Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 18, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting is set to begin on Monday, Oct. 21, for the upcoming constitutional amendment election on Nov. 5, 2019. Are you ready to vote? ATPE encourages educators to vote in every election, and we’ve got the info you need to make informed choices at the polls. Check out our new blog post aimed at helping you understand what’s on the ballot in this year’s election. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter have broken down the proposed constitutional amendments related to public education and the other items you may see on your ballot. Learn how to print out a sample ballot ahead of time and find other election resources. Every vote counts!

As we gear up for the 2019 election to get underway next week, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has also written about the 2020 elections for our blog this week. In his latest election roundup post, Mark shares insights from recent campaign finance reports for various congressional elections that will take place next year. Check it out here.


In case you missed it, check out this week’s installment of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier gave an overview of 2019 bills that were passed dealing with charter schools. Read it here. Next week we’ll be wrapping up our series with a final post about educator compensation changes that have come about as a result of House Bill (HB) 3.

As a reminder, you still have a few more days to share your feedback with the commissioner of education on his proposed rules to implement the new “Do Not Hire Registry” required under HB 3. The deadline for public comments is Monday, Oct. 21. Learn more and submit your comments here.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new “HB 3 in 30” video and PDF presentation this week on designing and funding an extended school year. The extended school year provision put into law by House Bill (HB) 3, while less heralded than some of the bill’s other provisions, is seen as a potential game changer by TEA.

In this latest video, TEA details the impact of the “summer slide” and the burnout experienced by many Texas teachers due to the extremely high levels of time that teachers work directly with students. For children of poverty, summer slide can create a cumulative academic gap of as much as three years as compared to their wealthier peers. Additionally, many Texas teachers work up to 12 hours a day because they are not given time during the school day to do integrated planning and preparation, unlike many of their peers globally. This results in a system where teacher planning is done mostly in isolation, as compared to the more optimal situation of team planning. In the video, TEA lays out three scenarios for how districts might use the new extended year funding to begin to address both of these issues. The video also highlights additional “planning grant” funding available to districts that want to implement this new program.

TEA’s ongoing video series is intended to make this year’s omnibus school finance bill, HB 3, more digestible by breaking out key provisions and explaining them in 30 minutes or less. Visit TEA’s HB 3 in 30 video website to watch the newest video and access others in the series.


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Learn what’s on the ballot for the Nov. 2019 election 

What’s this constitutional election buzz all about anyway?

You’ve probably been hearing about the importance of voting in the upcoming constitutional amendment election on Nov. 5, 2019. After all, it’s not every day that Texas voters have an opportunity to revise the Texas Constitution. This year, the 86th Texas Legislature passed 10 joint resolutions that propose amendments to the constitution and require voter approval. Every Texan who is registered to vote has the right to decide whether those 10 amendments become part of the state’s constitution. But only those who actually exercise that right to vote will get to determine whether the amendments become the law of the land or simply fade away.

Before you head to the polls with family and friends, do your homework and take a minute to learn about all 10 proposed amendments. We will cover two of the proposed amendments with direct correlation to public education here. Proposition 4 (HJR 38) impacts the potential for future establishment of a state income tax, and Proposition 7 (HJR 151) increases the amount the General Land Office can distribute from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund each year from $300 million to $600 million.

Proposition 4 (HJR 38) as it will appear on the ballot reads as follows: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

Here’s what that really means:

Texas Proposition 4 modifies the current constitutional restrictions against legislative imposition of a state income tax. The state of Texas is widely known for not imposing a state income tax. The current state constitution in Article Vlll, sections 1(c) and 24, prohibits legislators from creating an income tax unless there is a statewide vote to approve such a tax. While polling suggests that it is unlikely that Texas voters would agree to an income tax, should that change, the current constitution also mandates how the revenue from any such income tax would have to be spent: two-thirds of the income tax revenue would go toward property tax reduction, while one-third of the income tax revenue would be spent on public education. This year’s Proposition 4 is designed to make it even less likely that Texans would ever pay a state income tax by repealing the current constitutional language referring to the statewide referendum and replacing it with language that simply prohibits the imposition of an “individual income tax” at the state level. The functional effect of this change is not to make it absolutely impossible for there to be an income tax in Texas in the future, but rather to increase the legislative votes necessary to overturn such a prohibition. Two-thirds of the legislature would have to agree to letting voters decide whether or not to add a state income tax in the future if this proposition passes in November.

A “Yes” vote on Proposition 4 would mean that you agree with the proposition to change the current language in the constitution restricting a state income tax. A “No” vote on Proposition 4 means that you prefer the current language in the constitution that prohibits a state income tax unless legislators vote to allow statewide voters to reject or approve the proposed tax, which would be used to fund property tax reduction and public education.

Proposition 7 (HJR 151) as it will appear on the ballot states as follows: “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

Here’s what that really means:

Proposition 7 would potentially affect the source, but not necessarily the amount, of state education spending by allowing for larger distributions from the Permanent School Fund (PSF). The PSF is an endowment established under Section 2, Article Vll, of the Texas Constitution for the financial support of public schools in Texas. Management of the fund is divided between the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees managing the fund’s financial investment portfolio, and the General Land Office, which through the School Land Board manages the fund’s land or real estate investments. Currently a portion of the PSF is transferred to the Available School Fund (ASF) each year to be used to purchase instructional materials for students and provide additional funding for public education. The remainder of the PSF is held for future use. Proposition 7 seeks to increase the amount of state funding for public schools being paid out of the ASF by increasing the permissible amount of the annual distribution from the PSF to the ASF from $300 million to $600 million.

This increase alone would not result in an increase in overall public education funding. Without additional statutory changes, Proposition 7 would simply reduce the amount of funding the legislature would be required to spend from other funding sources to meet the state’s obligation to fund public education. However, as we reported here on Teach the Vote over the summer, it is not clear how significantly Proposition 7, if approved by voters, might reduce the state’s need to tap into general revenue to support public schools in future legislative sessions.

Does ATPE have a position on these two proposed constitutional amendments?

No. As stated in the ATPE Legislative Program approved each year by our House of Delegates, ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal. However, ATPE does not have an official legislative position specifically on banning/supporting an income tax; nor do we have an official legislative position relating to the percentage of public education funding that comes from the PSF or ASF.

What else is on the ballot?

Proposed constitutional amendments for the Nov. 2019 election in Texas

Click here to view the ballot language for all 10 of the proposed constitutional amendments along with analysis from the Texas Legislative Council. Also, our friends at the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas (LWVTX) have put together a Constitutional Amendment Election Voters Guide that explains all the amendments and shares pro and con arguments along with a short video for each proposed amendment at the bottom of the page. It’s an easy-to-understand resource that ATPE encourages you to check out before you vote.

Special elections:

If you happen to live in one of three Texas House districts, you’ll also have a chance during the Nov. 2019 election to choose a new state representative. Three state representatives have resigned from their seats, necessitating special elections in those districts. The winner of each special election will serve out the remainder of the current term until Jan. 2021. Barring a special session being called by the governor, it is unlikely that those elected through November’s special election will have a chance to vote on any bills, but the winners of those special elections will be able to claim incumbent status next year, often deemed an advantage for anyone who decides to run for the same office in the regular election cycle that will take place in 2020.

These special elections for legislative seats will be taking place in House districts 28,100, and 148. In what the Texas Tribune has described as “the most closely watched race” this fall, ATPE’s lobby team has profiled the candidates seeking the House seat in district 28, which you can read here.

Other local ballot measures will vary throughout the state depending where you live. Voters can visit Vote411.org to view and print out a sample ballot showing exactly what will you will be voting on in your area.

Early voting runs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 1, and election day is Nov. 5, 2019.

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Texas election roundup: Campaign finances

A new set of campaign finance reports has shed some light on the 2020 races for federal office around Texas.

Current U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is up for reelection and reported raising more than the entire field of Democratic challengers combined. Cornyn listed $3.2 million in donations for the third quarter, while his Democratic rivals posted a combined $2.8 million. Former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar raised $1 million, the most of the Democratic field, followed by $557,000 raised by Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards, and $550,000 raised by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). Cornyn listed nearly $11 million cash on hand, compared to $894,000 listed by Hegar. Cornyn has also outspent Hegar 12-to-one. Republican state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) announced this week that he will no longer pursue a primary challenge against Cornyn.

In competitive U.S. House of Representatives races, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX 2) outraised his Democratic rival Elisa Cardnell by $1.4 million to $100,000. Democrat Stephen Daniel edged out Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX 6) $111,000 to $106,000. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX 7) outraised her top Republican challenger $640,000 to $469,000. Democrats Shannon Hutcheson, Pritesh Gandhi, and Mike Siegel outraised Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX 10) $504,000 to $334,000. Former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) nearly doubled Rep. Chip Roy’s (R-TX 21) fundraising total, $941,000 to $574,000, but Roy maintains nearly double the cash on hand reported by Davis. Democrats Kathaleen Wall and Sri Kulkarni led fundraising in TX-22, and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones posted a $1.1 million fundraising total in retiring Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-TX 23) district, which far exceeded all other contenders. Republican Beth Van Duyne leads the field in fundraising in TX-24, followed by Democrat Kim Olson, who maintains a cash advantage against Van Duyne. Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX-31) $152,000 fundraising total was just enough to beat the combined total of his nine Democratic challengers. Finally, Colin Allred (D-TX 32) outraised Republican challenger Genevieve Collins $583,000 to $458,000.

Voting is the single most powerful way educators can use their voices to make change happen. The elections beginning this November and lasting through November of 2020 have the potential to be the most consequential elections in a generation, so it is critical that you and everyone you know who is eligible is registered to vote. You can find more information and resources about voter registration and voting at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

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New School Year, New Laws: Charter Schools

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to pension and retirement benefits for Texas public school educators. This week, we will discuss legislative changes made during the 86th legislative session that will impact charter schools in Texas. The 2019 legislative session saw a number of bills filed and debated regarding charter schools, both from charter proponents looking to expand the footprint of charters in Texas and from those hoping to impose additional restraints and regulations on charter schools. Below is a look at the charter-related bills that passed this year.

House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston): Goodwill Excel Center

HB 1051 makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices. The Goodwill Excel Center is a charter school that has resulted in improved outcomes for older students who are in unique circumstances and need a more flexible school setting. This law became effective immediately upon its passage earlier this year.

HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi): Children of charter employees

HB 2190 allows children of charter school employees to attend the charter school in which their parents work, regardless of where they live. This bill also took effect immediately.

HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Charter operation of re-purposed campuses

HB 4205 is a two-part bill that includes provisions regarding repurposed schools as well as school turnaround. The portion of the bill dealing with repurposed campuses allows for large charter operators to repurpose a public school district campus that has been closed. The new school operator is required to admit the same students who were at the campus before it was closed. The author of this bill referenced a Midland campus as the impetus for the idea. This bill became effective immediately.

HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), co-authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): Charter school bonds

HB 4258 provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the previous authority held by municipalities. Charter supporters contended that municipalities could prevent charter schools from expanding by withholding the tax-exempt status of the charter school bond. This bill became effective immediately.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels): School safety in charters

SB 372 allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers to charter schools. The bill created parity by giving charter school governing bodies access to the same safety resources already available to boards of trustees for traditional public schools. This law became effective immediately.

SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper): Charter employees and common application

SB 2293 subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining prohibitions and anti-striking laws that apply to all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application to be used for charter school admission throughout the state and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the “charter waiting list.” Charter proponents have often cited claims of a massive list of students who are waiting for slots in a charter school as justification for expanding charters in Texas; however, no such statewide list has been shared. ATPE will be monitoring the rule-making process for the development and implementation of the common application and charter reporting.

 


Visit Teach the Vote next week for our next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series update post on funding and compensation changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 11, 2019

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been tracking the latest election-related announcements and news for Teach the Vote. This week, read about recent news of planned departures from the State Board of Education next year, plus a look at the election coming up on Nov. 5. Check out our latest election roundup here. Also, be sure to follow our Teach the Vote blog next week when we’ll posting everything you need to know about voting in the constitutional amendment election.


We have been reporting on the special committees formed this year to examine issues related to school safety and preventing mass violence. A series of meetings are planned around the state during the interim to hear testimony from experts and the public and generate recommendations for the Texas Legislature to address in 2021. One such committee, the Texas House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met Thursday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Farmer’s Branch.

The 13-member committee was formed earlier this year after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa. The committee levied criticism at several major tech companies Thursday for failing to work with law enforcement in a timely and efficient manner in order to stop potential threats of mass violence. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft were invited to testify, but only Facebook sent a representative. Lawmakers pressed Facebook over how quickly it is able to respond to requests for information from law enforcement, and were frustrated by the company’s inability to give a specific response. You can read a full report on Thursday’s meeting courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. The House committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday in Odessa.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is continuing its work in Washington, DC, spearheaded by our longtime federal lobbyist, David Pore, to advocate for Social Security reform that will help Texas educators earn fair and predictable retirement benefits. In this Congress, two bills have been filed to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefits earned by many ATPE members and other public employees. Pore spoke about the bills earlier this week during a panel presentation on advocacy moderated by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell as part of the annual meeting of the national Coalition of Independent Educator Associations.

As we first reported on Teach the Vote back in July, Rep. Kevin Brady (R–The Woodlands, Texas) has filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act” (ETPSA), which is an updated version of similar legislation he previously filed in an attempt to fix the WEP. Rep. Richard Neal (D–Springfield, Mass.) followed suit at the end of September, filing H.R. 4540, the “Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act” (PSPFA). Both bills would replace the WEP with a more predictable, proportional formula for calculating Social Security benefit payments of future retirees, and provide a monthly stipend for those workers over the age of 60 who are already retired and eligible for Social Security.

This week, ATPE issued a press release in support of both bills and urged Congress to take action on the issue. It is unclear if or when the WEP legislation might be heard this year, particularly in light of the congressional focus having shifted recently and almost exclusively toward the prospect of impeachment proceedings. Still, ATPE is thankful for the bipartisan effort being made to address the WEP. We especially appreciate the longtime work of both Congressmen Neal and Brady on this front, and their willingness to involve stakeholders like ATPE in the development of the bills. Congressman Neal chairs the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means in which the bills would be heard, while Congressman Brady is the ranking member on the committee and its former chair.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on our federal lobbying efforts. As a reminder, ATPE members can also use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to call or write to their representatives in Washington asking for their support of the ETPSA and PSPFA. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)


This week, the ATPE lobby team continued its “New School Year, New Laws” blog series with a report on how the laws enacted during the 86th Texas legislative session will impact educators’ pension and benefits. Chief among the changes enacted this year was Senate Bill 12, which will make the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) actuarially sound and allowed for the issuance of a 13th check to retirees last month. Check out the latest blog post in the series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and watch for another installment on Monday.

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new “HB 3 in 30” video on the Blended Learning Grant Program. TEA’s ongoing video series is intended to make this year’s omnibus school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, more digestible by breaking out key provisions and explaining them in 30 minutes or less. Visit TEA’s HB 3 in 30 video website to watch the newest video and access others in the series.

Also related to HB 3, the commissioner of education has proposed new administrative rules to implement the new “Do Not Hire Registry” required by the bill. Public comments on the proposed rule are being accepted now through Oct. 21. Learn more about the rule and how to submit your comments here.


In case you missed it earlier this week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided a comprehensive summary of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting held Oct. 4, 2019. One of the most interesting discussions at the meeting was about what should constitute “good cause” for educators to abandon their contracts. The board opted to defer taking any action last week to change the criteria for SBEC sanctions in those instances, but you can expect the board members to have continuing discussions on this topic in the coming months. Read more about this and all the other matters discussed by SBEC last week in this blog post.


 

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Texas election roundup: Big shakeup at SBOE

Last week, outgoing State Board of Education (SBOE) chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) announced her plans to retire from the board. Following her announcement, a number of her Republican colleagues have also indicated plans to retire.

Donna Bahorich and Marty Rowley were photographed at a recent SBOE meeting. Both SBOE members have recently announced plans to retire from the board.

Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) announced his plan to retire at the end of his current term, which expires in Jan. 2021. Rowley’s district is reliably Republican and covers much of West Texas. Past board chair Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) and Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) have also announced plans to retire. Mercer’s district has shifted from a majority Republican district to one that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Mercer’s district in 2018 with more than ten percent of the vote.

Candidates in this fall’s three special elections filed their 30-day-out campaign finance reports this week. As we expected, the House District (HD) 28 special election in Fort Bend County has drawn a significant amount of attention, where seven candidates are vying to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. John Zerwas. The lone Democrat in the race, educator Dr. Eliz Markowitz, reported raising $62,000, spending $16,000, and entering the final stretch with $38,000 cash on hand. Markowitz also received the endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC this week. Republican neurosurgeon Dr. Anna Allred reported raising $159,000 during the reporting period, which is more than the other five Republicans in the HD 28 race combined. Allred has also retained Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, whose top client is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Allred has spent $142,000 and heads into the final stretch with $86,000 on hand.

In addition to the HD 28 special election, the Nov. 5 election will give all Texas voters the chance to vote on 10 proposed constitutional amendments. The Texas League of Women Voters has put out a comprehensive guide to the proposals, which you can view here. You can also find additional election resources at the website for the Texas Educators Vote coalition. We’ll be posting additional resources to help you prepare for the constitutional election here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog next week, so be sure to check it out before you head to the polls. Early voting begins Oct. 21.

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Recap of the October 2019 SBEC meeting

Certification board discusses repeal of master teacher certificates, educator misconduct, and more at its October 2019 meeting.

On Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met to discuss several agenda items, including the repeal of Master Teacher certificates, implementation of recent educator misconduct legislation, and an update on the EdTPA pilot program.

The meeting began with recognition of the unfortunate passing of board member Dr. Rex Peebles on Sept. 23, 2019. Dr. Peebles was a long-time, trusted voice of expertise and reason in the P-20 public education system. He will be greatly missed and ATPE sends their thoughts and love to the family, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Peebles.

At Friday’s meeting, ATPE weighed in on two discussion and action items: the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate and proposed rule revisions that would expand the criteria for considering “good cause” as a mitigating factor in disciplinary cases stemming from an educator’s abandonment of their contract.

First, SBEC adopted language to implement the repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, as required by this year’s House Bill (HB) 3. Master Teacher certificate holders will be able to continue teaching under their certificate until it is no longer valid and will be considered “Legacy Master Teachers” pursuant to HB 3. ATPE submitted written testimony on this item, urging Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff and SBEC members to use their rule-making ability to ensure that affected teachers can maintain their current teaching assignments after the expiration of their Master Teacher certificates. We believe that the rigor of the Master Teacher certification process should not be ignored and are pleased that TEA has indicated they will explore options to amend rule language to alleviate the unintended consequences of this legislation.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifying before SBEC, Oct. 4, 2019

Additionally, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided oral testimony in support of the board’s efforts to expand the criteria for good cause when addressing contract abandonment cases. At the board’s July 2019 work-group meeting, members discussed the need for increased flexibility in determining what constitutes good cause. This would allow the board to avoid or lessen sanctions for educators who found it necessary to abandon their contracts under unique and acceptable circumstances that are not currently covered by the existing SBEC rules. To make these changes, new language was proposed at Friday’s meeting as part of a larger agenda item that implements several educator misconduct and reporting bills from the 86th legislative session. (The 2019 bills related to this agenda item are Senate Bill (SB) 1230, SB 1476, SB 37, and HB 3.) Due to testimony on the item, the board voted to split off the contract abandonment language from the rule proposal that was before them this month in order to allow for discussion on the issue at a later time. The board expressed that they would like to try to get more certainty into the rule language and requested another work-group on broader disciplinary issues. The proposed language for this rule will be open for public comment in the Texas Register from Oct. 25 to Nov. 25, 2019.

Discussion and action items:

In order to implement three bills from the 85th legislative session (SB 1839, HB 2039, and HB 3349), the board added language for admission requirements for the Early Childhood-Grade 3 and Trade and Industrial Workforce Training: Grades 6-12 certificates. The board also amended the rule language to allow for subject-matter-only assessments to be used in lieu of current Pre-Admission Content Tests (PACTs), which test both content and pedagogy. The rationale for this change was that an individual entering an educator preparation program (EPP) would not have pedagogical expertise and therefore should not be assessed in that area.

To implement SB 1200 passed by the 86th Legislature, the board adopted revisions to their rule that would allow military spouses who are licensed in other states (and in good standing) to teach in Texas.

SBEC also took action on several items relating to EPPs. Language to improve the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP) was approved, including changes that would allow EPPs to be commended for their performance. The board also adopted the new accountability manual into rule and voted to allow SBEC to require action plans for low-performing EPPs, among other items. SBEC board members also approved several EPPs to continue operating for five years. As a consequence of ASEP ratings, one program was closed on Friday. After a five-year review, the Texas Alternative Certification Program Brownsville (TACPB) was required to submit a compliance plan to TEA. The program opted to cease its operations instead, and SBEC voted to formally close The board also voted to approve Ana G. Mendez University as a new alternative certification EPP. The program will be unique in Texas, as it plans to instruct students on become educators using a dual language model.

As noted during Friday’s meeting, the board will soon begin its required four-year rule review for two sets of SBEC rules. The first review is for 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 232, General Certification Provisions, which regulates certificate renewal, continuing professional development, and national criminal history record information. The second review is for 19 TAC Chapter 230, Professional Educator Preparation and Certification, which deals with procedures for issuance of certificates and permits, testing requirements and fees, and the types and classes of certificates issued by the board. Both of these chapters will be open for public comment in the Texas Register from Oct. 25 to Nov. 25, 2019.

Mark your calendars! The board also approved its meeting dates for 2020:

  • Feb. 21, 2020
  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020

Discussion-only items (no rule action required at this time):

The board discussed several possible future revisions to SBEC rules for professional educator preparation and certification found in 19 TAC Chapter 230. One of these changes would allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued as an industry-based certification. Graduating high school students who take education and training courses would be able to get the Educational Aide I certification and begin a career in education, helping to improve the teacher pipeline. Another change would reduce the number of days for computer and paper-based certification examination retakes from 45 down to 30 days. In order to comply with SB 1839 and HB 2039 passed in 2017 by the 85th Legislature, future rule revisions are expected to include prohibiting educators from gaining certification for Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 through the certification by exam (CBE) route. Stakeholders from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community testified at Friday’s meeting to request that the board also include the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing EC-12 certification on the list of exams excluded from CBE. To implement HB 3, 86th Legislature, this chapter of SBEC rules will also include revisions mandating that educators who teach any grade from pre-K to 6th grade be required to pass the Science of Teaching Reading certification exam beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

Also up for discussion only was 19 TAC Chapter 228, which pertains to requirements for EPPs. The revisions being contemplated would implement this year’s HB 18, allowing educator certification candidates to obtain instruction in mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide as part of their educational degree plan. The revisions would also prohibit an EPP that is consolidating or closing from admitting candidates if those candidates would not be able to finish the program. Additionally, new rules would require that candidates complete their internship, clinical teaching, or practicum within one program. The rule changes discussed would prohibit practicums from occurring exclusively in the summer. Revisions in this chapter would also allow for candidate placement into a program for cases in which educators must complete their clinical teaching or practicum out-of-state or out-of-country due to particular reasons (military assignment, illness, spouse transfer, etc.).

TEA staff also presented the board with data and information on formal complaints against EPPs and on deactivations of certificates being pursued through alternative and post-baccalaureate certification routes. Formal complaints that involve violations of the SBEC administrative rules require TEA staff to make sanction recommendations to the board. Certification deactivations are similar to contract abandonment cases in that they occur when an educator on an intern or probationary certificate leaves their teaching assignment before it has concluded. There are no educator or EPP sanctions for such deactivations. The board asked for more data regarding deactivations and will take this item up again at its next meeting.

TEA staff gave an update on the progress of the EdTPA pilot. EdTPA is a performance assessment that has been proposed as a replacement for the PPR exam, should the pilot program provide adequate evidence that EdTPA is a viable option. As of Sept. 1, 2019, the 27 programs participating in the pilot have completed 42 trainings, with 27 more scheduled. TEA staff indicated that most pilot programs will have their candidates submit their EdTPA portfolios in the spring of 2020. As for updated demographic data, the pilot participants are represented in 17 out of the 20 education service center regions in Texas. The actual number of participants is lower than what was originally projected (1700-1750) with about 600 reported candidates and an anticipated additional 250 candidates expected to join in the spring. TEA staff reported that there is “room to improve” with regard to African American representation among candidates. In an attempt to gain a more diverse candidate pool, TEA will open the application for Year 2 pilot participants this month. Board member Tommy Coleman requested that the board discuss at its next meeting how the EdTPA pilot and parallel T-TESS pilot (being run by university faculty) can use the same data points and collection methods.

The next SBEC meeting will be held on Dec. 9, 2019. Check back on our Teach the Vote blog after the December meeting for a summary.

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New School Year, New Laws: Retirement Benefits

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to the ethical and professional responsibilities of Texas public school educators. These included big changes to reporting requirements for non-certified employees and the creation of a “do-not-hire” registry. This week, we will shift gears to talk about educator pensions and retirement benefits, which also saw major changes as a result of the 2019 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston): Increasing funds for TRS

SB 12 was the most important bill for improving the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that was passed during the 86th legislative session. ATPE supported SB 12 because it infused enough additional funding into the TRS pension fund in order to make it “actuarially sound.” This also made possible the issuance of a 13th check of up to $2,000 to retirees last month. SB 12’s changes also make it more likely that the TRS will be able to offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the next two to four years, which could provide a much-needed permanent increase in benefits to current and future retirees.

Actuarial soundness was achieved by gradually increasing the state, educator, and school district contributions to the fund over the next six years. Through these increased contributions, SB 12 lowered the time frame needed to pay off the unfunded liability of the TRS pension fund to reach an acceptable standard under state law. For those not familiar with pension lingo, unfunded liability refers to the amount by which the cost of future benefits that a fund is obligated to pay exceed the cash on hand in the fund, similar to carrying credit card debt. While SB 12 made great strides in supporting educators who rely on TRS, Texas remains 50th in the nation when it comes to the state’s contribution rate for educator retirement benefits. Moving forward, ATPE will continue to press the legislature to improve the retirement benefits that educators so greatly deserve.

House Bill (HB) 2820 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van): Deregulating 403(b) investment options

Under previous law, TRS kept a list of approved investment vendors that could offer educators 403(b) investment products. These 403(b) investment plans are similar to 401(k) plans in that they offer a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement, but 403(b) plans are designed for public employees and tax-exempt organizations, like churches and charities. HB 2820 deregulates 403(b) investment offerings by eliminating the TRS list of approved vendors, as well as the requirement that vendors abide by TRS’s caps on fees. These caps limited the amount that a vendor could charge for each transaction. Under this new law, educators who choose to invest in a 403(b) will have to more closely monitor the administrative fees they are being charged. Additionally, without the fee cap, vendors might offer investment products that are very expensive now.


Join us next week on our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote as we will discuss legislative changes impacting charter school laws.

For more information on new laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 4, 2019

It’s been a busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at our lobbyists’ latest reporting for Teach the Vote:


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin to discuss several items that would implement legislation passed by the 86th legislature earlier this year. These include the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate as required by House Bill 3, regulations pertaining to educator misconduct and reporting requirements, and new rules to allow military spouses licensed in other states to teach in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony to encourage the board to explore options for Master Teacher certificate holders, so that they can maintain their current teaching assignments once their certificates expire. ATPE also testified in support of expanded criteria for considering “good cause” in determining potential sanctions against educators who abandon their contracts. Additionally, ATPE joined the board in mourning the loss of board member Dr. Rex Peebles, who passed away last week. Watch our blog here on Teach the Vote early next week for a full recap of the meeting.


ELECTION UPDATE: In this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, read the latest announcements on the “who, what, and where” of various contested races on the 2020 ballot, including a retirement announcement from a member of the State Board of Education. Check out the full post here. Also, don’t forget to register by Monday, Oct. 7, if you want to vote in the Nov. 5 election. Voters statewide will be considering proposed constitutional amendments that day, and a few districts have an opportunity to elect new state representatives.

On our Teach the Vote blog this week, we’re also taking a closer look at the special election for House District 28 in the western suburbs of Houston. ATPE’s Wiggins shares information about the education stances of the candidates and why the race is drawing widespread attention. Check it out here.


ATPE continues its Teach the Vote blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” with a post this week on professional responsibilities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlights bills passed in 2019 that relate to educator misconduct and new records retention requirements that could affect educators who store school-related information on their personal cell phones or other devices. Read the latest post in the series here.


This week’s latest video from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in its “HB 3 in 30” series offers an explanation of the state’s new teacher incentive allotment. The incentive pay plan was one of the most hotly debated aspects of the school finance bill when it moved through the legislative process earlier this year. After ATPE and other stakeholders urged the legislature to reject earlier versions of the bill that relied too heavily on student test score data in setting the criteria for merit pay, legislators struck a deal late in the session that would offer school districts more flexibility.

Parameters of the new incentive program are spelled out in Texas Education Code (TEC), Sec. 48.112, offering school districts additional funding based upon their employment of educators designated as “recognized,” “exemplary,” or “master” teachers. Lawmakers prescribed some requirements for educators to become eligible for those merit designations in TEC Sec. 21.3521. HB 3 calls for school districts that participate in the incentive program to create a “Local Optional Teacher Designation System” containing specific criteria that each district will use to award the merit designations, but the bill also authorizes the commissioner of education to establish performance standards for those local systems.

This week, TEA issued correspondence to school administrators outlining the agency’s plans for implementation of the new teacher incentive program, sharing timelines, and providing additional resources. TEA also sent school districts and open-enrollment charter schools a survey this week, which solicits information on what type of student growth measures and other criteria are being used locally for teacher appraisals. The survey results will help guide the agency’s implementation of the Local Optional Teacher Designation System, including the commissioner’s adoption of those performance standards required by HB 3.

It is important to note that the Local Optional Teacher Designation System associated with the  allotment is only “optional” in the sense that a school district does not have to choose to seek the teacher incentive funds made available under HB 3. However, any district that does pursue funding through the teacher incentive allotment in the spring of 2020 is required to develop a Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The locally-developed designation systems “must include teacher observation and the performance of a teacher’s students,” along with any additional measures that are adopted locally,” such as evidence of teacher leadership or student surveys,” as noted in the TEA correspondence this week. HB 3 specifies that the criteria for awarding a designation must allow for the mathematical possibility that all eligible teachers may earn the designation (in other words, not limiting eligibility to a fixed percentage of the district’s teachers) and that the commissioner may not require districts to use STAAR tests to evaluate their teachers’ performance for purposes of the merit pay program.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will face a sunset review in the next legislative session. Under state law, the sunset review process gives the legislature an opportunity to routinely examine the work of various state agencies and determine whether they should continue to exist. TRS is a constitutionally-mandated agency, which means it is not subject to potential closure through the sunset review process, but the review allows an opportunity for the legislature to consider recommended changes to various TRS-related laws. Before the legislature weighs in on TRS next session, the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission will gather data, take testimony at public hearings, and compile a detailed written report about TRS including recommendations for possible legislative changes affecting the agency. Between now and Dec. 6, 2019, members of the public may share their feedback about TRS with the Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff as they prepare their report. Read more about the TRS sunset review here.


In case you missed it, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter took to our Teach the Vote blog this week to share highlights from the Texas Tribune Festival. The festival that took place last weekend in Austin featured a number of high-profile speakers and panelists. Read more about some of the sessions relating to public education in this blog post.


 

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In Fort Bend County’s HD 28, a potential bellwether special election

On Nov. 5, 2019, voters statewide will weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, but there are also a few special elections taking place that same day. A special election to fill the unexpired term of former state Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) will have plenty of eyeballs focused on House District (HD) 28 in Fort Bend County.

Six Republicans and one Democrat will face off to replace Rep. Zerwas, who resigned in order to work as a vice-chancellor for the University of Texas System. The Republicans in the race are Dr. Anna Allred, Gary Gates, Gary Hale, Tricia Krenek, Sarah Laningham, and Clinton Purnell. Dr. Eliz Markowitz is the lone Democrat in the race. Broken down by party, their background and positions relative to public education are outlined below.

Democrat:

  • Markowitz is a Katy educator who ran for the State Board of Education (SBOE) in 2018. Her website focuses on public education issues, including a detailed education policy platform. Markowitz supports reducing STAAR testing, improving school funding, and better teacher pay, while explicitly opposing private school vouchers. Markowitz has been endorsed by the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC.

Republican:

  • Allred is a Houston anesthesiologist who lists technical training among her education priorities on her campaign website.
  • Gates is a Rosenberg real estate investor who lost a runoff for the Texas Railroad Commission in 2016. Gates also ran unsuccessfully for the HD 28 seat back in 2002 and 2004. On his campaign website, he lists his positions as “protect tax payers,” “support our schools,” “defend 2nd amendment,” and “enhance school safety,” but does not offer additional information as to his views on those issues.
  • Hale is a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence officer from Katy. On his website, Hale expresses support for arming teachers with firearms and returning to corporal punishment as a potential solution to school shootings.
  • Krenek is a Katy attorney who lost a 2018 race for Fort Bend County commissioner. Her website includes some education policy positions, such as increasing the state’s share of education funding, changing school finance “to reduce Robin Hood recapture payments,” and funding “additional across-the-board teacher pay raises.”
  • Laningham lives in Richmond and is a small business owner. Her campaign website makes no mention of education issues. She also ran for state representative last year in House District 14, but had no campaign website that ATPE could locate at that time.
  • A campaign website could not be found for Purnell, but his LinkedIn profile lists his occupation as “global logistics manager and corporate trade compliance” in Houston.

The HD 28 race is one of three special elections scheduled this fall, along with HD 148 in Houston and HD 100 in Dallas. The latter are not competitive districts from the standpoint of potential partisan shifts, but the math in HD 28 makes it a swing district, where a candidate from either party has a legitimate chance at winning the seat. Zerwas, a popular long time incumbent, won his reelection in 2018 by only eight percentage points. In doing so, he outperformed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the district by just three points. Cruz’s margin represents a steady decline in Republican support in HD 28, which handed a ten percent margin to Donald Trump in 2016 and a 35-point margin to Greg Abbott in 2014.

Republicans hold a nine-seat majority in the Texas House. The winner of the HD 28 special election will serve out the rest of the term and will have to run for reelection again in 2020.

Voting is the single most important thing an educator can do to ensure the Texas Legislature prioritizes public schools and students. The deadline to register to vote in this special election and other November elections is Oct. 7, 2019. To see if you are registered and to check out a variety of election-related information, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com. As a reminder, early voting begins Oct. 21, and election day is Nov. 5.

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