Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 27, 2016

The week was dominated by big election news. Read the latest from ATPE and Teach the Vote:


American voting pins

The May 24 primary runoff election included some high-profile races of special interest to the education community.

The Republican primary runoff for SBOE District 9, where incumbent Thomas Ratliff (R) did not seek re-election, became one of the most anticipated contests in Texas but garnered attention from the media here and around the country. Outspoken and controversial candidate Mary Lou Bruner, who had been the front-runner in the March 1 primary and almost escaped a runoff, was defeated Tuesday night by Dr. Keven Ellis. Between the two elections, Bruner had angered many educators within and even outside the northeast Texas district with questionable claims about school conditions there and an apparent refusal to fact-check or correct her misstatements. At least one Tea Party group that endorsed Bruner early on withdrew its support for her, while educators rallied around Ellis, who had been endorsed by the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC, to help him secure the win. Other closely watched races this week included Republican primary runoffs in Texas Senate Districts 1 and 24, where voters chose Tea Party-backed candidates Bryan Hughes and Dawn Buckingham, respectively, over their Texas Parent PAC-endorsed opponents David Simpson and Susan King

With extremely low voter turnout, several Texas House runoffs produced slim margins of victory, and at least two of those races are headed for a recount. Check out our blog for more from The Texas Tribune on anticipated recounts in House Districts 128 and 54. Candidates have until June 6 to decide if they will seek a recount. HD 128, a seat currently held by Rep. Wayne Smith (R), was one of the runoffs Tuesday night in which incumbent legislators were ousted by more conservative challengers; Rep. Doug Miller (R) in HD 73, another Texas Parent PAC-endorsed candidate, is the other incumbent who lost his runoff on Tuesday in a winner-take-all race where there are no candidates from other parties seeking the seat this November.

For a complete list of Tuesday’s outcomes in state legislative and SBOE runoffs, read our runoff election recap blog post from Wednesday.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

On Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held another meeting in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the commission’s day-long work session. The inability to reach consensus yet on a number of questions relating to how Texas tests students is causing the commission to add another meeting in June to its schedule. Read Monty’s blog post from this morning to learn more about the ongoing deliberations of the commission.


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

With the dust settling on the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling, many are wondering what, if anything, lawmakers will do to change the funding system that justices described as “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”  This week, ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson appeared on Time Warner Cable’s Capitol Tonight program to talk about school finance. Josh explained ways in which past budget cuts, that were never fully restored, have affected classrooms and noted that per-pupil funding has not kept up with rising standards for students, schools, and teachers over the years. Check out video of the episode here.


Girl (3-5 years) riding tricycle with USA flag along path, low sectionEnjoy the Memorial Day weekend!

Celebrate the end of the school year!

Stay safe if you’re hitting the road!

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Next Gen Commission grapples with questions about student testing

TThe Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability met in Austin this week for what was originally planned to be its last regular meeting. The May 25 agenda called for commissioners to take the information they have gained from discussions with each other, invited panelists, and public testimony over the last many meetings and turn that into a set of cogent recommendations to be turned over to the legislature in July.

At Wednesday’s meeting, perhaps the most telling exchange of the day was when one commission member commented on how difficult the task of balancing all the competing factors was and one of the legislators present responded, “Yes, education is really complex,” with a bit of a “no kidding, Sherlock” tone in his voice. After hours of discussion with no real progress toward a coherent set of recommendations, it became clear that the committee would need to meet again in June to finish its work ahead of the July deadline.

Some of the issues the commission is grappling with, so far without clear resolution, include the following:

  • Should the recommendations be more focused on short term actionable items or mid/long term aspirations or push goals?
  • What breadth of coverage should be included in the lower grades? Should the state stick to federal minimums or should writing, social studies, and science be more incorporated?
  • Should testing be delivered via technology or not?
  • In what way should the state give input on diagnostic testing?
  • What, if any, benefit does summative testing have and how do we minimize its intrusiveness?
  • In the middle and upper grades, is it feasible or even desirable to incorporate project-based assessment into the state system?
  • In the upper grades, should the state stick with end-of-course (EOC) exams or move to a single, more comprehensive test?
  • If we move to a different test, which one? Should we move to the SAT or ACT, which colleges use but are also norm-referenced, or perhaps the TSI?
  • Again, if we move away from EOCs, should the state also allow for other tests to satisfy requirements, such as the ASFAB, the military’s aptitude test? Would such a test even satisfy federal requirements?
  • Should the bar/expectation be set at college readiness for all with an acknowledgement that many will not reach or possibly even seek that bar?
  • How will any of this get paid for, especially large technology infrastructure upgrades, particularly in light of the recent school finance ruling and the unlikelihood that the legislature is going to put significant, or any, new resources into the system?
  • Even if the legislature does put some new resources into the system, is testing the best place to spend those dollars?

These are some of the things the commission will have to resolve, at least internally, if it hopes to finish moving forward with some sort of recommendation. The commission’s next and likely last regular meeting is now tentatively scheduled for June 13. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

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From The Texas Tribune: State Rep. Wayne Smith Now Wants Recount in House District 128 Runoff

State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, faced off with lawyer Briscoe Cain in the May 2016 GOP primary runoff for House District 128.

State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, faced off with lawyer Briscoe Cain in the May 2016 GOP primary runoff for House District 128.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Briscoe Cain.

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. 

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount. 

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Cain issued a statement welcoming the recount. “I’m honored with the support my district gave me on May 24th and look forward to the recount,” he said.

Smith is not alone in pursuing a recount of a Republican primary runoff from Tuesday. He joins Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, who lost to Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper by 43 votes in House District 54.

The deadline for requesting a recount of a runoff that was held Tuesday is 5 p.m. June 6, according to an advisory issued Wednesday by the secretary of state’s office.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/26/wayne-smith-now-wants-recount-hd128-runoff/.
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Primary runoff election results shape outlook for public education in Texas

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Last night marked the likely end of primary election season in Texas, unless there are requests for recounts of runoff election returns in a few close races. The primaries hold high significance in Texas, where most elected offices are filled through the primary and not the general election. This is due to the fact that district maps are drawn in a manner that favors one political party over others. Some races will only attract candidates from one political party, meaning that the entire contest will be decided through the primary process with no other candidates on the ballot in November. A number of other races draw candidates from multiple parties, but the dominant party will still have a major advantage in November due to the composition of the district, making it more likely that the primary election will be where voters pick the ultimate winner.

ThinkstockPhotos-523002181_IVotedThe Texas primary elections on March 1 resulted in 22 runoff contests that were decided last night. In some, only a fraction of a percentage point separated the candidates. Turnout was predictably low, with some House races garnering only 3,000 to 5,000 total votes in the runoff.

Unquestionably, one of the most watched races of the night for members of the education community was in State Board of Education (SBOE) District 9, where controversial candidate Mary Lou Bruner (R) had a commanding lead after the March 1 primary election. Despite her background as a former educator, Bruner angered many in the education community in recent weeks with fact-challenged claims about the state of public education and conditions in local schools, not to mention a host of other outrageous remarks that garnered national media interest.

Keven Ellis

Keven Ellis

Second-place finisher Keven Ellis (R), buoyed by educators determined to keep Bruner off the board, successfully made up enough ground to sail past Bruner with 59.2 percent of the vote, compared to her 40.8 percent. There will be two more candidates on the ballot in November, but the district leans Republican giving Ellis a strong position going into the general election.

Here are the results in other races of particular interest to the education community:


Dakota Carter

SBOE District 6: Dakota Carter (D) prevailed over Jasmine Jenkins in this Democratic primary race in Harris County. Carter will next face Donna Bahorich (R), the current chair of the SBOE, and a couple of independent/third-party candidates in a November general election contest.

Senate District 1: In this open race to succeed outgoing Sen. Keven Eltife (R), the winner last night was current Rep. Bryan Hughes (R), who prevailed over fellow Rep. David Simpson (R) to gain the promotion to the upper chamber. No other candidates have filed for a place on the ballot in November, making Hughes the senator-elect.

Senate District 24: In another open race created by the expected retirement of Sen. Troy Fraser (R), the winner last night was eye surgeon Dawn Buckingham (R), who defeated Rep. Susan King (R) for the Republican nomination. Buckingham will face a Democratic opponent in November.

House District 5: In another northeast Texas contest, this open House seat (created by Rep. Bryan Hughes’s ascension to the Senate) goes to Cole Hefner (R). He defeated Jay Misenheimer (R) last night, and there is no other candidate in this race.


Ernest Bailes

House District 18: Ernest Bailes (R) easily defeated Keith Strahan for this open seat that has been held by Rep. John Otto (R), who did not seek re-election. There is still an independent/third-party candidate in the race in November, but the district favors the Republican nominee Bailes.

House District 27: In one of the few Democratic party runoffs last night, Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) defeated challenger Angelique Bartholomew (D) to get his party’s nod for re-election. Reynolds must still face a Republican challenger in November.


Justin Holland

House District 33: In one of the closer contests of the night, the winner was Justin Holland (R) over John Keating (R) by a difference of 99 votes for the Republican nomination. A handful of other candidates remain on the ballot for November. Incumbent Rep. Scott Turner (R), who had previously challenged Rep. Joe Straus (R) unsuccessfully to try to become Speaker of the House, opted not to run for re-election this year.

House District 54: Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) for the Republican nomination in this district, where current House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is not seeking re-election. Only 43 votes separated the two candidates at the end of last night’s runoff, however. There is also a Democratic candidate on the ballot in November.

House District 64: In the Denton area’s open race to succeed outgoing Rep. Myra Crownover (R), last night’s winner for the Republican nomination was Lynn Stucky (R), who prevailed over Read King (R). Stucky will face a Democratic opponent in November.

House District 73: In one of last night’s two big upsets, four-term Rep. Doug Miller (R) was defeated by challenger and Tea Party favorite Kyle Biedermann (R) in this winner-take-all race in the New Braunfels area.

House District 120: This is one of two races in which local voters have been fatigued by campaigns for both a special election and the regular 2016 elections within the same district. This San Antonio-area seat was vacated by former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon earlier this year. In a special election on May 7, a different set of candidates vied for the right to serve out the remainder of McClendon’s term this year; Independent candidate Laura Thompson and Democrat Lou Miller were the top vote-getters in that special election and are headed to a runoff on Aug. 2 (with early voting July 25-29). The winner of that special election runoff will only get to serve a few months before being replaced by the winner of the seat in last night’s primary election runoff. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) received the most votes last night, defeating Mario Salas (D), meaning that she will be assume this House seat for a full term starting in January.


Briscoe Cain

House District 128: This race produced another upset of an incumbent House chairman, after Rep. Wayne Smith (R) was very narrowly defeated by challenger Briscoe Cain (R). A mere 23 votes separated the two candidates by night’s end. There is a Libertarian candidate running in the November general election.

House District 139: This is another district in which voters went to the polls twice this month within the same district. After Houston mayor Sylvester Turner gave up this seat, a special election was held May 7, resulting in a win for Jarvis Johnson (D) to serve out the remainder of Turner’s unexpired term. Last night, Johnson also defeated Kimberly Willis (D) to take over the seat for a full term beginning in January. Fewer than 3,000 votes were cast in this Democratic party runoff. No other candidates have filed to run for the seat in November.

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundATPE reminds voters that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for any candidate in the general election on Nov. 8, 2016. For instance, if you vote in the Republican primary, you are not bound to vote for the Republican candidates in the general election; you can still vote for Democratic, third-party, or independent candidates come November. Many ballots cast in the general election will include votes for candidates from a mixture of parties. The important thing is to VOTE! When educators vote, educators win!

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Educators are urged to go vote in Tuesday’s runoffs

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundMany Texans have an opportunity tomorrow to cast votes in runoff elections that will help decide the future of public education. Several high-profile races are on runoff ballots tomorrow for seats on the State Board of Education and in the Texas Legislature. Turnout is expected to be very low, which creates an opportunity for the education community to be a deciding force in these elections simply by using the power of numbers to turn out voters to the polls.

The Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member, is also urging eligible Texas educators to vote in tomorrow’s runoff election. In a message to other coalition members, the Texas Association of Community Schools wrote this morning that educators should “think how much easier it would be to get our schools funding, meaningful assessments, and shorter deeper TEKS if we elected people who are ready to fight on behalf of students, educators, and public schools as a whole.” View the full coalition message to educators here.

These are the runoffs taking place this Tuesday, with links to the candidates’ profiles:

SBOE District 6: Jasmine Jenkins (D) vs. Dakota Carter (D)
SBOE District 9: Keven Ellis (R) vs. Mary Lou Bruner (R)
Senate District 1: David Simpson (R) vs. Bryan Hughes (R)
Senate District 24: Susan King (R) vs. Dawn Buckingham (R)
House District 5: Jay Misenheimer (R) vs. Cole Hefner (R)
House District 18: Ernest Bailes (R) vs. Keith Strahan (R)
House District 27: Ron Reynolds (D) vs. Angelique Bartholomew (D)
House District 33: Justin Holland (R) vs. John Keating (R)
House District 54: Scott Cosper (R) vs. Austin Ruiz (R)
House District 64: Lynn Stucky (R) vs. Read King (R)
House District 73: Doug Miller (R) vs. Kyle Biedermann (R)
House District 120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) vs. Mario Salas (D)
House District 128: Wayne Smith (R) vs. Briscoe Cain (R)
House District 139: Kimberly Willis (D) vs. Jarvis Johnson (D)

To find your election day polling location, visit the Texas Secretary of State’s ”My Voter Page” and enter your information.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 20, 2016

Important runoffs are happening in some parts of the state. We’ve got your election news and more in this week’s wrap-up:

Early vote pic from EAToday, May 20, is the last day to vote early in primary runoffs for Republican and Democratic races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the votes on March 1. Polls close at 7 p.m. tonight. Several legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff election day.

Read our early voting blog post for a list of districts that have runoffs, tips on where to find your polling places, and more. Don’t forget to check out the runoff candidates’ profiles, including voting records and survey responses, using our 2016 Races search page.

Hotly contested runoffs capture attention of voters, political action committees, and media

Whether or not you live in SBOE District 9, chances are you’ve heard about the high-profile runoff contest taking place in that northeast corner of Texas. In the open seat to replace Thomas Ratliff (R), who is not seeking re-election, candidates Mary Lou Bruner and Dr. Keven Ellis are vying for the Republican nomination. Bruner attracted early attention from local and national media with her Facebook claims (as reported by The Texas Tribune and others) that President Obama had been a gay prostitute and drug addict. Those early Facebook posts have since been shielded from public view, but candidate Bruner has continued to shock voters with questionable assertions about public schools, including accusations about the number of substitutes holding teaching positions in a local school district and the percentage of students in special education.  Earlier this week we republished a story from The Texas Tribune about a meeting with area school superintendents who challenged Bruner on her dubious claims.

Following that meeting, an influential Tea Party group announced this week that it was retracting its earlier endorsement of Bruner. Grassroots America – We the People said in a statement, “We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate. Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action; however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses…. Unfortunately, once we viewed the raw, unedited video of Mrs. Bruner speaking to Region 7 Superintendents on May 4th and read her written statement, we had no choice but to start the process of reconsidering the endorsement.”

The fact that another Texas Tea Party group recently chose not only to reject Bruner but even to endorse Dr. Keven Ellis in this race underscores the serious concerns that many have expressed about Bruner’s ability to serve effectively on the SBOE. The publishers of the Texas Tea Party Voter Guide stated that Bruner “has gone too far and is making us all look like idiots. If she gets elected she will do more damage to the conservative movement than anything she might accomplish, so we are supporting Keven Ellis.” Interestingly, Ellis also earned the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

Bruner earned 48.4 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary compared to Ellis’s 31.05 percent. However, both candidates were relatively unknown at that time, and media interest in the race has put it on the radar of more voters and education stakeholders throughout the state. With Ellis appearing to capture increasing support from such diverse interests, this race will certainly be one to watch on Tuesday.

Also in the spotlight are runoffs for Senate Districts 1 and 24. SD 1 is an open seat, where incumbent Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) is not seeking re-election. Republican candidates and current state representatives David Simpson and Bryan Hughes are locked in a tight race with dueling endorsements, matching pleas for smaller government, and efforts to appeal to education voters. Simpson received the coveted endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC and is airing radio ads in which he touts his support for school funding and opposition to cuts to the public education budget. Hughes, meanwhile, is the only non-incumbent senator to be formally endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), after Patrick originally stated that he would not get involved in the primary races. Education reform and pro-privatization groups such as the Texas Home School Coalition and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (Empower Texans) have backed Hughes, but he’s also using campaign ads to try to appeal to retired educators by featuring photos of his meetings with local retired teachers. This is a winner-take-all race on Tuesday since no Democrats or third-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat; Tuesday’s winner will take office in January 2017.

SD 24 is another open seat race worth watching on Tuesday night. State representative Susan King (R) and Dr. Dawn Buckingham (R) are vying for this Senate seat currently held by Sen. Troy Fraser (R), who announced plans to retire. This race featured a crowded six-person field in the Republican primary on March 1. King earned 27.25 percent of the vote, while Buckingham brought in 24.76 percent. Expect another close match-up in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder in November.

A few of Tuesday’s House runoffs are also winner-take-all races, in which the primary winner will face no opposition in November. In HD 5, Republicans Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer are in a runoff to determine who will succeed Rep. Bryan Hughes (R). HD 73 features a runoff between Rep. Doug Miller (R) and challenger Kyle Biedermann (R). In HD 120, the winner of the primary runoff between Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) and Mario Salas (D) will decide who takes this House seat previously held by Ruth Jones McClendon (D) in January 2017; this is despite the fact that another, separate election is taking place this year to determine who fills McClendon’s vacant seat for the remainder of this year. HD 139 is another open seat for which both regular and special elections are taking place in 2016. After a vacancy was left for the House seat of Sylvester Turner (D), now mayor of Houston, Jarvis Johnson (D) won a special election earlier this month to serve out the remainder of Turner’s term, but Johnson faces a runoff on Tuesday against Kimberly Willis (D) for the upcoming full term to begin in January 2017.

Check out profiles of these and other runoff candidates using our 2016 Races search page.

Related: Supreme Court’s school finance ruling highlights importance of 2016 elections

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

A week has passed since the Texas Supreme Court ruled that our state’s school finance system meets the constitutional minimum standards. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson writes about why your vote is the only thing left to compel legislators to take any action to improve the way we fund our schools. Josh also explains why discussions of two legislative committees this week about the possibility of new spending restrictions are another cause for concern. Check out his latest blog post here.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann


It was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as discussions continued over how to implement the nation’s new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written an update on ESSA, including the latest debates over the law’s “supplement not supplant” language, as well as new legislation relating to school nutrition. View Kate’s blog post here.



In his first few months on the job, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has put forth administrative rules pertaining to a number of controversial topics. First, the commissioner finalized rules begun by his predecessor to implement the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS. ATPE has filed a legal challenge against the T-TESS rules, arguing that they violate existing state laws, the Texas Constitution, and public policy expectations. That petition has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings so that an Administrative Law Judge can decide the merits of ATPE’s case. In the meantime, be sure to check out our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org to learn more about the new evaluation rules and how they might affect you.

Related: The Hawaii State Board of Education voted this week to remove student test scores from its teacher evaluation system. Hawaii was one of several states that had incorporated student growth measures into a new teacher evaluation system in recent years, partly in order to satisfy criteria for an NCLB waiver. Texas’s T-TESS rules were similarly design to match NCLB waiver conditions that are no longer applicable, which ATPE cited in our requests for Commissioner Morath to revise T-TESS and reconsider the student growth measure language in the rules.

Commissioner Morath has also proposed rules for Districts of Innovation (DOI), implementing 2015 legislation that allows acceptably-rated school districts to claim exemptions from numerous education laws. ATPE has submitted comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address serious concerns about implications for educators’ and school districts’ immunity protections in school districts that claim entitlement to blanket waivers of all exemptible laws in the Texas Education Code. We’ve got updated information on some of the districts that are pursuing DOI status on our comprehensive DOI resource page on ATPE.org.

Also in the works at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are rules to implement a 2015 law that requires video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Yesterday, TEA officials held a public hearing on proposed commissioner’s rules for implementing Senate Bill 507. ATPE previously submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which have not yet been finalized. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these and other rules as developments occur.

Related: The Texas Tribune hosted an interview with Commissioner Morath on Tuesday. The event was sponsored in part by ATPE. View video from the event here.

Next week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Austin. View the commission’s agenda here. We’ll have more on the meeting next week, along with complete results of Tuesday’s big runoff election day, here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteIf you live in a runoff district, don’t forget to go vote early today or vote on Tuesday!

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Federal Update: ESSA implementation and school nutrition

ThinkstockPhotos-97653570-USCapThis week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held the third of its six expected hearings aimed at monitoring implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The hearing was focused on gathering input from stakeholders on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) handling of implementation of the new law.

The invited panel of testifiers represented teachers, state and local education agencies, the civil rights community, academia, and parents and other advocates. The vast majority of the hearing was focused on ED’s proposed “supplement not supplant” rule, which is based on language in law that says states cannot use federal money to replace money that would otherwise be spent by the state. (As a reminder, ED turned to a process known as negotiated rulemaking to write rules for the “supplement not supplant” and assessment language in ESSA. The committee assembled for this process was only able to agree on the assessment piece, leaving “supplement not supplant” rule language in the hands of ED. Catch up here.) While the language seeks to provide equity among Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools through a dollar-to-dollar comparison, the panelists cited numerous unintended consequences that could be caused by the proposal as written, such as altering teacher hiring practices and placing burdensome requirements on schools and districts.


The issue of “supplement not supplant” is an ongoing issue that is sure to remain a hot topic in Washington, D.C.. Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the nonpartisan research and analysis arm of the U.S. Congress, released a report that concluded the language initially proposed by ED could set up a legal challenge based on limited statutory authority. Republican education leaders in Congress were quick to praise the report while ED defended its rule saying it had an obligation to provide clarity where the law is silent. There is agreement from some stakeholders that clarity is needed. A group of over 600 educators teaching in Title 1 schools sent a letter to ED last week that expressed the need for strong and fair regulations on the issue. That letter follows two other recent support letters sent to the department from a group of nine Democratic senators and a host of civil rights groups.

ED also announced yesterday that rule proposals pertaining to the innovative assessments pilot and accountability portions of the new ESSA law would be released in July and June, respectively.


In the other chamber of Congress, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was focused this week on a bill to reauthorize the national school lunch program. The committee held a mark up Wednesday on H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. The bill was ultimately voted out of committee by a vote of 20-14, but not without debate in and outside of the Capitol. On Tuesday, the day prior to the hearing, a substitute bill was unveiled that included a block grant pilot program for three states. The addition, which was pushed by conservative lawmakers and advocates, has critics concerned it’s a first step in cutting federal funding and participation in school nutrition programs.

While the program does include some positive aspects, such as more money for school breakfasts, it also limits a program that allows some schools to provide universal free meals to students. The Senate Agriculture Committee has already passed its version of the reauthorization bill; the Senate version represents a compromise between advocates, lawmakers, and the administration.

More will unfold on both issues. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these federal topics and more.

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Why even bother to vote?

While listening to a panel at an education summit this morning, I heard a former state legislator repeat what many of us have heard countless times before: “Educators aren’t in the profession for the pay.” As much as most of the professionals working in our schools are there because of a calling to serve, it isn’t an excuse to treat them poorly. For too long, this has been used by lawmakers as a justification for not making the effort necessary to adequately invest in education.

U.S. Census data tell us that on a per student basis, Texas spends less money on public education employee benefits than any other state. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that Texas public school employees pay a larger share of the cost of health insurance than other employees, both public and private, across the country. Like so many other issues that affect your livelihood, these are entirely political issues. Political will, in large part, determines your salary, how much you pay for health insurance, your retirement benefits, whether or not you receive a contract (and the terms of that contract), and nearly every other aspect of your professional career. The only way to change this situation is to educate yourselves as to who supports you and your profession, and then to vote as an education community for those candidates.

Last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that despite its many flaws and room for improvement, the Texas public education system meets the minimum constitutional requirements. The immediate implication of this ruling is that the Texas Legislature has no impetus (with the possible exception of voter dissatisfaction) to make additional investments in or reforms to our public school system. Even though per-student spending in Texas is below 2008 levels, legally speaking if legislators choose to do nothing at all with public schools, they are well within the confines of the law. Aside from those abysmal per-student funding numbers, state contributions to employee health insurance have not increased since 2001 (a contribution of $50 per month per employee), and retiree healthcare has been chronically underfunded to the point where the program will run out of money at the end of 2017 and need nearly $2 billion to survive merely for another two years.

As these very real and pressing issues are occurring, earlier this week both the Texas Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committees held hearings on the possibility of instituting new state spending restrictions that would further curtail the state’s ability to properly manage our infrastructure. Spending guidelines are important, and Texas has long produced conservative, lean budgets. Of the 15 most populous states, Texas is 13th in state tax revenue per capita (and 46th in state tax revenue measured against personal income). One of the reasons we have so effectively limited state tax collections and expenditures is because we have four provisions in our state constitution that restrict state spending; unlike Washington D.C. we do not and cannot deficit spend in Texas. We do not need more restrictions in how state leaders can invest in public education – or roads, water, and public safety.

Our public education system and your health insurance, retirement benefits, and compensation will continue to erode unless the education community gets out to vote for the people who support you. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of identifying the candidates who believe in and support our educators and public schools.

Vote imageEarly voting in the 2016 primary runoff election continues through tomorrow, May 20, and runoff election day is May 24. Remember to make use of Teachthevote.org to find out which races are taking place in your district and to get information on the candidates. If you have the opportunity, please do bother to vote; much is at stake!

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From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education


But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 13, 2016

On this Friday the 13th, we report on the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling and other major education stories from this week. Here’s your weekly recap:


ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashThe Texas Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated ruling today on the state’s school finance system, upholding that it meets the minimum standards for constitutionality while acknowledging the system is imperfect. The supreme court’s decision reverses a 2014 decision by the district court, which ruled aspects of the school finance system unconstitutional after numerous school districts across the state had sued the state on the grounds that the method of funding public schools in Texas is inadequate and inequitable. While the court declined to recommend specific changes, it did assert that the system is “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement” and placed the burden to fix the system on the legislature. Read more about the decision and ATPE’s perspective in today’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday.

Voting begins next week for Republican and Democratic primary elections that resulted in a runoff! In areas throughout the state, voters will have the opportunity to participate in runoff elections for legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats. It’s important to remember that the majority of elections in Texas are decided during the primary process, and your vote in this election is key to electing a candidate that will support your students and career.

Early voting begins Monday, May 16, and runs through Friday, May 20. The runoff election day is Tuesday, May 24. Find out whether there is a runoff election taking place in your area and review some fast facts about the election (such as who is eligible to vote in a runoff and which forms of identification satisfy the voter ID requirements in Texas) in our blog post from earlier this week. Visit our 2016 Races page to research the candidates in your area before visiting the polls!

Related Content: May is a busy month for elections! The May 7 local and special elections wrapped up last weekend, and ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson posted a recap of those results.

As political rhetoric heats up over designating restrooms for use by transgender individuals, school districts are now finding themselves in the center of a national debate. Today, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued a joint letter offering guidance to school officials on interpreting the requirements of federal law, as it pertains to restroom policies. The correspondence was intended to summarize school districts’ obligations regarding transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that are operated with federal funds. The letter contributed to an ongoing firestorm over transgender restroom policies, including right here in Texas where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) unsuccessfully called for a school superintendent’s resignation this week over the same issue.

In a statement to the media today, ATPE cited safety concerns as a foremost consideration. “Our main goal is to keep students and teachers safe,” ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey said. We also noted that ATPE strongly supports local control in policy decisions such as these, and we encourage districts to consider whether their local policies are in compliance with federal civil rights laws. ”As the state’s largest educator group, we hope that all school districts weighing changes to their policies, including any decisions that might expose them to lawsuits, will consult with their legal counsel beforehand and make rational decisions based on sound legal advice, rather than politics or emotion,” said ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey.


The House Public Education Committee held an interim hearing on Wednesday of this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and wrote the following report on the meeting:

ThinkstockPhotos-135648941_phoneWeb-connected technology: best thing ever or dangerous tool being used to groom and molest schoolchildren? If you attended the most recent House Public Education hearing you would have gotten the distinct impression that the answer to both questions was yes. The committee took up two disparate interim charges that were joined at the issue of use of connected technology.

The first interim charge taken up by the committee this week called for the following: “Review current policies and rules to protect students from inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Examine efforts by the Texas Education Agency, school districts, law enforcement and the courts to investigate and prosecute educators for criminal conduct. Recommend needed improvements to promote student safety, including examining current criminal penalties, superintendent reporting requirements, teacher certification sanctions and the documentation provided in school district separation agreements. Review school employee training and educational efforts to promote student safety.”

The witnesses, and consequently the committee, spent most of their time on how to respond to instances of sexual abuse or other inappropriate relationships. A few suggestions discussed on Wednesday included limiting internal investigation by school districts and increasing requirements and incentives for external reporting and investigation; plus granting the Texas Education Agency (TEA) additional access to documents, sometimes of questionable value. A series of questions from one of the committee members did highlight that all of TEA’s open cases dealing with inappropriate relationships in a given year involve less than one-tenth of one percent of the total number of educators, and only about a third of the open cases result in sanctions. Unfortunately, the hearing focused very little on the scope of the problem or more importantly on a full discussion of factors that have led to and could be addressed to prevent issues before they arise. There were somewhat general comments made about of technologies such as Facebook and smartphones facilitating inappropriate behavior and general comments made about student education. However, more discussion and research is warranted on those topics and on the role of rigorous, high-quality educator preparation, administrator training, staff placement, and rampant educator churn and how these factors could impact a reduction in inappropriate employee-student relationships and the educational environment as a whole.

The committee’s second charge for the day was as follows: “Examine the accessibility to broadband services for schools, libraries, and institutions of higher education. Study the feasibility and affordability of providing scalable broadband to schools and other public institutions. Research federal and state funding opportunities to support increased access to broadband. Review innovative efforts by school districts to integrate technology in the classroom. Explore ways to enhance high-tech digital learning opportunities in the classroom to improve student achievement and fulfill future workforce demands.”

In addition to invited testimony on broadband infrastructure and cost issues, the committee heard from a panel on blended and differentiated learning. The committee also took public testimony from superintendents, Chief Technology Officers, and a group of students. Much of the public testimony centered on the need for additional technology funding and problems with the instructional materials allotment.

Video of the full hearing can be viewed here.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has proposed rules to implement a law passed in 2015 requiring video surveillance of certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Earlier this week, ATPE submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which can be viewed here. The Texas Education Agency is also set to hold a public hearing on the rules next Thursday, May 19.

TRS logoThe TRS board of trustees is meeting today with two new members and ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is following the action and has provided this update:

John Elliot, a real estate attorney in Austin, and Greg Gibson, the superintendent of Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City School District, were appointed by Governor Abbott earlier this month. The governor’s announcement of new trustees also included the reappointment of board member Christopher Moss. All were welcomed with daunting decisions regarding retiree health care.

The board is expected to be briefed by TRS staff today on a cash flow problem facing TRS-Care, the health insurance program offered to public education retirees. TRS has indicated that while they project there to be enough funding to make it through the remainder of the states’ two-year budget cycle, they have a cash flow issue that is causing short-term funding deficiencies. The TRS board may be required to make changes to the retiree health plan to accommodate the funding Issue, including increasing retiree out of pocket costs, increasing deductibles, or changing plan design, among other options. There is also the possibility that the TRS board makes no changes to TRS-Care and defers to the Texas Legislature.

The board is expected to take this issue up again at its June board meeting and action could be taken at that time. ATPE will be working with the board and TRS staff to help mitigate any potential negative impacts to retirees. Stay tuned for more information on this issue and others from Teach the Vote!

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