U.S. Senate education committee seeks input

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), the committee that oversees federal policy pertaining to prekindergarten through post-secondary education, is seeking input from stakeholders as it works to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA). Included within the HEA are programs aimed at recruiting, preparing, and retaining high quality teachers in classrooms throughout the country, but the U.S. House of Representatives has made initial moves to eliminate those programs.

The HEA contains several key programs pertinent to educators: the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, which supports strengthening educator preparation programs that work to fill high-needs schools and fields; TEACH grants, which invest in students training to be teachers; and various loan forgiveness programs specific to educators.

While the U.S. Senate HELP Committee works to develop its version of a bill to rewrite the law, on the other side of the Capitol the U.S. House of Representatives is waiting to debate its own. The House proposal, which has already advanced out of that chamber’s education committee, would eliminate Title II of the HEA, where these programs focused on educator preparation and retention are housed.

Stakeholders like ATPE are concerned that the elimination of such programs would set back efforts to attract and retain strong educators in the profession. Check back next week for more on ATPE’s submitted comments to the committee and other key legislators. For those interested in submitting their own comments and suggestions, do so by emailing the U.S. Senate HELP Committee at HigherEducation2018@help.senate.gov. The deadline to submit comments is Friday, February 23.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 16, 2018

Here’s ATPE’s wrap-up of education news developments this week:


ELECTION UPDATE: Tuesday, Feb. 20, marks the start of early voting for the March 6 primary elections. ATPE is urging all educators and registered voters in Texas to participate in the primaries, where most of Texas’s elected offices are filled. For more tips on when and where to vote, check out this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.

We’ve known for a long time that educators have power to use their numbers to influence the outcomes of these pivotal primaries. Now it’s becoming clear that some politicians and special interest groups are very worried about the potential for high voter turnout within the education community. With enthusiasm growing among grassroots groups like Texans for Public Education, which is promoting a #blockvote campaign to elect pro-public education lawmakers in the Republican primary, some elected officials facing primary challengers are taking to the airwaves in a last-ditch effort to tout their own records on education. For example, the Texas Tribune reports that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spent $5.1 million in January for television ads, amounting to roughly one-third of his campaign war chest. Several of the lieutenant governor’s ads, both on tv and radio, feature claims about support for public education and efforts to raise teachers’ salaries by $10,000, but many are questioning the veracity of the ads in light of failed leadership-backed bills last session that called for much lower pay increases, which school districts would have been forced to fund without new or additional money from the state.

Another group aiming to influence these elections is the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is proud to be a member. We are continuing our efforts to get out the vote, despite disturbing attempts by some in power to intimidate school leaders and shut down our nonpartisan initiatives. This week, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued cease and desist letters to three school districts, alleging that their leaders had used school district resources for “unlawful electioneering.” The basis for the threatening letters from the AG’s office appears to be a handful of Twitter posts and retweets, which likely involved no expenditure of school district funds, and some districts’ adoption of our coalition’s nonpartisan resolution promoting a “culture of voting,” which obviously does not advocate in any way for specific candidates or ballot measures.

ATPE is dismayed that school board members and administrators are being unfairly targeted for efforts to encourage educators to vote, and that support for public education in general is now being characterized by some elected officials as a “partisan” endeavor. ATPE is not alone in objecting to the witch hunt; Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) this week wrote back to AG Paxton asking him to withdraw the cease and desist letters. In his letter, Sen. Menendez wrote, “As elected officials,… our role includes urging people to vote, not intimidating them from participating in this highly regarded democratic process.” Menendez further suggested that intervention by the federal Department of Justice might become necessary.

We at ATPE have worked along with other members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition to help educators understand the restrictions on using school district resources for political advertising, and we believe that most, if not all, school officials have complied with the law. It is not illegal for individual educators to endorse candidates, and there is nothing partisan or illegal about encouraging school employees to vote and to support the cause of public education. We hope that Texas voters will not be deterred by the efforts of a few politicians and dark money groups to keep educators from exercising their constitutional right, and we encourage the school community to  continue spreading the word about the importance of the 2018 elections. Most importantly, get out and vote early next week!

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees has been meeting in Edinburg, Texas this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that the board has been discussing a change to the retirement fund’s assumed rate of return, which will have a significant impact on the future of the fund and budget discussions when the legislature returns in January 2019.

For more on the implications of these changes, read Exter’s blog post this week about the additional funding that TRS will be needing and why the upcoming primary elections will have so much impact on active and retired teachers’ pensions and healthcare.


On Friday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that it will be extending to Tuesday, February 20, the deadline for members of the public to participate in a survey regarding its corrective action plan for special education.

In January, TEA released the initial draft of a plan to make good on the state’s legal obligation to serve all students with special needs. The U.S. Department of Education ordered the state to take corrective action after an investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed that the state had wrongfully denied special education services to thousands of Texas children through the enforcement of a de facto cap on the number of students allowed to participate.

Members of the public are encouraged to review the four-point plan and submit feedback by taking an online survey available on the TEA website. The survey was originally scheduled to close Sunday, February 18, but the agency announced Friday that survey responses will be accepted through Tuesday, February 20. According to the TEA, the survey takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

Once public comments have been received, a revised draft plan will be posted and open to additional feedback in March.


President Trump released his 2019 federal budget proposal this week, which highlight’s the president’s priorities before lawmakers begin work on the actual budget in Congress.

Much like last year’s budget request, Trump’s 2019 budget proposal requests a big chunk of funding for public and private school choice, maintains funding levels for Title I and special education, and seeks large cuts to hand-chosen K-12 programs within the Department of Education (ED). Read more about the president’s proposal in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


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TRS board discusses future shortfalls as critical primary election looms

I was listening to a retired educator testify before the TRS board at their annual board retreat this morning. She expressed that retirees are scared about increasing healthcare premiums and upcoming changes that will greatly impact the actuarial picture of the pension fund. She also asked for TRS to advocate on behalf of retirees in dealing with the legislature. It was moving testimony. However, I wish she and all educators, active and retired, would shift their mentality from scared to angry and look not to TRS to take care of them next session, but instead look to themselves to be their own best advocates, at the polls where these decisions are really made.

The reality is TRS is an administrative agency, and while the TRS staff does a phenomenal job, their job is to implement the legislature’s will, NOT to lobby the legislature on behalf of TRS members. In fact, all state agency staff, TRS staff included, are prohibited by state law from engaging in lobbying efforts.

TRS has hard days ahead. If the defined benefit pension system or TRS-provided retiree healthcare are going to continue to exist, active teachers and retired teachers alike will have to use their voices not only at the capitol but also at the polls.

What are the factors that underpin this bleak reality?

First, TRS is set to drop its assumed rate of return from 8 percent to 7.25 percent. This one action, at least on paper, will make the fund go from healthy to anything but. There is already extreme pressure from Wall Street money managers and the politicians willing to work on their behalf to convert TRS to a 401(k) style system off of which they could make huge profits. Without other changes offsetting the drop to 7.25, this pressure will likely increase exponentially as the pension fund will look considerably more vulnerable going forward.

Second, despite the draconian changes to TRS-Care coming out of the last legislature, the retiree health insurance system, as it stands today, still is not financial sustainable. And the issues with retiree health care don’t even take into account the significant health insurance burden on active teachers, which is forcing many of them out of the education profession.

Sometimes there are smart policy initiatives that can solve statewide challenges with little or only indirect additional costs. The challenges facing TRS are NOT those kinds of challenges. The truth is that the state has for years gotten by knowingly underfunding both the pension trust fund and the retiree healthcare trust fund. On the pension side, in fact, the state’s share of an educator’s pension (at 6.8 percent) is less than half the teacher retirement system contribution rate set by the next lowest state not paying into Social Security.

Texas has now reached a point where getting by on barebones funding can no longer happen – not  if we want to continue providing teachers with a pension or retiree health insurance. What has changed?

As stated above, in response to long term market trends and despite best-in-class fund management by TRS staff, the agency is expected to reduce the assumed rate of return on the fund to 7.25 percent, down from 8 percent. This change will increase the pension’s unfunded liability by $10 billion and raise its funding period from just over 30 years to a whopping 86 years. (Anything under a 30-year funding period is considered actuarially sound, and for TRS the 30-year period has been linked to providing cost of living increases (COLAs) for retirees.) At 8 percent there was an expectation that the fund would be in a position to offer a COLA within the next few years, at 7.25 percent the fund would not be considered healthy enough to offer retirees a COLA for at least the next 56 years.
In order to offset the adjustment to the assumed rate of return, the TRS pension fund’s contribution rate will need to be increased enough to generate an additional $1.4 to 1.6 billion per biennium.

TRS must be honest and stay above political bias or pressure in setting its estimated rate of return. In truth, a lower assumed rate of return, as long as it is coupled with a proper contribution rate, will produce a healthier pension system in the long run. However, because it is up to the legislature and not TRS to adjust the contribution rate, it is vital that the agency be diligent and expedient in communicating to its members the realities and potential consequences of a decision to adjust the fund’s assumed rate of return.

In addition to needing $1.5 billion or more in new pension contributions, TRS will also need substantial additional dollars just to sustain TRS-Care at the new 2018 levels. In all, TRS estimates that it will be asking the legislature to appropriate between 2 and 2.5 billion additional dollars next biennium. Lobbyists for each of the four statewide educators groups (including ATPE), the retired educators group, and a group representing school districts, when given the opportunity to comment, expressed their belief that such an ask would be a complete non-starter with the current group of legislators, particularly the Governor, Lt Governor, and the majority of Texas Senate.

Without substantial additional funds; TRS-Care will quickly go bankrupt and cease to exist. Active teachers’ health insurance costs will continue to rise unchecked pushing more and more good teachers out of the profession, and the TRS pension fund will be on a certain path toward being abolished. That is the very likely future, unless retired and active educators alike decide to make their voices heard at the polls this election year. Early voting starts Tuesday, Feb 20, and runs through Friday, March 2. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. With over one million active and retired education professionals in the state of Texas, the question is not whether you can save your retirement, fix your health insurance, and improve public education policy for 5.4 million students in this state. No, the only question is – will you?

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Tips for voting in the 2018 Texas primary election

The 2018 primary elections are around the corner! Do you have what you need?

This election is your chance to take control of the issues that matter most to you and your family. As registered voters, each and every one of us has a say in determining our future, so let’s seize the moment. Before you head out to the polls, do your homework by reviewing these quick tips.

When and where can I vote early?  

Early voting in the primaries runs from Feb. 20 through March 2, 2018. During early voting, voters may vote at any location within their county. Polling locations and hours are determined at the local level. To find early voting locations and hours in your district, Visit the Texas Secretary of State’s “Am I Registered” website and enter some general information about yourself in order to verify your registration status, find early voting locations, and more. You can also check your local newspaper or call your local voter registrar’s office to find early voting locations and hours in your area.

What if I wait until Election Day to go vote?  

Primary Election Day is March 6, 2018. Most polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day. You must vote in your assigned precinct on election day unless your county is participating in the Countywide Polling Place Program, which allows voters to cast their vote at any precinct in their county, even on the day of an election. Check your county clerk’s office or website to find out if they are participating in the program.

What’s on the ballot?  

Use our TeachtheVote.org website to find out which candidates are running for Texas legislative or State Board of Education seats in your area. Our candidate profiles will help you learn more about the individuals running for Texas State House, Texas State Senate, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor before you head out to the polls. ATPE has compiled incumbents’ voting records, links to their campaign sites, responses to ATPE’s candidate survey about education issues, and more to help you determine which candidates are likely to support public education. You can also learn about non-binding propositions that the Republican and Democratic parties have placed on their respective primary ballots to shape each party’s official platform on education and other issues.

What form of ID will I need to show in order to vote?   

You must show a valid photo ID before you get your chance to vote. Acceptable forms of ID include but are not limited to a valid Texas driver’s license, an Election Identification Certificate (EIC) issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a Texas concealed handgun license, a Texas personal identification card, a U.S. citizenship certificate that includes a personal photo, U.S. military ID card, or a U.S. passport.

Send a reminder to family and friends!

Here’s my challenge to you. When you’re at home, take a couple of minutes to personally call or text five friends or family members in the coming days. Encourage them to vote in the upcoming primary elections, which is where most of Texas’s contested races will be decided this year. Please be sure to remind them about the importance of voting and why you are supporting candidates who support public education. Also, be sure to let them know about our resources here on TeachtheVote.org. Your vote is your voice!

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Trump releases education budget proposal

President Trump released his 2019 federal budget proposal this week, a proposal that presidents issue annually for consideration by lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they work to hash out a budget for the country. Much like last year’s budget request, Trump’s 2019 budget proposal requests a big chunk of funding for public and private school choice, maintains funding levels for Title I and special education, and seeks large cuts to hand-chosen K-12 programs within the Department of Education (ED).

Trump’s new budget proposal entails a $7.1 billion cut to funding for ED, which represents a 10.5% decrease. Of the overall requested cut, $4.4 billion comes from complete elimination of 17 programs deemed by the administration to be “duplicative, ineffective, or more appropriately supported through State, local, or private funds.” A $2 billion program aimed at recruiting, supporting, and training educators primarily in high-needs schools is once again on the chopping block. Other programs cut under his latest budget proposal include a $12 million program for gifted and talented education and a more than $1 billion program for before-school, after-school, and summer enrichment programs.

Expanding public and private school choice is once again a signature piece of Trump’s plan, totaling $1.1 billion. The proposal notes that the billion dollars requested is intended to be “a down payment toward achieving the President’s goal of an annual Federal investment of $20 billion—for a total of an estimated $100 billion when including matching State and local funds—in school choice funding.” Of that billion, $500 million would go toward a grant program for expanding existing state voucher programs and establishing new voucher programs, among other potential options. Another $500 million would go toward charter school expansion, which saw an increase in funding from Congress following Trump’s last request, and just under $100 million would be dedicated to expanding the number of public magnet schools.

Aside from the bump in funding for charter school expansion, Trump’s school choice funding requests largely fell flat in Congress last year. However, the president does use his budget proposal to tout a piece of the recently passed tax plan that allows families to use 529 college savings accounts to pay for private school tuition or home schooling costs.

Funding levels for Title I are requested at $15.5 billion and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would be funded at $12.8 billion. New to President Trump’s budget proposal this year is a funding request for $43 million aimed at opioid addiction prevention. Check back for more from Washington as Congress works to negotiate future federal appropriations.

(Note: the budget deal recently struck in Washington set overall funding levels for the federal government, which entailed an increase in non-defense discretionary spending or the category of funding that covers agencies like ED; the appropriations bills hash out how those overall approved funding levels will be divvied up among specific departments, agencies, programs, and etc.)

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 9, 2018

Check out this week’s education news headlines from ATPE:


At its second meeting, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on Thursday elected a new vice-chair and heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other witnesses about the current state of public education funding. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this report for Teach the Vote. The commission’s next meeting on Feb. 22 will feature invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey. The commission will also meet on March 7 and will allow members of the public to testify at another meeting on March 19. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as the commission fulfills its interim charge to study and make recommendations for how Texas funds its public schools.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: We’re now less than two weeks away from the start of early voting for the March 6 primary elections. ATPE urges educators to check out our Teach the Vote candidate profiles ahead of the first day of early voting on Feb. 20. All candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, State Board of Education, Texas State Senate, and Texas State House are profiled on our website, with additional information about incumbents’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to ATPE’s survey about education issues and priorities, and links to their campaign websites and social media accounts.

As you gear up for the primaries, we’ve also got information about the nonbinding propositions that will be included on your ballot as way to shape the platforms of the state Republican and Democratic parties. Find out what will be on your ballot by checking out this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday. In addition, we’ve shared tips courtesy of our friends at the Texas Tribune on how voters can get more involved in shaping party platforms by participating in election year conventions. Read about the process for becoming a convention delegate here. We’ll have even more election resources for you on Teach the Vote next week, so stay tuned!

 


As ATPE, the Texas Educators Vote coalition, and other groups work to motivate educators to vote in the 2018 elections, those fearful of high voter turnout among the education community are getting desperate in their attempts to intimidate teachers. Today on our blog, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday reports on the surprising and heartwarming way that educators used social media this week to respond to threatening letters they received from an anti-public education lobbying group. Check out her new post about teachers who are #blowingthewhistle here.

 


ATPE’s lobbyists were interviewed this week for multiple stories about the impact of Texas’s District of Innovation law on teacher certification. The DOI law passed by the legislature in 2015 allows certain school districts to exempt themselves from many education laws. One such law is the requirement for hiring certified teachers, which the Texas Tribune wrote about this week. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was interviewed for the story, which highlights the fact that half of Texas’s school districts are now able to ignore the certification law by using DOI exemptions. In Waco, Taylor Durden reported for KXXV-TV about how area school districts have used the DOI law to waive certification requirements for some of their teachers, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday was interviewed for that story. Check it out here. For more about the DOI law, see the resources available from ATPE on our website here.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released the accreditation statuses for school districts and charter schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The accreditation status is primarily based upon the new “A through F” accountability system and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

A total of 1,185 out of 1,201 districts and charters received a status of “Accredited” for the current school year, and four districts received a “Not Accredited-Revoked” status. Four districts and five charters received warnings to fix deficiencies in academic or financial performance or face probation or revocation. Two districts were placed on probation for exhibiting deficiencies over a three year period.

Districts whose accreditation has been revoked have an opportunity for review by the TEA and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). For the 2017-2018 school year, those districts include Buckholts ISD, Sierra Blanca ISD, Winfield ISD and Marlin ISD – the latter two of which were given an “A” in the overall state accountability ratings despite earning “improvement required” designations under the previous accountability system.

Carpe Diem Schools, Dell City ISD, Dime Box ISD, Hart ISD, Montessori For All, Natalia ISD, The Lawson Academy, Trinity Environmental Academy and Zoe Learning Academy all received warnings. Hearne ISD and Trinity ISD were placed on probation.

The full list of accreditation statuses can be found on the TEA website.

 


 

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Texas teachers are #blowingthewhistle in the best possible way

With enthusiasm growing within the education community for voting in the upcoming primaries, we’ve been reporting here on Teach the Vote about the efforts of some elected officials and special interest groups to try to quell educators’ momentum by questioning the legality of our nonpartisan get out the vote (GOTV) programs. Now it appears that those efforts, which many believe are aimed at voter suppression, are backfiring as educators continue to rally their colleagues to vote later this month.

We’ve recently reported on an attorney general’s opinion issued at the request of Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) who objected to GOTV initiatives led by the Texas Educators Vote coalition of which ATPE is a proud member. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly issued a nonbinding opinion that school districts should not bus staff and students to the polls, because Paxton questioned the educational value of such an activity.

We’ve also watched as the notorious anti-public education group Empower Texans (ET) and its affiliates have used scare tactics to try to shut down GOTV initiatives in schools and political activism by education employees. Late last year, ET, whose wealthy donors have spent millions to fund the campaigns of Paxton, Bettencourt, and other officeholders like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, bombarded school districts with open records requests demanding copies of employee emails and other documentation that they hoped would show evidence of illegal activities. When the open records requests apparently yielded no bombshells, Empower Texans resorted to the desperate measure of mailing letters to individual educators around the state inviting them to act as “whistleblowers” and report on colleagues who might be violating the attorney general’s “ruling.” Many of you educators who are readers of Teach the Vote have reported receiving one of these letters from ET’s lead attorney, general counsel Tony McDonald.

The letters that ET has spent huge sums of money to mail to teachers are misleading and unethical. First, the text of the letter mischaracterizes AG Paxton’s nonbinding opinion as a “ruling,” implying that it has the force of law when it is merely an advisory expression of Paxton’s views on the law. The letters also irresponsibly fail to mention that Texas’s whistleblower laws would not provide teachers any legal protection for reports made to an outside entity like ET. ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp points out why the letter from ET’s lawyer is problematic and does not reflect how our state’s whistleblower statutes actually work.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. McDonald has mischaracterized Texas law in a way that he apparently believes would benefit his organization at the expense of those he claims to care about,” says Tapp. “There would be no ‘whistleblower’ protection for any report to Empower Texas. As an attorney, Mr. McDonald should know that a report of suspected illegal activity is only protected if it is made to the appropriate law enforcement entity.”

It is highly unlikely that ET’s intimidation campaign will reveal any evidence of school administrators and trustees unlawfully using school district resources to campaign for specific candidates, and the Texas Educators Vote coalition has always included in its outreach materials guidance for educators on what types of political activities are and are not allowed in schools. In the meantime, educators are reacting to ET’s continuing attacks on the public school community by turning to social media.

Starting yesterday, educators took to Twitter in droves to share their support for public schools. Incorporating the hashtag #blowingthewhistle and tagging ET in many of their tweets. Teachers and other public education supporters used the social media tool not for ratting out colleagues for talking about the election as ET had hoped, but instead for praising educators who go the extra mile every single day to help students.

ATPE member Cristie Plummer, who teaches at Bastrop Middle School, was one of the educators who shared her own #blowingthewhistle tweet yesterday and was featured in this article by the Austin American-StatesmanATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also tweeted his support for the teachers in his own family by #blowingthewhistle on them via Twitter.

The Twitter backlash from teachers was featured today in a new article from the Texas Tribune about the Texas Educators Vote coalition. Reporter Emma Platoff wrote about how our coalition’s GOTV efforts have rankled ET and Tea Party groups who are also worried about other grassroots movements igniting on social media and encouraging teachers to #blockvote in the Republican Party primary for pro-public education candidates. The #blockvote campaign mentioned in the article is being promoted by the Facebook group known as Texans for Public Education, and not by the nonpartisan Texas Educators Vote coalition. However, both groups share a desire to see higher turnout among educators at the polls this year.

The reaction this week to the ET whistleblower campaign proves, once again, that educators are rising above the baseless threats of the politicians and special interest groups that want to dismantle public education. The billionaires backing candidates and officeholders who refer to hard-working teachers as “educrats” and think that using taxpayer dollars to fund unregulated private schools should be the state’s top education priority are clearly terrified of the potential for high voter turnout in the March 6 primary.

We applaud Texas educators for their classy response to the continuing attacks on their profession. ATPE hopes that our members and their colleagues will keep highlighting the outstanding things happening in our public schools every day and will never weaken their resolve to be active and informed voters in the 2018 primaries and all other Texas elections. Kudos, educators!

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From the Texas Tribune: Here’s how Texans can get involved in their party conventions

Attendees listen to speakers at the Texas Federation of Republican Women Convention in Dallas on Oct. 19, 2017. Photo by Laura Buckman for The Texas Tribune.

Today’s Texplainer question was inspired by reader Grace Chimene.

Hey, Texplainer: How do I join in on the action at the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian party conventions? Essentially, how do I get hyper-involved?

Texas primary season is quickly approaching, which means some Texans are wondering how they can engage with state politics beyond just casting votes.

Participating in political conventions is one way to get involved, and each party has lower-level conventions that build up to their state conventions. First there’s a precinct convention, then a county or senatorial convention — a senatorial district convention is held when the county includes two or more state senate districts — and a state convention.

The March 6 primaries and state conventions are right around the corner, so it’s important to start getting involved in the process now.

What happens at a convention?

At each convention level, delegates are elected to move up the hierarchy and represent their party. To participate as a delegate in a convention, a person has to have voted in his or her party’s primary. Anyone can attend a convention without becoming a delegate, but delegates have more power to determine the course of their party. Among other tasks, the delegates shape party platforms, elect leadership and update party rules.

We talked to officials from the Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties to help us explain how to navigate the convention system.

What’s each party’s process like for getting involved in conventions?

Democrats:

Glen Maxey, a senior party adviser for the Texas Democratic Party, said getting involved in conventions is the best way to begin a political network, take advantage of volunteer opportunities and meet candidates and party officials. It’s also easy — all you have to do is vote, show up for the convention and fill out some forms. Here’s how it goes, according to Maxey:

  1. Visit texasdemocraticconvention.com to find out where your county convention is being held and register.

  2. Once you’re at the county convention, you’ll debate resolutions on policies and issues. If any policies or rule changes are passed at the county level, they’ll be added to the agenda at the state convention.

  3. Rather than holding separate precinct conventions, Democrats caucus together with their precincts during the county convention to elect their delegates to the state convention. Maxey said this process is more competitive during presidential election years, but in most cases anyone who really wants to be a delegate to the state convention will be elected in a non-presidential election year.

  4. Once you’ve made it to the state convention, you’re ready to participate in the highest level of party governance in the state. You’ll elect party leadership, write and adopt the state party platform, pass resolutions and update party rules. This year’s convention is June 21-23 in Fort Worth.

Libertarians:

Becoming a party delegate is a way to amplify voters’ voices, said Libertarian Party of Texas Chair John Wilford. Here’s how he suggests getting involved:

  1. Start by getting involved at the local level. Find out who’s the county party chair of your area. Introduce yourself and be vocal about your intent to become a delegate. Becoming a delegate for the Libertarian Party is competitive, especially during presidential years.

  2. Find out where and when your precinct convention is taking place on your county chair’s website, social media or your county commissioners court bulletin board.

  3. At the precinct convention, run for a position as a delegate.

  4. Take the same steps to participate in the county/senatorial and state conventions. This year’s state convention is April 13-15 in Houston.

Republicans:

Going to a convention gives a regular voter a glimpse into the lives of legislators, Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson said. It’s a fun, active process that allows voters to help shape the platform of their party, he said. Simpson told us the best way to get involved in the Republican conventions:

  1. Vote in the primaries and then attend the precinct convention on the same day. Details of the precinct conventions are usually posted on the county party’s website. Inform the county chair of your intent to become a delegate.

  2. It’s typically pretty easy to become a delegate in the precinct convention because there are usually more spots than people to fill them.

  3. Attend the county or senatorial convention and follow the same steps to become a delegate for the state convention. This year’s convention is June 14-16 in San Antonio.

In addition to conventions, getting involved in the local level is just as important, Simpson said.

“I’m a big believer in doing more than just going to conventions,” he said.

Members of all three parties can also volunteer for campaigns or join local party clubs. Visit Texas’ party websites and county chairs’ websites to find out more about how to get involved beyond the conventions.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/02/07/heres-how-texans-can-get-involved-their-party-conventions/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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School finance commission studies funding in second meeting

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met for the second time Thursday in Austin, and began by voting State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) as vice-chairman. Justice Scott Brister, the commission chairman, outlined the working groups and expressed his intention to announce assignments by the next meeting.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting February 8, 2018.

Justice Brister announced upcoming meetings of the commission will be held February 22 and March 7. Members of the public will be able to testify before the commission at a meeting to be held March 19. These meetings will focus on successful programs across the state that are improving student results, payment for teachers, teacher recruiting and retention, and closing the gaps between demographic and income groups, among other things.

Brister invited members of the public to submit comments regarding the commission to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) recommended the board consider the public use of tax dollars for charter schools, and whether there is an oversaturation of charters in areas where traditional public schools are already doing a good job.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath opened the day’s testimony with a presentation casting skepticism on the correlation between per-student funding and student performance from district to district. Morath nonetheless acknowledged that money does matter, and the picture could look very different from campus to campus within a district. Sen. West voiced interest in seeing the correlation between funding and performance and the campus level. House Public Education Committee Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) pointed out that comparisons using all dollars does not track how much spending actually makes it to the classroom.

Todd Williams, the education advisor for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, pointed out that more than half of Texas students are classified as economically disadvantaged, and emphasized that finding a way to improve the performance of economically disadvantaged students is the single most impactful means of improving student performance as a whole. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson noted that larger districts, which educate majority of Texas students, have a variety of unique funding needs, and countered that increasing funding would in fact have an impact on student outcomes.

Thursday’s agenda featured a panel of witnesses to discuss school finance trends. First up was TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who summarized the key revenue inputs to the school finance formula. These include the basic allotment, which comes from the Permanent School Fund (PSF), as well as local property taxes for maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S). Most revenue growth has come from local property tax collections, which have increase as a result of rising property values. Conley Johnson suggested that efforts should be made to make local taxpayers more aware of the impact recapture payments have on their contributions to local school funding.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), a persistent advocate for private school vouchers, stated his intent that with regard to the commission’s exploration of school finance factors, “What gets measured, gets fixed.” Sen. Bettencourt made multiple requests for data excluding I&S funding, which is used to service bonds used for the construction of new facilities as districts grow. Those who argue public schools already receive either enough or too much funding have recently begun to argue that I&S funding should not be included in data that show state funding for public schools has steadily decreased over time. The state’s share of public school funding has fallen from around fifty percent to just 38 percent of the total burden. The education budget approved by the 85th Texas Legislature spent around $2 billion less in state funds – choosing to shift that money onto local taxpayers as a result of rising property values.

Mathew Chingos, director of the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Program, compared Texas scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test to those of other states, and found that Texas performs relatively well in reading and math. According to Urban Institute’s analysis, Texas continues to lag average nationwide per-pupil spending, and poor students tend to receive $730 less local funding on average than non-poor students. That gap is narrowed when state and federal funding is incorporated. Chingos testified that district property wealth isn’t always indicative of student need, and median household income doesn’t necessarily correlate with per-student property wealth. He also pointed out district-level funding is not school-level funding, and districts may distribute resources in ways that either reinforce or counter state priorities. Chingos testified that research has shown that while it may not be the top driver, money does correlate with improved outcomes, and scatter charts previously used to question that correlation are somewhat problematic due to the complexity of school finance formulas.

Zahava Stadler, manager of policy and research for EdBuild, testified that Texas relies primarily on a student-based funding formula, but in a way that doesn’t fully realize the advantages of student-based funding. For example, Texas’ labyrinthine funding formulas don’t prove a simple and transparent expectation of funding for a given student. Morever, the local funding responsibility is not based upon clearly defined and uniform factors. Texas adjusts for economically disadvantaged students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch by funding them at an additional 20 percent for compensatory education services. According to EdBuild, parallel weights in other states range from five percent to 97 percent. Similarly, Texas funds English language learners (ELLs) at an additional ten percent, while parallel weights in other states range from 20 to 60 percent. The vast majority of Texas students fall into one or both of these categories.

Representing the Education Commission of the States, Michael Griffith and Emily Parker recommended align the school funding system to desired student outcomes. The system should be reviewed periodically to ensure it is aligned with student achievement goals. Lori Taylor from the Mosbacher Institute at Texas A&M University concluded the day’s testimony. Professor Taylor suggested cost estimates for educating economically disadvantaged students are so varied at least in part because student poverty is not well measured or uniformly defined. The kind of poverty felt by students in Houston may be very different from the kind of poverty felt by students in rural Texas. Cost estimates for ELLs are likewise varied due to factors such as age, native language and home environment. Taylor concluded that teacher quality is more impactful than class size when allocating spending, and districts could achieve higher performance with current levels of funding by replicating the best practices of high performing peers.

Responding to a question from Member Ellis, Professor Taylor suggested that the current Cost of Education Index (CEI) multiplier could be updated to within a range of 30 and 40 percent. The CEI is a core component of the current school finance system, but hasn’t been updated in decades.

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Learn about 2018 party primary ballot propositions

Texas primary elections are coming up on March 6, 2018. When early voting begins on Feb. 20, registered voters in our state will have a chance to pick candidates vying for statewide offices such as governor or lieutenant governor, legislative seats, and host of others. But candidates aren’t the only thing you’ll be voting on during the upcoming primary election.

Texas has an open primary system, meaning that you can choose to participate in either the Republican or Democratic party primary, but not both. Your ballot will be determined by where you reside along with which party’s primary you choose. If you choose to participate in the Republican party primary this spring, you will only pick from Republican candidates on your ballot. Likewise, if you opt to vote in the Democratic party primary, you’ll only be seeing Democratic candidates on your ballot this time around. Due to gerrymandering and demographic trends, some districts in Texas will lean so heavily in favor of a single political party that only candidates from that one party will file to run for the office.  That’s why we encourage you to learn about the candidates who are running in your area and pick the party primary in which your vote will make the most difference on March 6. Remember that voting in a party primary does not bind you to vote for that same party’s candidates in November, because you can vote for any candidate from any party or even independent candidates with no party affiliation during the general election.

We encourage you to use our candidate search page here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates in your area, but also know that your primary election ballot will include a few additional items on which you can vote. Texas’s state Republican and Democratic parties use the primary election as a tool to help shape their party platforms every two years. The leadership of each party has selected a handful of ballot propositions to present to voters on their primary ballots. These questions do not change the law in any way or have any binding effect, but they act as a sort of poll to help party leaders learn which issues are most important to their own voters.

For the upcoming 2018 primary election, the Texas Democratic Party has chosen to include 10 propositions on its primary ballot, while the Republican Party of Texas is presenting 11 propositions for its voters to consider. When you vote in the primary, don’t forget to read and consider the ballot propositions and decide whether you agree or disagree with the party’s proposed position on each issue. Some of the ballot measures do relate to public education, such as the GOP’s proposition number five, which deals with using public funds for private or home school vouchers. Your vote during the primaries on nonbinding ballot propositions is a chance to share your input on what ultimately makes it into the official state platform of your political party.

Below are lists of the party platform propositions that will be appearing on your Republican or Democratic primary ballot this year, depending on the political party whose primary you decide to participate in for the March 6 election. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in the coming days for additional information on how you can help shape your political party’s platform and future direction. Your vote is your voice!

2018 Texas Republican Party Ballot Propositions:

  1. Texas should replace the property tax system with an appropriate consumption tax equivalent. Yes/No
  2. No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval. Yes/No
  3. Republicans in the Texas House should select their Speaker nominee by secret ballot in a binding caucus without Democrat influence. Yes/No
  4. Texas should require employers to screen new hires through the free E-Verify system to protect jobs for legal workers. Yes/No
  5. Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government constraints or intrusion. Yes/No
  6. Texas should protect the privacy and safety of women and children in spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in all Texas schools and government buildings. Yes/No
  7. I believe abortion should be abolished in Texas. Yes/No
  8. Vote fraud should be a felony in Texas to help ensure fair elections. Yes/No
  9. Texas demands that Congress completely repeal Obamacare. Yes/No
  10. To slow the growth of property taxes, yearly revenue increases should be capped at 4%, with increases in excess of 4% requiring voter approval. Yes/No
  11. Tax dollars should not be used to fund the building of stadiums for professional or semi-professional sports teams. Yes/No

 

2018 Texas Democratic Party Ballot Propositions:

  1. Should everyone in Texas have the right to quality public education from pre-k to 12th grade, and affordable college and career training without the burden of crushing student loan debt? Yes/No
  2. Should everyone in Texas have the right to refinance student loan debt with the Federal Reserve at a 0% interest rate, as relief for the crushing burden of debt and an investment in the next generation of Americans? Yes/No
  3. Should everyone in Texas have a right to healthcare, guaranteed by a universal, quality Medicare-for-all system? Yes/No
  4. Should everyone in Texas have the right to economic security, where all workers have earned paid family and sick leave and a living wage that respects their hard work? Yes/No
  5. Should the Democratic Party promote a national jobs program, with high wage and labor standards, to replace crumbling infrastructure and rebuild hurricane damaged areas, paid for with local, state, and federal bonds financed through the Federal Reserve at low interest with long term maturities? Yes/No
  6. Should everyone in Texas have the right to clean air, safe water, and a healthy environment? Yes/No
  7. Should everyone in Texas have the right to a life of dignity and respect, free from discrimination and harassment anywhere, including businesses and public facilities, no matter how they identify, the color of their skin, who they love, socioeconomic status, or from where they come? Yes/No
  8. Should everyone in Texas have the right to affordable and accessible housing and modern utilities including high speed internet, free from any form of discrimination? Yes/No
  9. Should every eligible Texan have the right to vote, made easier by automatic voter registration, the option to vote by mail, a state election holiday, and no corporate campaign influence, foreign interference, or illegal gerrymandering? Yes/No
  10. Should everyone in Texas have the right to a fair criminal justice system that treats people equally and puts an end to the mass incarceration of young people of color for minor offenses? Yes/No
  11. Should there be a just and fair comprehensive immigration reform solution that includes an earned path to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants and their children, keeps families together, protects DREAMers, and provides workforce solutions for businesses? Yes/No
  12. Should everyone in Texas have the right to a fair tax system, where all interests (business, corporations, and individuals) pay their share, so that state government meets its obligations? Yes/No

 

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