ATPE Tips & Tricks: Engaging Student Voters

An election year is a great time to teach students about the political process! US government teacher Kim Grosenbacher shares five tips for engaging students during an election season and encouraging them to vote.

      1. RegisterToVoteBecome a volunteer voter registrar. Contact your local election office and become a volunteer voter registrar so you can personally register the eligible students at your high school. Students can register in Texas when they are 17 and 10 months. This will help students who turn 18 between the election date and the 30-day voter registration deadline. Have students research the voter registration process at votetexas.gov.
      2. Share local sample ballots with your students. It’s important for students to understand that they are voting for not only a presidential candidate but also state and local candidates. This year so many have shared that they do not want to vote for either candidate, but the reality is the ballot contains multiple candidates who are seeking elected office. Democracy only works when people actively participate in it.
      3. Help students discover their political ideology. Have them go to isidewith.com to take a political ideology quiz that will align them with a particular candidate. This will give them a starting point in researching and seeking out whom to endorse or vote for.
      4. Have students research the candidates. Students should research the current candidates and the issues they are supporting. Don’t reinvent the wheel—use resources that are designed to help you teach the election. I have students research the major candidates and come up with speaking points on why they would vote for that particular candidate. Student News Daily is a great resource. Have them research candidates using their own websites. Here are the candidates’ websites (in alphabetical order):
      5. Engage in classroom discussion and debate. Now that your students are familiar with the candidates and their issues, it’s time to discuss and debate. Pose a question on an issue or a candidate and ask them to argue a side. Explain that everyone has a right to be heard and that your classroom is a safe learning environment in which to share your opinion. I challenge my students to come up with three speaking points on why we should vote for their candidate. In each class, randomly call on students to share their speaking points and convince the class why we should vote for their candidate. I use a randomizer app called ClassDojo. This is a great teaching tool that helps organizes how many times I call on a student—it keeps my students engaged and ready to answer questions!

Kim Grosenbacher is a high school social studies teacher in Boerne ISD. She has been teaching for 15 years and has been an ATPE member for 11 years.

Want more great tips? Follow ATPE on Facebook and Pinterest.

This post was originally published on the ATPE blog on Sept. 27, 2016.

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Educating children of poverty: policy considerations for this week’s school finance hearings

Starting tomorrow, Sept. 28, the House Public Education and Appropriations committees will spend two days hearing from education stakeholders and finance experts on interim charges related to how Texas funds its public schools. These joint interim hearings come on the heels of a state supreme court ruling that our state’s school finance system is constitutional, albeit deeply flawed, as we have reported here on Teach the Vote.

Girl showing bank notesWhile it is true that money alone doesn’t solve every problem, adequate funding distributed equitably certainly makes dramatic system-wide improvements much more achievable. Is there currently adequate money in the state school system to meet the constitutional requirement for a general diffusion of knowledge? Maybe, maybe not. Is there enough money in the system to ensure a general diffusion of knowledge for all children while also meeting the legislature’s mandates on things like cameras in the classroom, a host of social and safety issues, and the accountability system; and meeting parental expectations to provide value-added offerings such as Latin classes and ever increasing levels of technology? Moreover, is there enough money in our coffers to do these things against the backdrop of our current inequitable method of distribution, which some interests in our state would prefer to maintain? Almost certainly not.

With regard to addressing the many deficiencies of the Texas school finance system, where should state policymakers start? If the goal is to have the most widespread impact on improving student outcomes, they should begin with equity. The U.S. ranks near the bottom among developed nations in terms of the education gap between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) students. Further, Texas ranks in the bottom five among all states in terms of funding gaps between districts based on either wealth or race. In other words, we are one of the worst states in one of the worst countries where equity is concerned.

Many high-performing education systems around the world actually spend less than the U.S. on average per pupil spending. (Note: Texas also spends well below the national average.) However, the way that other nations distribute the education funds they spend is also vastly different. Most, if not all, of these systems recognize that regardless of system-wide funding levels, some children require more — sometimes significantly more — support than their peers to be successfully educated. These children often include those with limited proficiency in their country’s primary language, high mobility rates, learning disorders, and children with a high degree of childhood traumas or adverse childhood experiences.


For related information, read about research on how assessments of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can help educators support and instruct students who are at an increased risk.


Because many of these obstacles to learning tend to be much more prevalent in impoverished populations, poverty tends to be a proxy, though an imperfect one, to identify these populations of at-risk children. (For the purpose of characterizing students in the U.S., poverty is often expressed by admittance into the federal free and reduced lunch program.) High-performing education systems around the world have come to recognize that if student outcomes are to be significantly and positively affected, these kids not only need more support individually, but the need to modify the entire educational environment also becomes exponentially increased when significant numbers of children with these obstacles are concentrated at a single campus. As such, they have organized their school funding systems to provide the educational and non-educational supports these children need, which are supports their peers often don’t need in order to reach the same levels of educational mastery.

In order to most effectively provide for a general diffusion of knowledge to all students, the Texas Legislature should consider increasing the current funding weights such that they more adequately reflect the cost of supporting students across a spectrum of need. Additionally, the legislature should develop a new weight that takes into account the impact of concentrations of high-needs students on a single campus. These recommendations would go a long way in addressing concerns about inter-district equity and insure that discussions around issues such as recapture stay focused on student outcomes. When recapture and hold harmless provisions are considered without also considering student weights, there is a tendency to over-focus on funding changes to individual districts in a way that can be divorced from what student populations look like and how students’ needs may be differentiated from their peers in other districts.

In addition to inter-district equity, the Texas Legislature should also consider how to best address intra-district equity. Legislators should have an in-depth policy discussion about how to best ensure that resources are flowing to campuses within a single district in a truly equitably manner, particularly in large urban and suburban districts. Legislators should consider the pros and cons of impacting district behavior, with regard to significantly prioritizing resources toward campuses with larger concentrations of high-needs students directly through the school finance laws in addition to research-based direct interventions. Currently, we attempt to indirectly encourage districts to prioritize resources through a school accountability system that is largely punitive.

As the House Public Education and Appropriations committees meet on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, we hope legislators will focus on creating a system that best serves all Texas students with the resources available.

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From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A Game of Chicken Between Texas, Its Biggest School District

by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
September 26, 2016

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

Voters in Texas’ biggest school district in Texas might do what the nine Republicans on the state’s Supreme Court wouldn’t do: Force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for public education.

Such a move would require some daring. Voters in the Houston Independent School District will have a choice in November to approve spending $165 million raised locally from school property taxes on other, poorer school districts in the state.

The ballot language is opaque, and a pretty good argument for improving the writing skills of the people in charge of state and local governments: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.”

The actual choice presented by that ballot measure? Vote “for” spending $165 million of the district’s money in other districts, or vote “against” spending that money and risk taking $18 billion of the district’s commercial properties from the tax rolls and assigning them to the tax rolls of another district.

A “No” vote in November — urged by many of the HISD’s trustees, the city’s mayor, and others — would spark some political drama.

About one Texas school district in four spends some of its locally raised money to help educate students in districts that can’t raise enough money from their own tax bases. It’s called recapture by the policy wonks, but because it takes from “property rich” districts and gives to “property poor” districts, it’s more commonly called the Robin Hood system.

When a district’s voters refuse to go along — something that hasn’t happened — the Texas Education Agency is required to move part of that district’s property tax base to another, poorer district.

The agency obviously doesn’t move the real estate, but it would assign some of one district’s biggest commercial property taxpayers to pay taxes in another district. The law gives a preference to closer districts.

In HISD’s case, a “no” vote would mean taking an estimated $18 billion in property from that district’s rolls. The TEA would start with the most valuable properties and work its way down until it has taken away enough property to cover the $165 million or so that HISD owes under the Robin Hood system.

Houston’s biggest commercial property taxpayers would be paying taxes in another school district — and they could be asked to pay at a different tax rate up to 15 cents higher than what they’d be paying in HISD.

It means that some school taxes — those used to pay borrowing debts — would probably rise for the taxpayers left behind. The district still has to pay what it owes even with $18 billion pulled out of the tax base. The taxpayers left behind would pay more.

The commercial taxpayers are mobilizing against being moved to a tax roll in another district where they might not own any property. The Austin-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which represents many of them, is warning policymakers of the consequences, both to the departing taxpayers and to those left behind.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district?

Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

Some of Houston’s political leaders think the combination of big, angry taxpayers and a multitude of incensed voters will be enough to force state lawmakers to rework the formulas used to pay for public education and to make sure each district in the state has a reasonably equal financial foundation for its schools.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

“I’m counting on the business community to step up,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “And I’m counting on conservatives, too. This would be a redistribution without the consent of the people. I have not found one elected official, including the trustees themselves, that is advocating a yes vote on this deal.”

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

 

If he and others are right, Turner’s former colleagues in the Legislature might take on school finance.

The system is unfair and broken — so much so that half of the state’s districts went to court to try to force an overhaul. The Texas Supreme Court agreed in a May ruling that the financing schemes are “byzantine” and “imperfect” but said the system is not unconstitutional. At the same time, the court’s opinion suggested lawmakers should enact “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”

Cool idea, but Texas lawmakers simply don’t make major reforms to school finance — this is something that arises every decade or so — unless their hands are forced by the courts.

Or, perhaps, by a game of chicken with taxpayers and voters in the state’s largest school district.

 


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/26/analysis-game-chicken-between-texas-its-biggest-sc/.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 23, 2016

Here’s your recap of this week’s education news:

 


medwt16002A subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce met on Tuesday to discuss a funding-related proposal under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The proposal, which isn’t completely new, is referred to as “supplement, not supplant” and requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget; dollars from the feds cannot be used to replace funding that the state would otherwise spend. The recently updated rule proposal released by the Department of Education (ED) alters the way states must demonstrate compliance, and considerable disagreement has surfaced over the new interpretation.

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education showcased that disagreement this week. Republicans generally feel that King has far overstepped his bounds and others have specific concerns about how the new language will realistically affect states and local school districts. King and his supporters, however, maintain that the rule is a step toward better leveling the playing field for disadvantaged students. The U.S. Senate education committee held a hearing earlier this year, when the proposal was in an earlier, non-finalized form. The comment period on the proposed rule runs through Nov. 7.

Meanwhile this week, the same committee’s leadership sent a letter to Secretary King asking him to outline ED’s remaining regulatory plans. The U.S. House Republican education leaders expressed concern over “midnight rulemaking,” or rulemaking that takes place in the months prior to an outgoing president’s departure from office. One piece of non-binding regulatory work King can check off of that list is guidance on how schools and states can better support English language learners under the new law. ED released the guidance today, which touches on things like how states can spend certain federal funds and how to approach specific ELL populations. Something that could be added to his regulatory to-do list is guidance on how funding under Title II can be used to address teacher shortages, as Congress’s Democratic education leaders sent a letter this week requesting input.

Watch for more on supplement, not supplant and other regulatory issues facing ED as time ticks away on this administration’s stay in office.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board met in Austin this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the board meeting and provided a recap of the board’s actions and agenda. The board adopted policy changes affecting current and future beneficiaries, altered TRS Active Care rules to benefit employees going from part-time to full-time status, and heard presentations on the TEAM project and Brexit, among other issues addressed. Read Exter’s post to learn more.

 


EA report released last week by a national think tank called the Learning Policy Institute looks at what they project to be a growing teacher shortage in the United States and makes research-based policy recommendations to reverse the trend. The report notes that declining enrollment in educator preparation programs, high attrition rates, and a rising student population pose a particular threat to teacher shortages in the United States and anticipates shortages to grow if measures aren’t taken by policymakers to address and reverse the trend.

Using research from the report to determine what factors play a serious role in both deterring and detracting new and veteran teachers from the profession, the institute simultaneously assigned a “teaching attractiveness rating” and “teacher equity rating” for every U.S. state. Texas received a 2 for its teaching attractiveness rating, a rating aimed at showing how supportive the state is of teacher retention and recruitment, based on the factors that contribute to working conditions, compensation, teacher qualifications, and teacher turnover. On teacher equity, Texas received a 2.3, which indicates the extent to which students are equitably assigned uncertified or inexperienced teachers. The ratings were based on a 1 to 5 scale.

Read more about this report and dig deeper into its findings and policy recommendations in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post from earlier this week.

 


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundTexas Educators Vote, a coalition of Texas public education groups who are working together to create a culture of voting in Texas public schools, is preparing for the upcoming general election and needs your help! The coalition, of which ATPE is a member, is looking for leaders to help organize local educators to vote in support of Texas public schools. The coalition will provide the tools necessary to get educators in your area motivated and educated, and the role will require minimal time and effort. The reward, however, will be huge: educators receiving the support and encouragement they need to vote in support of their profession and on behalf of the 5 million Texas school children who don’t have a vote. Learn more here.

This week the Texas Secretary of State’s (SOS) office reported an uptick in registered voters ahead of the election in November. Approximately 14.7 million voters are registered to vote in Texas, and the SOS expects that number to rise above 15 million. This increase in registered voters is good, but we must ensure that the number of public school advocates registered to vote grows too. Last week we reported that the Senate Education and Senate State Affairs committees held interim hearings focused on a handful of controversial policies like vouchers and payroll deduction, and, this week, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick gave a speech on his vision for passing vouchers in Texas next session. The interim hearings continue next week as the House Public Education Committee is set to spend two days studying the Texas school finance system (watch for more next week!). The stakes are high for our kids and for your profession, and it is crucial that we vote for pro-public education policymakers who support you and the kids in your classroom.

The last day to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 11, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late!

 


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Recap of Sept. TRS board meeting

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board is meeting in Austin this week for a regularly scheduled meeting. The board will wrap its two day meeting today. Here is a breakdown of the board’s agenda and actions taken so far.

First, the board adopted several policy changes, including changes that will impact current or future beneficiaries.

§ 25.31, relating to Percentage Limits on Compensation Increases
This change impacts a small group of members whose first year of service is a short or partial year (it’s particularly impactful to those who enter the system toward the end of their career). Under the current rule, a partial year of employment creates an artificially low compensation number for the member’s first year. The member is then limited to an increase not to exceed 10% in each subsequent year. Under the new rule, only the year that counts as service credit (approximately five months of service) will be considered with regard to the limit on year-over-year compensation increases for the purposes of calculating the member’s highest five years of compensation.

§ 29.83, relating to Calculation of Amount of Retirement Benefit
This change positively affects a small group of TRS members whose years of service include years in a reciprocal system outside of TRS. By making this change, members who retire before normal retirement age will have a less harsh decrease in their retirement benefits than they otherwise would under the existing rule.

The board also made a change to TRS Active Care, implementing a new rule that allows an employee going from part-time to full-time employment to immediately enroll without waiting for the next open enrollment period. This change benefits both the employee, who is gaining access to state and potentially new district dollars toward their insurance premiums, and the district, who is required under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) to offer coverage to all full-time employees.

On the legislative front, the board is scheduled to hear an update on the system’s legislative priorities during its October meeting. Expect the legislative priorities to focus heavily on TRS health care.

An additional (potentially legislative) issue being watched by TRS staff is a downward shift in the average expected rates of return used by large funds to create their actuarial valuations. Currently TRS assumes that long-term investment returns will average 8%. This number is critically important because it is a huge factor in determining the assumed amount of money available to pay benefits. The ability to pay benefits into the future, or a fund’s unfunded liability, is the primary indicator of a fund’s health. Because assumptions of future investment returns are based on an assumed (not real) number, decreasing the assumed rate of return dramatically decreases future assumed investment returns that can be used to pay for retiree benefits and increases the fund’s unfunded liability. The only way to decrease a fund’s unfunded liability in the face of lower assumed investment returns is to increase member and employer contributions. TRS staff have indicated that they hope to avoid serious discussions on changing the assumed rate of return until after the upcoming legislative session, primarily to avoid drawing attention away from the TRS Care issue, which is currently more pressing.

The technology infrastructure update continues to move forward. To date the TEAM project has provided TRS with improved technical infrastructure, better data, documented business rules, an enhanced financial data hub, and a new website.

The board received a presentation preview of the new site including the following short video produced by TRS. The new website goes live on Monday.


The project timeline for the completion of this project has been extended to ensure that the work is done correctly and that implementation dates align with the school year. Phase 1A and 1B are complete. The remainder of Phase 1 will go live in August of 2017. Phase 1 was initially scheduled to go live this year. Phase 2 which is progressing concurrently to Phase 1 is scheduled to go live by August of 2019, but may be ready by 2018.

Finally, the board heard a fascinating presentation on the causes and effects of Brexit from Brit Harris, Chief Investment Officer of TRS, and Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays. Many of the underlying issues surrounding immigration, income inequality, and the effects of globalization which drove the vote are present in many countries around the world including the U.S.

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New national report explores trends in teacher shortages, looks at teaching in Texas

EA new report by the Learning Policy Institute looks at teacher shortages in the United States, which the report indicates are a growing concern and offers policy recommendations to reverse the trend. The report states that while teachers were laid off in high numbers during the Great Recession, demand has since risen and projections continue to show a steep increase. Meanwhile, some current trends in the profession – declining enrollment in educator preparation programs, high attrition rates, and a rising student population – pose reason for concern.

Among its findings, the report pays particular attention to teacher attrition rates, which not only affect teacher shortages, but also carry a big cost and have a negative impact on student achievement. The report finds that keeping teachers in the classroom at a rate similar to that of other countries with high-achieving education systems, which would mean cutting our attrition rate roughly in half, would eliminate the teacher shortage altogether. The report also disproves popular rhetoric suggesting an aging workforce is the primary problem. It shows that roughly two-thirds of the attrition rate is made of teachers leaving prior to retirement, and they primarily leave due to some form of dissatisfaction.

Four major factors are highlighted as affecting recruitment and retention: compensation, preparation, mentoring and induction, and teaching conditions. For example: rates of attrition are higher in districts that pay lower salaries; teachers with little preparation are more than twice as likely to leave the profession than a fully-prepared teacher; high-quality mentoring received by novice teachers in their early years can significantly reduce attrition rates; and teacher retention is improved when administrative support is strong and teachers input is considered in decision making. The report also highlights major inequities in attrition rates, such as the fact that teachers working in high-minority, high-poverty schools and math and science teachers account for much higher turnover rates.

Based on the study’s findings, the Learning Policy Institute accompanies the report with an interactive tool that looks at a variety of factors to assign states’ a “teaching attractiveness rating” and a “teacher equity rating.” On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least desirable rating, Texas, unfortunately, receives a teaching attractiveness rating of 2 and a teacher equity rating of 2.3.

The interactive tool can be explored here and the report as well as its policy recommendations are available here.

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Congressional subcommittee to examine federal education funding rules tomorrow

United States Capitol BuildingThe U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will meet tomorrow in Washington, D.C. to discuss a new proposed funding-related rule by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The “supplement, not supplant” regulatory proposal is part of ED’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed by Congress last year to reauthorize the country’s premier federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), will hold a hearing entitled, “Supplanting the Law and Local Education Authority Through Regulatory Fiat.”

As described in a press release from the committee announcing tomorrow’s hearing, “The Department of Education has released a proposed rule changing the longstanding requirement that federal funds supplement—not supplant—state and local funds. Concerns have been raised that the department’s unprecedented regulatory proposal does not adhere to the letter and intent of the law and will have significant consequences for students and schools.” Scheduled witnesses have not yet been announced, but the hearing will be live-streamed starting at 10 a.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Central on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on ESSA implementation.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Monty_TWC_vouchers_Sept16

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

Duron_CPS_press_Sept16

Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

CPS_press_conf_Sept_16

Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


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Senate committees preview controversial education issues they will address in 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-144283240It’s been a busy week in the Texas Capitol for the ATPE Governmental Relations team as the Senate held a handful of big issue hearings in the Senate Education and State Affairs committees. The serving of hot topics included vouchers, districts of innovation (DOI), individual graduation committees, and payroll deduction.

Senate Education Committee

The education committee kicked the week off on Tuesday with an interim charge on access to digital learning opportunities in Texas classrooms. Invited testifiers lauded the advantages of using technology programs in the classroom, discussed ways some districts and education service centers (ESCs) have overcome limited broadband access, and dove into the federal e-rate program. The e-rate program is currently offering a 10 to 1 match for states that seek to expand broadband infrastructure. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, who handled testimony in the Senate this week, encouraged senators to take advantage of the limited-time arrangement offered through the e-rate program. He also reminded the committee that while digital learning is a great tool, it is important to not consider it a panacea, and training and support for teachers, among other things, must be paired in order for it to be effective.

The committee also received an update on the individual graduation committees that were created last session by Senator Kel Seliger’s SB 149. The bill received strong support from both education committees last session and was voted out of each chamber by overwhelming majorities, taking immediate effect after being signed into law by the Governor. The law is set to expire unless the Texas Legislature chooses to renew it in 2017. ATPE expressed support for continuing the committees, recognizing that state standardized tests should not be the only thing that stands between a qualified student and a diploma.

On Wednesday, the committee held a marathon interim hearing covering vouchers, DOI, and a bill that altered the minimum school year standard from days to minutes. ATPE joined other public school advocates in opposition of the voucher charge, which instructs the committee to study “education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs” in other states. Exter stressed to senators our concerns about the funding issues with a voucher proposal, which not only uses public dollars to support non-public schools, but also fails to address the real funding problem: the students who need the most resources are the students most underfunded. Under any form of a voucher, it would still be the lowest-income students receiving the fewest amount of resources; such a plan would only exasperate the problem for most.

Exter also testified on DOI, a new Texas law allowing acceptably-rated districts to opt themselves out of large amounts of the education code. A bipartisan handful of senators (those who were left in the room at the late hour) agreed with Exter’s testimony that raised alarm to the fact that essentially no checks and balances exist under the law and additional transparency should be fostered through the application process.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Also on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on payroll deduction. The committee, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), was given an interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” Sen. Huffman authored a bill last legislative session that would have prohibited most public employers, including school districts, from allowing their staffs to use payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to professional associations such as ATPE. That 2015 bill passed the Senate on a party line vote but died in a House committee. On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee first heard testimony from the State Comptroller’s office about the criteria that must be met for organizations to qualify for payroll deductions through government employers. Following that testimony, representatives from the Texas affiliate of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) both urged the committee to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for dues payments but admitted that there was virtually no cost to the state or taxpayers associated with that practice. The committee then heard testimony from several public employees and representatives of groups that could be affected by payroll deduction legislation. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday testified that public employers’ payroll offices routinely process a host of deductions from their employees’ paychecks, including insurance premiums and voluntary payments to charities and professional associations like ATPE. She emphasized that ATPE is not a labor union and does not engage in collective bargaining, calling efforts to prohibit payroll deduction in our state for hardworking public servants such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters an “unnecessary” and “misdirected” objective.

 

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education (SBOE) convened a few blocks away to cover an agenda that included its own high profile issue: a controversial proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook. Look for more on the SBOE meeting in Friday’s wrap-up and stay tuned as the House and Senate committees are poised to convene regularly in the upcoming months.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.

 


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.

 


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.

NO VOUCHERS

At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!

 


 

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