This Thursday, June 30, is the final day to participate in the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) survey seeking feedback for the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The online public survey can be accessed in both English and Spanish and seeks to gather input on the state’s assessment and accountability systems from members of the public, educators, and parents. The results will be shared at the July 2016 SBOE meeting. Learn more about the survey here.
Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:
A group of ATPE state officers and employees were in the nation’s capital this week for business on Capitol Hill. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended numerous meetings, along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists at the firm of Arnold & Porter.
The ATPE representatives’ busy agenda this week included meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation and their staffs, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Education. Topics of discussion included the ongoing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and legislation to improve Social Security benefits for educators. ATPE’s team also attended a hearing of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce yesterday. Read more in today’s blog post from Kate Kuhlmann.
The Commissioner of Education this week recognized a group of eight school districts that are among the first to adopt and submit their plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to become Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law, passed in 2015, allows certain acceptably-rated school districts to adopt innovation plans and exempt themselves from various education laws. ATPE has created a DOI resource page to assist educators and parents in districts that may be considering these new regulatory exemptions. TEA also announced its creation of a website to track which districts have become DOIs with links to their innovation plans. Learn more in our DOI blog post from yesterday.
With the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability approaching its last meeting, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) want to hear from stakeholders before recommendations are made to the 85th Legislature on student testing and accountability systems. SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich recently announced the availability of a public survey on testing and related issues. The SBOE survey remains open through Thursday, June 30, and we encourage you to share your valuable input. Click here to learn more and access the SBOE survey.
Here’s a look at ATPE’s week in Washington in pictures. (Click each photo to view a larger version.)
A contingent of ATPE state officers and staff joined the ATPE federal relations team in Washington this week for meetings on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The team was also present to watch U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King testify before Congress on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
ATPE State President Cory Colby, State Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and federal lobbyists were primarily focused on two areas of discussion. In meetings with ED and the Senate and House education committees, the group discussed ESSA implementation, offering perspectives from Texas classrooms and thanking the policymakers and regulators for their work on the new law. ATPE highlighted input provided to both Congress and the Department and expressed a commitment to actively engage as a stakeholder as Texas works to implement the law at the state and local levels.
The ATPE representatives were also in Washington to discuss H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA). ETPSA is a bill by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) that repeals the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security benefits, replacing it with a new and fairer formula. ATPE met with key members of the Texas congressional delegation to discuss the bill and explain how the WEP unfairly affects educators who are eligible for both Social Security and government pensions (such as through the Texas Retirement System). Learn more about ETPSA here.
Secretary King was on Capitol Hill Thursday morning to answer questions from members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the implementation of ESSA, and ATPE had front row seats. The Republican-controlled committee stayed focused on its ongoing concern that ED’s regulatory work to date exceeds its authority. Members of the committee asserted that the Department is stepping beyond the intent of the law and could even be setting itself up for a losing lawsuit. Secretary King’s response was also nothing new. He stood firm in his stance that he possesses the authority and is committed to advancing equity through regulations.
The hearing was primarily focused on ED’s recently released proposed accountability rule and proposed language on the issue of supplement, not supplant. Secretary King was followed by a panel of education professionals and stakeholders. Many of the witnesses echoed members’ concerns regarding the ED proposals, but it was also expressed that strong regulations are needed to ensure equity under the law. Secretary King will be back on the Hill next week to discuss ESSA implementation with the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP).
Read ATPE’s 2016 Federal Priorities for more information on ATPE’s focus at the federal level and stay tuned for more federal updates.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today announced that eight school districts have become Districts of Innovation (DOI) under a new law passed in 2015. Included in last year’s House Bill 1842, the law allows acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws in the Texas Education Code. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has proposed rules to implement the DOI statute, which have not yet been finalized. ATPE testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address concerns about consequences of the broad waiver authority being sought by some districts through their innovation plans.
Canton ISD, El Paso ISD, Mabank ISD, Palmer ISD, Point Isabel ISD, San Antonio ISD, Spring Branch ISD, and Victoria ISD were recognized in today’s TEA press release for having submitted their adopted five-year innovation plans to the commissioner. Commissioner Morath stated in today’s press release, “This initial wave of notifications is just the beginning of what will be many districts that elect to go through this innovative process.” The press release explains that DOIs cannot exempt themselves from some laws such as those dealing with curriculum, assessments, or the state accountability system.
TEA has established a new webpage with a list of school districts that have completed the DOI process and links to their innovation plans. You can also visit ATPE’s updated DOI resource page to learn more about the law, read examples of how some districts are using the DOI statute to take advantage of regulatory exemptions, and find out how you can help influence the DOI process in your school district.
The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hear from U.S. Secretary of Education John King and others in a Capitol Hill hearing this week on federal education policy. The committee meets at 9 a.m. Eastern (8 a.m. Central) on Thursday, June 23, and the hearing is entitled “Next Steps in K-12 Education: Examining Recent Efforts to Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.”
As the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has undertaken the rulemaking process to implement various aspects of ESSA in recent months, some lawmakers have criticized the department’s actions. The composition of the negotiated rulemaking panels, the use of outside experts, and ED’s interaction with the participants have been sources of conflict for some in Congress. Rep. John Kline (R–MN), who chairs the House committee conducting tomorrow’s hearing, has called the department’s actions during the implementation of ESSA “deeply concerning” and said that his committee is “determined to hold the administration accountable and make certain the law is implemented in a manner that adheres to the letter and intent of the law.”
A delegation of ATPE state officers and staff are in Washington, D.C. this week and will be attending the hearing tomorrow. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann have joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists for private meetings this week with congressional members and staff, along with ED officials. Kate Kuhlmann will provide a complete report on the visits upon their conclusion this week.
Watch the ESSA congressional hearing live Thursday morning or read more about the committee’s concerns about the implementation process for ESSA here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates following tomorrow’s hearing.
These are stories making news this week in the Texas education world:
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board is meeting this week and tackling some difficult decisions about funding active and retired educators’ healthcare needs. Inadequate funding from the legislature over a period of many years has created a looming problem that must be solved. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is attending the meetings this week and has provided a summary of the changes that are in store for TRS members. Click here to check out Josh’s latest blog post on TRS developments.
As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote recently, there were some very close races in the May 24 primary election runoffs that resulted in recounts. In House District 54, a recount was sought in the race to succeed Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), the popular chairman of the House Public Education Committee who did not seek re-election. Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) on runoff election night by 43 votes. Yesterday, we learned that the recount request by Ruiz has confirmed Mayor Cosper to be the winner of the Republican nomination. Cosper, who was endorsed by the outgoing Aycock and by Texas Parent PAC in the primary, will next face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in the general election in November.
We reported earlier this month on another recount in which Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) lost to challenger Briscoe Cain (R) in House District 128. With recounts completed, attention turns now to the general election. Keep up with Teach the Vote in the coming months for information about contested races for the Legislature and State Board of Education in November.
Earlier this week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held yet another work session to try to reach consensus on recommendations for the 85th Legislature. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided an update on this week’s meeting and has been reporting on some of the issues that commission members are grappling to address. Testing concerns have been of particular interest to many commission members, education stakeholders, and the media, especially in light of several glitches that plagued this year’s administration of the STAAR tests to students. Meanwhile, State Board of Education (SBOE) members are also encouraging the public to share their feedback on testing and accountability. Click here to read more about the SBOE public survey that is open through June 30.
ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann contributed a blog update this week on the meetings held by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) last week. The board held both a work session to explore the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs) and trends in educator certification, along with its regular board meeting on Friday, June 10. Read Kate’s latest blog post to learn more about the actions taken by the board and some significant agenda items that were postponed.
Next week, ATPE staff and state officers will be in the nation’s capital advocating for federal education priorities. They will be meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation to urge action on Social Security legislation, discussing policy issues with U.S. Department of Education officials, and attending a hearing on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates from our team in Washington, DC.
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met Thursday to discuss premium and plan design changes for both TRS-Care and ActiveCare, the health insurance programs offered to retired and active public education employees. Both programs have faced significant structural funding issues that have caused the retiree plan to be financially unstable and the active employee plan to have employee premiums and out-of-pocket expenses that are greater than comparable private sector plans.
The Board adopted premium changes for TRS ActiveCare for the upcoming plan year. The good news is that those premium increases are going to be relatively small compared to historical increases. The bad news is that the increases will likely be borne entirely by employees, unless individual school districts choose to increase their contributions to employee health insurance. The state contribution remains $75 per employee per month and has not changed since the health insurance program was created in 2001.
ActiveCare premium increases and plan design changes for the upcoming year:
- ActiveCare 1 HD: 0%
- ActiveCare Select: 2.2 to 2.3%
- ActiveCare 2: 5%
- Maximum out-of-pocket limits are increased for all plans.
- Retail pharmacy co-pays for maintenance drugs are increased to $35 for generic drugs, $60 for preferred brand, and $90 for non-preferred brand.
- HMO increases range from 5% to 13% depending on the HMO and tier of coverage.
TRS-Care has faced serious structural funding problems for several years now, with claims expenditures outpacing the funding stream allocated by the Texas legislature. This problem was further exacerbated in 2011 when the legislature cut state funding for Care in half for one year as a result of a projected state revenue deficit. In 2015, the legislature was forced to allocate $768 million simply to keep TRS-Care solvent through 2017 when the legislature will meet again. At the end of 2017, Care is projected to run out of funds and will require over $1.3 billion in additional funding to operate for another two years, or more preferably a more long-term solution including potential funding changes will have to be enacted. As reported here after the last TRS Board meeting, because of a cash flow issue where some revenue dedicated for the current plan year may not be available until after the end of 2017, there is a possibility that the cash balance for Care will be negative. As a result, some plan design changes for the upcoming plan year are necessary to account for this looming negative fund balance. It is important to remember that it has been 12 years since there have been plan design changes to TRS-Care, and premiums have remained unchanged since 2005.
TRS-Care changes recommended by staff and adopted by the board:
- There will be no increase in premiums for the upcoming plan year.
- Medical deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses will be increased for all plans.
- Existing pharmacy co-pays are increased by $3 to $25 by tier for the traditional plans.
- A retail maintenance co-pay structure for the traditional prescription drug plan will be implemented.
- Effective January 1, 2017, the prescription drug plan for Medicare eligible members will be the Medicare Part D plan, with members who do not have either Part A or Part B remaining in the traditional prescription drug plan. Pharmacy co-pays for Medicare Part D will remain at current levels.
Both TRS-Care and ActiveCare are currently being studied by the legislature as the result of interim charges in the Senate and House of Representatives. Both plans will be hot topics when the legislature meets again beginning in January. Stay tuned to TeachtheVote.org for updates.
The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability met in Austin early this week for what will likely be the last time before commissioners unveil their official recommendations at their final meeting on July 27.
The commission deliberated about half of the recommendations they had identified for consideration, with time spent on individual recommendations ranging from hours to a few minutes with little rhyme or reason as to what received significant consideration and what didn’t or any sort of logical order to the topics discussed. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for further reporting and final commentary on the commission’s official recommendations.
To watch video the June commission meeting or any of the previous meetings, visit the commission’s web page here. Learn more about the testing issues that the commission is reviewing in this recent article from The Texas Tribune and in our earlier blog post about the commission. Don’t forget, also, that you can provide your own input on testing and accountability issues to the State Board of Education through its survey happening now.
The State Board for Educator Certification met twice late last week for a Thursday work session focused on educator preparation and its regularly scheduled Friday board meeting.
The work session was primarily informational, with Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff presenting on the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs), the educator preparation experience through both traditional and alternative pathways, a look at data on Texas teachers, trends in national educator preparation, and issues facing educator preparation in Texas. Some discussion among board members was facilitated on each topic.
Educator preparation was also a major topic at the board’s regular board meeting on Friday, where the agenda contained two action items and two discussion items on the subject. All of the items garnered significant testimony from EPPs throughout Texas who felt the changes were significant and the process should be slowed. Perhaps the most contentious item for EPPs dealt with the accountability system that governs their accreditation. The proposal before the board added a new definition for “pass rate,” new performance standards, and a teacher satisfaction survey, among other things. Ultimately, the board chose to postpone the item to the next meeting, but added parameters for TEA when drafting the revised proposal.
Also pertaining to EPPs, the board advanced a proposal covering provisions for educator preparation candidates and discussed two additional proposals dealing with requirements for EPPs and professional educator preparation and certification. ATPE supported the proposal in its current form. While not a radical change, it would make small, positive changes to the types of certifications and permits available. For example, new limits on certain certificates and permits would seek to reduce the amount of time it takes candidates seeking standard certification to complete all requirements of educator preparation. Also, the addition of a new certificate type would better support first year certificate holders who have not completed all requirements of an EPP, but are in the classroom full-time as teachers of record.
Educator preparation was not the only topic of discussion. The board was posted to take initial action on a proposal to restructure the Core Subjects EC-6 certification exam, removing the fifth domain of the test (Fine Arts, Health, and Physical Education). While several testifiers were in favor of the new format, TEA changed its recommendation to the board, asking that it be withdrawn to provide for more time to flesh out all of the issues. The board also discussed an educator discipline proposal that primarily dealt with inappropriate educator-student relationships and mandatory minimum sanctions for certain offenses. The board will take action on both items at future meetings.
The EPP issue will remain a hot topic for several meetings to come as EPPs made their opposition to the higher standards clear. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for future SBEC updates.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) is inviting stakeholders to share input on the state’s accountability systems and assessments for students. The board is hosting an online public survey, which will be open through June 30. Access the English survey here and the Spanish version here. Results will be shared at the SBOE’s July 2016 meeting.
The survey relates to an effort by SBOE members to conduct recent meetings around the state, referred to as Community Conversations, at which members of the public, educators, and parents could share feedback on testing and accountability. To view comments gathered at the SBOE’s recent Community Conversations events, click here.
In a press release from the Texas Education Agency today, SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich said, “I felt it was also important for board members to have in-depth discussions to learn what educators, parents, business people and others want from these two high profile programs.”
SBOE’s findings will also be shared with the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which is tasked this year with making recommendations to the 85th Legislature for changes to the state’s testing and accountability systems. Visit TEA’s website for more information about the commission.