Author Archives: Kate Kuhlmann

Congress releases final tax bill

The U.S. House and Senate have finalized a conference tax bill that is expected to be voted on by each body over the course of next week. After the individual chambers passed their own bills pertaining to reforming provisions of the current tax code, a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences in the bills. The final bill must now receive the support of both chambers and the signature of the president before it becomes law.

ATPE wrote members of the Texas delegation last week to urge members of the conference committee and leaders in both chambers to stand with teachers on two issues: maintaining a credit for educators who spend personal money on classroom supplies and omitting a potential new tax on investments of public employee pensions like the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. ATPE is pleased to report that the final bill reflects our requests on both issues.

The educator expense deduction was maintained at up to $250 a year, giving educators who use money from their own paychecks a nominal but meaningful credit for at least a portion of what is spent to give all students and classrooms access to needed supplies. The House bill originally scrapped the deduction altogether, while the Senate bill doubled the max deduction to as much as $500.

The Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), as it related to public pensions, was ultimately scrapped under the final bill. The House bill would have applied the tax to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund, which could have weakened its financial soundness by subjecting it to new additional tax liability. The Senate’s bill did not apply the new tax to public pension investments.

Another issue that garnered significant attention was a provision termed to be one aimed at “school choice” and was included in varying forms under both bills. The Senate’s provision on the topic was added in the final hours of debate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). The final bill includes a negotiated version of the provision, which expands spending eligibility for 529 college savings accounts. If the bill becomes law, parents will be able to use the money they’ve saved in a 529 account to pay for up to $10,000 a year in K-12 education expenses, including at private schools.

ATPE appreciates the conference committee’s final decision on both the educator expense deduction and the UBIT. We also appreciate the help of legislators and leaders who advocated on behalf educators. High-profile provisions of the final plan include a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, a smaller top tax rate for individuals (at 37 percent instead of just under 40), omission of the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance, and a cap on the deduction of state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000.

SBEC wraps final 2017 meeting, announces joint conference with SBOE

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met for the final board meeting of the year to act on and discuss an agenda filled with a number of topics, including revisiting a controversial proposal to certify “non-traditional” superintendent candidates.

Bills from the 85th legislature make their way through rulemaking

The board gave final approval (all finally approved rule proposals are still subject to review by the State Board of Education) to new disciplinary rules triggered by elements of Senate Bill (SB) 7, a bill passed by the 85th Legislature that involved disciplinary sanctions for educator misconduct related to inappropriate relationships; and approved new grade-band pedagogy and professional responsibilities (PPR) standards that include PPR standards for the new legislatively required EC-3 certificate.

The board gave initial approval (all initially approved rule proposals are posted for public comment and review in the Texas Register before being considered for final approval at the following meeting) to a rule that establishes the content standards and the science of teaching reading standards for the new EC-3 certificate, as well as one that clarifies certain continuing professional education (CPE) requirements, among other CPE rule revisions related to certificate renewal.

Revisit of non-traditional superintendent certificate rejected for now

The item on Friday’s agenda that seemed to get the most attention from stakeholders was one involving a pathway to certification for certain individuals wanting to become superintendents without the required experience. At the request of one board member, the board considered and ultimately chose not to revisit a previously rejected proposal that would have created a path to becoming a superintendent without prior experience in the classroom, a school, or a managerial role.

The proposal originally surfaced in 2015 and, at the time, had two parts: (1) a pathway for candidates who have managerial experience in a school setting outside of the required teaching and principal experience, and (2) a much broader pathway that allowed anyone with a post-baccalaureate degree whom a school board deems appropriate to seek certification as long as the school board publicly posts why the selected candidate is qualified. ATPE opposed both alternative pathways. The board originally opted by a margin of one vote to approve the proposal that included both pathways, but it was later rejected by the SBOE based on the second piece of the proposal only. Eventually, only the proposal involving prior management experience in a public school system went into effect (in February 2016). Last week’s SBEC discussion on this topic was focused on revisiting the controversial piece of the proposal that never became rule.

ATPE again testified against the irresponsible and unnecessary pathway and opposed the board’s need to revisit the proposal at last Friday’s meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann urged board members not to move forward with the proposal, testifying that ATPE members strongly believe that “classroom teaching experience, in addition to managerial experience and a strong educational background, is a critical contributing factor to the success of an administrator.” Kuhlmann pointed out that rejecting the attempt to weaken the superintendent certification standards would be in alignment with the board’s core principles, which acknowledge student success as primary and high standards for preparation and certification as paramount; in alignment with the superintendent standards adopted by the board that reflect learner focused values; and in alignment with what a chorus of educators in the field are communicating is needed to lead a school system. (All four teacher groups and school administrators opposed revisiting the proposal.)

The motion to reconsider the proposal ultimately failed, but the chapter covering superintendent certification will be up for scheduled review beginning in August 2018, giving board members advocating for the change another chance to push the controversial proposal.

ATPE member advocates to raise standards for educator preparation

Stephanie Stoebe, an ATPE member in Round Rock ISD, attended Friday’s SBEC meeting to testify on a proposal involving educator preparation programs and the candidates attending them. Specifically, her testimony focused on a piece of the proposal involving experience gained as a long-term substitute, something she’d previously discussed with the Texas legislature as it weighed the new provision in law earlier this year. She encouraged SBEC to increase the days constituting a long-term substitute as it relates to substituting field-based experience requirements for teacher certification candidates. The board’s original proposal defined a long-term substitute assignment as one made up of at least ten consecutive days. Stoebe recommended it be increased to 30 consecutive days, which is “about the amount of time it takes to teach one unit,” Stoebe told board members.

Board members expressed vocal agreement with regard to increasing the consecutive day requirement and asked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff to get input and bring the proposal back with the increased standard. The proposal was only a discussion item on last week’s agenda; SBEC is expected to revisit the revised proposal for initial approval at its next meeting in March.

SBEC to host conference with SBOE in January

SBEC and SBOE will host a free, one-day conference on Thursday, January 25, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at the Austin Convention Center. The conference, titled Learning Roundtable: Recruiting, Preparing, and Retaining Teachers, will focus on the three title topics and include relevant panel discussions throughout the day.

Attendees are eligible to receive up to 5.5 hours of CPE credit. To learn more about the conference or to register for the event at no cost, visit the TEA web page dedicated to the event.

ATPE weighs in as Congress hashes out differences on tax bill

Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill designed by the upper chamber’s Republican leaders. The measure passed largely on a party line vote, with just one Republican joining Democrats in opposition, and it comes after the U.S. House passed its own version of a bill to reform the tax code last month. Now, the Senate and House must reconcile their respective differences and develop a bill that can pass both chambers before it heads to President Trump for his signature.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote members of the Texas Congressional delegation to weigh in on two provisions in the House and Senate bills that affect educators and their classrooms. The first pertains to the educator expense deduction, which currently allows educators to deduct up to $250 dollars from their tax bills when personal money is spent on classroom supplies and materials. The bill passed by the House eliminates the deduction altogether, while the Senate’s bill increases the deduction to up to $500.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday

“While not the ideal approach to filling budget shortfalls or equalizing access to supplies and materials among students,” Canaday writes, “the deduction offers some form of reimbursement to educators who dip into their own pockets to purchase materials for students, classrooms, and schools that might otherwise go without.”

The second issue ATPE highlighted in its letter to Texas members of Congress involves the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The House tax bill would apply a new tax, the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund.

“Weakening the financial soundness of the TRS trust fund by subjecting it to new additional tax liability on the front end, in addition to the taxes already paid by individual retirees, is a cost that neither the State of Texas nor the teachers who spent their working years serving our state can afford,” wrote Canaday.

In both instances, ATPE asks members of the Texas delegation to encourage House and Senate leaders and other members of Congress currently negotiating a final bill to retain the Senate approach: doubling the Educator Expense Deduction (or, at a minimum, maintaining the current $250 deduction) and forgoing the inclusion of language applying the UBIT to public pension investments.

Read the full letter here, and check back for more as the U.S. Congress continues its work to reform elements of current U.S. tax law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 1, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) provided a guest post this week on the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). He calls the WEP “unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation” and says it is time for a fix.

ATPE has worked for decades to repeal the WEP, an arbitrary formula that affects the retirement earnings of some public employees who are eligible for both Social Security and government pensions (such as TRS). More information from ATPE on the WEP as it currently exists can be found here. In recent years, ATPE has joined with a coalition of active and retired public employee groups from Texas and across the country to bolster our work specific to this issue, working closely with Chairman Brady and his staff in order to repeal the WEP and replace it with a fairer formula for affected active and retired public employees.

Chairman Brady’s guest post addresses his thoughts on the current WEP and his vision for a new approach.

 


The Permanent School Fund (PSF), an endowment used to help fund public education in Texas in a variety of ways, has hit a record value: $41.44 billion as of August 31. The Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education (SBOE), which manages the majority of the fund, announced the milestone this week, adding that a projected $2.5 billion from the PSF is expected to be distributed to Texas schools during the 2018-2019 biennium. For more on the announcement, the fund’s purpose, and the a brief history of the fund, check out this post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 10, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week for its November meeting, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has all you need to know in a series of posts covering the four-day agenda. The board began its week on Tuesday with a review of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), an update from Commissioner Mike Morath, and work sessions on school finance and new textbooks. Board members met again on Wednesday to act on a lengthy agenda, which included the rejection of a Mexican-American studies textbook that was up for consideration as an addition to the list of approved instructional materials. Wiggins reports more on the board’s first two days here.

On Thursday, committees of the board met to consider a variety of issues, including making a final determination on rules adopted by SBEC, and the full board convened again today to make final decisions on most of the above.

As the board wraps up its regular meetings for 2017, attention turns to a series of regional meetings scheduled from November through February. The meetings will focus on collecting feedback as the board prepares to update its Long-Range Plan for Education. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday in Kilgore. More on the purpose of the meetings and meeting schedule can be found in this post highlighting a Texas Education Agency (TEA) press release on the topic.

 


As the Texas legislature works to assess the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on state infrastructure, spending, and policies, Senate and House education committees continue a series of committee hearings focused on the storm’s hit to public education. On Monday, the Senate Education Committee met in Houston to hear from affected districts, educational service centers, and other stakeholders. Committee members also heard from Commissioner Mike Morath who shared TEA’s response and supports related to the hurricane. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing and offers an overview of the discussion here.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will meet for its second hearing on the topic, this time to hear from teachers and other stakeholders on the following Harvey-specific interim charges issued by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

The House committee will meet on Tuesday at 8:00am in the Texas Capitol. Tune in live or catch an archived video of the hearing here.

 



Tuesday was Election Day in Texas and the rest of the country. In addition to approving all seven of the constitutional amendments proposed on the ballot, many Texans went to the polls to approve a number of local ISD bond proposals. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has a analysis of these elections and a few other education-related proposals here.

Disappointing voter turnout on Election Day yielded the second lowest participation rate in 40 years; only 5.8% of eligible voters headed to the polls. Texans must do better as we head toward the March primaries, which decide the vast majority of Texas’s local, state, and federal officeholders. Are you registered to vote? Have you taken the Texas Educators Vote oath? Is your district one that has committed to creating a culture of voting? Important elections are just around the corner and your voice needs to be heard. Prepare to vote in March and learn more by visiting the Texas Educators Vote website and following them on Twitter.

 

Senators hear from commissioner, Houston education stakeholders on hurricane impact

The Texas Senate Education Committee met yesterday, Nov. 6, on the University of Houston campus to address interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey and hear from area education stakeholders on the effects of the devastating storm. Senators heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and representatives of school districts and charter schools, education service centers, and property tax appraisal districts.

The committee met to address two interim charges aimed at assessing the impact of Hurricane Harvey on school finance and better understanding needs related to the recovery efforts currently underway. Commissioner Morath presented information on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the storm and general data regarding its impact to affected schools and districts. The presentation included widely discussed statistics: 1.4 million students were directly impacted by the storm; another half a million were at schools impacted by the storm; all school districts have now reopened to varying degrees and did so on varying timelines; and over 100 school facilities were converted to shelters.

The Commissioner also discussed the effect of the storm on districts’ budgets and mentioned the agency’s efforts with regard to the Hurricane Harvey Task Force on School Mental Health Supports. Topics of discussion regarding budget impacts and next steps included: the strain placed on districts due to the lag in FEMA reimbursements from the federal government; the impact to districts without property reappraisal; the trouble faced by districts that don’t qualify for comprehensive facility insurance coverage; and the fact that six districts have requested an advance of funding due to costs related to higher enrollment.

The invited stakeholders who followed the Commissioner went into greater and more personal detail on the issues raised by the commissioner. For example, Aransas Pass ISD, which is among the most impacted of districts, still hasn’t accounted for approximately 300 of its students and is still working toward a path forward for the extreme damage suffered by its facilities. The district, like many affected districts, has altered the minutes in each school day to accommodate for the missed class time after the storm. It is also in the process of developing a plan to address an expected funding gap caused by a slow lag time in FEMA reimbursement and an uncertainty with regard to state gap or additional funding. The district superintendent testified that the plan could include a loss of 14 teachers and additional staff.

Most of the superintendents present at Monday’s hearing requested a “hold harmless” measure on accountability for schools and students affected by the storm, highlighting the extreme distress their students and communities are already under. The commissioner and Chairman Larry Taylor seemed less inclined to grant the waiver. Commissioner Morath reported that 140 affected-districts (a majority of those impacted) said testing schedules should not be changed due to Hurricane Harvey, and Chairman Taylor maintained that accountability exists for a reason; Taylor said he didn’t know what districts would do if they were told accountability was waived, saying, for example, that while the vast majority of teachers are in it for the right reasons, some may take it as an opportunity to not teach.

Committees are expected to make recommendations for the next legislature on interim charges issued by the lieutenant governor. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more from the committee on Hurricane Harvey related topics and other interim charges.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 3, 2017

Happy Friday! As you head into the weekend, here’s a wrap-up of education news from this week:

 


TxEdVote

Election Day arrives next week, Tuesday, Nov. 7, and early voting for this election ends today. As you prepare to go to the polls if you haven’t already, check out this week’s election update from the Texas Educators Vote coalition. The post includes reminders and valuable, nonpartisan information on being an informed voter. Educators Oath to Vote

Your vote in every election, a model of civic engagement for your students, is key to growing the future young leaders and engaged citizens in your classroom. Learn more about election resources, including how to find out what will be on your local ballot, information regarding the seven constitutional amendments proposed, and social media tools to help keep you up-to-date on election developments. You can also commit to and share the Educator’s Oath to Vote.

Read more from the Texas Educators Vote coalition and help create a culture of voting among Texas educators!

Scott_Milder_TXLG_1Related: Former Rockwall City Council member Scott Milder entered the race for lieutenant governor this week, running as a Republican in the primary against incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Milder is a founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools. He announced his run yesterday, saying voters deserve “a rational conservative leader who will govern with common sense and focus on the critical challenges facing Texas.” Learn more about Milder’s announcement in these articles in the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more on developments in the race for lieutenant governor and other 2018 elections.

 


SBOE logoThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) announced a series of regional meetings aimed at gathering feedback from stakeholders as SBOE works to update its Long-Range Plan for Public Education. The first meeting was held yesterday in El Paso, but four additional meetings are scheduled between now and February throughout the state. See the schedule of future meetings, register to attend one of the events, and learn more about the purpose of the series in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Related: Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates next week as the State Board of Education holds its meeting in Austin.

 


Lt. Gov. Patrick issues Senate interim charges

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released another round of interim charges today. Today’s list, a list of issues he expects Senate committees to study and make recommendations on ahead of the 86th Legislature beginning in 2019, includes charges directed at the Senate Education Committee and a few other committees relevant to public education.

Patrick’s education charges predictably include a nod to vouchers, an issue he has long supported, and one on teacher compensation, which received a lot of special session buzz but ultimately went nowhere. Perhaps somewhat more surprising, the Senate State Affairs Committee was not assigned the task of studying the use of payroll deduction for paying professional association dues. Patrick and Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who chairs the committee, have made prohibiting the practice for educators while protecting it as an option for other public employees a top priority. The committee was, however, assigned the task of studying public pension systems in Texas. The charge reads:

  • Pensions: Examine and assess public pension systems in Texas. Specifically, review and assess (1) the different types of retirement plans; (2) the actuarial assumptions used by retirement systems to value their liabilities and the consequences of amending those assumptions; (3) retirement systems’ investment practices and performance; and (4) the adequacy of financial disclosures including asset returns and fees. Make recommendations to ensure public pension system retirees’ benefits are preserved and protected.

The full list of interim charges assigned to the Senate Education Committee are as follows (this list does not include Senate interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey):

  • Teacher Compensation: Study current local, state, and/or national compensation strategies for classroom teachers and make recommendations to elevate the teaching profession as well as comprehensive policies to attract, retain, and reward teachers.
  • Mandate Relief/Innovation: Review, modify, or abolish chapters of the education code. Specifically, study cost-drivers, unnecessary mandates, reduction/elimination of inefficiencies, focus on policies or opportunities targeted to improving student outcomes, and better utilization of taxpayer resources.
  • Classroom Conduct and Teacher Support: Examine current student discipline mandates in code, study best practice models to reduce classroom discipline issues, and provide direct support for students and classroom teachers.
  • Expand High Quality Education Opportunities: Examine highquality campus/programs in Texas and other states and make recommendations on incentives to expand high-performing campuses and programs. Review should include but not be limited to: program and course variety, unique public school models, transfer or open-enrollment policies within a district, collaboration between districts or public charters, online learning, and whether children with special educational needs, children of military families, and student populations in chronically high poverty areas should have additional options to meet their unique educational needs.
  • Virtual Education in the 21st Century Classroom: Review the Texas Virtual School Network (TVSN) and recommend methods of updating and improving the system to boost online virtual education.
  • Dual Credit: Review dual credit opportunities throughout the state, examining the impact of HB 505 (84th Legislature) on students in particular. Look at the outcomes of statewide studies completed in Texas regarding dual credit, and examine the current rigor of dual credit courses, as well as how to improve advising for students in dual credit. (JOINT CHARGE with HIGHER EDUCATION)
  • Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 85th Legislature, relevant agencies, and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation including:
    • State matching of the federal E-rate program (SB 1),
    • Improper relationships between educators and students and reporting of educator misconduct (SB 7), Establishment of a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) and workforce pathways (SB 22),
    • A prohibition of a monitoring system performance indicator based solely on the number or percentage of students receiving special education service (SB 160),
    • A school district contracting to partner with an open-enrollment charter school to operate a district campus (SB 1882).

The Senate interim charges released to date can be found here, here, and here (Hurricane Harvey specific).

Lt. Gov. Patrick releases interim charges on Harvey

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released his list of interim charges pertaining to Hurricane Harvey on Thursday, Sept. 28. The list directs nine Senate committees to study and make recommendations on a total of 25 issues related to the recent disaster.

Two of those charges were sent to the Senate Education Committee, where the committee will be tasked with addressing recovery efforts for the 60 counties with public schools affected by storm (according to the most recent tally released by the Texas Education Agency). The committee will also look at school finance issues as a result of Hurricane Harvey and future response to natural disasters. The Senate Education Committee interim charges are as follows:

  • Assess and make recommendations for state and local K-12 hurricane recovery efforts. Examine the crisis management response of the Texas Education Agency and identify changes to the Education Code that would expedite the state response to school districts and public charter schools in the aftermath of any disaster.
  • Determine the impact on school finance of possible state actions such as, but not limited to, changes to student enrollment calculations or property valuation. Assess student displacement caused by Hurricane Harvey and consider actions the Commissioner of Education may take to adjust attendance levels or calculations in the wake of a disaster. Make recommendations for legislative action including potential changes to the process and timeliness of payments to districts by private insurers, FEMA and the state.

The full list of Senate interim charges can be viewed here. Speaker Straus released the House interim charges on Hurricane Harvey earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on hearings and other news regarding all of the Harvey-related interim charges.

TEA submits ESSA plan for review

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), on Monday. Submission of the plan triggered a 120-day window for the U.S. Dept of Education LogoU.S. Department of Education (ED) to review Texas’s proposal, a process that includes conducting a peer review and an evaluation by ED staff, primarily to ensure our state’s compliance with statutory requirements.

ATPE weighed in with input on the draft Texas plan during the public comment period last month. The plan saw some changes prior to submission to ED, but is largely similar to the draft plan that received public comment. ESSA provided flexibility to states in terms of using federal money to foster innovative approaches to accountability and assessments, among other areas covered under the law. Texas’s plan takes advantage of only some of that flexibility.

More on the final Texas ESSA plan and additional information on ESSA in Texas can be found at TEA’s ESSA web page. All states were required to submit final plans to ED this month (both Alabama and Texas received a deadline extension due to timing of hurricanes and hurricane recovery efforts).