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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.

Guest Post: 239,517 Children Trapped in Political Rhetoric

Moak Casey logofrom Moak, Casey & Associates
Dec. 12, 2016

In an effort to solicit support for his voucher plan, the lieutenant governor recently told a group of education and business leaders in Dallas that 239,517 children attend a “failing public school in Texas.” (Source: The Dallas Morning News). Advocates of choice and vouchers often say that students are “trapped” in failing schools. The phrasing takes advantage of an accountability system that is designed to identify at least 5% of all schools in the state as “failing,” regardless of how well the schools, or the students enrolled in them, performed. Perhaps a better assessment is that students are trapped in the political rhetoric around school choice and/or school vouchers. (“School choice” is considered to be a broad term that subsumes vouchers and education savings grants, either or both of which take taxpayer dollars away from public schools and shifts them to the private sector.)

Education Commissioner Mike Morath recently told the TASA/TASB convention audience that, “We get beaten up for what we do, but our public schools are doing as well as they’ve ever done.” The same can be said for the parents and teachers of children in schools that have high educational risk factors. What do the numbers really tell us about Texas students and the accountability system that shadows their daily walk in Texas public schools?

  • During the 2015-16 school year, Texas public schools enrolled 5,284,252 students. That means that over 5 million (5,044,735 or 95%) students were enrolled in campuses that received a TEA rating of Met Standard.
  • In fact, 7,667 out of 8,673 or 88% of Texas public schools in 2015-16, inclusive of charter schools,received a Met Standard rating. When charters are excluded, the figure rises above 89%. (Source: TEA 2016 Preliminary Accountability System State Summary, as of September 14, 2016.)
  • The number of schools not meeting standards has declined each year since 2013, when the count stood at 768 Improvement Required (IR-rated) campuses compared to the most recent count of 467 IR-rated campuses — even as the accountability system has become more rigorous.

Those who indiscriminately cite the 239, 517 figure for shock value fail to tell the REST of the story. While it’s true that 239,517 students are enrolled at one of the 467 public and/or charter schools that received a TEA rating of Improvement Required for the 2015-16 school year, that does not mean that the students, or their schools, are “failing” as some voucher advocates state. Here are the numbers behind the rhetoric that tell the REST of the story.

  • Over half of the IR campuses (259 out of 467 or 55%) were rated IR for the first time. (Table 2)
  • Over half of the 239,517 students (52%) are enrolled in a campus that was rated Improvement Required (IR) for the first time. (Table 2) Historically, Year 1 IR campuses quickly improve and are removed from TEA’s IR list faster than other IR campuses.
  • 72% are enrolled at a Year 1 or Year 2 IR campus. (Table 2)
  • 51 campuses missed only one – out of four possible – index target. (Table 3)
  • Only 35 out of 8,673 campuses missed all 4 index targets. (Table 3)
  • 25,218 students are enrolled in one of the 68 charter schools with an IR rating. (Table 1) To our knowledge, no students are required to attend charter schools.
  • Out of the 467 schools rated in 2016 as Improvement Required, 102 graduated a total of 10,558 students in SY 2014-15. Of those, 8,349 or 79% of the graduates had completed rigorous programs of study, including Recommended High School Plan, Distinguished Plan, Foundation Plan with Endorsements, or Foundation Plan with Distinguished Level of Achievement.
  • The phrasing, “trapped in failing schools” paints a picture of “no way out.” In fact, all 399 IR-rated non-charter campuses were subject to Public Education Grant (PEG) requirements to offer choice options to each one of their enrolled students. Over 1,100 more schools that were not rated as Improvement Required in 2015 also were subject to PEG requirements, due to IR ratings in either of the prior two years and/or performance criteria distinct from state ratings. None of this takes into account any other forms of choice available within the districts right now.

And finally, those who disparage public schools fail to point out that in Texas, at least 5% of the schools will be designated by TEA as “failing” simply by virtue of the accountability system’s design.

  • The current accountability system (based largely on STAAR tests) is designed to identify at least 5% of schools as missing standards, or “failing” – because the targets it uses are built on a quota established in federal law.
  • That means that we can reasonably anticipate that at least 264,000 (5% of Texas enrollment) students will be enrolled in low performing campuses – even if their campuses performed better than they did the year before; and even if their local communities rate them as Exemplary, Recognized or Acceptable on the Family and Community Engagement Ratings that are required by state law.
  • The shift to an A-F rating system, in which both D’s and F’s are statutorily required to signify “unacceptable” performance, automatically ensures that more students will be enrolled in “failing schools” if the bottom 5% of campuses are given F’s and the next 10% are given D’s. This predetermined outcome will feed right into a fresh, new round of rhetoric from “school choice” advocates, even though the “increase” is simply a function of the system’s design.

The original intent of our state’s accountability system was to foster, inform and support continuous improvement efforts in teaching and learning. That seemed to be a universally accepted premise. Having a predetermined failure threshold in the current system seems to 1) subvert that original, positive intent, 2) reinforce a biased narrative about the state of public education, and 3) perpetuate the notion that schools must be punished before improvements will take place. At best, it seems unwise to put faith in a system that generates predetermined results with regard to “failing” schools. Before any school is labeled as a “failure,” we need to critically reconsider the rhetoric (and the hidden agenda) of voucher advocates in using an accountability system to create a certain margin of schools as “failing” the students, parents and communities that they serve.


This article originally appeared at http://www.moakcasey.com/articles/viewarticledoc.aspx?AID=16390&DID=12732 and was reprinted with permission from Moak, Casey & Associates. 

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.

From KUT: Texas Education Groups Encourage More Students, Teachers to Vote

By  & NOV. 1, 2016

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz chatted with six Reagan Early College High School students as they gathered at the ACC Highland Mall campus’ early voting center on Monday afternoon to cast their ballots on their way to class. The students are among 1,963 young adults in AISD schools that are age 18 or older this month.

“I can say that it’s important to vote, and people are going to say ‘That’s an old guy, right?’” Cruz said to the students. “But, if they hear you saying it, I think it’s a different message. Don’t you think?”

The students, who take classes at ACC through their high school, recorded a video with Cruz while standing outside the polling place to encourage other students their age to go to the polls. The video is part of a concerted effort Cruz’s office has made this fall to educate students at AISD schools about the importance of exercising their right to vote. The superintendent’s office plans to share the video on the AISD Twitter account and Facebook page to reach students in a new way.

“In all of our high schools, we have individuals who help students and families understand about voting. It’s something we’ve done for many years,” Cruz said. “This is to use different mediums that students are used to now. It’s just another approach to get the word out.”

Reagan Early College High School Academic Director, Jesse De La Huerta, says many students find the voting process intimidating

“Every time I talk to students who are becoming of-age to vote, it’s scary. They’re like, ‘What if I don’t know what to do? What about this? What about that?’” De La Huerta said.

Teachers at Reagan quell students’ concerns about voting by answering these questions in government classes at Reagan, De La Huerta says. They enthusiastically accepted the challenge from the superintendent’s office this year to talk more to their students about the importance of voting, he said.

AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz poses with students outside of ACC’s Highland Mall campus during an AISD voter awareness event.
CREDIT MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR. / KUT

 

But education groups across the state say teachers also need encouragement to vote, and they want school district superintendents to create a culture of voting on campuses – an effort called Texas Educators Vote.

“When people vote, they often have an issue in mind and it’s not usually education,” said Laura Yeager, the director of Texas Educators Vote. “These are educators who vote and then they often get to school and say, ‘Gee, why aren’t they funding our schools?’ and ‘Why am I only teaching testing?’ and ‘Why are all these things happening?’ And we’re trying to link the issue that’s important to them with their vote.”

The group includes the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Rural Education Association and others. Yeager says she and some others got the idea after the last legislative session.

“We were bemoaning how hard it was to get good public education passed, but we had done a pretty good job stopping some bad legislation,” she said. The idea, Yeager adds, is to educate teachers and hope that education trickles down to students and other school employees.

“We can get them to research and think about who actually supports public education,” she said. “Get them educated, and then encourage the culture of voting for students, educators, bus drivers and custodians and, really, everyone working in Texas public schools. Maybe we’d get to elect people that really did support public schools.”

The group doesn’t endorse any candidates, but encourages teachers to educate themselves on who is running and their views. They also suggest schools provide incentives to teachers to vote through school-wide contests or mini prizes for those who wear an “I Voted” sticker.

“You could go down in history, you could be that person who says later, ‘I voted for the first female,’ if that’s the case, or whatever the case may be,” De La Huerta said.

Last month, Austin School Board trustees approved a resolution to encourage Texas educators to vote.

While this message seems to be inspiring at least some students at Reagan, they may have to do a little digging to figure out how to vote on their own. Celeste Vasquez, one of the students featured in the video, said she used the internet to figure out how to register to vote.

“My government teacher talked to me somewhat about the procedure, but mostly about the importance of voting,” she said. “I pretty much learned how to do all the other stuff on my own through websites. I figured out step by step what I needed to do, one step at a time.”

This story was produced by KUT in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum. It was originally published by KUT and reprinted with permission. View the original article and listen to audio here.

From The Texas Tribune: Eleven Texas school boards ordered to the classroom

 
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Houston ISD trustees admonish TEA for delaying campus turnaround plan implementation. Graphic by Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune

The superintendents and elected school boards of 11 Texas districts — including Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth — have been ordered by the state education agency to attend two-day training programs to learn how to fix their failing schools.

Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill sent letters to the 11 school boards Oct. 10 saying they need additional governance training because their districts submitted unsatisfactory plans for turning around floundering campuses. All 11 superintendents and boards have agreed to the training, with several members expressing frustration about what they saw as an unfair and vague request.

The letters were sent about two months after TEA released 2016 accountability ratings showing that 467 campuses statewide — including 42 in the targeted districts — were labeled “improvement required,” a decrease from 603 campuses last year. The notices were sent to Brazosport, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hearne, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Nacogdoches, Tyler and Waco.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has promised to crack down on low-performing schools and to halve the number of failing schools over the next five years.

State law requires districts to submit detailed plans in the spring to fix problems at schools labeled “improvement required” for two or more consecutive years. The districts are supposed to include parents and the community in drafting the proposed fixes.

Morath has the final say on approving the plans — by mid-to -late June, according to a TEA timeline — so districts can start implementing them the following school year.

But for the 11 school districts, that implementation will have to wait until board trustees and superintendents attend a two-day, 24-hour governance training session.

In the letters, Crabill said he wasn’t sure the plans the districts submitted would address problems — including low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and poor college readiness — within two years. The training sessions will help trustees identify and fix weaknesses in their plans, the letter said.

 

If Morath decides not to approve a plan, he can replace the board of trustees, replace the principal of a school or shut the school down completely, Crabill wrote.

Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees told Crabill it will likely vote to attend the training. But it also admonished the agency for leaving little time to actually turn around its schools. The commissioner said he would respond to the plans in June, and now may not approve them until trainings are completed in December.

“Our ability to make significant changes to the plans for these seven schools at this date may be somewhat limited,” the Houston board wrote Oct. 25. “Since TEA has missed its own published deadline for responding to the turnaround plans by four months, we ask that you provide us with specific concerns that TEA may have with the plans for these seven schools, so that we may begin considering how to make any appropriate adjustments in a way that will cause the least disruption during the school year.”

At an Oct. 27 Dallas Independent School District board meeting, a few trustees said the request for training was too vague.

“While I don’t have a problem with training, I do have a problem with a demand that I implement what it is we are going to be trained on, when I don’t even know what it is,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “We need to know the specifics of what is wrong. We need to know specifics about the training. We need to know specifics of why these eight schools.”

The commissioner did approve campus turnaround plans in other districts around the state, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said. She could not say what the difference was between those plans and the ones the commissioner flagged.

After receiving a flood of questions from district officials across the state, Crabill included a few key explanations in a follow up email to all 11 superintendents. He slashed the training from four days to two, after trustees said it was too hard for them to fit into their schedules. He presented six different dates and locations for the training, in Kilgore, Waco, Fort Worth, Midland, El Paso and Houston, on weekdays and weekends between Nov. 9 and Dec. 17.

All trustees and superintendents from all 11 boards must attend the entire workshop, Crabill said.

“This is a team event so just like in other team events, the whole team has to win together. Completion means that all trustees and the superintendent were present at the same workshop for the entirety of the workshop,” Crabill wrote.

Though all 11 boards have agreed to attend the training, it is not clear whether all trustees will show up.

A veteran Lubbock board trustee said he voted yes to the resolution agreeing to training – but now he’s not sure whether he will actually attend. He called the demand for governance training “unprecedented” in his 14 years on the board.

He said he is not sure whether he can get away from his day job for two 12-hour days. Districts have to cover the cost of any travel required for board members to attend the training session.

TEA does not have a plan in place in case board members don’t show up, Callahan said. “So far, TEA is receiving confirmation that board members will attend and complete the training. As a result, discussions on failure to participate have not been necessary,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Any talk of penalties is premature.”

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday outlined plans to crack down harder on chronically low-performing schools, saying he wants to cut in half the number of them that end up on the state’s failing list over the next five years.
  • More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/02/tea-demands-district-training-delays-turnarounds/.

From The Texas Tribune: Speaker Joe Straus calls for immediate special education overhaul

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

House Speaker Joe Straus urged the Texas Education Agency Wednesday to immediately overhaul its system for identifying students in need of special education services.

Straus sent a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday to suspend or adjust its use of a TEA benchmark related to how many special education students schools can serve. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation determined Texas schools had arbitrarily denied tens of thousands of students special education services to comply with a TEA benchmark that only 8.5 percent of students get special education services. TEA officials told the Chronicle that the 8.5 percent guideline was not used as a cap to keep disabled students out of special education.

“It will be a priority for the Texas House to make special education services available to all students who need them, while also ensuring that schools do not identify students for special education when it isn’t appropriate,” Straus’ letter reads. “The House will work with TEA to find the right balance. But in the meantime, students should not be denied the services they need.”

From The Texas Tribune: Count of Texas registered voters eclipses 15 million mark

The Big Conversation

A record-breaking 15 million Texans are registered to vote in the upcoming November election, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday.

As the Tribune’s Alex Samuels reports, this figure amounts to 78 percent of the state’s voting-age population and more than 1.3 million additional registered voters from four years ago. Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, previously told the Dallas Morning News that the spike in registered voters could be attributed to high interest in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

In Texas, the margin separating Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is shrinking. A WFAA/SurveyUSA poll released Thursday found Trump beating Clinton 47 percent to 43 percent — which falls within the margin of error.

As the Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports, Trump’s polling numbers have been decreasing after the release of a 2005 clip showing him making lewd comments about women, and the 4-point margin may be Trump’s smallest lead in Texas yet.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.

Travis County voters cast ballots at Travis County Tax Office on Feb. 25, 2016.

 


This article has been edited for length. It originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/10/14/brief/.