The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.
School administrators and advocates want the Texas Education Agency to suspend a controversial, $4 million no-bid contract. It allows the private company, SPEDx, to analyze confidential data from students receiving special education services in Texas.
Houston Public Media (HPM) reports that now experts are raising even more questions about the company based on its previous work in Louisiana.
Randy Soffer is an assistant professor of education at the University of St. Thomas. He told HPM that he’s worried because the company has previously focused on standardized test scores and how to save money.
“If they were to replicate what they did in Louisiana here in Texas, I would have major concerns,” Soffer says. “Again, based on the methods that were used, the limited data was analyzed, how it was analyzed. I just think there are a lot of concerns here.”
Texas has already been scrutinized nationally for limiting special education services.
The head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says the agency’s caseworker turnover rates are down. That’s after state lawmakers pumped more money into DFPS, allowing it to hire more caseworkers and provide salary increases to frontline staff.
Hank Whitman told state representatives Wednesday that overall turnover rates at Child Protective Services had decreased by just over 18 percent in 2017.
“Turnover in investigations has decreased by 24.5 percent from 2016, conservatorship decreased 27 percent, and family-based safety services turnover has decreased by 36.8 percent,” said Whitman.
Whitman said this is the lowest turnover rate for CPS caseworkers in seven years. He also said these frontline workers now have smaller caseloads too. Despite these improvements, Texas is still facing a six-year-old class action lawsuit over the quality of its foster care system. You can learn more about that here.
Joel Cowley, the president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo says the organization has been contributing to education for years.
“Well, our first scholarship was officially awarded in 1957 from the show but there were also individual committees that gave our scholarships prior to that.”
He says in 2018 they’re poised to distribute over $20 million in educational grants to Texas students. That includes college scholarships but also awards to junior show exhibitors and calf scramble participants.
“We are able to give out this year $26.7 million in scholarships because we have the support of over 33,000 volunteers that give freely of their time and their talent,” says Cowley.
Cowley adds that helping out Texas students also serves the core mission of the Livestock Show and Rodeo: to promote agriculture. And he says it’s especially important to interest young people in this field because the average age of the American farmer is 58.
“A number of our scholarship recipients do study agriculture but a number of them also study the related sciences and it will take technology to feed the world in wholesome and sustainable manner in the future,” says Cowley.
“So even those studying the related sciences they might not think they’re going to be involved in agriculture but they very well may be.” But scholarship recipients can study anything they want as long as they attend a Texas college or university.
Scholarship applications are now open and will be through the beginning of February.