Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 21, 2016

As you prepare to cast your vote in the general election, we’ve got the latest in education news updates:

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundYour first chance to vote for pro-public education candidates in the general election begins Monday! Start making plans today to take advantage of the convenience of early voting!

Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 24, and runs through Friday, Nov. 4, with Election Day quickly following on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting is a quick and easy way to avoid the hassle of getting to the polls on Election Day, when voters sometimes face last-minute scheduling conflicts that make getting to the polls difficult or lines at the polls once they arrive. Plus, unlike Election Day voting, early voters do not have to vote at their assigned precinct location; they simply cast a ballot at any early voting location in their county. To find early voting locations and hours in your area, check your local newspaper or contact your local voter registrar’s office.

ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou can read more about voting requirements here, but keep in mind that you must present a valid form of photo identification in order to vote and certain voters qualify for a mail in ballot (for example, those who are 65 years or older or those with disabilities). You can also read about the ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member, is encouraging educators to vote. Many districts and campuses are offering incentives for registered educators and students who wear their “I Voted!” sticker to school!

Before you head to the polls, be sure to check out where your state legislators and your member of the State Board of Education stand on public education issues. Visit our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Make your plans to vote during early voting now!


NO VOUCHERSEarlier this week the House Public Education Committee met to discuss vouchers in its final interim hearing before the 85th Legislative Session begins in January. The committee was primarily focused on the two forms of vouchers the Senate is expected to push: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports in his recap here, the House panel ultimately seemed to signal that vouchers of any kind continue to face a difficult road in the committee. However, two members are rolling off the committee, the committee’s chairman and a former educator, both of whom have been valued supporters of Texas public schools.

Meanwhile, the Senate remains focused on its push for school choice in the form of ESAs. At a press conference on Thursday before a gathering of Dallas area business leaders, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick outlined his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities. On education, ESAs topped his list, and he vowed to fight session after session for “school choice” initiatives in Texas. Exter offers a recap of his discussion on ESAs and highlights priorities that would be truly effective here. Also on his agenda of education priorities are bills to curb districts accused of failing to report inappropriate student-teacher relationships, a transgender bathroom bill termed the “Women’s Protection Act,” and fine-tuning of the cameras in the classroom bill passed last session (in order to ensure all districts comply).

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann speaking with KXAN's Phil Prazan this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann speaking with KXAN’s Phil Prazan this week.

For more on this week’s voucher developments, catch a sampling of ATPE in the news. Exter spoke to KVUE after this week’s voucher hearing in the House Public Education Committee and to the Dallas Morning News later in the week. Plus, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann visited with KXAN about ESAs following Patrick’s press conference and ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey sat down with KEYE to talk about Patrick’s education priorities, where “school choice” and vouchers top the list.


tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is asking for input on the state’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind. Acknowledging that a significant amount of education decision making was returned to states under the new law, TEA wants to hear from parents, taxpayers, and the public as it determines how the law will affect state policies surrounding accountability, funding, and school improvement, among other major issues.

“The passage of ESSA has created a unique opportunity to inform Texas’ education policy,” stated Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath in a press release issued yesterday. “However, we need input from all parts of our state to ensure that, under ESSA, all students in Texas can receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the future.”

TEA developed a survey for collecting input from the public, titled the ESSA Public Input Survey, which will be open through Nov. 18, 2016. The survey is open to anyone interested in providing input on the state’s implementation of ESSA, and data from the survey will be considered as the state develops its plan. The state must submit a final plan to the federal government by July 2017.

U.S. Dept of Education LogoIn related news, the US Department of Education (ED) released two new pieces of non-binding ESSA guidance this week. First, guidelines on how states can invest in early childhood education under the new law, among other things, provides clarification that funding under Title II can be used for professional development for prekindergarten teachers. The second set of guidelines outlines how states can use funding under a new block grant program: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. According ED, the new block grant is intended to help states “1) provide all students with access to a well-rounded education, 2) improve school conditions for student learning, and 3) improve the use of technology in order  to improve the academic achievement and digital literacy of all students.” Access the early education guidance here and guidance on the block grant program here.


Many teachers across the state are getting used to a new teacher evaluation system: the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). The new system is in its first year of implementation statewide as the state’s new recommended evaluation system (districts have the option to create their own evaluation systems, but the vast majority of districts use the state-recommended system). Recently, two ATPE state office staff members observed the training that T-TESS appraisers receive and brought back practical tips to assist Texas educators currently navigating the new system. Head over to the ATPE Blog to see Part 1 and Part 2 of the series called “Navigating the T-TESS,” and be sure to check back for helpful tips ahead.

Also, as a reminder, don’t forget to utilize our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org, where you’ll find details on the T-TESS design, history of the changes, links to news articles, and additional resources.


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Competing priorites for public education

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick held a press conference yesterday to lay out his priorities for the 85th Legislative Session. To no one’s surprise, those priorities were heavily centered on the privatization of public education and the defunding of neighborhood schools through passage of the latest voucher fad. Certainly, there are many priorities the state can and should address to improve the way we meet our constitutional obligation to make available a system of free public schools to the state’s roughly 6 million school-aged children, but vouchers are not one of them.

In addition to costing the state potentially billions of dollars, the consensus of the research finds that voucher programs don’t, in any uniform or significant way, increase educational outcomes for the students who use them. Additionally, despite voucher proponents’ claims to the contrary, the research does not find any competition-driven boost to the public system. The competitive effect that can be observed is a diversion of money from the classroom into marketing budgets.

Instead of continuing to focus on this perennial distraction on behalf of those few but influential interests who stand to gain from the privatization of our public schools, the lieutenant governor and the legislature should work on behalf of all students and parents to address the state’s real educational priories. To highlight a few, they could:

  • address the preparation, retention, and equitable distribution of classroom educators, the single most influential factor on a child’s educational attainment;
  • address the stress-inducing drill-and-kill environment in many of our struggling schools created by the state accountability system, which makes it virtually impossible for these children to learn according to neuroscience;
  • address the state’s continuing struggle to attain universal, full-day, and high-quality prekindergarten; and
  • address our flawed system of school finance; address its inadequate weights for low-socioeconomic groups, English language learners, and special education populations; address the layer upon layer of inefficient and inequitable “hold harmless” provisions.

The lieutenant governor cited 239,517 students attending persistently struggling schools, which he calls “failing,” in his speech yesterday. If the lieutenant governor truly wants to help these students and so many more, setting any one of these as a priority (if not all of them) is the more effective approach. After decades of research, it’s not a matter of not knowing what works and it’s not a matter of blindly throwing money at the deficiencies. We know what works. Other countries have taken the research we have conducted and put it into concrete, policy-driven practice with amazing results. It’s simply a matter of taking what we know works and making it a priority here at home.

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House education committee discusses voucher proposals the Senate is expected to push

The House Public Education Committee met for its final meeting before session earlier this week. The interim hearing was focused on its charge to study “school choice,” and marked what is likely to be the last public hearing for two of the committee’s members, Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) and Chairman Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

The term school choice encompasses a broad spectrum of options, including magnet schools, in-district charter campuses, open enrollment charter schools, other specialized campuses, and open enrollment policies. All of these exist within the public school context. However, in this case, the committee used the hearing to focus on analyzing the effects of the two voucher programs likely to be pursued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the upper chamber in the upcoming session.

In related news, Lieutenant Governor Patrick laid out his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities today before business leaders in Dallas. Patrick called “school choice” a top priority, vowing to continue to fight session after session for his “school choice” agenda, an agenda that includes vouchers. Read more about Patrick’s education priorities in tomorrow’s weekly wrap-up.

The committee heard from two panels of invited witnesses. The first panel was made up primarily of proponents of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships, both forms of vouchers or neo-vouchers. The second invited panel, which represented voucher opponents, was comprised of outgoing SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, the head of Pastors for Texas Children Charlie Johnson, and a lead researcher with the National Education Policy Center, Luis Huerta.

With near unanimity both Republican and Democratic committee members questioned, challenged, and ultimately signaled their rejection of the proposals voucher proponents put forward. The reasons brought forward by concerned committee members varied, but the conclusion was all the same: Texas has plenty to build upon within the public education system and they don’t need nor want a state-created, state-run school voucher program.

In a growing twist these legislators are finding support in their opposition to vouchers from what many would consider an unlikely source. At least half a dozen home-school parents were on hand to voice their opinions during public testimony, and they uniformly stated that they were opposed to a state voucher program, including ESAs. One mother put it best in an exchange between herself and Chairman Aycock when she acknowledged that home-school parents don’t want government dollars, they “just want to be left alone.”

For those interested in viewing the full hearing for more information, archived footage can be found here.


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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 14, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are education news stories you might have missed this week:

Road sign toward election 2016We’re only 10 days away from the start of early voting for the 2016 general election. Many thanks to all of you who helped get pro-public education voters registered. Read more about Texas’s record-setting voter registration statistics in this recent article from The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. The early voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4. Early voting enables you to visit any polling place within your county or political subdivision. In most counties, if you wait until Election Day to vote, you’ll be required to vote in the assigned polling location for your precinct. Voters over the age of 65 or those unable to make it to the polls due to certain circumstances such as illness may apply for a ballot by mail. Learn more about the requirements for voting here. Also, click here to find out about ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, which includes ATPE, is encouraging school leaders to help get their employees to the polls during the early voting period.

I votedNow is a great time to find out where legislative and State Board of Education candidates stand on public education issues. Use our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that unlike the primary elections held earlier this year where voters had to choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election regardless of party affiliation, including independent candidates.

The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, where the main topic of discussion will be private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote next week. In the meantime, check out this video press release where Monty explains why ATPE remains committed to fighting efforts to implement a publicly funded voucher or private school scholarship program in Texas.

U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education has released new federal rules for teacher preparation, which include requirements for states to hold educator preparation programs accountable for a number of factors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been following the development of the rules over the last couple of years and provided a full report for Teach the Vote earlier this week.

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants teachers to help students learn how to interact with law enforcement officers in the hope of decreasing violent incidents. Whitmire has announced plans to file a bill that would make lessons on police interaction part of the required curriculum for students in the ninth grade. The topic was discussed at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Whitmire chairs. Read more about the idea in a recent story from KVUE News here, and check out a related interview with ATPE member Cristal Misplay, who worked as a law enforcement officer before becoming a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD. We want to hear your thoughts on requiring the ninth grade curriculum to include lessons on interacting with police. Post your comments below.

Rent on red business binderAustin ISD is considering ways to foster teacher retention by partnering with the City of Austin to explore future affordable housing options for educators and other public employees. Austin ATPE President Heidi Langan spoke to KXAN News this week about the local cost of teacher turnover. Her district has struggled to keep teachers who often leave for neighboring districts that offer higher salaries and where houses are more affordable. Check out the full interview here.

Are you a teacher or parent in a school district that is considering a District of Innovation (DOI) designation? ATPE has a resource page dedicated to helping stakeholders navigate the DOI process and learn about the types of laws that can be waived in districts that avail themselves of the new DOI law. Our resource page includes examples of some Texas school districts that have become DOIs and provides tips on how to share input with your district through the DOI process. Check out the DOI resource page here.


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From The Texas Tribune: Count of Texas registered voters eclipses 15 million mark

The Big Conversation

A record-breaking 15 million Texans are registered to vote in the upcoming November election, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday.

As the Tribune’s Alex Samuels reports, this figure amounts to 78 percent of the state’s voting-age population and more than 1.3 million additional registered voters from four years ago. Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, previously told the Dallas Morning News that the spike in registered voters could be attributed to high interest in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

In Texas, the margin separating Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is shrinking. A WFAA/SurveyUSA poll released Thursday found Trump beating Clinton 47 percent to 43 percent — which falls within the margin of error.

As the Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports, Trump’s polling numbers have been decreasing after the release of a 2005 clip showing him making lewd comments about women, and the 4-point margin may be Trump’s smallest lead in Texas yet.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.


This article has been edited for length. It originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/10/14/brief/.

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Federal Update: ED releases long delayed teacher preparation rules

U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released a final set of regulations that lay out federal stipulations for states’ teacher preparation programs. The rules have seen delays since 2014, when an initial iteration was released. That initial proposal garnered significant input, and while some revisions are included in the newest version, the original proposal remains largely intact.

Under the newly released regulations, states will be required to develop a rating system aimed at evaluating the success of its teacher preparation programs. One piece of that rating system must analyze how programs’ teachers perform based on a measure of student academic achievement. This was a highly controversial piece retained from the original proposal, which was heavily-reliant on student test scores, but the newer version does provide flexibility with regard to how states determine student success. Ultimately, if programs don’t perform well on the state’s rating system, states will be required to cut off access to federal grants aimed at supporting teachers who teach in high-need certification areas and in low-income schools (or TEACH grants).

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised HandsThe rating system must also include the job placement data, retention rates, and feedback of programs’ graduates as well as the feedback from their graduates’ employers. Initial reactions to the final version of the regulations have been mixed. While some support the higher accountability to which programs will be held, others have concerns with the unintended consequences that could result, such as the effect a measure of student achievement could have on the support available for teachers going into high needs schools.

As we shared last week, Texas is at the end of a process to revamp its educator preparation accountability system. Much of what Texas has and is in the process of implementing is in line with the standards to be enforced by ED under its new regulations. One missing piece, however, is the inclusion of student achievement. While such a measure is included in Texas law and rules governing educator preparation programs (EPPs), to date, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been unable to find a valid way to measure student outcomes. TEA has, however, included a student growth measure in its new teacher evaluation system, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). The new system is in its first year of implementation statewide, but the measure of student growth piece is still in the pilot phase. ATPE and other organizations have filed legal challenges based in part on the inclusion of value-added modeling (VAM) as a element of the T-TESS model. The final commissioner’s rules for T-TESS outline four ways in which schools may assess student growth for purposes of teacher evaluations; VAM, which many consider to be an unfair and unreliable statistical calculation for this purpose, is one of the four options. Despite the pending litigation, the student growth piece of T-TESS  is set to take effect statewide next school year. With the new federal rules for EPPs calling on states to look specifically at the performance of students taught by those programs, it seems likely that Texas will at least consider further extension of the same questionable VAM methodology for EPP accountability.

For related content, read the perspectives of Kate Walsh with the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). She highlights her thoughts on the new regulations, including why she doesn’t disagree with ED’s decision to omit the previously required use of student test scores or VAM.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King and President Obama have stood by the administration’s new regulations and are joined by those who support stronger regulations for teacher preparation in the United States, but the rules have received criticism from congressional leaders and other stakeholders. As all of this plays out, two things create some uncertainty: 1) regardless of who is elected, it is relatively unknown how a new president would implement these regulations, and 2) Congress has been toying with reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which has a questionable likelihood but would entail fresh laws that could render these new teacher preparation regulations meaningless. Plus, the price tag of implementing these regulations would be high for states (latest estimates from the administration indicate $27 million per year for the next 10 years). Bottom line, the final version of the regulations released today might not be the end of the road. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 7, 2016

Catch up on this week’s education-related news from Teach the Vote:


RegisterToVoteThere is only one weekend left for you to update your voter registration or make sure your friends, colleagues, and family members are registered to vote in the November general election. Tuesday, Oct. 11, is the last day to register to vote or make changes to your registration for this election.

Check out the 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote to view profiles of candidates for the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education and find out more about their views on public education issues such as testing and school finance.

Don’t forget that students who’ll be at least 18 years old on Election Day are also eligible to register. Read about ways that teachers can engage students in the election process in this recent blog post.


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today, Oct. 7, in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending the meeting and provided this report on actions the board is considering.

A significant portion of SBEC’s meetings this year (and even prior) have been dedicated to discussing, reviewing, and revising the board’s rules pertaining to educator preparation in Texas. It has been a lengthy process that concluded today with adoption of the new proposals. The rule proposals—which include how teachers are prepared, accountability measures for educator preparation programs (EPPs), expectations of EPP candidates, the types of certificates candidates can seek, and much more—have seen several revisions and delays as the board seeks to continue its implementation of legislation from last session and make additional changes to how EPPs operate in Texas. ATPE has expressed support for portions of the rule proposals that seek to provide more support for alternatively certified teachers and reduce the time programs have to prepare candidates to become fully certified. While these changes are small steps, ATPE appreciates such steps focused on improved training and support for alternatively certified teachers, which studies show are leaving the classroom at a faster rate than their peers. The proposals will now go to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which can affirm the proposals by taking no action or reject the proposals, sending them back to SBEC for further review.

The board also adopted changes to SBEC’s educator discipline rules. The rule changes will, among other things, establish mandatory sanctions for educators that test positive for, are under the influence of, or are in possession of drugs or alcohol on school grounds. ATPE certainly believes that there are many circumstances in which an educator should be disciplined for such actions and that fairness and consistency are essential goals in decision-making regarding educator behavior. However, ATPE has raised concerns that, while well-meaning, creating a mandatory sanction for such a broad swath of behaviors fails to fairly and consistently consider certain scenarios where such a sanction may not be warranted. For instance, ATPE has suggested that the board specify that it is referencing “illegally-possessed” drugs so that legally-prescribed drugs do not unnecessarily affect an educator’s ability to teach. Our suggestions were not included in the rule proposal. SBOE will have final review of the proposal at its next meeting.

One of the first actions taken by the board this morning was the election of its new officers, which was needed after several members’, including the previous chair’s, terms expired and new members were appointed to the board in their place. Board members chose Haskell ISD teacher Jill Druesedow to be its new chair, Slaton ISD teacher Suzanne McCall to serve as vice-chair, and citizen member Laurie Bricker as secretary. This is the first time in recent history that two classroom teachers have served as the top officers of the board. The board also assigned two new members to its legislative committee, which McCall chairs. The two new members are the board’s new counselor member, Klein ISD counselor Rohanna Brooks-Sykes, and Rockwall ISD teacher Sandra Bridges. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for any relevant SBEC updates. The board’s final meeting of the year is in early December.



Bria Moore

This week, ATPE welcomed Bria Moore to our staff as Governmental Relations Specialist. A native of Longview, Bria holds a degree from the University of Texas in Rhetoric and Writing, where she also minored in Italian. She was most recently employed with a staff recruiting company but also brings highly relevant experience from her prior internships in the Texas House of Representatives and working on early education policy initiatives for a non-profit entity.

As GR Specialist, Bria will provide administrative support, collect and track data, and coordinate various projects of the GR department for ATPE. Please help us give a warm welcome to our newest team member, Bria!



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REMINDER: Voter registration closes Tuesday

Are you tired of hearing about the November election? I bet you cannot go five minutes without someone around you mentioning the presidential candidates or sharing their views on what (or who) they believe is best for our country. Campaign season will be over fairly soon, but in the meantime, remember that the most important opinion to be shared about the general election is your own… when you express it by voting.

RegisterToVoteEarly voting is right around the corner – starting Monday, Oct. 24 and running through Friday, Nov. 4. But you cannot vote in this important election unless you are registered before the Oct. 11 deadline.

Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn how to register yourself or help a friend get registered by Tuesday.

Everybody has an opinion, but it’s the opinion you voice by voting that truly counts. Don’t miss your chance to be heard!

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 30, 2016

Here is this week’s Teach the Vote wrap-up of education news:

School funding was the center of attention at the Texas State Capitol this week as legislators held interim hearings to consider education-related budget requests and the possibility of changes to the state’s school finance system next session.

Education related hearings began on Tuesday this with week with the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s education staff holding a series of joint budget hearings where they heard from TEA, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and TRS. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath laid out TEA’s appropriations request including exceptional items. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie delivered a presentation on his agency’s appropriations request which covered the trust fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare.

Budget related hearings continued on Wednesday and Thursday as the House Appropriations and House Public Education Committees held a two-day joint hearing on school finance. On day one of the hearing, the committees heard from four panels of invited witnesses covering the following topics: an overview of the school finance system, litigation, and revenue; additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR); recapture; and district adjustments. On day two, the committees heard from an additional three panels of invited witnesses as well as approximately 60 public testifiers, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. The final three panels of invited testimony covered student adjustments, facilities funding, and school finance options for the 85th session.

Note: we will update this post with a link to footage of day two of the joint hearing on school finance as soon as archived video becomes available from the state.

RegisterToVoteOctober 11 is the last day to register to vote (or update your registration if you’ve recently moved) if you plan to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. On our blog this week, we shared a post from ATPE with recommendations from a Texas teacher on how to engage students this election season. Don’t forget that students who will be 18 years old on Election Day can register, too!

Find out more about the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by visiting our 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote. Our candidate profiles are designed to inform voters about the candidates’ views on public education. They include incumbents’ voting records and candidates’ responses to our survey about major education issues. Several candidates vying for contested seats this fall have recently answered our survey, so check out the profiles for races in your area to find out where your candidates stand. Remember also that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for candidates of any party or independent candidates in the November general election.

Your vote is your voice!

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced this week plans to resign from her House seat in January. Dukes cited lingering health problems following an automobile accident in 2013 in which she injured her back. She has recently been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that she misused state funds and her legislative office employees for personal work. Dukes has had a long record of supporting pro-public education legislation since taking office in 1994, but health issues resulted in her being absent for a good part of the last legislative session. ATPE thanks Rep. Dukes for her service and wishes her a full recovery. If Dukes is re-elected in November, Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy upon her resignation.


With the legislative session just a few months away, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is among a host of elected officials making the rounds to tout private school vouchers as a civil rights imperative. He and other Republican senators have given public speeches, appeared on panels at recent events such as the Texas Tribune Festival, and implored their legislative colleagues to support an especially alarming form of voucher known as an Education Savings Account (ESA). ESA programs call for the state to give public funds directly to parents, often in the form of debit cards that can be used for any education-related expense on behalf of their children, including paying for home schooling or private school costs.

Dr. Charles Luke, who heads the Coalition for Public Schools of which ATPE is a member, penned an opinion piece for the Waco Tribune this week in which he debunks the “school choice as a civil right” myth. Luke writes that “vouchers disguised as ‘school choice’ have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income,” citing voucher programs that began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954.

NO VOUCHERSESAs and other voucher proposals fail to create any legitimate options for educationally disadvantaged students, as Luke points out, especially without any requirement that private schools accepting vouchers adhere to state and federal laws that prevent discrimination, protect students with special needs, and impose accountability standards. Private and parochial schools have generally balked at the notion of complying with the same laws as public schools — such as requirements for student testing, providing transportation, and admitting all students regardless of disability, race, or other factors — in exchange for taxpayer funds. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sitting on a panel at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival, pointed out the practical impossibility of ensuring that ESA funds are spent appropriately. She expressed serious doubt that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff would have the necessary resources to scrutinize receipts submitted by parents to back up expenditures made using an ESA.

A much more realistic plan for helping all students, and especially those living in poverty, would be to improve the state’s school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional but deemed only “minimally” acceptable. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the need for lawmakers to increase the weights in our state’s current school finance system, along with creating a new funding weight that would account for campuses with particularly high concentrations of students with greater needs. Campus-based weighted funding of this nature would help districts such as Austin ISD that are forced to share their local tax revenue through the current recapture system on account of having elevated local property values but also include campuses with high populations of students in poverty and English language learners.  Houston ISD, another district negatively affected by recapture, is waiting to see if its voters will reject a local property tax increase next month, which would force the state to reallocate Houston’s tax base toward other school districts. An HISD representative testified at Wednesday’s school finance hearing that nearly 80 percent of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged. Read more about the Houston district’s dilemma here.

With marathon hearings on school finance taking place at the Capitol this week, stay tuned to find out if lawmakers are receptive to making any significant changes next session.



Members of the ATPE lobby team met with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) during last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival to discuss Social Security and other education issues. Pictured from left to right are ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, Castro, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

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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.

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

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