AUSTIN — Despite state efforts to ensure students get access to an equal education, the largest school districts in Texas perpetuate a campus-level funding gap that sabotages needy and minority students’ chances for success, according to a national study released Wednesday.

The study by Washington-based The Education Trust examined salary differences within the state’s 10 largest districts. Within all districts, teachers were paid a lower average salary at the needier schools. Because Texas teachers are paid based on the years of experience, the findings show that less experienced teachers are often responsible for students most in need of high-quality teachers.

“Concentrating novice teachers in the highest-poverty schools stacks the deck against the academic success of low-income students by failing to help their schools attract and retain a more stable, more experienced, more effective teaching faculty,” according the authors.

The study, “Their Fair Share: How Teacher Salary Gaps Shortchange Poor Children in Texas,” reflects a trend that is happening nationally, researchers said.

“The research on brand new teachers is very clear,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “No matter how good those teachers will eventually become, they are not as good in their first year of practice. Those kids pay a pretty heavy price.”

Experienced and able teachers are most vital to poor children and many minority children who have the least to draw on at home, Haycock said.

“When we assign (students) to a series of strong teachers, those teachers literally help them catch up even though they come in behind. With weak teachers however, they're consigned to fall even further behind other kids.”

Still, she said, districts continue to assign a disproportionate number of the weakest teachers to low-income and minority students even though the state has made great strides to ensure funding equity between districts over the last decade.

The trend is largely caused by the high turnover rates at those schools. Teachers who start their careers at the most challenging campuses tend to leave after a few years for openings at the easier-to-teach and higher-paying schools.

“The only way you keep them in these schools is you pay them more to be there because it is a lot harder work there,” said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Once teachers have a few years of experience, they “eventually transfer to a school that you consider the final school you want to be in and that very rarely is a high-poverty school,” Fallon said.

The largest gap was in Arlington, where middle school teachers were paid $4,750 less in the highest-poverty schools and the highest minority schools than teachers of their white and affluent counterparts.

The trend among schools with high poverty rates, which was examined at the high school, elementary and middle school levels, was only bucked three times: among Cypress-Fairbanks and San Antonio high school teachers and El Paso elementary school teachers, who were paid $448 more on average in the neediest schools.

In Austin, where middle school teachers are paid some $3,000 more in schools with the lowest poverty rates, school district officials say teacher salaries should not be the only measure of efforts to help students achieve.

“We recognize that it’s very challenging to retain teachers in our highest needs schools,” said David Lussier, special assistant to Austin school district Superintendent Pat Forgione. "But we are spending more money per pupil to address the needs of those schools.”

Some of the extra money goes to tutoring and other non-teaching staff, like dropout prevention specialists, he said.

The district, which has long recognized the problem, is implementing a program next year that would offer $3,000 to third-year teachers who agree to stay in the most challenging schools for another three years, he said. The stipend increases to $6,000 after six years.

The study used information provided by the Texas Education Agency.

On the Net:

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2006/campus.srch.html