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From TribTalk: Special session will be more bad news for teachers and public schools

Bayless Elementary teacher Holly Guillmen identifies and explains the use of the contents of the Waterwise home water conservation kit provided to students by the High Plains Underground Water District in Lubbock, Texas, Oct. 17, 2012. Photo by Jerod Foster

 

There’s a truism in Texas politics: Little good happens in Austin after May.

That’s why our founders assigned the Texas Legislature only one task – to pass a state budget – and limited their ability to meet to just 140 days every other year.

As a failsafe in the event of catastrophe, the founders entrusted the governor with the power to call legislators back under “extraordinary occasions.” Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors.

Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.

We’ve just wrapped up one of the most bitter and divisive legislative sessions in recent memory. Friendships were strained, and the good of the state took a backseat to questionable “priorities” outlined by our radio host-turned-lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

Yet thanks to the refusal of Texas House members to abandon the voters who sent them to Austin, some of the worst proposals never came to fruition. For example, lawmakers said no to vouchers for unregulated private schools because most Texans oppose spending tax dollars that way and want the state to support our existing public schools. Over and over, House members voted against subsidizing exclusive private tuition in places like Dallas with taxes collected from hardworking families in rural communities like Lubbock.

Also, the House offered improvements to the “A through F” accountability system and a $1.6 billion increase in education funding that the Senate turned down in favor of pursuing Lt. Gov. Patrick’s pet causes. Angered by the failure of his potty police and other crusades, Patrick even held a medical board sunset bill hostage at the end of the session, and now he has received his wish to force a special session.

Those hoping Gov. Greg Abbott would ignore the partisan cries and focus instead on truly “extraordinary” government needs in this upcoming called session are disappointed.

Announcing what promises to be the mother of all special sessions, the governor began by teasing a teacher pay raise – but refusing to fund it. ATPE supports increased pay, but without appropriations for school districts that will be forced to accommodate this, it’s hard to see the governor’s proposal as anything other than an unfunded mandate intended to soften the blow of other unnecessary anti-teacher and anti-public education legislation on the special session call.

This 30-day, taxpayer-funded special session will reopen angry fights over vouchers and other bad bills that failed to pass during the 140-day regular session. They include a shameful attack on teachers that would curtail their ability to voluntarily join professional associations like ATPE by using payroll deduction for membership fees. Falsely marketed as an attack on unions and a way to save taxpayer resources, the legislation actually protects Abbott’s and Patrick’s favored unions — police, firefighters, and first responders — while singling out teachers to strip them of the rights enjoyed by other public employees.

Imagine that: Telling teachers they can’t be trusted with their own paychecks while reaching into all our wallets to fund another crack at their own pet political projects.

This special session outline is a slap in the face to teachers and public schools at a time when they are being asked to do more with less. The founders knew what they were doing. Texans should be wary of what happens in Austin after the regular session adjourns in May.

It won’t be good for many of us.

Gary Godsey, Executive director, Association of Texas Professional Educators

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

This post was original published by The Texas Tribune for its TribTalk website at https://www.tribtalk.org/2017/06/21/special-session-will-be-more-bad-news-for-teachers-and-public-schools/.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: “Tax relief,” maybe, but no savings for taxpayers

In the midsummer special session, Texas lawmakers will be talking about your rising property taxes again. Don’t get excited: That does not mean your tax bill is going to get any smaller.

by Ross RamseyThe Texas Tribune
June 12, 2017

Photo from The Texas Tribune

Photo from The Texas Tribune

State officials are talking once again about your property taxes. Like you, they hate those taxes. A lot.

But they’re hoping to fool you, once again, into thinking they are going to lower the price of local government and public education.

None of their proposals or their recent actions would do that.

School property taxes are the biggest part of every Texas property owners’ tax bill. They are also the only local property tax that goes up and down primarily because of what happens in Austin.

State officials don’t set your school property tax rate; they just decide how much money local officials are required to raise.

In practice, it amounts to almost the same thing.

If the state spends less money per student, the local districts have to spend more. They get their money from property taxes, so property taxes go up.

And then, state officials complain — alongside property taxpayers across Texas — about rising property taxes.

The current long slide in state funding started in 2007 — right after lawmakers rejiggered the formulas and balanced state and local funding, with each covering 45 percent of the total cost of education and the federal government picking up the remaining 10 percent.

The numbers ten years later: Locals pay 52 percent, the state pays 38 percent and the feds are still at 10 percent.

According to the Texas Supreme Court about a year ago, local property taxes and the system they finance remain constitutional. Lucky for the state that’s not a criminal court, though: Taxpayers clearly feel robbed.

State officials can feel the heat of that ire. But their new budget doesn’t address the school finance problem. They killed legislation that would have put another $1.5 billion into public education — the only bill in the regular session that would have moved school taxes, if only indirectly and only a little bit.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

And their effort to limit growth in property taxes levied by other local governments failed, too. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will put that one on the agenda of the midsummer special session. One version, passed by the Senate and apparently favored by the governor, would have required voter approval for any local property tax increases of more than 5 percent.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

Texas lawmakers have replaced the idea of lowering state taxes with a new one: Complaining alongside taxpayers who want lower taxes. Actually doing something about it has remained out of reach.

They could replace an unpopular tax with a less unpopular one, but they have few options — none of them particularly lucrative. The Texas Lottery was an example of this, and it served mainly to underscore our widespread innumeracy: A surprising number of Texans thought state-run gaming would cover the full cost of public education in Texas. In fact, the Texas games earn the state about $2.5 billion every two years, about as much as taxes on alcoholic beverages and less than half as much as the (also) unpopular business franchise tax. Lawmakers budgeted $41 billion for public education over the next two years; the lottery will cover about 6 percent of that.

They could cut spending, except it has proven nearly impossible to do that in Texas, partly because the state budget is, relatively speaking, pretty tight, and partly because when you get down to it, the programs that would be cut are more popular than the tax cuts that might result.

People want roads and schools and prisons and whatnot, and the political experts who run the government — give them their due for getting into and then remaining in office — have ascertained that it’s more rewarding to keep current programs alive than to cut taxes.

That’s a safe assumption, isn’t it, since they haven’t cut those programs or whittled those taxes?

But state leaders can hear the voters, too, so they’re trying to force local governments to hold the line on taxes. They can’t provide any relief themselves, but maybe they can make someone else do it.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/12/analysis-tax-relief-maybe-no-savings-taxpayers/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From CPPP: Promising School Finance Bills Stuck in Texas Legislative Limbo

Chandra Villanueva_CPPPBy Chandra Villanueva, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP)

Last month we were pleased to see the Texas House of Representatives approve a bill that would take some good steps toward remodeling our neglected school finance system. That proposal, House Bill 21 sponsored by Chairman Dan Huberty, has been sent to the Senate and is awaiting referral to a committee.

It’s in the interest of the 5.2 million Texas children in public schools – and their future employers – that the Senate consider and approve HB 21.

Meanwhile the Senate Education Committee has approved some good school finance reform bills sponsored by Chairman Larry Taylor that explore cost-neutral options for simplifying the overly complex school finance formula. These bills also deserve to move to the full Senate and on to the Texas House for approval:

SB 2142 – Repeal of the High School Allotment – Districts receive $275 through the high school allotment for each student in grades nine to 12 to supplement academic offerings and provide services to students at-risk of dropping out. This allotment is considered inefficient because funding is generated for every student in high school, rather than only for those in need, and it is not tied to an actual cost for serving students. It is the intent of the author that funding otherwise allocated under the high school allotment be used to increase the basic allotment. HB 21 also repeals the high school allotment. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2143 – Basic Allotment Increase – The basic allotment is the per-student funding amount and the primary building block of the school finance formula. This bill increases the basic allotment to $5,140 to reflect current levels of funding set in the 2016-2017 budget. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2144 – Commission on Public School Finance – This bill creates the Commission on Public School Finance, a 15-member commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve the state’s method for funding schools. This commission has the potential to bring innovative ideas to the next legislative session. This bill has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

SB 2145 – Simplified School Finance System – This bill would strip out many outdated elements and unneeded complexities from the formula and reduce the system down to one tier, from its current two-tiered system. While this plan does a lot to improve equity, or fairness between districts, no additional funding is added to the system. This bill is currently pending in the Senate Education committee.

We encourage the Texas Legislature to move forward with these promising school finance bills. The children, parents and employers of Texas are watching.

 

This post has been republished with permission from the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP).

From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators 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 https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it.

Top House education official Dan Huberty has said private school choice is dead in the House. Representatives showed they overwhelmingly support that sentiment, in a 103-44 budget amendment vote.
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has challenged the House to at least take a vote on the Senate’s “private school choice” bill, one of his priorities for the Texas legislative session.

Early on during Thursday’s marathon budget discussion, House representatives showed him that vote would probably emerge as an overwhelming “no.”

They voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition, in an amendment to the Senate budget. In offering the amendment, with support from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

The amendment is not the last word. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. And separate legislation that would create a public subsidy for private education has yet to be heard in the House. Patrick’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday’s vote.

The House’s vote came a week after the Senate, led by Patrick, voted out Sen. Larry Taylor‘s Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition.

In a statement, Taylor said it was unfortunate that House members didn’t hear the details of SB 3 before Thursday’s vote.

“Our bill saved money, gave more students opportunities to get an education better suited for their specific needs, and left more money in public education as a whole and even in individual schools,” Taylor said in a statement. “I would hope that we would still have an opportunity to have those discussions.”

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said no changes to the bill would persuade him to vote for it.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” he said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The floor substitute the Senate approved was dramatically different than the original, intended in part to appease skeptical rural legislators by carving out rural counties from participating in the programs. Rural constituents consistently oppose using public money to subsidize private education because they do not have access to many private schools.

That tactic worked to get the bill through the Senate. But House members demonstrated Thursday that it wouldn’t be as straightforward in the lower chamber.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a “private school choice” supporter, tried to change Herrero’s amendment Thursday to allow subsidies for students with household incomes below a given baseline. He took language from SB 3 indicating that a family of three with an income below $75,078 would be able to use the tuition subsidy programs.

“A lot of opponents of school choice say, ‘This is only for the rich.’ This amendment allows poor families to have a choice,” Cain said. His proposal failed 117-27.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said a private school choice bill would not make it through his committee, drawing criticism from SB 3 supporters. Asked if it was dead to him as an issue, Huberty said, “I believe so, yes.” He voted for the amendment blocking money to the tuition subsidy programs.

“Quote unquote absolutely not,” said Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, when asked whether the changes to SB 3 carving out his counties from participating would change his vote on the bill. “Just because they sweetened the deal to pull in some people doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • The Senate voted 18-13 Thursday to pass a major private school choice bill, creating two public programs that would subsidize private school tuition.
  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-asked-house-vote-school-choice-he-got-it/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate passes private school choice bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Texas senators spent hours on Thursday questioning how a “private school choice” bill would hold private schools accountable or help students with disabilities before voting to give it final passage, 18-13.

They voted out a floor substitute of Senate Bill 3 that limits the scope of the two public programs proposed to subsidize private school tuition. The version passed by the upper chamber would limit eligibility for the programs to students who have attended a public school for at least a year, prevent incoming kindergarteners from participating and would exclude counties with populations under 285,000 from participating unless 5 percent of registered voters petition the county for access.

The changes seemed directed to appeal to rural legislators with constituents who have fewer options for public schools and to those with concerns about the state costs of a major subsidy program.

“Basically, what we’ve done with this floor substitute is narrow it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the bill. “We didn’t add things. We took things away.”

Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Joan Huffman of Houston and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill along with almost every Democrat. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the lone Democratic vote in favor.

SB 3 would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The first program, education savings accounts, would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The current version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, so that a family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate. (The previous version of the bill would have allowed families of any income to participate in the education savings account program.)

The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations. The current version of the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year, instead of $100 million in the previous version.

The current version would also require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services.

Taylor said the bill in its current form would save $55.3 million by 2022 because under the program, the state would be paying just 75 percent of the cost to educate each public school student who decides to take a tuition subsidy for a private school. Only students already enrolled in public schools would be able to access the program, meaning the state would be paying less for each student who moved from public to private school, he said.

Left-leaning policy organization Center for Public Policy Priorities released its own fiscal analysis on Thursday showing the bill would cost the Texas public school system more than $500 million per year.

“As many senators mentioned today by citing CPPP’s analysis, Senate Bill 3 is still undeniably the wrong solution for Texas kids because it would drain state dollars from already under-funded public schools,” executive director Ann Beeson said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system.”

In calculations for previous versions of the bill, the Legislative Budget Board estimated a cost to the state of between $90 million and $330 million; Taylor did not release the new fiscal note to the Senate before taking up the bill.

Most of the almost four-hour debate revolved around whether private schools would be held to state standards and whether the bill would actually help students with disabilities.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, offered up an amendment to require private schools to be held accountable to the state’s A-F rating system, which will soon be in place for public schools. Taylor argued parents would leave any private school that was not working for them, representing a strong accountability system outside of the state.

“I understand Sen. Taylor saying accountability is with the parents,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re not getting to the core of what people would like to see when it comes to these types of programs.” Taylor rejected his amendment, and it failed 13-18 in a subsequent vote.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully amended the bill to require letters be sent to parents who take the subsidies for private schools, letting them know private schools are not required to serve their students with disabilities under federal law. Taylor agreed to that change.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die.

Read more Tribune coverage here:

  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.
  • In a 7-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.
  • Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee debate on private school subsidies lasted more than seven hours and saw experts on both sides arguing they knew best how to educate black and Latino Texas students.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/30/senate-school-choice-bill/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
Texas Tribune mission statement
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 27, 2017

Here are this week’s news highlights and a preview of education-related happenings next week:


office binders draft billAmid all the bills that will be filed for this session, the only one that the 85th Texas Legislature must pass is the state budget for the next two years. Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate last week revealed early plans for a new state budget, but the Senate was quick to convene hearings this week to flesh out the details for its proposal, housed in Senate Bill (SB) 1. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended those hearings and testified Tuesday on behalf of ATPE. Read his blog post to learn more about the budget hearings, along with a joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and a Senate Finance work group on school finance that took place today. For the latest developments, you can also follow @TeachtheVote or any of our individual lobbyists on Twitter.

 


President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee the U.S. Education Department (ED) continues to rankle educators and concerned parents nationwide. Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire tapped to become the next Secretary of Education, is now the subject of a deluge of calls and letters to Capitol Hill.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been writing about the confirmation process, including a confirmation hearing last week before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee that did not go smoothly for DeVos. Many Democrats in the Senate have publicly announced their intentions to vote against confirming DeVos, largely due to concerns about her lack of public education experience, her outspoken advocacy for privatization, and concerns about conflicts of interest revealed during a required ethics review.From all indications, however, DeVos continues to enjoy the support of the Republican majority.

The HELP committee is scheduled to take a vote on DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31, after which the full Senate will weigh in on her confirmation. ATPE members who would like to communicate with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos are encouraged to use our simple tools at Advocacy Central (member login is required). Sample phone scripts and email messages are provided for your convenience. Learn more here.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that the State Board of Education (SBOE) will meet next week in Austin, where two new members will be sworn in alongside those reelected in November.

Georgina C. Pérez (D-El Paso) and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) will be the two new faces on the board. ATPE had a chance to visit with each at an orientation meeting before the holiday break. Pérez is a retired teacher, and has many former students on staff. A lifelong El Paso resident, Pérez runs an organization that builds libraries in poor communities. Ellis is a former school board member, and fills the seat previously held by Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). Ellis is an Aggie dad and chiropractor. Both freshmen expressed hope for a productive year on the board.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

Members Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio), Donna Bahorich  (R-Houston), Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson) and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) won reelection to the body. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Bahorich to chair the 15-member board. Resuming her role as chair effective February 1, her new term will expire February 1, 2019. The board will elect a vice-chair and secretary and assign committees after Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.

The board’s agenda next week will include a public hearing and first reading vote on curriculum standards (TEKS) for English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading, as well as a hearing and first reading vote on efforts to streamline the science TEKS. The board will also discuss the schedule and instructional materials to be included in Proclamation 2019.

Any fireworks next week are likely to stem from public testimony on the science TEKS. At the November 2016 meeting, members of the committees assigned to review the TEKS shared their findings and recommendations with the board. Science teachers charged with studying the biology TEKS recommended removing a handful of passages related to evolutionary science over concerns about mastery and grade level appropriateness. Some viewed those passages as encouraging discussion of creationism. At the moment, it’s unclear how the changes in board membership could affect the final vote on the proposed edits.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on next week’s SBOE meetings.

 


NO VOUCHERS

This week saw private school vouchers dominate the discussion in and around the pink dome in Austin.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed private and charter school supporters bused to the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to promote National School Choice Week. The “school choice” verbiage is being used to market a variety of voucher programs this session, most notably education savings accounts (ESAs) and tax credit scholarships.

The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, hosted a legislative briefing and press conference Monday to break down what’s actually being proposed under the school choice slogan. Voucher programs threaten to remove more resources from a school finance system that is already critically underfunded. According to data compiled by Governing, Texas ranked 42 out of 50 states in per-pupil spending in 2014. The state spent $8,593 per student in 2014 dollars, $2,416 below the national average of $11,009.

As reported last week on our Teach the Vote blog, Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) fall into the tax credit scholarship category. Those bills have already been filed, but we’re still awaiting what is expected to be Lt. Gov. Patrick’s signature voucher proposal, likely in the form of an ESA. Senate Bill (SB) 3 has been reserved for the school voucher bill that will be one of Patrick’s top three priorities this session.

The House budget has proposed adding $1.5 billion in public school funding pending meaningful school finance reform, and has shown little appetite for a voucher program that would divert limited public tax dollars to private businesses. On Tuesday, Patrick demanded the House allow an “up or down vote” on vouchers this session. The lieutenant governor could roll out his preferred voucher bill as early as next week. Stay tuned for updates.

 


Today, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote a blog post for Teach the Vote about the status of a politically motivated effort to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. The House Committee on State Affairs has released a new report on the issue after studying it during the interim. The report highlights arguments on both sides of the debate and concludes that legislators should carefully consider such input and, in particular, which groups would be affected by a bill to eliminate payroll deduction options.

Bills now pending in the 85th legislative session would prohibit school district employees from using payroll deduction for association dues – even dues paid to groups like ATPE that support the right to work and are not union-affiliated. At the same time, the bills (SB 13 and HB 510) would ensure that other public employees such as police officers and firefighters could continue to pay union dues via payroll deduction. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees makes it all the more obvious that the sponsors of these bills are really trying to stifle advocacy efforts within the school community.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Read more about ways you can help protect educators’ right to use payroll deduction in today’s blog post, and if you’re an ATPE member, please be sure to check out our additional resources on the payroll deduction bills and communication tools at Advocacy Central.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenThere’s only one week left for ATPE members to sign up for ATPE at the Capitol, happening March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Friday, Feb. 3 is the deadline for housing, registration, and applications for financial incentives. ATPE members won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear from legislative leaders and interact directly with their own lawmakers about the education issues taking center stage this legislative session. Register, view schedule updates, and find all other details here. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central and the registration page for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 6, 2017

Happy New Year! The year 2017 has kicked off with several prominent news stories affecting public education:

 


Mark on camera

The Texas Education Agency released today an informational report containing preliminary “A through F” ratings for school campuses and districts. The legislatively mandated report is meant to give a preview of what types of grades schools would receive under a newly adopted accountability system that is set to take effect next school year, and the results are not encouraging. ATPE opposed the move to the A-F system when lawmakers adopted it last session, and now the harsh realities of the new rating system are causing many school districts to call for a repeal of the law. Read more about ATPE’s position on A-F in today’s blog post and also check out this quick video from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on the ATPE Facebook page.

Related: As previously reported on our Teach the Vote blog, a change has been proposed to commissioner’s rules that would dramatically accelerate a jump in the cut scores associated with STAAR tests. The current rule allows for a more gradual increase in the performance standards, but that would change under the proposed revision. Advocates who are already dubious of the negative impacts those tests can have on students, campuses, and the perceptions of public schools in general have requested a public hearing to share their concerns over the impact of drastically increasing the cut scores with the commissioner and Texas Education Agency (TEA). The hearing will take place starting at 1:30 p.m. on January 13, 2017, in Room 1-111, William B. Travis Building, 1701 North Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701. Stakeholders with concerns about the proposed rule are welcome to attend and provide input at the public hearing or submit written comments on the proposed revision via e-mail to TEA. The deadline for written comments, however, is Monday, Jan. 9.

 


Austin, Texas

Tuesday, Jan. 10, marks the opening of the 85th Texas legislative session. A number of education-related bills have already been pre-filed, including some that are alarming. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has designated private school vouchers among his top three legislative priorities for 2017, and he recently praised the filing of bills to eliminate educators’ access to payroll deduction for their voluntary dues paid to professional associations. ATPE is urging our members to use our online resources at Advocacy Central on ATPE.org to follow these bills throughout the session and send messages to their lawmakers opposing them. A school voucher bill to be designated Senate Bill 3 had not yet been filed as of the publication of this blog post. Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 510 banning payroll deduction for educators have been filed and are showcased on Advocacy Central.

The legislation to eliminate payroll deduction and privatize education can be viewed as part of a larger effort to devalue the education profession and public schools in general. Add to that the ongoing fights over school funding and recent legislative changes that require schools to receive controversial “A through F” accountability grades based largely on student test scores, and it’s easy to see why many people consider public education to be under attack. This session, more than ever, it’s important for pro-public education stakeholders to make their voices heard and drown out the divisive rhetoric about “failing” public schools and unfounded claims of misspent taxpayer resources.

Learn more about ATPE’s legislative priorities for the 85th Legislature here and here.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the results of a survey it conducted during the latter part of last year. The survey asked parents, educators, students, and the general public to weigh in on how they’d like to see the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), implemented in Texas. Respondents were asked to provide input on five general topics, including teacher equity, school quality, and college and career readiness. Just over 29,000 respondents from across the state provided input. Learn more about the survey results in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Related: The U.S. Education Department (ED) released three new guidance documents today that aim to help states as they implement ESSA. The documents cover guidelines for state plan development, report cards, and graduation rates. As ATPE’s federal lobby team reports: “The guidance reminds state officials about conducting outreach to key groups and stakeholders (including the governor, state lawmakers, institutions of higher education, and additional education representatives) as they work to develop the state plan. Details on this outreach should also be incorporated into the state plan submission to the Department. The guidance also reminds states that when incorporating new measures of school quality or student success that research should show how that measure increases student learning.”

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members are reminded to register to attend ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event. Taking place in Austin on March 5-6, 2017, this event gives educators an opportunity to learn about high-profile issues being debated at the capitol this session and meet with their own legislators to share concerns and input. The deadline to register is Feb. 3. Find complete details over at Advocacy Central on the ATPE website. (Member login is required to register for the event.)

 


 

Texas gets a sneak peek at new A-F campus accountability grades

skd282694sdcToday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) rolled out its long-anticipated list of preliminary ratings under the “A through F” accountability system set to grade schools and districts beginning in the 2017-18 school year. After the passage of House Bill 2804 last session, the current accountability system that rates schools and districts as either “met standard” or “needs improvement” will be replaced by one that assigns letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F across five domains and appoints an overall score. The letter grades released today for campuses across Texas are intended to provide a preview of how schools might fare under the new system once it is fully implemented next year. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath issued a press release today calling this week’s preliminary grade report a “work-in-progress.”

Under the new accountability system, the domains of Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing Performance Gaps are all based on STAAR test results and account for 55 percent of a school’s or district’s overall grade. The fourth domain, Postsecondary Readiness, will be based on sets of criteria, such as chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, that vary by grade level. Schools and districts will be allowed to grade themselves in the fifth domain of Community and Student Engagement. The cumulative results of all five domains will be used for the purpose of designating an overall letter grade.

We know students’ standardized test scores are being used inappropriately for many high-stakes purposes, and this kicks things up to a whole new level. It obscures and oversimplifies the multitude of things that go into judging how a school is doing. It relies too much on flawed tests – and the kids end up having to bear the stigma of failure.

The numbers provided by TEA accompanying the preliminary grades show economically disadvantaged campuses are likely to fare the worst under this system by far. Under the “what if” campus grades shared this week, 89 percent of schools serving fewer than 20 percent economically disadvantaged students scored an “A” or “B” in the first domain, while 57 percent of schools with the poorest student bodies scored a “D” or “F.” While schools serving the most affluent populations don’t perform as well in domain two, which measures growth, they still outperform schools serving the least privileged students with only an 8 percent D or F rating compared to a 39 percent D or F rating. So with all their other challenges, systemically underfunded schools serving the state’s most challenging populations get to be stigmatized as well under the system that will be put in place next year.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeHow will that help those students perform better, or those schools attract the high-caliber teachers they need? The political environment here can’t be overlooked.

According to actual accountability ratings released in August 2016, 94 percent of Texas schools earned the “met standard” designation. That tells us what we already know: The vast majority of Texas schools are performing well. Yet under the new system being previewed this week, more than half of Texas schools in each domain scored a C, D, or F. Suddenly, we have a metric that seems to black the eyes of established well-performing schools – just days before we head into a legislative session in which voucher proponents will try to sell voters on the myth that our schools are failing.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia state government recently overturned that state’s A through F system. The bill’s author, a Republican who initially voted for the system, acknowledged the stigmatization of schools as a reason for upending the law. He also said the system would make it hard for schools to recruit teachers, among other things.

On Thursday, state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed House Bill 843, which would repeal A through F and replace it with the labels Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Needs Improvement.

“There is a dangerous domino effect here — the failing label causes stigmatization and punitive action to schools and their community, which does nothing to promote improvement,” Rep. González said in a press release Friday. “This harmful effect makes repealing A-F urgent and necessary.”

ATPE supports a robust accountability system that gives parents meaningful and unambiguous information, avoids too much reliance on flawed standardized tests, and takes into consideration important factors such as funding inequities and the importance of having well-trained, certified teachers. We strongly opposed the move to “A through F” grades when it was proposed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 and even suggested alternative scoring rubrics and report cards for campuses, which lawmakers unfortunately declined to consider at the time.

Our hope is that the release of these “informational” campus accountability grades this week, however hypothetical they are intended to be, will eventually serve as a wake-up call for the need to enact meaningful testing and accountability reforms that will support rather than penalize the hardworking students and staff in our Texas public schools.