Here’s a summary of this week’s education news highlights:
- ELECTION UPDATE: Voter registration deadline, early voting begins Monday for local elections, and more news
- T-TESS rules prompt legal action and confusion; ATPE offers resources to help you understand the new evaluation model
As we’ve been reporting for a few months now, there are two big elections happening during the month of May. First, the local uniform election date is May 7, followed by the May 24 election date for primary runoffs.
Early voting begins next week for the May 7 local elections, which are different from the primary runoffs. Many local political subdivisions conduct their elections on this date, including some school board positions. There are also two special elections taking place on May 7 in legislative districts with vacancies. House District 120 and House District 139 are both open seats due to resignations of Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) and Sylvester Turner (D) respectively. The winners of those two special elections will serve out the remainder of the representatives’ terms for this year, but may not necessarily be the same candidates who will take those seats for the next full term beginning in January 2017. Visit our 2016 Races page to view the candidates in these races with indications of whether they are running in the special election, the regular 2016 election, or both.
Early voting for the May 7 election ends Tuesday, May 3.
Monday, April 25, is your last day to register if you intend to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Visit VoteTexas.gov to find out how to register to vote. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are eligible to vote in a particular party’s runoff election, please read our blog post on runoff voting to learn more about voter eligibility.
Early voting for the May 24 primary runoffs will begin on May 16. If you happen to live in a runoff district (mostly in the central and eastern parts of the state), now is the time to study up on the candidates who are running in your area. Use our 2016 Races search page to find and view candidates’ profiles. Several runoff candidates just recently participated in our ATPE candidate survey, so be sure to check out what they have to say about major education issues including testing, teacher evaluations, vouchers, and educators’ healthcare benefits.
We reported last week that the State Board for Education Certification (SBEC) was meeting on Friday, April 15. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the meeting and wrote a summary for Teach the Vote on actions taken by the certification board. Read Kate’s blog post from Tuesday to learn more about changes to certification exam rules and future comprehensive revisions that are planned for the regulations that apply to educator preparation programs.
Also this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on the conclusion of negotiated rulemaking for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Washington, D.C. Learn more about how the new federal law is being implemented in Kate’s blog post from yesterday.
On Tuesday, April 19, the House Appropriations Committee held an interim hearing to discuss revenue and factors that have an impact on the state’s economy and budget. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended the meeting and reported on it as follows: The House Appropriations Committee heard from the Comptroller and Legislative Budget Board regarding the Texas economy and the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. While more jobs are still being created in Texas than lost, ripple effects from the price of oil and natural gas being depressed have resulted in lower state revenue collections than what was previously projected. Going into the 2015 legislative session, the state had roughly $8 billion in excess revenue available to be included in the two-year budget. Going into 2017, the excess revenue will be approximately $4 billion, with only $600 million being General Revenue that is unrestricted. The remaining $3.4 billion is dedicated to specific purposes. Several pressing issues will be present in the legislature in 2017, including a looming school finance decision from the Supreme Court, a nearly $1.8 billion deficit in TRS-Care, approximately $700 million in Medicaid underfunding, and the potential to redesign active employee health insurance through TRS Activecare, among other needs. The budget is the only piece of legislation that is constitutionally required to pass, and based on the revenue projections, the 2017 budget has the potential to be eerily similar to that of 2003 and 2011 when massive cuts were chosen over increased funding. The choices of our elected officials will directly affect the 5.2 million students and nearly 700,000 employees of Texas’s public schools.
Final commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS as the state’s new recommended appraisal system were published today in the Texas Register. The rules are intended to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, ATPE and other educator groups are currently pursuing legal options that might have an impact ultimately on implementation of the new rules. We’ll keep you posted on those developments in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, there is a good deal of misinformation regarding T-TESS being reported in the media, but ATPE has developed a resource page to help educators learn more about the new T-TESS system and how it’s designed. Check out our T-TESS resources at atpe.org/T-TESS.
We’ve also been reporting lately on some school districts’ efforts to become Districts of Innovation using a new law that passed in 2015. Passed as an eleventh-hour addition to House Bill 1842, the law on innovation districts allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws found in the Texas Education Code (TEC). School districts that claim the waivers would operate in virtually the same manner as a charter school. ATPE has raised serious concerns about the plans in districts that are considering becoming innovation districts, since blanket waivers could cause teachers to lose many of the statutory rights they currently enjoy, such as contracts and minimum salaries; cause parents to lose access to certain information about their children’s education; and possibly even affect immunity provisions that protect school districts and individual employees of those districts from being sued.
The commissioner has proposed rules for innovation districts and will conduct a public hearing at the request of ATPE and other entities on on Monday, April 25. Stay tuned for updates next week. If you’d like to submit your own public comments on the commissioner’s proposed rules, you have until May 2 to submit those to TEA.
On Wednesday of this week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability met in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on the meeting as follows:
The commission heard from Dr. James Pellegrino, Distinguished Professor of Education Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor Co-Director, Learning Sciences Research Institute University of Illinois at Chicago. Among other things, Dr. Pellegrino walked the commission through the differences in formative, interim, and summative testing, explaining what the purposes, benefits, and limitations were of each.
The commission also entertained a “discussion” on the A-F grading and rating system for schools. They brought in Christy Hovanetz, Senior Policy Fellow, Accountability, Foundation for Excellence in Education. Unfortunately, it was more of a sales pitch than a discussion, since the Foundation for Excellence in Education is the organization that former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush (R) created to sell the idea of A-F and other Florida reforms to policymakers around the country.
Lastly, the commission had a discussion with Lori Taylor, Associate Professor and Director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, FAST (Financial Allocation Study for Texas) and Paul Haeberlen, President and Chief Operating Officer, Education Resource Group. The talks focused on incorporating elements of FAST, which is the comptroller’s school efficiency matrix, into the academic accountability system. The conversation highlighted policy questions around the differences between rewards and sanctions and focusing on absolute performance versus either productivity or efficiency.
Video archives of all the Commission meetings can be found here.