The K-12 connection

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After the release of the final report from the task force on 4-year graduation rates, many leaders throughout the state are expressing doubts about the mania surrounding on-time graduation. The report mirrored the larger narrative — championed by the UT System Board of Regents — that demands more efficient universities. But the push for efficiency in higher education is often coupled with a mentality that ignores the human aspect of students’ degrees and advocates a strict adherence to improving quantitative metrics.

Many college students cannot graduate in 4 years because they are forced to take remedial classes when entering. In Texas, 40 percent of students must complete at least one remedial class before moving on to credit-earning courses. Oftentimes this is a product of institutional, rather than personal, deficiency. Last September, UT President William Powers Jr. characterized K-12 education as the foremost issue affecting higher education that he does not have the power to change. As Powers noted, primary and secondary education sets the foundation for university-level work. Poor preparation leads to poor performance in college. At the root of the K-12 education problem is funding.

In last year’s session, the Legislature reduced state funding for public education by $5.4 billion, leaving school districts strapped for cash. There are now 5 different lawsuits — involving more than 500 Texas school districts — against the state as a result of the cuts. Wednesday, state officials announced the formation of a joint interim committee to resolve conflicts in the incredibly troubled, incredibly complicated school finance system. Whatever the decisions the committee may make would ostensibly affect UT; university funding and public school funding are intrinsically linked.

With every cut to public education, school districts are less able to adequately prepare their students for college-level work, effectively delaying on-time graduation. As long as graduation rates are a powerful metric in university funding, efficiency-based funding for public schools directly affects UT.