Every Texan is a public education stakeholder, and because all public education issues are decided in the realm of public policy, we all have a voice if we choose to use it.
Which issues you consider most pressing likely depends on your vantage point. Taxpayer concerns frequently center on testing and academic accountability, while parents are focused on the quality of the educational experience and individual attention to student needs. Through Teach the Vote, ATPE is highlighting issues that are important to all stakeholders but are particularly important to educators.
Under each issue, you'll find:
We encourage you to become more familiar with the state of public education today and to formulate your own viewpoints. The information on the Take Action and Resources pages will help you communicate with candidates and officholders and become involved in the political process. Visit our blog for updates on developments at the Capitol and more information about how you can help advocate for public education.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports restoring funds that were cut from the public education budget in 2011, building a more stable and equitable school finance structure, and providing sufficient revenue to meet the educational needs of our growing population.
Funding determines everything in our public schools. If policymakers do not allocate the resources necessary for the next generation to meet future challenges, then they have done a disservice to Texas children. We all want the best education possible for our children and the best economic environment to foster quality job growth. We can only achieve the best by setting high but reasonable standards and providing educators with the funding to achieve the task at hand.
During the 2011 legislative session, when a $27 billion budget deficit was the driving force behind nearly all legislation, ATPE advocated for a balanced approach to addressing the deficit using three options: cutting spending, tapping into the state's Rainy Day Fund (RDF) and restructuring fees and taxes. The Legislature and governor chose to focus entirely on cuts when it came to approving a new budget and left almost $7 billion in the RDF, which has since grown to more than $8 billion and is projected to reach $12 billion by the end of 2015. The 82nd Legislature cut $5.4 billion from the public education budget and declined to fund enrollment growth for the first time in history. (See "Defining the Funding Cuts of the 82nd Legislative Session," Moakcasey.com, Sept. 27, 2011.) Those cuts forced many school districts to lay off employees and eliminate student programs.
At the same time, Texas' school finance system has been failing to generate sufficient revenue to meet state-mandated educational goals and standards. One reason: An ever-increasing structural deficit exists in our state budget. It's caused by a faulty tax system that can't adequately support our educational needs. In addition, per-pupil funding in districts across the state ranges from less than $5,000 per student to more than $12,000. Against the backdrop of this funding inequity and inadequacy, Texas is facing its second set of major school funding lawsuits in 10 years. The lawsuits claim the Legislature has not performed its constitutional duty to provide an efficient system of public, free education. With the latest round of court challenges pending, it remains to be seen whether the 83rd Legislature will take steps to address the underlying problems.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports a fully funded state and federal public education system for every student. We believe that the state should enhance the revenue dedicated to public education in order to create a more stable funding structure for schools. We strongly support efforts to increase funding levels to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing population and to increase funding equity for all students.
Major bills related to this issue:
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE opposes any type of voucher, scholarship, tax credit or similar program that would facilitate the use of public tax dollars for private, home or for-profit schools.
Private school vouchers, tuition tax credits and similar programs seek to direct public funds to private, home or for‐profit schools.
ATPE's position: ATPE strongly opposes private school vouchers of any sort, especially at a time when public education resources are so scarce.
Major bills related to this issue:
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE urges the Legislature to maintain the existing defined benefit structure of the Teacher Retirement System. We support using contributions from the state and educators to ensure the pension fund's actuarial soundness and the ability to improve and preserve benefits for its members.
The TRS pension fund is one of the most stable and well-positioned funds in the nation. The benefit package available to educators, though not rich, is a major recruitment and retention tool and entices qualified individuals to enter and remain in public education. The system is also a robust economic engine. It affects more than one in every 20 Texans, generates $13.5 billion for the Texas economy, and creates and sustains more than 91,500 jobs ("The Teacher Retirement System of Texas: A Great Value for all Texans," January 2011). TRS members contribute 6.4 percent of their salaries to the TRS pension fund, and the average TRS pension received is approximately $1,900 per month. The retirement system is well-run, stable, reasonable and cost-effective—in other words, what every Texan should expect from the management of state funds.
ATPE's position: ATPE strongly believes that the state should maintain the existing defined-benefit pension structure provided to all current and future retirees. (TRS members contribute a defined amount—6.4 percent—from every paycheck and receive a formula-driven annuity based on experience and final average salary.)
ATPE supports maintaining the pension fund's actuarial soundness using contributions from the state and from educators who are system members. Doing so will improve and preserve benefits for active and retired TRS members, as well as retain control of TRS funds at the state level.
Major bills related to this issue:
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports reforming the accountability system with educator input to reverse the trend of overreliance on high-stakes standardized test scores as the primary measure of student achievement, educator effectiveness and school performance.
Standardized testing and ranking schools, educators and students based on standardized test scores has become the primary state and federal mandate in public education and drives spending, learning and behavior in public schools.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports a testing and accountability system developed with educator input but opposes the recent trend of using high-stakes standardized test scores as the primary determinant for student achievement, educator compensation and effectiveness, and campus and district accountability.
Major bills related to this issue:
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports initiatives to ensure that educators are selectively recruited, well-prepared to enter the classroom and adequately supported in their first years of teaching. We urge the Legislature to create a state-funded mentoring program for all new teachers and to allow an independent board made up of Texas educators to set and enforce high standards for educator certification and conduct.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) was created in 1995 to recognize public school educators as professionals and grant educators the authority to govern the standards of their profession. SBEC oversees all aspects of the preparation and certification of public school educators and sets educator standards of conduct. The board includes 11 voting members appointed by the governor: four classroom teachers, one counselor, two administrators and four citizens. Three non-voting members also serve: a dean of a college of education appointed by the governor; a Texas Education Agency employee appointed by the commissioner of education; and a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board employee appointed by the commissioner of higher education.
The Sunset Advisory Commission, which periodically reviews the functions of state boards and agencies, has recommended that the 83rd Legislature abolish SBEC. The commission believes the state could eliminate "multilayered bureaucracy" by allowing SBEC's duties to be performed by the commissioner of education with assistance from a formal advisory committee. ATPE will continue to advocate for allowing an independent board of Texas educators (ideally elected by their peers) to govern the education profession, rather than turning over the authority for educator certification and discipline to a single state official who is appointed by the governor.
More important than the governance structure of the education profession, however, is its quality. To enable all students to have access to a high-quality teacher, we must set high standards for entrance into the profession. Texas must require selective admissions criteria for educator preparation programs in order to recruit the best candidates and also set high standards for the training they will receive. Additionally, we must ensure that our certification examinations are rigorous and well-designed to measure the preparedness of teachers. Even after entering the classroom, our teachers need intensive support and ongoing professional development. The value of the support we provide them has a profound impact on the quality of our teaching work force.
In 2008 and 2010, ATPE commissioned a researcher at the University of Texas to conduct a study on teacher quality in Texas public schools. The research focused on certain measures of teacher quality (including experience levels), how they were distributed across Texas schools and how those measures relate to student achievement. The researcher first discovered a positive association between the measures of teacher quality and student achievement on the state's standardized tests. In other words, teacher experience levels bear a strong correlation to student achievement data. Our studies revealed that teacher quality, measured by factors such as experience level, was much lower in high-poverty, high-minority and low-performing schools and also lower in the areas of math and science. The research also supported many experts' belief that beginning and novice teachers (those with fewer than three years of experience) are substantially less effective than teachers with more experience. At the same time, the researcher noted the high attrition rate for teachers in Texas, with estimates that up to half of our teachers are leaving the profession within their first five years of teaching.
How can we improve the effectiveness of beginning teachers in a way that will translate to improvements in student achievement data and teacher retention rates? One of the most effective solutions to both problems is mentoring. Unfortunately, the Legislature has never prioritized funding for mentoring and induction of new teachers. Our single, successful experiment with mentoring was the Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS), a three-year pilot program funded through a federal grant. The program was found to have increased teacher retention rates and benefitted both beginning and veteran teachers who participated. Evaluators of the program recommended state funding to continue TxBESS, including training, release time for the teachers and mentor stipends. But when federal funding ran out, the program was virtually abandoned. In the years following the TxBESS pilot, the state has provided, at best, annual funding of only $15 million for mentoring, which amounts to less than $650 per new teacher per year.
A comprehensive, mandatory mentoring program would not only improve teacher satisfaction and retention, but also have a positive outcome on student achievement. Moreover, mentoring makes sense financially: It might cost thousands of dollars to provide adequate support to a first-year teacher, but the cost of replacing that teacher when she walks away from the classroom in frustration is more than double the cost. In fact, it's been estimated that teacher turnover costs our nation more than $7 billion each year. (Read the 2007 "Policy Brief: The High Cost of Teacher Turnover" released by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future at www.nctaf.org.) ATPE believes Texas cannot address its teacher quality gap and create a future work force of high-quality teachers until we invest in a comprehensive, state-funded, research-based mentoring program that is mandated to cover all new teachers.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports mandatory state-funded and research-based mentoring programs for beginning educators. We recommend that the state compensate mentors and give them sufficient training and resources to be successful.
ATPE supports a state certification process that ensures educators are appropriately trained and certified exclusively by the state. We oppose mandatory national certification. We recommend that the state standardize teacher preparation programs to include policies and practices designed to ensure that new teachers receive adequate mentoring and support.
ATPE supports the maintenance of a separate, independent state board that allows educators to govern their own profession and enforce the Educator Code of Ethics. We recommend that a majority of the board's voting members be public educators elected by the profession.
Major bills related to this issue:
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