are about one hundred magnets in HISD – some of them the most prestigious and successful campuses in the city. But currently there is no standard way to fund them.

“I think that if you are performing arts magnet school that you know that you are getting a certain amount of money per student. Right now we have some performing arts magnets that get $400,000, we have others that don’t get a penny,”  Grier said. 

The school board approved his administration’s proposal with a five to four vote.

Now magnet schools will get money based on how many students enroll, what the academic focus is and if the campus is an elementary, middle or high school.

But some parents don’t see it as equitable at all.

Monica Ho has two children at T.H. Rogers. It has a magnet program for gifted and talented students. Ho graduated from the school herself in the early 1980s.

“The equity was not looking into the specifics of each magnet program and each school’s needs,” Ho said.

Her children’s school T.H. Rogers will lose the most money with the new formula – more than one million dollars over three years. T.H. Rogers is also one of the best schools in Houston; it also serves students with disabilities.

Ho was among dozens of parents who asked the board how they came up with the new formula and to reconsider.

“But they weren’t educated and didn’t do their diligence on each specific school and find out what their specific needs are and how they’re utilizing their funds,” Ho said.

The change in funds will be phased in over three years to give schools like T.H. Rogers time to adjust.

Trustee Harvin Moore who represents that campus voted against the proposal.

“There are two ways to get equity. You can get equity by pulling the bottom up, you can get equity by pulling the top down,” Moore said.

Other board members told the crowded auditorium that even if the new formula isn’t perfect, there needs to be a change.

“I have to say this has been unequitable and unfair since I was bussed across town, because separate was not equal. It is 40 years of inequity and it is time that we level the playing field for every child,” said Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Nearly 20 percent of all students in HISD attend a magnet program.

The majority of those magnet programs – about two-thirds – will see more money with the new formula.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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