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US Grad Rates Increase, Special Programs Credited

The latest numbers from the Department of Education show increases in graduation rates at both the national and state level, with a notable increase among Texas students (READ MORE). These gains are largely credited to programs and initiatives which are deliberate in providing one-on-one support for struggling students. Today, more than ever, “schools are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists who work with students one on one,” to keep at-risk students in school and on the path toward graduation. This is the model that CIS implements every day, reaching more than 25,000 Tarrant County students each year and 1.3 million students nationwide.

Support CIS today, because it works.

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Fiscal conservatives seek more state budget cuts

By Chuck Lindell

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 9:36 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An improving economy may be lifting some pressure from a strained state budget, but an influential coalition of fiscal conservatives gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to press for additional cuts to government spending.

Much of the $15 billion in budget cuts implemented during last year’s contentious legislative session were one-time accounting gimmicks that are no longer available and merely delayed costs until the next budget fight begins in the 2013 session, said Talmadge Heflin, a former state representative and fiscal policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Legislators must begin working now, he said, to form a smaller government that requires no new tax money or other revenue.

“We’ve been looking at writing the budget, at funding state government, as a math issue. And now is the time when we have to start looking at it as a governance issue,” Heflin said.

The coalition, Texans for a Conservative Budget, worked during last year’s budget debate to fight tax increases and keep the state’s rainy day fund intact amid a massive budget shortfall due largely to the economic recession.

This time around, the coalition is recommending that state agencies, colleges and universities cut at least 3 percent from their 2013 budgets, estimated to save $1.1 billion, and 7 percent from their 2014-15 budgets for savings of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Some recommendations were broad: cut overregulation, reduce social-welfare spending, shift transportation money from rail to other congestion-relieving projects.

Specific cuts were suggested as well, such as eliminating funding for eight agencies, offices or boards, including the Commission on the Arts and Texas Historical Commission, with essential services shifted to other agencies.

The coalition also suggested eliminating two economic-development funds prized by Gov. Rick Perry: the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund.

Budget writers must examine every state agency with only one question in mind, said Julie Drenner with the Heartland Institute, another coalition member: “Do I reform it, or do I eliminate it?”

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans, said the coalition is proposing cuts that ignore the needs of a fast-growing population.

“They’re trying to starve the future,” Lavine said. “We need to focus on things like investments in education that are going to pay off big-time for us — if we are willing to make the investments now. We will make back that investment many times over in terms of a more prosperous state and a more skilled workforce.”

Texans for a Conservative Budget was successful last year in persuading legislators to pass a two-year state budget that did not raise taxes or tap the rainy day fund to meet shortfalls in the 2012-13 budget.

Expecting the budget fight to be even more intense in the 2013 legislative session that begins in January, the coalition re-formed this spring to offer Tuesday’s broad outline of budget priorities, with more specific recommendations expected in the coming months, said Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Michael Quinn Sullivan with Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, another coalition member, said failing to heed the call for cuts could jeopardize legislators’ election hopes. “Raising taxes and seeking new revenue sources is off the table for Texas taxpayers and voters, and so it needs to be also for lawmakers,” he said.

The coalition also includes American Majority, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform.

Contact Chuck Lindell at 
912-2569


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Texas High School Graduation Rates Rising

Report: Texas high school graduation rates rising

WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

Updated 12:12 a.m., Monday, March 19, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ graduation rate for high school students increased 1.9 percent since 2002 to just below the national average, according to a new report by a coalition of education groups.

The report found that high school graduation rates rose from 73.5 percent to 75.4 percent between 2002 and 2009— and pulled almost even with the 2009 average nationwide of 75.5 percent.

The national graduation rate, though, increased faster than the state’s, climbing 2.9 percent over the same 7-year period. The biggest gains nationwide came in Tennessee, where rates jumped 17.8 percent, and New York, which increased 13 percent, between 2002 and 2009.

The report did not provide a state-by-state ranking, but comparing results showed that Texas and Colorado are tied for 28th, just behind Oregon and just ahead of Michigan, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Wisconsin led the nation with a graduation rate of 90.7, while Nevada was last with 56.3 percent.

The report will be presented Monday in Washington at the Building a Grad Nation summit sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, a children’s advocacy organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm focused on social change, and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The authors used the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, which tracks first-year students through all their years in high school, since they said it was the best and most-recent data available nationwide.

More good news for Texas came in the state’s percentage of 4th graders testing at or above proficient in reading, which increased a single percentage point to 28 percent between 2003 and last year. The percentage of 8th graders testing at or above proficient in math also jumped from 25 percent to 40 percent over the same period.

Texas is in the first year of implementing a new standardized testing system, and some districts have drawn criticism for spending more time preparing kids for statewide exams than they do on actual classroom instruction. But Robert Scott, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Texas Education Agency, has maintained that students statewide are improving in reading, math and science — and that their high school graduation rates have increased — despite more-strenuous standardized testing.

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Save the Date

For more information, please contact Alejandra Morado at alejandra.morado@cistarrant.org or (817) 446-5454.


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Rediscovered Emotions

I have returned to the field of school social work after about a 10 year hiatus. My first job after receiving my Masters in School Social Work was with CIS (in Bexar County) and here I am again, at CIS of Tarrant County. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the significance of being at CIS again—working for an agency that I really believe in, but starting at the “bottom” again.

In December, I moved with my family into a new home (the final step in our transition back to Texas), and I discovered a box labeled “School Social Work tools” that had been in storage for about 8 years. It was like Christmas morning. I felt like a young graduate who was full of ideas and enthusiasm.

At the bottom of the box, were the magic wand and magnifying glass that the faculty advisor for my cohort gave to each of us upon graduation. She explained to us that the magic wand had many uses—one use was to remind us of all that we’d learned. As a cohort, we had shared group curriculum, therapeutic games, ideas for working with teachers, and many amazing and “magical” tools to help us as we work with kids. The magic wand was also for us to use (in a lighthearted manner and with the right teachers) when we needed to remind teachers that we were, in truth, not magical and that we could not “fix” students by twinkling our nose or waving a magical stick. Change would be slow and our job was to give the kids the tools to make their own change and their own magic. A magic wand is also very fun to use in several group activities and games with our youngest students.

The magnifying glass was a very important reminder to look for and be grateful for the smallest change, improvements or “magic”. As social workers, change is often hard to see and easy to overlook. Some days in my CIS position, I feel like “all I have done is paperwork”, but when I look back at my day, I remember that I shared a smile with a child, I helped a family make a connection to needed resources, or I enlightened a teacher on the bigger picture of a child’s life. I believe we empower families, teachers and volunteers to make magic every day.

Since that “School Social Work tool” box has been in storage, I have added tools that I have learned as a parent, a preschool teacher, a foster care case manager and therapist, a community organizer, PTO Vice President and volunteer. I have filled my toolbox over the years but some days, admittedly, I get frustrated—by the paperwork, by the roadblocks, by the budget cuts–then I remind myself that there is important work to be done.   Each opportunity I have to sit with the other CIS Tarrant social workers and share ideas, I add to my toolbox.  The real magic is that the toolbox has no boundaries and I can just keep on filling it up.

Kathy Roemer, LMSW
Communities in Schools


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New Addition to Our CIS Family

I recently joined Communities In Schools as Vice President and Chief Development Officer. I joined CIS because they make a difference. Cliché, right?

Not when you have the results to prove it.

Since the earliest days of organized altruism, people support charitable organizations because they want to “make a difference,” to “strengthen the community,” to “change lives,” etc. These sentiments, while noble, lead to a key question that many organizations struggle to answer with concrete evidence. And it is a pertinent question that funders are now demanding an answer to: You say you are making a difference. Can you prove it?

I joined Communities In Schools because they CAN prove it.

Last year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) funded an independent, national research project led by Texas A&M University (WHOOP!) that included every drop-out program in the nation.  This study concluded that Communities In Schools is the only program in America that can prove both reduced dropout rates and improved graduation rates. 97% of the at-risk children served by CIS remain in school.

Our dedicated staff work intensely with children facing a wide range of challenges which, if left unaddressed, will have a devastating effect. Every day our staff see children who face hunger, gangs, lack of shelter, pregnancy, and the list goes on.

You know the story of the man who takes a walk on the beach and sees hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore? In the story, the man sees a stranger picking up one starfish at a time and tossing it back in the ocean. When the man asks the stranger why he bothers (because he can’t possibly save them all), the stranger replies, “no, but I saved that one.” This story, while heartwarming, is little comfort to a social worker who goes to bed on Friday night wondering if one of the children at their school will have enough food to sustain them over the weekend, for it is not the hundreds of success stories that stick with this social worker. It’s the face of the child who desperately needs someone to reach out to them, someone to help them navigate and obtain the resources available in the community, someone to empower them. And there are many in need.

The CIS program works, and it is my goal to support this amazing organization by raising needed resources to ensure the program is available to children who need it, and to the school principals who demand it. Yes, you heard that right. Principals in nearly every district in Tarrant County have heard of the success of the CIS program and have expressed desire to bring it to their school because, at the end of the day, they know the CIS social workers will provide their at-risk students with resources and services the school can’t. Even while school budgets are being slashed, our program, since 1992, has grown from serving 2 schools to serving 38. And the demand is growing.

As Communities In Schools celebrates 20 years of helping children succeed in school and in life, we are thankful to our supporters in the community who have made our services possible, and we look ahead to the next decade of demonstrating that CIS is the proven dropout prevention program.

Lindsey Garner


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Save a Smile

If a child is sick or in pain it is very difficult for them to pay attention and learn in school.  If they are hungry or sad, school work might not be the most important thing on their mind. These are all needs that must be met to give that child the best chance of succeeding in school.  The same can be said for a child who is experiencing dental pain, but it seems that it is sometimes easily forgotten that a child’s mouth is connected to the rest of their body.

Save a Smile is a program that is the product of a very unique collaboration between Communities In Schools, Cook Children’s Hospital, and 107 volunteer dentist throughout the community.  Save a Smile takes very generous volunteer dentists to screen 16 Tarrant County elementary schools annually.  Students are screened and put into categories according to the severity of

their dental decay.  Save a Smile then case manages the students who were found to have the most severe dental decay through those screenings.  There are 6 Community Health Workers who are dedicated to these students.  The CHWs make numerous attempts to contact parents, including phone calls, notes home, and home visits, to offer SAS services.  Once a family has agreed to work with SAS the CHW will have a discussion with the family about available resources such as savings and insurance.  If the family does not have private insurance the CHW will assist the family in applying for Medicaid and/or CHIP.  If for any reason the family does not  qualify for either of those programs, the CHW then gives the Save a Smile Program Director the student’s information to schedule a dental appointment with one of the SAS volunteer dentist.

We have volunteer dentist in every specialty including general practice, oral surgery, endodontics, pediatrics, orthodontics, and we even have a couple of anesthesiologist who volunteer for surgery cases. Students are scheduled with a dentist that most closely meets their needs. Our dentists treat Save a Smile patients in their private offices free of charge.  SAS provides translation and transportation for families when needed. The CHW also works with the family throughout their child’s entire dental treatment to ensure the child makes it to scheduled dental appointments, and that the parents understand the child’s treatment.

There have been many cases in which the CHW assigned to a child has gained the trust of a family and was able to assist in other areas of need.  We have received donations of beds for children who have been sleeping on floors, we have assisted families in need of food and clothing, we have helped families pay for prescriptions that are needed for their children, and we are able to help families begin the process of receiving treatment for medical conditions that may not necessarily be related to the child’s mouth.

It is very rewarding to be part of the save a smile program.  It is so great to see so many members of our community give so much to the students in our schools. I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many individuals from different professions who have come together to give the children in our community the gift of a healthy smile and another nudge in the right direction to overall success.

Brigitte Diaz-Voigts LMSW
Save a Smile Program Director