Author Archives: Jennifer Canaday, CAE

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 18, 2017

Here’s your post-special session edition of ATPE’s Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelTuesday night marked the end of the 85th Legislature’s special session, and ATPE is pleased that a number of anti-public education proposals were defeated. The legislature declined to grant Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for a private school voucher program for students with special needs, opting instead to fund state grant programs that will aid public school students with autism, dyslexia, and other challenges. Also blocked were discriminatory bills to take away educators’ access to payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE is thankful for the educators who called and wrote to their lawmakers or visited the capitol to take a stand for educators having the same rights as other public employees and being able to continue to manage their own money as they choose.

The special session also resulted in some gains for public education through the passage of House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Although the Senate would not agree to the $1.8 billion in additional public school funding that the House approved or to tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, the final bill does add $563 million over and above the budget passed by lawmakers during the regular session. That extra money will help some districts facing the loss of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funds this year, provide assistance for charter school facilities, and significantly, inject $212 million into the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators. The Senate rejected any long-term structural changes to our school finance system, which were favored by the House, but they included language in HB 21 to create a school finance commission that will study the issue over the next two years.

The Senate approved its version of HB 21 by a vote of 25 to 6 late Monday night. The House voted 94 to 46 to accept the Senate’s version of HB 21 Tuesday evening, with a number of representatives expressing disappointment that the bill did not do more, and many who stated they were reluctantly voting for it in the interest of preserving some modest gains for the schools in their districts. Shortly thereafter, the House surprised many by adjourning sine die upon a motion by Chairman Huberty, one day before the expiration of the 30-day special session. The Senate similarly adjourned sine die a few hours later after declining to accept a House version of a property tax bill. In a press conference late that night, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to blame the House and its leadership, including Speaker Joe Straus, for preventing more of the governor’s special session agenda from being passed. For his part, Gov. Abbott similarly complained that the House had obstructed bills, despite the fact that legislators gave final approval to bills covering half the items on the governor’s special session call.

With the governor’s signature on the bill, the next step for HB 21 will be for the Commissioner of Education and TRS board to propose and adopt rules implementing various aspects of the law. (Read more about the TRS-Care changes being considered next week in the next section of today’s wrap-up.) We’ll keep you posted on all the rulemaking developments and let you know how you can provide input to state policymakers during that process here on Teach the Vote.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey said in a press statement, “We appreciate those in the legislature who fought for additional funding and structural improvements to our school finance system. ATPE looks forward to working with lawmakers during the interim to recommend longer-term solutions that will help all Texas students excel and enable us to recruit, reward, and retain the best educators in our public schools.”

 


Drugs and MoneyThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees will be meeting next Friday, Aug. 25, to consider changes to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. As noted above, the passage of HB 21 during the special session means that TRS will have an extra $212 million this biennium to offset rising costs of TRS-Care. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has been attending meetings with TRS staff to learn how the additional money will be used to help retired teachers. Check out his blog post for more on the specific changes the TRS board is expected to adopt next week.

 


tea-logo-header-2On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced the 2017 accountability ratings for school districts and campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools (95 percent) earned a “Met Standard” rating this year, and there were fewer campuses receiving an “Improvement Required” rating in 2017. Final 2017 ratings will be shared in December following an appeal period for schools seeking to change their ratings.

View the complete accountability ratings on the TEA website here. ATPE congratulates the students and staff of all our high-achieving public schools!

 


During the special session, ATPE's Governmental Relations staff presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

During the special session, ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff presented Texas House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

 

Texas House approves Senate’s school funding plan, adjourns sine die

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingThis evening, the Texas House of Representatives reluctantly voted to accept the Senate’s version of a school funding bill that will provide some short-term relief for schools, students, and educators. The vote was 94-46 on the motion to concur with Senate amendments, which will send House Bill (HB) 21 to the governor’s desk. The Senate’s version stripped out much of the $1.8 billion sought by the House under an original version authored by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). As finally passed, the bill will provide hardship grants for schools losing ASATR funding; new grant programs to help students with autism, dyslexia, and related disorders; and a one-time infusion of funds to offset healthcare cost increases for retired educators.

The Senate, in recess at the time of the House’s decision to adjourn, will be back on the floor tonight and will have an opportunity to consider Senate Bill 1, a property tax bill that came back from the House with amendments. The Senate will have the option of concurring with the House amendments to SB 1, sending that bill also to the governor, or accepting no legislation on property taxes. Aside from the medical licensing legislation that necessitated the special session in the first place, Gov. Greg Abbott has listed property tax reform as his top priority for the special session that is now coming to a close. ATPE and others emphasized throughout the special session that the best way for lawmakers to provide local homeowners with property tax relief would be to overhaul the school finance system and increase the state’s share of the funding burden. Now a state commission will study the issue of school finance for two more years and make recommendations to the 86th legislature in 2019.

ATPE issued a press statement about the passage of HB 21 and the conclusion of the special session here. We are grateful for the work of legislative leaders to try to advance meaningful reforms to our school finance system that would benefit all students, as well as increases in pay and benefits for our hardworking educators. We are disappointed that the House leadership’s visionary plans for longer-term school finance changes were rejected, but we greatly appreciate the additional short-term aid that will flow to some schools, retired educators, and students during the next two years.

ATPE also thanks lawmakers for rejecting several discriminatory and unnecessary bills that were advanced by some during this special session. We are very pleased that legislators listened to the education community and rejected measures that attempted to silence educators in retaliation for their being politically active and bills seeking once again to divert public money to unregulated private schools.

Special session update: House rejects amendment targeting payroll deduction; finance negotiations continue

Tomorrow is the last day of the special session that has featured a number of education-related debates. As ATPE’s lobbyists have been reporting here on Teach the Vote and Twitter, the special session agenda directed by Gov. Greg Abbott contained 20 topics, including some directly related to education, such as teacher pay and private school vouchers. ATPE joined with others in the education community to urge lawmakers to use this 30-day special session to address meaningful public education issues, such as advancing school finance improvements and helping educators facing dramatic increases in their healthcare costs.

  • For its part, the Texas House of Representatives has proposed major school finance reforms similar to those developed with stakeholder input during the regular session, and House leaders have recommended making a conservative withdrawal from the state’s robust rainy day fund (Economic Stabilization Fund) to cover short-term needs, including shoring up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators for the upcoming biennium.
  • The Texas Senate has favored smaller one-time investments into the public education system paid for by deferring state payments to Medicaid/CHIP managed care organizations. These proposed deferrals would only increase the already $1.2 billion the next legislature will have to pay back to make Medicaid/CHIP whole during the 2019 legislative session. In addition to under funding Medicaid/CHIP, the Senate proposal fails to make any long-term changes to our state’s school finance system, preferring instead that a commission be appointed to study scraping the current system for two more years. Senators also proposed one-time bonuses for experienced teachers. The Senate, at the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, initially coupled the one-time bonuses with proposed pay raises that would have been funded by school districts through their existing budgets, which the education community strongly rejected.
  • Some of the high-profile issues on the governor’s special session agenda, such as passing state regulations for the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals and enacting a private school voucher program for students with special needs, were quickly advanced by the Senate but gained no traction in the more moderate House. With the final hours ticking down now in this special session, bills remaining in negotiations are primarily those dealing with property tax reform at the local level and a handful of education funding measures, such as helping school districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) monies and decreasing, in part, increased healthcare costs of retired educators, due to legislation passed during the regular session.
  • Late today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released a revised state revenue estimate that shows legislators have more money to spend this special session than originally predicted. The announcement means there is an extra $237 million in general revenue available to be spent, which is a substantial jump from the $41.5 million in the original estimate last month. The “discovery” of the additional money could alleviate conflicts over whether to dip into the state’s rainy day fund or defer Medicaid MCO payments in order to fund remaining special session priorities, including those that are education-related.

Here is an update on recent votes and where the remaining bills stand:

Senate Bill 16: School Finance Commission

Yesterday, Aug. 14, the Texas House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 16, a bill intended to create a commission to study school finance. The bill by Sen. Larry Taylor is a renewed version of a similar measure considered during the regular session. The Senate unanimously approved SB 16 on July 24. The House voted 142-2 to advance its version of the measure yesterday, but not without a lengthy debate and controversy over amendments.

During yesterday’s House floor debate on SB 16, Rep. Bill Zedler offered a floor amendment to require the state to study “the effects” of letting educators voluntarily deduct their association dues from their own paychecks. The paycheck deduction issue, referred to by Gov. Abbott as the “collection of union dues,” has been on the governor’s special session wish list and a topic of much debate. Bills to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues were considered but not approved during both the regular and special sessions, as we have been reporting. Rep. Zedler’s floor amendment was viewed as a last gasp for air to keep the issue at the forefront of legislative discussions for two more years. During the floor debate, Rep. Zedler unabashedly articulated his political motivation for the amendment, complaining that educator associations like ATPE are helping teachers engage in the political process. The Zedler amendment failed by a vote of 49 to 78 after a bipartisan majority of representatives stood up for teachers’ rights, exposed the discriminatory intent of the amendment, and highlighted the fact that payroll deduction has already been studied and has been shown to result in no cost to the state or taxpayers.

ATPE has encouraged its members to thank those representatives who voted against the Zedler amendment on payroll deduction, as well as those who spoke eloquently on behalf of the education community during the debate, such as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R) who highlighted the benefits that ATPE provides its dues-paying members and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R) who called the amendment another form of “teacher discrimination.” Click here to view the breakdown of votes for and against the Zedler amendment, including statements added to the official House journal reflecting votes that were changed or correctedTo watch archived footage of the debate on the Zedler amendment to SB 16, click here and scroll to approximately the 1:43:22 mark during the video playback; debate resumes at the 2:01:00 mark after other amendments were considered.

In the event that SB 16 does not pass, similar language calling for creation of a school finance commission has been added to other bills that remain pending at this late stage.

House Bill 21 and House Bill 30: School Finance

This pair of bills offers another example of where the House and Senate diverge on school finance. The House-approved HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty contemplated an increase of $1.8 billion for public schools, but the Senate has balked at its price tag and method of finance (including use of the rainy day fund). HB 30 is a related bill that provides the source of the appropriation of the funds. Late last night and early this morning, the Senate approved its own version of HB 21, paring the funding down from $1.8 billion to $351 million (plus an additional $212 million for TRS-Care) and relying on the MCO payment deferral as its source. Both versions would provide some relief to districts facing an ASATR funding cliff this year, extra money for TRS-Care, and funds to help students with autism and dyslexia. The Senate’s version is more focused on one-time funding grants, while the House version calls for longer-term changes to the school finance formulas and increasing the basic allotment. Negotiations between House and Senate leaders, as well as the governor’s office, have been taking place around the clock.

Senate Bill 19: TRS-Care and/or Teacher Pay

This bill filed by Sen. Jane Nelson was originally intended to legislate teacher pay raises, but the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was reluctant to provide any state funding for the raises. Instead, the Senate modified the bill to provide a mechanism for one-time bonuses to veteran teachers using MCO payment deferrals, as well as extra money for TRS-Care. The Senate passed this bill on July 25, sending it to the House for consideration. The House Appropriations Committee stripped out the teacher bonus language and approved a version of the bill mirroring the language in HB 20, devoted entirely to helping retired educators with their rising healthcare costs using dollars from the ESF or Rainy Day Fund. The full House is slated to debate SB 19 today, and it’s unclear whether there will be sufficient time for the House and Senate to negotiate a deal before the session ends tomorrow.

Senate Bill 1: Property Taxes

Another bill passed in different versions by the House and Senate would address the ability of local governments to raise taxes. The bill remains stuck in a conference committee this afternoon, where one of the main issues in contention is the rollback rate for elections. Gov. Abbott has called passing property tax legislation his top priority for this special session.

 

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates during the last hours of the special session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 11, 2017

We’re heading into the last weekend of the special session, and many bills are still in play. Here’s the latest from the ATPE lobby team:


Senate Ed 08-11-17Today the Senate Education Committee has been hearing House Bill 21, a school finance bill authored by Rep. Dan Huberty. Senate committee chairman Larry Taylor has proposed a complete substitute for the bill, and the Senate’s changes are not sitting well with the scores of educators and education groups that supported the House version of the bill. As approved by the House, HB 21 would have injected $1.8 billion in new funds for public education, but senators have balked at the hefty price tag. The Senate’s version reduces funding by $1.5 billion, provides hardship grants for some districts facing the loss of ASATR funds this year, and offers new funding for charter schools to apply toward the cost of facilities or any other uses. A similar proposal to fund charter school facilities was stripped out of the House version of the bill a couple weeks ago after representatives objected to it.

As several witnesses who previously supported HB 21 testified neutrally or against the bill during today’s committee hearing, Chairman Taylor emphasized that he has spoken to Chairman Huberty about the bill and that both chambers are committed to continuing to negotiate language for the bill. The Senate committee expects to approve the measure today, sending it to the full Senate for a floor vote as early as tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 12. The Senate committee substitute version of HB 21 does not include private school vouchers, bathroom regulations, or any of the other highly controversial ideas that many thought might make it into the bill; however, there is still time for senators to offer up floor amendments containing any number of objectionable proposals.

Assuming that the House will not accept the Senate’s version of the bill, it is likely that HB 21 would be sent to a conference committee made up of senators and representatives to try to iron out a compromise.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee advanced a handful of bills relating to teacher pay. Check out the latest blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter for the rundown on this legislation, including a proposal originally favored by Gov. Greg Abbott to establish a merit pay system for teachers who earn advanced credentials. With only a few days left in the special session, it remains unclear whether any of these bills will remain alive. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for the very latest.

 


In case you missed it, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann wrote last week about the state’s draft plan for compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Texas Education Agency is accepting public comments on the draft plan until Aug. 29.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 4, 2017

Here’s a look at this week’s education news as reported by the ATPE lobby team:


The Texas House passed several bills relating to school funding and narrowly rejected a bill to extend payments to some districts today on the floor.

Most importantly, the House passed school finance House Bill (HB) 21, which would put an additional $1.8 billion into the public school system. The bill would raise the basic allotment to $5,350 from $5,140, provide $200 million hardship grants to districts losing additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR), expand career and technology education (CTE) allotment funds to the eight grade, and increase weighted funding for dyslexia and bilingual education. This legislation was killed by the Senate during the regular session after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refused to allow a school finance bill to pass without a voucher attached. Earlier this week, the committee reconsidered HB 21 in order to remove controversial charter school facilities funding that had been attached to the bill filed at the beginning of the special session. The House also passed HB 30, which would pay for HB 21 by deferring payments to school districts through the Foundation School Program (FSP).

“This bill is the most important legislation, I believe, we’re debating during this session,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told members on the House floor.

The House also approved HB 23, which would create a grant program for students with autism and related disorders. The House voted down HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding for an additional biennium. Some school districts which rely heavily upon ASATR funding have warned they may have to close schools once the funds expire this year. After initially passing on a vote of 73 to 70, HB 22 was voted down 67 to 61 after a vote verification was requested.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the meeting and provided this update on the board’s activity.

The board met to cover a fairly lengthy agenda, as it begins the process of writing rules to implement laws passed during the regular session of the legislature. Laws involving teacher misconduct, professional development, educator preparation, and more were passed and now require a sometimes lengthy process of developing and finalizing SBEC rules that reflect the new laws. While no final decisions were made with regard to new laws, the process was initiated for many and the board gave preliminary approval to a new law regarding military spouses seeking educator certification in Texas. The board also gave preliminary approval to the continuing professional education pieces of three laws involving cyber-bullying, educator misconduct, and digital literacy. Still, not all actions taken by the board were the result of changes to law. Preliminary approval was granted to a new rule proposal regarding diagnostician and counseling certification, and final approval was given to new requirements regarding English language proficiency for educator preparation candidates.

Yesterday, many of the board members also convened for a work session organized and directed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff that support the board. Staff presented items on ethics, the mission of the board, certification structure and requirements, and legal sanctions. On a few items, TEA staff sought feedback from the board that will play out in future meetings. Those include decisions to revisit an additional route to certification for non-traditional superintendents (three already exist), add fines to sanctions regarding certain principal and superintendent reporting requirements (authority granted to them by the 85th Texas Legislature in the instance of inappropriate relationship reporting), and restructure the current Texas certification design. The latter involves the addition of the EC-3 certification required by the legislature. Staff also pressed the board to consider a multi-tiered certification structure that involves standard, accomplished, distinguished, and master certifications. The conversation was linked to implementation of performance-based assessments for certification, inclusion of national board certification, and student data.

Watch for more on all of thee topics at future meetings. The agenda for today’s meeting can be viewed here and an archived video of the meeting will be posted here.

 


Earlier this week, the Texas House voted to approve additional funding for TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided additional information in this blog post on Tuesday.

Retirement planning written on a notepad.The two bills approved by the lower chamber, House Bill (HB) 20 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 80 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), will head next to the Senate where their future is uncertain. Ashby’s HB 20 calls for pulling $212 million from the state’s rainy day fund in order provide one-time relief for retired educators who are facing higher deductibles as a result of a longtime shortfall in TRS-Care funding. The Senate has demonstrated little interest in using the rainy day fund for lowering healthcare costs or any other education-related expenses. Darby’s HB 80 would make it easier for TRS to provide its members with a cost-of-living adjustment in the future.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on both these bills in the latter part of the special session.

 


The Texas Education Agency has released its draft of a state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As we reported last week, TEA is inviting stakeholders to submit their feedback on the draft plan, and, this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the draft plan. The comment period ends Aug. 29, 2017. Comments can be submitted by email to essa@tea.texas.gov. For additional information and to view the draft ESSA plan, click here.

 


The House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting after the House adjourned Friday to strip the controversial voucher from SB 2. The committee substituted state Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 320 into SB 2, replacing all of the language approved by the Senate. VanDeaver’s bill would create an education enhancement program for certain students with disabilities. The program would cover costs for transportation, private tutoring, educational therapies and related services for students with dyslexia, autism, speech disabilities, and learning disabilities. Program participants would continue to be public school students and would retain IDEA rights. The program would be funded at $10 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. The bill will now head to the full House for consideration.

In addition to the substituted SB 2, the committee approved CSHB 60, HB 98, HB 145, HB 149, HB 157, HB 204, CSHB 272, HB 324, CSHB 320, and HB 232.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 21, 2017

We’re entering a busy weekend at the Texas Capitol, and here’s what you need to know from the ATPE lobby team:


 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

The Texas Senate is speeding through more than a dozen hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to the governor’s newly expanded special session call. This morning, the Senate Education Committee convened a hearing on Senate Bill 2, providing in part for private school vouchers for students with special needs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against the bill along with numerous other education advocates, parents, and even students.

The committee plans this afternoon to hear a second bill to create a commission to study school finance between now and the next regular session of the legislature. Also today, the Senate Committee on State Affairs has been hearing bills that would restrict school district policies on usage of bathrooms.

Additional hearings are scheduled for tomorrow and Sunday at which ATPE will be testifying. These include a hearing tomorrow on teacher pay and a Sunday afternoon hearing on bills to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association membership dues.

Read more about the hearings and ways you can share your voice with legislators by checking out yesterday’s blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings and follow us on Twitter for the very latest news.

 


Rally attendeesMore than a thousand educators braved the Texas heat on Monday to attend a rally at the State Capitol hosted by Texans for Public Education and co-sponsored by ATPE. Read highlights and view pictures from the rally in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and also check out ATPE’s extended coverage on Facebook and YouTube.

Another Capitol rally is scheduled for tomorrow. The March for Public Education, an event taking place in states around the country, begins at 11:10 a.m. in downtown Austin.

If you’ve been unable to make it to Austin for these rallies, you can still exercise your voice and help influence the decisions being made inside the Capitol. Take it from ATPE’s Ginger Franks, a former special education teacher and past state president of our association, who urged fellow educators to call their legislators about the bills being considered right now. “Please make the calls,” said Franks. “The rallies are great but we must also make the calls. The calls are a must if you want your voice heard!!”

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ATPE members can easily call, email, or post messages to their elected officials using our tools at Advocacy Central.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the launch of a new reading initiative called Texas Readers. The initiative offers professional development for teachers and additional tools for elementary schools to use in enhancing reading instruction for young students. “Reading will always be the foundation that determines success in the classroom for every child at every grade level,” wrote Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on his blog about the new project.

 


 

Texas Senate to hear multiple education bills this weekend. Call your senator!

Just after midnight, the Texas Senate approved its version of a sunset bill to keep the Texas Medical Board that licenses doctors from being shut down this year. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins yesterday, the must-pass sunset legislation is what necessitated the current special session, during which Gov. Greg Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass a number of controversial measures that did not survive the regular session earlier this year. With his initial announcement of the special session starting July 18, the governor said he would not expand the special session call to include other topics until after the Senate had approved the medical board’s sunset legislation.

This morning, Gov. Abbott officially expanded the agenda for the special session immediately after the Senate’s overnight vote, adding his call for bills to increase teacher pay, fund private school vouchers, ban teachers from using payroll deduction for their association dues, and more. View the newly amended special session call in its entirety here.

One new addition to the governor’s agenda is a plea for additional funding for TRS-Care, which is integrated into the item relating to teacher pay and benefits. ATPE and other education advocates appreciated the addition, reflecting that legislators are hearing the complaints of retired educators about their healthcare plans becoming less and less affordable. We also appreciate the lawmakers who have filed bills this special session to address educators’ rising healthcare costs. Click here to read ATPE’s press statement about today’s development to expand the special session scope.

With an expanded call, the Senate is wasting no time in trying to pass several of the governor’s favored bills, including several that are unfavorable for public education. Senators will work throughout the weekend with the following public hearings now scheduled, among others:

Friday, July 21: Bathrooms, Vouchers, and School Finance

Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3 and SB 91, both by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst targeting bathroom usage policies by school districts.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersAt 10 a.m., the Senate Education Committee will consider Senate Bill (SB) 2 by Sen. Larry Taylor to fund private school vouchers for students with special needs. SB 2 also provides grants for public school districts losing money under the state’s school finance system, but only if legislators agree to allow harmful vouchers. ATPE is urging our members to contact members of the committee and express opposition to the vouchers proposed in this bill. Visit Advocacy Central to learn more and find contact information for the committee.

The Senate Education Committee will also hear SB 16 by Sen. Larry Taylor calling for the creation of a commission to study school finance over the next two years.

Saturday, July 22: Property Taxes, Teacher Pay, and TRS-Care

The Senate Finance Committee will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. to hear SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock to limit state spending, along with SB 19 by Sen. Jane Nelson pertaining to teacher salaries and retired educators’ healthcare costs. Nelson’s bill contains part of the lieutenant governor’s proposal to provide bonuses to experienced classroom teachers. SB 19 calls for deferring state payments to health care entities in 2018 in order to fund a one-time bonus for teachers who have at least six years of experience. The bill would also send an additional one-time payment of $212 million to TRS-Care, but there is no provision in the bill for long-term funding after this biennium. SB 19 also calls for school districts to increase their overall budgets for teacher pay by $1,000 per teacher, but the bill does not provide a funding source and does not ensure that all teachers will receive a pay raise as a result.

ATPE believes that educators deserve increased compensation and benefits, but we oppose unfunded mandates that will place additional burdens on school districts and force many of them to cut other areas of their budgets or lay off staff. We believe the legislature should spend more time developing plans for long-term investments to raise teacher pay beyond a one-time bonus, ways to shore up the TRS healthcare programs, and adequate state funding that will alleviate the pressure on school districts and local taxpayers.

Sunday, July 23: Payroll Deduction and Reallocating Lottery Money for Education

In a rare Sunday committee hearing set for 2 p.m., the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce will hear two bills by Sen. Bryan Hughes to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues payments. Characterized misleadingly by the governor and others as “anti-union” legislation, SB 7 and SB 94 are actually anti-educator bills that would punish school employees while carving out an exemption for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers to continue having their paychecks deducted for labor union dues. The bills are nearly identical to Sen. Joan Huffman’s SB 13 that was considered during the regular legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopAttacksATPE is urging its members to contact the Senate Business and Commerce committee and express opposition to these two discriminatory, politically motivated, and completely unnecessary bills aimed at restricting how educators spend their own money. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central for additional information and quick contact tools.

The Senate Education Committee will also meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. to hear two bills relating to use of the state lottery proceeds. SB 97 by Sen. Charles Perry and SJR 1 by Sen. Konni Burton call for a constitutional amendment to force a portion of the lottery money that already goes to public education to be dedicated for teacher salary increases and bonuses.


The above hearings on education-related bills are only a fraction of the committee meetings taking place this weekend. Senators are also expediting hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to abortion, voter fraud, local regulations, and other items on the governor’s wish list for the special session. It will be a busy weekend with Senate floor action anticipated early next week. Democrats in the Senate who oppose many of the controversial issues on the governor’s call have tried in vain to prevent the Republican majority from speeding these bills through the process by the suspension of rules. Senators such as Sen. Jose Rodriguez have argued that they and members of the public are not being given sufficient notice of hearings and time to review the proposed legislation, but their arguments have been ignored.

Meanwhile, the House has also been working its medical board sunset bills through the legislative process and referring other bills to committees. The House Public Education Committee is expected to meet next week to discuss school finance legislation. The governor’s current call for the special session only prescribes legislation to study school finance before the next legislative session, but allows for other bills related to school finance, including those dealing with Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR). House leaders remain hopeful that some meaningful school finance reform and assistance for struggling school districts will come out of this special session.

Please be sure to visit Advocacy Central to stay in touch with your legislators during these critical hearings, and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments from the ATPE lobby team.

ATPE’s Wrap-Up of the 85th Legislature’s Regular Session

ATPE at the Capitol squreWhile navigating challenges both new and familiar, and with the support of our members, ATPE has continued to fight for the rights of educators, teachers, and parents and to fend off threats to public education in the great state of Texas. This year, many ATPE members took swift and decisive action to protect their rights by calling, writing, and visiting members of the legislature (on more than one occasion) to inform their elected officials of the issues most important to Texas educators.

The 85th Legislature’s regular session was long and arduous, but ATPE persisted in keeping public tax dollars out of private institutions—despite strong pushes from some lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, and outside lobbying groups to do the opposite. The Texas House leadership stood with ATPE, the vast of majority of parents, and the education community to fight vouchers and champion improvements to Texas’s school finance system. Both chambers engaged in meaningful conversations about improving school accountability and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing.

Despite the numerous challenges presented during the 85th regular session of 2017, ATPE rose to the occasion and continued on our mission to provide every child equal opportunity to receive an exemplary education. Below are some highlights from this year’s regular legislative session.

Progress on ATPE’s Legislative Priorities for the 85th Legislature

  1. School Funding
  2. TRS and Healthcare
  3. Saving Payroll Deduction
  4. Stopping Privatization
  5. Promoting Educator Quality
  6. Reducing Standardized Testing
  7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions
The ATPE Lobby Team

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team

1. School Funding: ATPE lobbied for dramatic improvements to the state’s school finance system and urged lawmakers to provide the resources necessary to allow every child in Texas access to an exemplary public education.

o  The state budget: Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

While the House and Senate each began this session with their own versions of the budget, the bills were worked out in a conference committee and resulted in the following new state budget for the next two years:

·       Lawmakers allocated fewer state dollars to school districts under this budget, requiring local schools instead to rely more heavily on property taxes just to stay open. The decrease in state funding coupled with the elimination of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) is a one-two punch for districts that are already cash strapped, especially those in rural areas, and some have already stated they will either close or consolidate under this budget. This continues a trend of legislators shifting the burden of paying for public education from the state to the local level, which results in increased upward pressure on local property taxes to make up for the reduction in state funds. Legislators must realize that our outdated school finance formulas need to be reformed, and the state must shoulder its share of the burden if our schools are to meet the demands of rapid growth in population and enrollment.

·        The TRS healthcare program for retirees faced a billion-dollar shortfall going into the next biennium under its existing and inadequate funding mechanism. Lawmakers made modest increases to state and district funding formulas, in addition to providing a relatively small amount of one-time supplemental funding from the state, in exchange for passing a TRS reform bill that shifts the majority of the shortfall to retirees through increased premiums and decreased benefits. In all, SB1 includes $480 million above what previous formula funding called for, made up of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts.

o  School finance reform: House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble)

HB 21 was the first iteration of what Chairman Huberty planned to be a two- or three-session effort to completely overhaul the state’s school funding mechanism. A testament to the volatility of this session, HB 21 began as a school finance bill supported by ATPE and most of the education community. The bill would have increased the basic allotment of funding per student, lowered the recapture rate, created a Hardship Provision Grant to soften the elimination of ASATR funding for several districts, added a formula weight for students with dyslexia, increased the Career and Technology Allotment weight (CTE), and repealed hold harmless provisions in the current law. Coupled with companion legislation in the House’s state budget proposal, HB 21 could have provided as much as $1.9 billion in additional state funding for public education.

However, once the bill passed to the Senate, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, substituted it with language of his own that reduced the additional funding to $530 million and added in a controversial provision for vouchers for students with disabilities. This draining of public tax dollars into private entities through a proposed Educational Savings Account (ESA) voucher caused ATPE and other members of the education community to retract their support of the bill. The Senate passed the voucher-laden version of the bill on a mostly party-line vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), joined with all Republicans to support the bill.

The House refused to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill, and Chairman Huberty called for a conference committee to work out the differences between each chamber’s versions of HB 21. However, over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Chairman Larry Taylor declared the bill dead that same afternoon, refusing to appoint members of the Senate to participate in a conference committee. The Senate ultimately appointed conferees with just hours to spare on the last day of deliberations, but no agreement could be worked out in the few remaining hours, and the school finance bill died.

2. TRS and Healthcare: ATPE helped prevent the passage of bills that would change the defined benefit structure of TRS, raised awareness of the dramatically rising costs of educators’ healthcare programs, and helped secure additional funding for TRS-Care to prevent retired educators from losing their access to healthcare.

o  HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)

As stated above, ATPE entered the 2017 legislative session with a looming crisis for the state’s healthcare program for retired educators. Facing a $1 billion shortfall, TRS-Care was slated to run out of funding during the next biennium without urgent action by the 85th Legislature. Combining $350 million in state funds along with $130 million in support from school districts, the passage of HB 3976 helped secure $480 million in new money budgeted for TRS-Care over the next biennium. In order to maintain coverage, this bill changes the current TRS-Care plan by splitting coverage into two groups based on retirees’ ages. While the enactment of the bill means higher costs for participating retirees, it prevents the worst-case scenario: The collapse of TRS-Care in its entirety. Read a more comprehensive summary of the legislative changes here, and also read here about how the TRS Board of Trustees is now undertaking the rulemaking process to implement the changes called for by lawmakers in greater detail.

o  SB 1750 and SB 1751 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Sen. Bettencourt’s SB 1750 and SB 1751 revived the concept of converting the TRS defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution program in the future, making it more like a 401(k) plan or a hybrid of the two. The first bill called only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would have authorized TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. Bills like this are a common fixture in the sessions preceding when an agency is up for its sunset review. While both bills were referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, neither received a hearing and both proposals died. Additionally, other legislation was passed that will move back the sunset date for TRS to the year 2025.

3. Saving Payroll Deduction: ATPE fought back against anti-educator bills that would do away with payroll deduction for voluntary professional association dues.

o   SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston)

ATPE continued to defend educators’ rights to use voluntary payroll deduction for their association dues and to fight anti-educator bills that do away with that option in an attempt to make it harder for educators to join professional groups like ours. Bills eliminating payroll deduction were identified as priorities of both the governor and lieutenant governor. ATPE members mounted strong opposition, testifying in committee and meeting with individual members of both the House and Senate to demand fair treatment. The Senate version (SB 13) of the so-called “union dues” bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote. In the House, both SB 13 and HB 510 were referred to the Committee on State Affairs but did not receive a hearing and subsequently died there.

4. Stopping Privatization: ATPE helped defeat bills aimed at creating private school voucher programs.

o  SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)

Having made school choice one of his top three legislative priorities this session, Lt. Gov. Patrick used SB 3 as the main vehicle to push for vouchers in the form of both corporate tax credits for donations to private school scholarships and educational savings accounts for parents to use for their children’s private and home school expenses. The bill was voted out of the full Senate after measures were added to make the bill more palatable to rural legislators who were concerned about the impact a major subsidy would have on their districts. SB 3 passed the Senate with the support of 13 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville); the rest of the Senate Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), voted against the bill. While Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is recorded as voting against SB 3, she cast a key vote to enable the bill to come up for consideration on the Senate floor, which paved the way for its passage. Upon being received in the House, the bill was referred to the House Public Education Committee, where it later died.

o  The Senate’s voucher amendment to HB 21

Earlier in the session, the House passed HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty as a school finance reform measure and the policy component intended to guide the additional money allocated to education in the House’s version of the draft budget. As we discussed above, HB 21 was vigorously debated on the House floor and passed to the Senate, where Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) substituted the House version of the bill with his own bill demanding an ESA voucher for students with special needs. The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 and sent it back to the House, which refused to concur with the controversial amendments. Lawmakers were unable to agree to a final bill, and HB 21 died along with all other attempts to pass a private school voucher this session.

o  Record votes on vouchers. The House took multiple noteworthy votes against private school vouchers this session:

·        During the initial debate of SB 1—the budget bill—on the House floor, members voted 104-43 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi), Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), and Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) to prohibit the use of public funds from supporting school choice programs in any form.

·        The House voted against vouchers again upon receiving the Senate’s version of the school finance bill, HB 21. The vote occurred in response to a “motion to instruct” presented by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), a move intended to inform conference committee appointees of the desire of the body they represent while fleshing out the differences between differing bills. Chairman Zerwas filed the motion to urge House members of the conference committee to reject any voucher language in potential compromises on HB 21, and a supermajority of the House agreed. House members voted 101-45 to reject any compromises on HB 21 that would allow for ESAs, tax credit scholarships, or any other form of voucher.

·        Immediately following that vote, members squashed an alternative motion to instruct the conferees to “consider all methods of education choice and financing for special needs students.” The motion, presented by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), failed with members voting 47-89 against it.

o  Related legislation: The “Tim Tebow” Bill, SB 640, by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

Once again, this session ATPE helped prevent the passage of a bill that would force public schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular UIL activities. ATPE members have long opposed the uneven playing field that would be created with allowing the participation of homeschooled students in UIL, since those students are not be held to the same academic and disciplinary standards as public school students.

5. Promoting Educator Quality: ATPE advocated for maintaining high standards for the education profession and a compensation and benefits structure that promotes educator recruitment and retention.

o  SB 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Amended several times over, SB 1839 became the catch-all for bills that had otherwise failed in the legislative process. In its original form, the bill mandated that relevant PEIMS (Public Education Information Management Systems) data be shared with educator preparation programs, gave the commissioner more rulemaking authority with regard to out-of-state certificate holders, and required educator preparation programs to include instruction on digital learning. In the final version signed by the governor, the bill also includes measures to do the following:

·        Prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs to deliver one or more face-to-face support visits for principal, librarian, counselor, and diagnostician candidates during their clinical experience;

·        Create an early childhood through third grade teaching certificate;

·        Require additional professional development for digital learning and teaching methods; and

·        Allow long-term substitute teaching to count in lieu of minimal field-based experience hours required of certain educator candidates before entering the classroom as the teacher-of-record on a probationary certificate. This
language was originally a part of SB 1278, a bill ATPE testified against because it watered down educator preparation standards raised by SBEC during the past year. As that bill made its way through the committee process, much of the SB 1278 content was stripped away; however, this remaining portion was improved and ultimately added to SB 1839.

 

6. Reducing Standardized Testing: ATPE supported bills to reduce the role of standardized test scores in our accountability system for schools, in teacher evaluations, and in high-stakes decisions for students. 

o  SB 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)

During the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2015, ATPE worked with Sen. Seliger to enact legislation that would provide a safe harbor for eligible high school seniors otherwise prevented from graduating due to failure of two or fewer STAAR tests. Enacted by that 2015 law that was set to expire this year, Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) take the student’s entire academic history into account and use that to work a path to graduation. This session, we successfully worked with legislators once more to secure access to IGCs for high school students through 2019 with the passage of SB 463. 

o  HB 657 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

This ATPE-supported legislation allows ARD committees to promote special education students who have failed an exam but have otherwise met the goals of their individual education plans (IEPs). The passage of this bill provides students in special education programs with additional relief from regimented standardized testing. 

o  HB 515 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

What started out as a bill to reduce the number of standardized tests that students are required to take lost much of its strength as amendments were added through the committee process. The bill’s focus was altered, causing it to place an emphasis on replacing state exams for high school social studies with the US Citizenship test, which would have presented problems due to a lack of alignment between the proposed test and the curriculum standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The author of the bill did not concur with Senate amendments when the bill was sent back to the House, and the bill died.

 

o  HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs)

This bill called for a reduction in the number of standardized tests taken by public school students by requiring the state to seek a waiver of federal laws that require certain tests in grades three to 12, and bringing the number of standardized tests for high school students down to the federally required minimum. The bill also called for making test scores a smaller percentage of school accountability calculations and removing standardized test scores as a facet of teacher evaluation. This bill did not make it beyond a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.

7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions: ATPE advocated for limiting, repealing, or adding safeguards to regulatory exemptions that have been granted to some public schools, including Districts of Innovation (DOI).

Several bills were put forth this session with the goal of closing loopholes associated with the advent of Districts of Innovation (DOI). ATPE successfully advocated for a new measure of transparency under DOI:

SB 1566 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Included in SB 1566, an omnibus bill pertaining to district and charter governance, is the requirement that school districts designated a DOI must post and maintain their DOI plan prominently on the school district’s website. A school district now has 15 days upon adoption to post its DOI plan or any revisions to its plan.

However, none of the following DOI bills made it to final passage:

o  HB 972 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas)

This bill would have partly disallowed districts from exempting themselves from teacher certification laws by preventing a district from assigning most students in first through sixth grades to an uncertified teacher for two consecutive years (unless the district gets permission from parents). The bill passed the House but was not given a hearing in the Senate.

o  HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint)

This bill would have removed educator certification from the exemptions available to districts under the DOI law. The bill failed to pass either chamber.

o  HB 1865 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth)

The bill would have removed school start date requirements from the list of eligible DOI exemptions, which would have eliminated a major enticement to districts considering DOI status. A desire to start the school year on an earlier date has been the most typical exemption sought by DOIs statewide. Despite the tourism industry vigorously lobbying in support of this legislation that would preserve a more predictable school calendar, the bill was left pending and eventually died after being heard in the House Public Education Committee.

o  HB 620 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano)

The bill would have allowed districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and would have required instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. HB 620 would have offered schools flexibility and eliminated an incentive to pursue DOI status. Like HB 1865, the bill was left pending and therefore died in the House Public Education Committee.

Other Legislative Victories:

·        ATPE supported changes to the A-F accountability system put in place for campuses last session (HB 22).

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 22 to try to revamp the state’s unpopular A-F accountability grading system for schools and districts. A version of the bill approved by the House had broad support from the education community, but stakeholders were less enthusiastic about changes made to the bill in the Senate. Ultimately, the bill was referred to a conference committee to iron out an agreement, and HB 22 became one of the last bills passed by the 85th Legislature before the clock ran out on the regular session. HB 22 as finally passed collapses the five domains down to three, allows districts to add locally designed aspects of their accountability plans subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education, and pushes back the rollout of the A-F rating system for campuses to August 2019. ATPE successfully advocated to require the rulemaking process include input from teachers. While ATPE is still not a proponent of the A-F system and had argued for eliminating the overall summative grade for schools, we support these changes in the final compromise version of HB 22, which should give districts more leeway and educators an additional opportunity for local input into the design of their schools’ accountability systems.

·        ATPE bolstered efforts to prevent and punish cyberbullying - David’s Law, SB 179, by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).

Expanding on ATPE’s work in prior sessions to help curtail bullying of students, the act now known as David’s Law establishes criminal penalties for those engaged in acts of cyberbullying and requires schools to create secure channels for students to report cyberbullying. 

·        ATPE supported prohibiting the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from basing a school’s performance on the number of students in special education programs – SB 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso).

ATPE supported legislators’ efforts to end the de facto 8.5 percent cap on schools enrolling students in special education services. This legislation prevents TEA from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students they enroll in special education services. 

·       ATPE worked closely with lawmakers to address educator misconduct – SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

One of the first bills signed into law by Gov. Abbott this year, SB 7 aims to address the phenomenon sometimes called “passing the trash,” whereby educators accused of misconduct have been allowed to resign and find work in another school district thanks to lax reporting. Several amendments were added to the original version of this bill, including one to strip certain employees convicted of felony sexual offenses of their TRS pensions, amendments to add parental notification requirements, and an amendment that requires school job applicants to disclose any criminal charges or convictions in a pre-employment affidavit.

ATPE's 2016-17 State Officers

ATPE’s 2016-17 State Officers

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 30, 2017

Here’s your Independence Day weekend edition of ATPE’s weekly advocacy wrap-up:

 


ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

With a special session slated to begin on July 18, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been rounding up authors for his ambitious 20-item legislative agenda, which includes a number of high-profile education issues. Yesterday, the governor announced which pair of lawmakers will be carrying his preferred legislation to prohibit educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. They are freshman Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), and Gov. Abbott thanked them in a press release yesterday for agreeing to carry the so-called “union dues” legislation.

Sen. Hughes said in the governor’s press release that “taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for collecting their dues,” lending his voice to those in the Republican party who have tried to mislead voters into believing that taxpayer dollars are being spent as a result of educators’ payroll deduction choices. The governor and lieutenant governor have made repeated references to the notion of taxpayer resources being spent in order to process public employees’ payments to professional associations like ATPE, despite overwhelming evidence that the practice does not result in any additional costs to the state, school districts, or taxpayers. In fact, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who carried the same anti-educator legislation during the recent regular session, openly debunked the myth about wasted taxpayer resources during her committee’s hearing of Senate Bill 13 back in February. Those facts haven’t kept Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick from repeating their well-rehearsed lines about taxpayer resources and trying desperately to gin up support for these anti-educator bills that they will once again push during the special session. Now, unfortunately, we can add Sen. Hughes and Rep. Isaac to the list of lawmakers jumping on that same fact-challenged bandwagon to try to silence the voices of educators. For his part, Rep. Isaac was similarly quoted in the governor’s press release yesterday as saying, “It’s long past time to end the outdated practice of using taxpayer-funded resources to collect dues for private organizations.”

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopAttacksATPE will continue to fight efforts to take away educators’ right to use payroll deduction in the manner they choose for spending their own hard-earned dollars. We encourage ATPE members to visit Advocacy Central and use our tools to send a message to state legislators about this needless attack on educators who choose to join professional organizations that advocate for them and for our public schools.

In similar session preparation news, it has also been reported this week that Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) will be the designated authors for private school voucher legislation during the special session. Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, was the author of Senate Bill 3 during the regular session, the signature voucher bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as one of his top three priorities. Simmons also carried voucher legislation during the regular session and tried unsuccessfully to get the House to consider including vouchers for students with special needs in its major school finance bill.

Related: For more coverage of the education topics that will be considered during the upcoming special session, check out two recent articles from The Texas Tribune republished with permission on our blog:

 


ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

As we reported on our blog last week, ATPE state officers and lobbyists traveled to Washington, DC to meet with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and others about improving educators’ Social Security benefits. Brady has spearheaded recent efforts to replace the Windfall Elimination Provision, an offset in federal law that causes many Texas educators and other public servants to see their retirement benefits reduced.

While those efforts to change the federal law are ongoing, we’ve got information about some new tools that can help educators better predict how their Social Security benefits could be affected by such offsets. Check out our blog post with details about the new Social Security benefit calculators from the federal government that will help you learn the extent to which your payments will be reduced by the WEP or the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

In other retirement news this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) is considering changing its eligibility rules for providers of certain financial products. The rules pertain to 403(b) investment products, which many educators use to supplement their savings for retirement in addition to receiving a TRS pension. TRS staff hosted an informal conference this week to gather feedback on the rules from interested stakeholders. For more on the potential 403(b) rule changes, read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Rally_promo_2017

ATPE is joining with other education allies on Monday, July 17, to help sponsor a pro-public education rally at the Texas State Capitol. The event is slated to begin at 1:30 pm and will feature guest speakers and live entertainment. Educators, parents, students, and all backers of our public schools are encouraged to attend and show their support for public education on the eve of the special session that we know will feature many troubling bills to defund our public schools, take away educators’ benefits, and dilute local control. We’ll be providing additional details about the rally during the next two weeks. For additional information in the meantime, check out this post from the rally organizers on Facebook.

 


ATPE wishes you a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Boys Holding Sparklers