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