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

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s been a busy education news week. Here are highlights:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Groups looking to ban educators from using payroll deduction have a newly filed bill, and school employees concerned about this need to speak up now! The move is part of a national effort to try to weaken unions and professional associations like ATPE that advocate for public employees. Here in Texas, efforts to ban payroll deduction are taking direct aim at the education community, apparently in response to our outspoken opposition to private school vouchers and other reforms favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and others.

Patrick has identified prohibiting payroll deduction for “collection of union dues” as one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session, reserving a low bill number (Senate Bill 13) for the yet-to-be-filed legislation in the Senate. On the House side, Houston-area Rep. Sarah Davis (R) pre-filed House Bill 510 this week to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for educators’ voluntary association dues. The bill exempts police, firefighters, and EMS workers, allowing them to continue to take advantage of the safety and convenience of payroll deduction, but punishes educators who choose to join professional associations by denying them the same rights.

ATPE is urging members to contact their legislators right away and ask them to oppose these politically charged bills that would serve no purpose other than to further devalue the education profession and attempt to silence the voices of teachers. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and use our new communication tools for members at ATPE’s Advocacy Central to take action today.

17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenRelated content:  While you’re visiting Advocacy Central, check out the details on ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day and political involvement training event in March. Registration is open now, and there is no registration fee for ATPE members to attend the event. This is a great opportunity to learn more about grassroots advocacy and meet with your lawmakers to discuss saving payroll deduction and other ATPE legislative priorities for 2017.


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today for its last meeting of 2016. After more than a year of meetings dedicated to revising rule chapters that pertain to educator preparation and certification, among other issues, the board’s agenda was notably shorter and involved very few action items.

On today’s agenda was a presentation from former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson on the work of the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative; a discussion on developing a certification specific to early childhood education; and an update on the principal and teacher satisfaction surveys that are used to hold educator preparation programs (EPPs) accountable. The only actions taken by the board, aside from rulings on individual disciplinary cases, was adoption of the board’s legislative priorities and approval of EPP monitors. Board members also adopted three legislative priorities: expand reporting requirements on educator misconduct to principals, expand outcome-based accountability to EPPs, and consider other options for demonstrating proficiency with regard to educator certification reciprocity for educators coming from other states and countries.

Kuhlmann_SBEC_12-9-16

Kate Kuhlmann testifying at SBEC, Dec. 9, 2016

On the second priority, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at this morning’s meeting and successfully argued to remove some original language that would have specifically encouraged the use of teacher evaluation results to hold EPPs accountable. Board members understood our concerns that such a move would affect the confidentiality of appraisals, which are meant to serve as an informative and developmental tool for educators. Kuhlmann testified that, among other concerns, the formative nature of appraisals at the local level could be undermined if confidentiality of those results were compromised by legislative changes. To hear the full discussion on any of these topics or others discussed today, access an archived webcast of the meeting here.

The board welcomed two new members recently appointed by Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX). Dr. Scott Ridley, the Dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University, and Tommy Coleman, a citizen member of the board who works as an assistant district attorney for the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, were sworn in before today’s meeting. Gov. Abbott also recently appointed Carlos Villagrana to serve in the non-voting role dedicated to a representative of an alternative certification program. Mr. Villagrana is the Director of the Alternative Educator Preparation Program at YES Prep Public Schools. He was not present for today’s meeting.

Related content:  The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released the latest version of its Teacher Prep Review this week. This go around, NCTQ decided to analyze programs based on their program type (as opposed to grouping them all together like in previous reports) in an effort to offer a more apples-to-apples comparison of data. The report released this week focuses only on 875 undergraduate elementary programs throughout the country. Two of the top rated undergraduate elementary programs, which all scored in the top 99 percentile, hail from Texas: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston. Learn more about the report here, and watch for future reports on the various program types beginning in Spring 2017.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) invited legislative staff and stakeholders to a briefing this week on its actuarial valuation reports for the period ending Aug. 31, 2016. The presentation also included data on the healthcare plans administered by TRS for active and retired educators. TRS officials reported that the pension fund earned a return of 7.3 percent in 2015-16 and ended the 2016 fiscal year at a market value of $134 billion compared to a market value of $128.5 billion in the previous fiscal year.

ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-doc

While the pension fund investment returns are in good shape, there are more serious concerns about funding for TRS-Care and ActiveCare. This week’s briefing highlighted the fact that TRS-Care is not pre-funded and is facing a shortfall of between $1,088 million and $1,294 million by the end of the 2018-19 biennium. As we have previously reported on our blog, lawmakers are recommending dramatic changes to the design of the health benefit plans.

Learn more about the current status of the funds in these new reports supplied by TRS:

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) finalized its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) rules pertaining to assessments this week. The assessment rules were much less contentious than some of the other rules released by the department, with stakeholders who served as negotiators coming to agreement on the contents of the rule. ATPE submitted comments on the rules during the comment period, supporting the innovative assessment pilot and encouraging the use of sample testing. Our comments were taken and included, in part, in the final innovative assessment pilot rules. You can read ATPE’s comments and learn more about the rulemaking process for assessments here.

As we have previously discussed, the future of ESSA rulemaking remains very unpredictable at this point. When President-elect Trump and his administration take office in January, they will have the ability to carry on with the policies of the Obama administration, forgo them altogether, or pursue some combination of these options.

 


The 12th annual Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) gala took place Wednesday evening, Dec. 7, in Waco, TX. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz contributed this report on the event.

ATPE leaders, volunteers, and staff members were honored to be a part of the FOTPS annual celebration where education allies were honored for their outstanding work supporting the Texas public education system. Three major awards were handed out at the event, which was held at Baylor University’s Baylor Club, located inside McLane Stadium. Those attending the event as part of the ATPE delegation were State President Julleen Bottoms, Region 12 Director Jason Forbis, Region 12 President Patty Reneau, Corsicana ATPE member Suzanne Waldrip, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, Regional Representative Ginger Franks, Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Exter.

The Friend of the Year Award is FOTPS’s highest award and is bestowed to individuals and organizations who step up as champions for those who work and learn in our Texas public schools. The award went to Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) for their continued activism to reduce the state’s overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing. Their work has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the amount of time our students spend on standardized tests and the limited time that is actually left for instruction. During the last two legislative sessions, TAMSA has been a leader in advocating for a reduction in tests, helping to bring the number of required state tests from 15 down to five.

Also recognized that evening were Pamela & Rep. Gary VanDeaver who received the Ambassador of the Year Award. This award was established to highlight the efforts of an educator stepping up as a champion for the Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver and his wife are no strangers to the public education system having both worked as career educators and been an instrumental voice for the 5.3 million children who currently attend Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver’s work on behalf of public education during the last legislative session was relentless, and we look forward to working with him again during the 85th session. Their passion to serve our schoolchildren is inspiring!

Last but not least, the Founder’s Distinguished Service Award went to the Texas Education Service Centers for their outstanding work and support for the continued success of Texas public schools. The 20 Education Service Centers have tirelessly served public schools for the past 50 years by providing vital services that enable each district to educate students in an effective and efficient manner.

Congratulations to all of the honorees for their outstanding work!

FOTPS_2016

ATPE’s representatives at the FOTPS gala on Dec. 7, 2016, in Waco


 

Share Button

Lawmakers aim to silence Texas educators

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundTeachers, some lawmakers are trying to shut you up. There’s no other way to put it.

The lieutenant governor and a number of lawmakers are again pushing legislation to prohibit school employees from using payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to ATPE and other professional associations. If you currently pay your ATPE dues through payroll deduction, then you know why this is important. In addition to being convenient, payroll deduction is the safest way for employees to contribute to professional organizations and causes. By eliminating credit cards, payroll deduction reduces the risk of identity theft and potential lapses in payments that could cause a loss of insurance coverage.

Doing away with payroll deduction for school employees serves no legitimate purpose. Bills to prevent public school employees from doing as they choose with their own money are offensive and potentially unconstitutional. This legislation is about politics – and vouchers, in particular. Educators have long fought attempts to take money away from our cash-strapped public schools and use it for private school vouchers. Frustrated by the success of our advocacy for public education, some business groups are now lobbying to silence you in order to weaken the effectiveness of groups like ATPE. By making it more difficult for school employees to support professional organizations, voucher advocates hope to eliminate your influence at the Capitol.

In no uncertain terms, this legislation aims to silence the education community that has been speaking out in support of public schools.

After a similar bill failed to pass in 2015, a ban on payroll deductions will be pushed even harder this session, and the time for educators to fight that effort is right now. In the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) has declared banning the “collection of union dues” by public employers one of his priority items for 2017. Although the bill had not yet been filed as of this morning, Patrick has reserved Senate Bill (SB) 13 for this purpose, signaling its importance with a low bill number. On the House side, Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) has already filed House Bill (HB) 510 earlier this week. That bill would prohibit your ability to use payroll deduction to contribute to ATPE. In fact, it specifically bans all school district employees from using payroll deduction to support any professional organization.

What can I do?

Step 1: Speak up! Help us fight this personal attack on teachers and public school employees. If you’re an ATPE member, log in at Advocacy Central on ATPE.org to call or send a message to your legislator today. If you’re not an ATPE member, contact your legislators and let them know you don’t appreciate efforts to silence educators’ voices in the Texas Capitol.

Step 2: Know your facts. Payroll deduction is convenient, secure and reliable; otherwise, why is it allowed for so many other things? Use Advocacy Central to learn more about these and other truths regarding payroll deduction that you should share with your legislators:

  • Texas is a right-to-work state. Our public employees aren’t forced to join a union as in some other states, and payroll deduction is used in Texas only for voluntary dues payments since there are no mandatory dues requirements.
  • Payroll deduction is used not just by “labor unions,” but also by non-union professional associations like ATPE. ATPE is the largest entity representing educators in Texas, and we are not a “labor union.” ATPE exists only in Texas and has steadfastly supported right-to-work laws while opposing the union tactics that have been highlighted by business groups as a rationale for these bills.
  • Payroll deduction does not cost taxpayers ANY additional money. State law authorizes school districts to charge associations a fee to cover any costs associated with payroll deduction. Districts typically incur no additional costs since they already offer payroll deduction for everything from donations to charities like  United Way or an ISD foundation to payments for health care premiums and cafeteria plans.
  • Banning payroll deduction ultimately hurts Republicans and Democrats alike. Those pushing to ban payroll deduction claim falsely that educator groups like ATPE use their revenue to support Democratic candidates and causes exclusively while opposing Republicans. In reality, ATPE routinely helps both Republican and Democratic candidates and officeholders, and more than half of ATPE members identify themselves as Republicans based on member surveys.

Step 3: Be persistent. Business lobbyists are meeting with lawmakers to quickly amass support for their so-called “paycheck protection” bills. As a Senate priority, there will be pressure to get this done swiftly and silently, and a bill has already been filed in the House. Educators must send a message now to prevent their rights from being eroded in 2017. Don’t wait for the session to begin or the holidays to pass. Visit the district offices of your state representative and state senator, send e-mails, write letters, use social media, and make phone calls to ensure your voices are heard.

The key is to keep up the pressure – starting now!

Share Button

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 2, 2016

With the 85th legislative session just around the corner, things are busy in Austin. Catch up on this week’s education news:


capitol building, austin, texas, usaAs the Texas Legislature prepares to convene for the 85th legislative session in January, the Capitol is bustling with final preparations. Among the excitement, new members of the House of Representatives were in Austin this week for orientation, offices are being shuffled, and final meetings are underway. Adding to the preparations, the Texas Tribune Symposium Previewing the 85th Legislative Session took place on Tuesday. The event featured many high-profile legislators, including Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), and offered discussions on plenty of public education issues that are expected to be addressed in the first half of next year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides more in his post on the symposium and other public education issues facing the upcoming session.

Mark highlights in the same post that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expanded his list of legislative priorities. Particularly, he added a priority that aims to selectively prohibit certain employees from deducting their professional association dues through payroll deduction. Texas teachers were among the employees targeted by this bill during the most recent legislative session, although this session’s version of the bill has yet to be filed.

Two budget-related meetings also took place this week. The Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) met Thursday to set the spending limit for the 2018-19 biennium, for which legislators will establish appropriations during the upcoming legislative session. The board is a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature made up of five Texas House members and five senators, and develops recommended legislative appropriations for all agencies of state government, among other budget-related tasks. In its brief meeting, the board voted to unanimously adopt the constitutional spending limit at just over $99 billion dollars for the upcoming biennium. Earlier in the week, the Joint Select Committee on Economic Stabilization Fund, a fund more commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” set the fund’s floor at $7.5 billion. The floor establishes the amount of money that must be in the fund before automatic transfers to transportation funding are made. It does not affect the legislature’s ability to tap the fund to cover emergencies, short falls, or legislative priories.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin yesterday and today for the board’s final meeting of the calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meeting and provided the following report:

The board received a presentation on an external review of the TRS pension trust fund’s actuarial valuation as of Aug. 31, 2016. The review covered a range of economic and membership scenarios and how those scenarios would affect the overall health of the fund on a future-looking basis. Two big takeaways from that presentation: 1) the decision by past legislatures to dial down state and employee contributions to the constitutional minimum during the boom of the mid-nineties needlessly and irresponsibly left the fund vulnerable to becoming underfunded during periods of economic recession, and 2) the very vulnerability created by that legislative decision has created a scenario where TRS has to overcome a persistent lag created by the economic downturns in 2000 and 2007-08. Despite a period of average returns in excess of eight percent over the last five years, that lag continues to weigh down the fund.

The board also received an update on the report from the Joint Select Committee on TRS Health Benefit Plans from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Read more about that report here and view the full board meeting here.

 


Election resultsIn the race for House District (HD) 105, the results of a recount concluded this week that incumbent Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) won reelection. His Democratic opponent, Terry Meza, requested the recount following Election Day, where results showed she trailed by only 64 votes. HD 105 was among a handful of districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area considered to be swing districts leading up to the election. Two other incumbents lost reelection in the area. Rep. Anderson has held the seat since 2010.

 


News broke last week that President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen billionaire education reformer Betsy DeVos as his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education. The pick is a controversial one as DeVos has been heavily involved in efforts to pass vouchers and related alt-school-choice options in states throughout the country. Days after the announcement, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its final accountability rule, which needed a rewrite following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Notably, Trump’s pick for education secretary will have the power to do as he or she wishes when it comes to ESSA rules and regulations written by ED. Read more about DeVos and the final accountability rule in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here.

 


Janna_TCASE_Nov16_croppedLast week, we published a guest post from Jana Lilly, the Director of Governmental Relations for the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE). She shared a preview of some of the special education issues likely to be addressed during the 85th Legislature. In her post, she highlights three major issues: the particularly harmful nature of vouchers for students with disabilities, cameras in special education classrooms, and the much discussed topic of capping the number of students districts identify as in need of special education. If you missed this guest post over the Thanksgiving break, you can read more here.

 


Share Button

Latest preview of the 85th Texas Legislature Express

As the Man in Black famously sang, “When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.”

Johnny Cash was singing about the hard life in Folsom Prison, but the sentiment perfectly captures the feeling some Texas Capitol watchers have as the legislative locomotive rounds the bend for another 140-day odyssey of lawmaking.

The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature is approaching like a freight train, and the biggest question around town is which of its three conductors will wind up with the tightest grip on the controls. Will it be the fire-stoking lieutenant governor? The sure-handed house speaker? The governor with the deft touch?

While the latter has kept his plans close to the vest, political observers got a little better look this week at how the leaders of the state’s two legislative bodies view their priorities.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released his third set of legislative priorities this week, bringing his total up to 25 items. The list is heavy on culture wars issues, with top billing given to issues involving bathrooms, abortion, and immigration. It’s customary to reserve the lowest bill numbers for the highest priority items, and Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top ten list also includes a “Pass the Trash” bill (SB 7), aimed to elevate reporting requirements and penalties for inappropriate student-teacher relationships, as well as an alternative school choice vehicle (SB 3) reserved for vouchers.

The lieutenant governor has continued to beat the drums for an alt-school choice measure in the run-up to session, and expanded upon his rationale this week to a small tea party split-off group in Tarrant County. Patrick accused Texas schools of failing, yet having plenty of money. Both claims crumble under scrutiny. Texas schools continue to perform well, despite billions in still-unrecovered cuts from 2011 and a steadily declining state share of education funding responsible for shifting the burden of paying for schools onto local homeowners. According to those in the audience, Patrick admitted that money public school children lose to vouchers would not be reimbursed, and wouldn’t answer a question about accountability.

Concerns about accountability for private businesses receiving public taxpayer money and already inadequate public school funding make the current session a difficult environment for vouchers. The alt-choice lobby has responded by specifically targeting teachers with a payroll deduction measure (SB 13) that would prohibit the ability of teachers to safely and securely contribute to organizations, including ATPE, which support their interests in the legislature.

Make no mistake. This measure is directly tied to the voucher fight, and voucher backers hope teachers won’t notice. This measure has been declared a priority by Lt. Gov. Patrick, and it is already being fiercely lobbied in order to silence teachers for daring to raise their voices in the Texas Capitol. We encourage all of our members to contact their state senators and representatives and urge them to oppose this measure at all costs.

Despite what’s brewing in the Texas Senate, vouchers are again expected to get a chilly reception in the pragmatic Texas House of Representatives. Speaking to state politicos Tuesday at a symposium hosted by the Texas Tribune, Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) pointed out the variety of school choice options now available, including public charter schools and district transfers, drawing a distinction between alternative-choice ideas like vouchers. ”It depends on what you mean by school choice,” Straus explained. ”I think we ought to keep an open mind about all that.”

While he hasn’t released a bullet list like his senate counterpart, Speaker Straus has committed to focus broadly on critical areas, such as education, transportation, and the ongoing crisis within the state’s Child Protective Services and foster care system. Straus indicated that the lieutenant governor’s politically explosive bathroom bill would not be “the most urgent concern of mine,” and instead emphasized the pressing need to address a broken and unfair school finance system that affects all Texas schoolchildren. Straus urged members to “listen to their school districts” regarding school finance, highlighting the failure of the Robin Hood system to meet the needs of districts such as Houston and Austin.

“I’m not expecting a miracle,” Straus said of the school finance challenge, while at the same time warning against inaction. “Not addressing this may be more problematic than addressing it.”

There’s still plenty of room for positioning before the 85th Texas Legislature Express roars into the station on Jan. 10. Now is a critical time for letting legislators know where our members stand with regard to vouchers (SB 3) and the critical payroll deduction measure (SB 13). By contacting your legislators this month and expressing forcefully and early that your voice will not be silenced, you’ll help clear the track ahead of what could otherwise be some rough riding.

If everyone pitches in to make the Express a success, we’ll be able to sing the refrain together, “And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.”

 

Share Button

Federal Update: ESSA accountability rule finalized as Trump chooses controversial top education official

 

A lame duck U.S. Department of Education has finalized its ESSA accountability rule just days after President-elect Donald Trump announced his controversial pick to become the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is in its final months under the current Obama Administration and a new pick for U.S. Secretary of Education has already been named, but that isn’t stopping ED from moving forward with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) rulemaking process.

U.S. Dept of Education Logo

This week, ED released its final rule concerning accountability aspects under the new federal law. ATPE submitted formal comments on an earlier version of the rule in August. Our input focused on a policy decision familiar to Texas: the rule’s inclusion of a required summative school rating, which is not explicitly mandated under ESSA. We were joined by many commenters in raising concern that “a single label cannot accurately, holistically, or fairly capture the performance of a school and the school children within that school.”

While the final rule doesn’t remove the summative rating requirement, it does represent a compromise in many areas. For example, the original timeline was extended, giving states more time to collect accurate data and begin identifying schools in need of support. The final rule also points out that an A-F system is not the only option for satisfying the summative rating requirement.

The final rule was published just days after President-elect Trump made his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, a position that will hold the power to completely undo or see through ED’s recent work to implement ESSA. His choice, billionaire education reformer Betsy DeVos, is a controversial one among public education advocates. She is a well-established voucher proponent who has fought for decades to see voucher plans realized in several states, and prior to being tapped for the cabinet post, DeVos chaired an advocacy organization that promotes vouchers and other alt-school-choice options. The pick signals that the president-elect likely intends to follow through on a $20 billion federal voucher plan he touted during his campaign. DeVos will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2017 before officially taking over ED.

One thing is certain on federal policy matters: plenty more will unfold ahead. Stay tuned to ATPE and Teach the Vote for updates.

Share Button

Happy Thanksgiving!

We at ATPE and Teach the Vote wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. We are thankful for you and for your dedication to public education.

Happy  Thanksgiving, autumn

Share Button

Guest post: Special education issues facing the 85th legislature

Janna_TCASE_Nov16_cropped

Janna Lilly

by Janna Lilly, Director of Govermental Relations
Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE)

Special education issues are once again expected to be hot topics in the upcoming Texas Legislative Session including vouchers, special education identification, and (yes, again) cameras.

Vouchers

The lieutenant governor has been very vocal that passing voucher legislation is one of his key priorities. TCASE opposes subsidizing private schools with public funds through vouchers or voucher-like programs such as taxpayer savings plans or scholarship credits. Vouchers are particularly harmful for students with disabilities. Private schools are not required to accept or even appropriately serve students with disabilities. Private schools are not required provide the legal protections mandated by federal and state laws to protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities.

Special education identification

Currently the state’s Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) gives districts a grade or performance level based on an 8.5 percent standard that has come under recent scrutiny in the media. As a result, at least one bill has already been filed to prohibit the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from evaluating districts based on their percentage of students with disabilities.

TCASE recommends TEA continue to provide districts with identification data in PBMAS, but remove the 8.5 percent standard and the corresponding performance level assignment. This would provide necessary information to the state and districts without the reality or perception of a punitive system.

While there are a multitude of state systems designed to gather data on special education, minimal statewide data systems exist to identify the often extensive interventions provided with general education supports only. TCASE recommends the agency develop further statewide data systems to acknowledge these efforts and identify the potential impact on student growth and achievement.

Cameras

Senate Bill (SB) 507 passed last session requiring cameras in certain special education classrooms. The TEA asked the Texas Attorney General (AG) for clarification on several pieces of the law. The AG issued his opinion strictly interpreting the bill, primarily saying one request means cameras must be installed in all eligible classrooms across the district regardless of the bill’s authors stating their intent was that one request applied to one classroom. The AG told lawmakers they would need to change the bill in the next session if they meant something different from what was passed. Lawmakers are drafting bills expected to address some of the concerns including clarifying that one request triggers a camera in a single classroom versus the entire district. Currently, some districts are installing cameras in single classrooms, while some are reporting installing cameras or equipment in all eligible classrooms. Districts are also reporting significant costs associated with the law’s six-month archiving requirement. Community advocates are expected to want some changes of their own, like expanding venues for disagreement beyond the school board including potentially even the ability to file suit. TCASE believes the bill’s current grievance remedies are sufficient, one request should apply to one classroom, and that next legislative session should appropriate funds to cover this unfunded mandate.

Share Button

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

.

Share Button

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 18, 2016

Here’s a look at education news highlights from this busy first week of bill filing in Texas:


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has compiled an update on the board’s actions this week, which covered topics from textbooks to school finance to educator preparation. This was also the last meeting for two members of the board who are stepping down at the end of their terms this year: Martha Dominguez (D) and Thomas Ratliff (R). Read the full SBOE wrap-up here.

 


The Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature yesterday with recommendations for changes to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare to address affordability and long-term viability of the programs. The state’s underfunded health care programs have faced ongoing shortfalls, curtailed in the past by a series of supplemental two-year appropriations and short-term measures. Noting the continuing rise in health care costs and the number of annual new retirees, the committee made up of three state senators and three state representatives is recommending major plan changes by the 85th legislature. The proposed changes are not likely to sit well with affected stakeholders. Citing ambiguous “budgetary constraints the state is facing,” the report offers little hope for increased state funding to alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on active and retired educators, as well as school districts seeking to offer affordable health care benefits to their staffs and their families. But ATPE reminds members that the report is merely a recommendation and that many legislators will be eager to hear from a broad swath of education stakeholders before taking action in the upcoming session. Read more in today’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been conducting a survey regarding state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The online survey is meant to gather public feedback about the new federal law. Today was the last chance to share input with TEA, as the survey is set to close at 5 pm today, Nov. 18. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Monday was the first day of bill pre-filing for the 85th Legislature. ATPE’s Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore has been tracking the new bills and shared some statistics for today’s blog. According to the Legislative Research Library, 525 bills were filed on the opening day of pre-filing. While the bills pertained to a number of issues, several focused on hot topics in the education realm such as vouchers and addressing educator misconduct.

ThinkstockPhotos-93490246School privatization has been in the spotlight heading into the 2017 legislative session with vouchers being lauded by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and President-Elect Donald Trump (R) as a reform priority. HJR 24 by Rep. Richard Raymond (D) moves to tackle the controversial subject by proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the authorization or funding of a school voucher program in Texas. ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools through such programs and has made fighting vouchers a top legislative priority for the 85th legislative session.

Meanwhile, a handful of legislators are filing bills to deal with educator misconduct cases, which were discussed during the interim. HB 218 by Rep. Tony Dale (R) prohibits educators dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district. Legislation banning this type of action, sometimes called “Passing the Trash,” is another one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. HB 333 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) extends the criminal penalty for educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students to those educators lacking certifications, which would cover teachers in charter schools who aren’t necessarily required to be state-certified. Meyer’s bill would amend a section of the Texas Education Code that previously only applied penalties to certified educators.

Other notable bills filed on Monday included HB 77 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R) which is an extension of SB 149 from the 2015 legislative session allowing for alternative paths to graduation. ATPE strongly supported Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 149 last year, which is set to expire without an extension. We’ll be watching Rep. Metcalf’s bill closely, along with any others that help to reduce the emphasis placed on high-stakes testing – another ATPE legislative priority.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more coverage of pre-filed bills in the weeks to come.

 


tea-logo-header-2In other TEA news this week, final accountability ratings have been released for the state’s 1,200+ school districts and charters 8,600+ campuses. Preliminary ratings were revealed back in August, as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported for Teach the Vote. After that announcement, 104 appeals were filed by districts and campuses. The agency granted appeals and changed ratings for nine school districts and 21 campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools received a “met standard” rating. Read more in this Nov. 17 press release from TEA.

Also from TEA, the agency issued correspondence to school administrators this week reminding them of school district responsibilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The letter from Penny Schwinn, TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Academics, addresses “child find” obligations to identify students potentially in need of special education and consequences for districts that fail to comply. The letter also clarifies IDEA provisions aimed at preventing misidentification and disproportionate representation of students as children with disabilities. The state’s Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS), under fire recently, is also mentioned in the correspondence along with a reminder that districts should avoid delaying or denying special education referrals in order to complete Response to Intervention (RTI) phases. The agency writes also that it is creating a new unit with the TEA Division of IDEA Support to provide additional support to districts and education service centers, with further details to be provided “at a later date.” Read the complete Nov. 17 letter from TEA here. Also, watch for a guest post with more on these issues next week on the Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

Share Button

Interim TRS health care study offers grim prognosis

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThe Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature this week. The committee was formed in response to 2015 legislation calling for a review of the health insurance plans administered by TRS and recommendations for reforms that would address financial soundness of the plans, cost and affordability, and access to health care providers.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R) and Rep. Dan Flynn (R) co-chaired the committee, joined by four additional members: Sens. Craig Estes (R) and Jane Nelson (R) and Reps. Trent Ashby (R) and Justin Rodriguez (D). The committee held two public hearings earlier this year, and ATPE gave invited testimony in April urging lawmakers to boost state funding in order to catch up with the increased costs that have been shouldered by educators for many years.

TRS-Care

For TRS-Care, the state’s health care plan for retired educators, the committee observed predictions of “alarming” shortfalls over the next four years with about 20,000 educators retiring each year and the cost of health care steadily increasing. For the 2018-19 biennium, a funding shortfall is predicted between $1.3 and $1.5 billion, and the deficit for 2020-21 could be as much as $4 billion. The report states as follows:

“As there appears to be no end to the rising costs and financial woes of TRS-Care, long-term solutions must be pursued immediately. Providing supplemental funding each biennium to keep TRS-Care solvent is no longer feasible or fiscally responsible. Major plan design and/or funding changes must be sought in the 85th Legislative Session.”

The interim committee report outlines two options for retiree health care, both of which are likely to be controversial. The first is a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) and Medicare Advantage Plan that would provide a defined contribution of $400 per month for non-Medicare eligible retirees into a reimbursement account in lieu of health insurance, forcing them to obtain their own coverage through the public exchange. For Medicare eligible retirees, the only state-sponsored option under this plan would be to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for medical benefits and a Medicare Part D plan for prescription drugs. The second proposal from the committee is a High Deductible (HD) and Medicare Advantage Plan. It features a high deductible ($4,000 in-network) health plan similar to TRS-Care 1 for non-Medicare eligible participants. As with the HRA option, Medicare Advantage and Part D would be the only benefits available to Medicare-eligible participants via TRS if the HD plan is implemented.

Even if such dramatic changes are adopted, the committee expressed lingering doubts in its report about long-term sustainability and a need for increased contributions going forward:

“With health care costs currently at an unsustainable level and continuing to rise, the state cannot continue to provide supplemental appropriations to keep TRS-Care solvent. Additionally, the financial contributions necessary to keep TRS-Care solvent in its current form will only increase infinitely. Therefore, the Committee finds that the HRA and HD Plans discussed previously are the most viable and realistic options to address the financial soundness and sustainability of TRS-Care. However, even if significant changes are implemented under the HRA or HD Plan, the TRS-Care fund would still face a shortfall moving forward, although dramatically less than the expected shortfall of $1.3 to $1.5 billion. Thus, to address long-term funding of the plan, the Legislature will have to review, and possibly modify, the current funding contributions from the state, school districts, and retirees, or continue to provide supplemental appropriations each biennium.”

TRS-ActiveCare

For TRS-ActiveCare, the committee report focuses largely on affordability for actively employed educators, especially in the context of a dramatic rise in premiums. In a state as large and diverse as Texas, there are significant disparities in health care costs depending on geographic location. The committee observed that “employees who reside in lower cost geographic areas are subsidizing those in higher cost areas,” but “attempting to establish premiums based on age and/or geographic location would not achieve plan affordability for all members.”

The interim report details a proposed High Deductible (HD) Health Plan (TRS-ActiveCare1-HD) for school districts with 1,000 or fewer employees, with all other districts being forced out of TRS-ActiveCare and left to find their own alternative health care plans for employees. The remaining eligible districts would have an initial opt-out period before locking in their decision to remain in or out of the state’s plan. TRS-ActiveCare 2, TRS-ActiveCare Select, and HMO options would be eliminated. As recommended by the committee, state and district funding for employees would remain static at $75 and $150 (minimum) respectively. ATPE and other groups have long advocated for lawmakers to increase the state’s $75 monthly contribution, which has not changed since the inception of the program in 2001. The committee unfortunately declined to recommend an increase in the state’s share.

Ultimately, the committee concludes that its proposed HD Plan would be “the most viable and realistic option” for addressing health care affordability for active educators, noting however that more districts would be looking at offering their own health care plans in lieu of the state program. The report advises that school employees should drive decisions about TRS-ActiveCare changes going forward:

“However, if school districts and active public education employees adamantly oppose the proposed changes in the HD Plan to curb the affordability problem, TRS-ActiveCare may continue operating under the current model. The fact is, premiums for all plan options will continue to increase as health care costs rise. Nevertheless, districts and employees may still prefer the stability that TRS provides and the multitude of coverage options. The decision to make significant changes to the plan, or continue in its current form, must ultimately be left to the active public education employees. The employees are in the best position to recognize what is in their best interest and the legislature should support them in any way possible.”

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez was the lone committee member who declined to sign the final report. He wrote in a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus (R), “I do not believe the solution requires a significant shifting of the burden onto our TRS retirees and active public education employees who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to develop the next generation of Texans.” Rodriguez added, “I would hope that any proposed solution… would entail a shared, and meaningful, contribution of state resources.”

Rep. Trent Ashby

Rep. Trent Ashby

Committee member Ashby supplemented the report with his own letter aimed at offering additional insights to active and retired educators concerned about the proposals. First and foremost, he called the report “a starting point” for further discussions on how to proceed. Ashby wrote, “Though the report contains options I do not support, I look forward to the responses of active and retired teachers who have opinions on how we can best provide stable footing for the programs in perpetuity.” Ashby added his own warning that absent changes, “the result could be catastrophic. Without action, TRS-Care will eventually fail altogether.”

ATPE similarly cautions that the long-awaited interim study report is merely a recommendation and that no decisions have been made at this point for the future of TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. The 85th legislature will have ample opportunity to solicit and consider feedback from education stakeholders before and during the 2017 legislative session, and ATPE will be there to weigh in and advocate for the very best options for active and retired educators.

Read the full interim committee report here, which includes a number of attachments. We invite you to share your feedback with us on this critically important ATPE legislative priority. As always, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for further analysis and updates as the legislative session approaches.

Share Button