Author Archives: Jennifer Canaday, CAE

Latest education developments in the 85th legislature

DASIHSWU0AA4SAhIt was a busy weekend for the Texas House and Senate, which took action to move forward several pieces of high-profile education legislation during meetings on Saturday and Sunday that stretched into the overnight hours. The regular legislative session is slated to end in just one week on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. Here’s a look at some of the latest activity from ATPE’s lobbyists:

Budget

The House was in session for most of the day Saturday. Late that afternoon, senators and representatives serving on the conference committee for Senate Bill (SB) 1, held a public hearing to openly discuss the terms of a compromise for the state’s budget bill. The discussions lasted beyond midnight amid late calls from the governor for additional funding of governor’s office initiatives for economic development. The SB 1 compromise includes adding $480 million for retired educators’ healthcare (consisting of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts), which is contingent upon final passage of the TRS-Care bill. The conferees agreed on tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenditures to repair aging state hospital facilities and purchase bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers. They’ll also use a payment deferral method to free up some needed cash.

The budget compromise entails a $530 million increase for public education, but that’s far less than the additional $1.6 billion that the House had proposed in its budget, contingent upon passage of Huberty’s school finance reform bill, House Bill (HB) 21. The final funding available for public schools will depend largely on what becomes of HB 21 now that the Senate has made dramatic changes to that bill, most notably by harnessing a private school voucher plan to it.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) told senators this afternoon that while the conference committee has adopted its report, there are still some housekeeping items to be worked out before the report is presented to the full House and Senate. She directed senators to the Legislative Budget Board’s website to view documents related to the report on the budget compromise.

Bathrooms

The House was back in session on Sunday, and one of the most watched moments was the debate on a school safety bill that became the vehicle for an amendment relating to gender-based bathroom policies for schools. SB 2078 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was a noncontroversial bill intended to help school districts address their multi-hazard operations plans. But Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) successfully added a floor amendment to address bathroom usage in schools.

As adopted by the House on a 91-50 vote last night, the Paddie amendment requires schools to provide a single-occupancy restroom or changing facility for any student who requests an accommodation because he or she does not wish to use the facility corresponding to the student’s biological sex. Questions remain as to whether school districts will be forced to adopt or change any of their existing policies on bathrooms aside from any such requests for accommodations. The bill as amended passed on second reading late last night, and the House approved SB 2078 with the amendments on third reading today.

Now the bill heads back to the Senate for a determination of whether the House’s language, with its added bathroom-related amendments, will be acceptable or will require referral to a conference committee. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already called the new language “ambiguous” in a statement to reporters today.

Healthcare

The full Senate took Saturday off and reconvened at 7 pm last night, taking up a couple of bills of great interest to the education community. First, the Senate unanimously passed HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) to reform the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. The proposed changes are a tough pill to swallow for many retirees, but will prevent the program from completely running out of money during the upcoming biennium. For more on the TRS-Care bill, read ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s blog post here.

Vouchers and School Finance

At around 11 pm Sunday night, the Senate began debating HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill that is now hosting the Senate’s controversial language calling for an education savings account voucher for students with special needs.

Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the bill’s Senate sponsor and author of the voucher language, emphasized his opinion that the voucher likely would only be used by 5,000 students, or one percent of the current public school student population. He fielded questions from several senators, notably Sens. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), who pointed out the problems with private school vouchers, such as parents being forced to give up the many rights and protections of state and federal law that students with special needs enjoy when they attend public schools. Opponents in the Senate also pointed out that voucher utilization rates have been considerably higher (and costlier) than one percent in other states that have passed vouchers, making the Senate’s version of HB 21 likely to produce a much higher price tag than being claimed. The Senate tabled a Rodriguez amendment that would have stripped the objectionable voucher language from the bill, and similarly rejected a Menendez amendment that called on private schools that receive voucher funds to comply with the laws that would otherwise protect special needs students attending public school. A handful of other floor amendments were added to the bill, mostly representing less significant bills that had died on the calendar this session.

The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 on second reading at around 1 am this morning. After adjourning for a couple of minutes and reconvening, the Senate passed its version of HB 21 on third reading at around 1:30 this morning. The final floor votes on the bill were 21-10 with all Republican senators plus Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voting for HB 21; all other Democratic senators opposed the bill. The bill now heads back to the Texas House where it’s likely to receive a chilly reception.

This afternoon, the House advanced another school finance-related bill on second reading. SB 2144 by Sen. Larry Taylor, sponsored in the House by Rep. Huberty, would create a commission to study school finance during the interim and make recommended fixes to the next legislature. Laying out the less significant study bill today, Rep. Huberty used the opportunity to complain about the Senate’s changes to his HB 21, which had the effect of stripping out much of the extra funding proposed by the House for public schools.

Testing

Upon adjournment of the Senate in the overnight hours, the Senate Education Committee called a last-minute meeting to take a vote on a pending bill relating to student testing. Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 515 as filed was an ATPE-supported bill designed to eliminate some state STAAR tests not required by federal law. Earlier this month, the full House amended the bill to add language from another bill (HB 1776 by Ashby) that would call on school districts to administer the test for U.S. citizenship in lieu of a state-adopted history test. The Senate committee approved a substitute version of HB 515 early this morning that strips out the citizenship test requirement and instead calls for the State Board of Education to study the alignment and coursework of required social studies curricula for grades 8-12. The Senate’s committee substitute bill also allows school districts to use SAT, ACT, and TSI tests as alternative assessments for graduation purposes. The full Senate must still pass HB 515 by Wednesday.

Today, the House gave preliminary approval to Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 aimed at extending the law allowing individual graduation committees for certain students unable to pass STAAR tests required for graduation. The House agreed to a floor amendment by Rep. Huberty that will extend the ATPE-supported law until 2021. The bill must pass on third reading, and then as with many of these other bills, the Senate will have a chance either to accept the House’s version of the bill in its current form or send the bill to a conference committee during this last week of the legislative session.

Now what?

There is a lingering question on many stakeholders’ minds now: “Will there be a special session?” Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made public demands for a special session if the House failed to pass a property tax reform bill and a bill on transgender bathroom policies. Over the weekend, Gov. Abbott took unusual steps to declare an emergency on changing the state’s voter ID laws, signaling that issue as another “must pass” item for the regular session. Now that the House has added language relating to all three of these issues onto other bills, it remains to be seen whether those measures will be deemed acceptable by the Senate or if the governor will be inclined to call a special session. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 12, 2017

While you were STAAR testing, here are stories from the Texas Capitol this busy week:

 


NO VOUCHERSThis week’s major legislative news included a new voucher alert, courtesy of the Senate Education Committee. The committee announced on short notice a hearing of a major school finance bill, House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. ATPE was one of numerous education groups signed up to testify in support of the bill, but we were forced to change our position with the surprise announcement from Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) that a private school voucher was being added to the bill.

Witnesses including ATPE testified against HB 21 Thursday based on the addition of the educational savings account (ESA) voucher for students with special needs. The addition of the voucher language is disappointing for many hoping to see progress on school finance reform this session. Earlier this week, we republished a blog post from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the status of school finance legislation this session. Chairman Huberty has described his bill as a start to work that could take two or three sessions to overhaul the state’s school funding system. He and other House leaders have made it clear that the lower chamber has no interest in accepting a voucher bill this session.

The Senate’s substitute version of HB 21 was voted out by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday evening by a vote of 7 to 1. It is expected to be placed on a calendar soon for consideration by the full Senate, which is likely to pass the voucher measure.

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ATPE is urging members to contact their senators with messages opposing HB 21 in its current form, and ask their state representatives to reject the Senate’s version and strip out the voucher provision from the school finance bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for sample messages and rapid communication tools.

For more on the voucher plan that was added to HB 21, check out this Teach the Vote blog post from Thursday. Also, read the latest blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with a rundown of all the major activity in the Texas Senate this week.

 


Texas House of Representatives stands adjourned as committees meet, May 4, 2017.

This was a week of dramatic late-session deadlines in the Texas House, which prompted more than a few verbal skirmishes on the House floor. Last night at midnight was the deadline for most House bills to be considered on second reading, while today was the corresponding deadline for passing those bills on third reading. Yesterday’s lively and lengthy floor session was punctuated by emotional pleas from some members to pass bills of personal interest, as a handful of the House’s most conservative members employed various tactics to stall the debate and force dozens of bills off the calendar, including a bill relating to school lunches. One very significant bill that barely missed the pivotal midnight deadline was a sunset measure for the Texas Department of Transportation; if no such sunset bill passes this session, the governor would be forced to call a special session to avoid the automatic dissolution of the state agency. Fortunately, the TxDOT sunset bill has a Senate companion that remains alive at this stage.

Relatively few education bills were on the House calendars for yesterday and today, but a few high-profile bills did pass the House this week. Today, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 179, known as David’s Law. The ATPE-supported bill by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) aims to prevent teen suicides and curb cyberbullying. Earlier in the week, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, dealing with educator misconduct. Read more about the bill in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

With the passage of the deadlines for House bills to make it out of their chamber of origin, the House Public Education Committee is turning its full attention now to Senate bills. Its next hearing on Tuesday features an agenda with two dozen bills. For more on the bills that were considered this week in the House, view the recent blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here, here, and here.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 5, 2017

Here are education news stories you might have missed this week from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelA settlement agreement was executed Wednesday between ATPE and three other teacher groups that sued the state over the commissioner’s T-TESS rules for teacher evaluation. Under terms of the settlement, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will revise the T-TESS rules to eliminate requirements that districts use four specific methods, including controversial Value-Added Measures, to evaluate student growth for purposes of teacher appraisals.

Read more about the settlement here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144We’ve reached the 117th day of the 85th legislative session with only three full weeks left for lawmakers to pass a state budget. Monday, May 8, is the first of several important session deadlines approaching quickly: the last day for House committees to report out House bills. House bills that don’t make it out of a House committee by then will be considered procedurally dead, although many “dead” bills can still resurface in the form of companion bills or amendments to other bills. Committees, especially on the House side, had a busy week of hearings ahead of the deadlines, and several late nights of floor debate. The House is scheduled to hold a Saturday session tomorrow, too.

Several significant education bills made it through either the House or Senate chamber this week, as reported by ATPE’s lobbyists. In the Senate, a popular bill passed to extend the law allowing the continuation of individual graduation committees for certain high school students unable to pass all required STAAR tests. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved an amended version of SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-bullying measure known as David’s Law. Other bills passing the Senate this week dealt with educator certification, charter schools, and a study on school finance. For more about the Senate’s work this week, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

In the lower chamber, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) saw two more of his most significant bills pass the full House this week. HB 22 improves the state’s “A through F” accountability system for schools by condensing the number of domains from five to three and eliminating the overall summative grade that would have been assigned to schools. An ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) also calls for the Texas Education Agency to supply narrative descriptions of the ratings assigned in an effort to help parents and the public better understand their significance. Another ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) that would have further reduced the emphasis on student test scores in the accountability system was rejected. Huberty’s HB 23 also got a nod of approval from the House; the bill creates a grant program to help public schools, including charter schools, offer specialty services for students with disabilities. An attempted floor amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) that would have funded private school vouchers was withdrawn during the debate. The House also approved Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 515, an ATPE-supported bill that reduces mandatory testing. Also, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), offering changes to try to shore up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators, passed the House on a 140-0 vote yesterday.

Numerous bills made it past the House Public Education Committee this week as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For complete details, check out his latest blog posts here, here, and here.

 


 

 

ATPE settles lawsuit over state’s teacher evaluation system

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingATPE and other parties to a lawsuit over the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS have reached a settlement agreement.

ATPE and three other teacher associations sued the state in April 2016 alleging that new commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS violated state laws and were against public policy. Through the Office of the Attorney General, which represented the Texas Education Agency in the lawsuit, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has agreed to revise the rules in exchange for the four teacher groups’ suspending their legal challenges.

The terms of the settlement agreement call for removal of language in the commissioner’s rules that require districts to employ four specific student growth measures in evaluating teachers under the T-TESS model. One of those four criteria was “value-added data based on student state assessment results,” often called Value-Added Measurement or Value-Added Modeling (VAM). ATPE has long criticized the use of VAM for high-stakes purposes based on concerns about the validity and fairness of the controversial model.

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday at the time the lawsuits challenging the rules were filed.

ATPE Member Legal Services Director Donna Derryberry described the compromise struck this week as one that “will give districts more local control over their appraisal process” without being required to use VAM. “This is a great victory for all Texas teachers,” added Derryberry, “and ATPE is proud to have been instrumental in this settlement.”

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

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from the ATPE lobbyists:

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

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ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


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ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

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

Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE lobby team:


Falling US MoneyThe Texas House of Representatives this week passed a comprehensive school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. HB 21 is the House’s opening salvo in what the bill’s author calls a multi-session school finance reform effort. The bill is now on its way to the Senate where it is expected to receive a less than certain reception.

HB 21 picked up 10 floor amendments over the course of more than four hours of debate on Wednesday evening. The bill was approved on second reading by a vote of 134 to 16, and then the House passed HB 21 the following day on third reading by a vote of 132 to 15. Stay tuned later this week for a blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter describing the details of the bill as approved by the House.

The next steps will be for HB 21 to be accepted by the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee, where we hope that Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will schedule it for a public hearing. Taylor’s committee heard his own school finance bill this week, Senate Bill (SB) 2145. A hearing on HB 21 would likely include a discussion of the differences and merits of the two school finance plans.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week, also. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog earlier this week, the board’s agenda includes high-profile reviews of some of the state’s curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

This morning, the board held a final vote on proposed changes to the TEKS for science. The biology portion in particular has been the focus of debate over the discussion of evolution. Board members began the week seeking compromise language that would satisfy scientists as well as those wishing to allow for some discussion of creationism.

The board voted down an amendment this morning by member SBOE Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) that would have instructed teachers to “compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity.” The board then adopted an amendment by SBOE member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) instructing teachers “to compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) assured the board that the compromise language still encourages criticism of the theory of evolution.

On revisions to the TEKS for English and Spanish language arts and reading, the board has opted to delay a final vote until May. For more on this week’s SBOE deliberations, check out the latest update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here on our blog.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee education policy for the Texas House and Senate have been busy hearing numerous bills and voting a number of them through for floor consideration.

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard bills that included such topics as charter school authorizations and educator certification. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on our blog, the committee heard both a bill that could restrict the expansion of charter schools in certain areas and a bill that would make it easier for charters to be approved. The committee also considered an educator certification bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become certified in Texas without necessarily passing an exam.

As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on Twitter, the Senate Education Committee also voted yesterday to give favorable approval to several Senate bills, many of which have been changed from their original versions that were filed: SB 653, SB 754, SB 1122, SB 1267, SB 1398, SB 1882, SB 2142, SB 2143, SB 2188, and SB 2270.

The House Public Education Committee held a full hearing for several bills on Tuesday and then met again yesterday for the purpose of voting on pending bills. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog, Tuesday’s agenda included hearing HB 306, known as David’s Law, to prevent cyber-bullying and harassment that encourages youths to commit suicide. ATPE testified in support of the bill, as we similarly supported the Senate version, SB 179, during a prior hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read Mark’s blog post for more on the bills that were heard and voted upon by the committee on Tuesday. During Thursday’s formal meeting of the same committee, members voted to send 11 additional bills to the full House for consideration. For a list of those bills, check out Mark’s follow-up blog post on Teach the Vote.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday for consideration of several bills. The agenda includes bills pertaining to testing, instructional materials, pre-K, and Districts of Innovation. ATPE will be there to testify and will provide updates next week on Teach the Vote and on Twitter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Both the House and Senate have announced which of their members will serve on a conference committee for the state’s budget bill. The two chambers recently passed competing versions of Senate Bill (SB) 1, which necessitates a conference committee of 10 members to try to iron out the differences and forge a compromise to keep the government in operation for two more years and avoid the need for a special session.

Announced first this week were the Senate conferees for SB 1: Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), along with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen). On the House side, the conference committee appointees are House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), plus Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

 


Football RefereeAlso this week, the Senate approved a measure known as the Tim Tebow bill, which requires the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to allow the participation of home-schooled students. SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) received the Senate’s approval on Wednesday by a vote of 23 to 8. The bill still has to be considered in the House.

ATPE has opposed SB 640 and similar legislation in previous sessions based on long-standing positions in the ATPE Legislative Program adopted each year by our members. Specifically, ATPE members object to letting home-schooled students participate in extracurricular activities without being held to the same standards as their public school counterparts, such as no pass/no play laws.

2-1_Advocacy_LegislativeProgram_REVISED

Related: The ATPE Legislative Committee will be meeting in Austin this weekend to review the ATPE Legislative Program and make recommendations for any changes to the House of Delegates. Learn more about the ATPE Legislative Program and our member-owned, member-governed philosophy here.

 

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.

 


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:

 


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

Texas House prepares for lengthy budget debate

Dollar fanThe Texas House of Representatives will debate the budget on Thursday, April 6, which will determine the state’s investment in priorities such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure for the next two years.

The Senate approved its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), unanimously on March 28. The House Appropriations committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), made a number of changes to the bill that would result in greater funding for public education. Now the full House is set to debate the budget bill tomorrow, and more than 400 floor amendments have been pre-filed for additional consideration.

ATPE has supported the House version of SB 1 over the Senate’s plan. In this bill, we believe the House leadership has demonstrated a stronger commitment to prioritizing the needs of public education, including a willingness to conservatively use the state’s rainy day fund to help address current shortfalls, such as the need for funding retired educators’ healthcare, while still maintaining a healthy balance in that savings account for future needs.

Among the floor amendments likely to be considered tomorrow, ATPE is urging support for amendments that would provide even more funding for TRS-Care and other public education needs. We are also asking legislators to reject any amendments that would divert taxpayer funds for any type of voucher program for unregulated private and home schools. A list of major budget amendments that ATPE supports and opposes can be found here.

The House version of SB 1 was approved unanimously by the bipartisan House Appropriations Committee, but it still faces a long road ahead. ATPE hopes that the House will send a strong message tomorrow by supporting the additional investments in public education and responsible use of the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund.

For updates on the budget debate, be sure to follow the ATPE Governmental Relations team on Twitter:

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Related: ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send their state representatives a message about SB 1 and the funding needs of public education.