As it prepares for the upcoming legislative session, the Sunset Advisory Commission—a state commission charged with reviewing state agencies and boards in order to recommend ways to eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency—met yesterday to finalize and approve its recommendations to the legislature. Among the state entities being reviewed were the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The Sunset Commission voted to adopt all TEA- and SBEC-related recommendations preciously drafted by the Commission’s staff with no changes or additions. These include a recommendation that the legislature abolish SBEC and transfer its powers and duties to the Commissioner of Education, which is a proposal that ATPE strongly opposes.
The Commission met in November to hear input from Commission staff, Texas Education Agency representatives, and members of the public. ATPE testified at that hearing and submitted written comments regarding several of the recommendations. Read the Commission’s December 2014 staff report, including responses to input on the recommendations received from ATPE and others.
At yesterday’s meeting, the recommendation to abolish SBEC was voted on separately from most other sections in the sunset report. One member of the Commission spoke in opposition to the recommendation and voiced concerns expressed by many educators, including the potential for the profession to be governed by someone with little or no prior education experience. (There is currently no requirement in law that the Commissioner of Education have a background in education). Ultimately, only two members of the Commission voted against abolishing SBEC, and the recommendation was finally adopted by the Commission. It goes next to the 84th Legislature for consideration.
ATPE believes educators should have the right to govern their own profession. Restructuring SBEC to reflect an independent board of Texas educators elected by their peers would better serve the profession. SBEC currently consists entirely of members appointed by the governor and is an entity closely affiliated with TEA. Many professions are afforded the right to govern their own profession and have a governing board comparable to what ATPE supports for educators. Texas lawyers, for example, are governed by the Texas State Bar, an independent board of Texas attorney elected by the members of their own profession.
Other recommendations adopted by the Sunset Commission yesterday include removing the power of the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and reject SBEC rules and giving TEA administrative subpoena power when investigating certified educators for possible disciplinary sanctions. ATPE opposed the recommendation to do away with SBOE’s veto power, because allowing the SBOE an opportunity to review SBEC rules at a public hearing gives stakeholders an additional opportunity to be heard and participate in the rule-making process. In the event that the legislature goes forward with abolishing SBEC and giving its authority to the Commissioner of Education, the SBOE veto will become even more important. ATPE has supported giving TEA limited subpoena power only as long as information gathered through investigations is properly and fairly shared with the educators facing possible sanctions. Among recommendations by the Sunset Commission that ATPE supports are providing for enhanced transparency and stakeholder participation throughout TEA and improving regulations that pertain to educator preparation programs.
It is important to note that these recommendations are not yet law. The legislature will convene in January to begin considering these proposals in the form of a sunset bill. ATPE will work with legislators to advocate for the adoption of positive recommendations in the report and against the harmful ones. The TEA and SBEC sunset recommendations will not be new to most legislators when the 2015 session convenes because they saw many of the same recommendations last session. State agencies and boards typically face sunset review once every 12 years, and the Sunset Commission reviewed both TEA and SBEC in 2012 and made similar recommendations to the 83rd Legislature. ATPE helped defeat sunset bills in the 2013 session, primarily because they called for abolishing SBEC. The defeat of those bills necessitated another limited-scope sunset review of TEA and SBEC this year, which will culminate in the filing of new sunset bills for the 2015 legislative session.
Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog for updates on the sunset bills as they move through the legislative process.