In the final minutes of the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature, some notable changes were made to the state’s school finance system in the form of amendments made to House Bill 1525, the “clean-up bill” meant to address and improve 2019’s historic House Bill 3 (86 R). One of those changes was the reinstatement of a pre-HB3 policy called the Gifted and Talented Allotment.
It’s important to note that HB3 did not in any way end or curtail gifted and talented education in the state. Instead, its bill authors, drawing on the work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, recognized that “nearly all school districts currently receive the maximum funding allowed under this allotment” which created an “arbitrary cap on the number of students that school districts identified as Gifted & Talented.”
That “arbitrary cap,” which has now been re-established along with the (now smaller) Allotment itself, sits at 5%, in spite of the fact that 9% of the state’s entire student population has been identified as gifted & talented. Districts are required by law to provide G&T programming for all qualifying students; nearly all must spend more than this allotment provides in order to serve all students adequately.
Most worrisome is another of the Commission’s recommendations that has since gone unheeded: “Ensure that... inequities in identification are quickly addressed.” Now that limited funds marked solely for use in G&T classrooms are re-entering the school finance system, it’s more important than ever to ensure that those resources are being deployed in the most equitable manner possible. Unfortunately, a review of current data for the state’s 20 educational service center regions suggests we have a long way to go.
As the table above indicates, roughly 9% of Texas students are identified as Gifted and Talented, ranging from as low as 6% in some regions to as high as 10% to 11% in the North Texas regions. However, when looking at G&T identification by socioeconomic status, students considered “non-economically disadvantaged” are identified at nearly three times the rate statewide (14% vs. 6%) than their less affluent peers, with students experiencing economic instability universally underrepresented in every single service center region.
Were school systems providing “equal opportunities to all individuals” as required by Texas education code, identification rates across student subgroups would be roughly equal. But over 5% of Texas students aren’t even assessed for potential inclusion in gifted & talented services, a rate of exclusion lower than 46 other states that nonetheless leaves hundreds of thousands of students without the opportunity to demonstrate their potential. As a result of this and other inequities in access to resources, both socioeconomic and racial differences play an outsized determining role in who is considered gifted & talented.
As the data above indicates, Black students are underrepresented in the total population of students designated “gifted and talented” in all twenty regions, regardless of broad variations in student body size and demographic makeup across each system, while Hispanic/Latinx students are likewise underrepresented in all but one. On the other hand, white and Asian students are two to four times more likely to be identified as gifted and talented at the state level, with even broader disparities reaching as high as 13x times greater in some regions.
This data suggests that the under-identification of Black students and students experiencing economic instability for participation in gifted & talented programming remains a systemic barrier to equal access to rigorous education in our region and state.
Talent is distributed equally; opportunity, too often, is not. That’s why educational researchers like Texas A&M’s Dr. Karen Rambo-Hernandez are calling on school leaders to “reframe gifted education” by “proactively identifying students who are under-challenged… relative to other students within their school.” This does not mean taking away resources from those who have already qualified for them, but rather broadening eligibility to include more gifted and talented students who might otherwise have lacked the opportunity to demonstrate their ability.
Courageous school leaders in places like Marsh Middle School in Dallas ISD and the district offices of Richardson ISD are doing just that, and seeing remarkable success. As we reinstate the “Gifted & Talented Allotment” across Texas, state policymakers should seek to incentivize school system leaders to use these more inclusive gifted and talented identification processes as a model. In so doing, we can ensure the Gifted & Talented Allotment is spent in service of greater student success and close the opportunity gaps that have been widened by the pandemic.