Author Archives: Kate Kuhlmann

Senate Education Committee hears voucher bill

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 21, to take up Senate Bill (SB) 3, the priority voucher bill of Lt. Gov. Patrick authored by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). As expected, and as has become customary in the committee on voucher legislation, the meeting kicked off with invited testimony from voucher proponents flown in from across the country. The hearing continued for roughly ten hours as witnesses testified and senators asked questions related to the bill and testimony.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against SB 3 on behalf of ATPE, beginning his testimony by pointing to a long standing anti-voucher position in the ATPE Legislative Program that member educators amend and vote on annually. Exter told senators that there is plenty legislators could do to help Texas education, particularly the disadvantaged and minority students that proponents hail as winners under a voucher program, but that establishing a voucher program is not one of them. Rather, the vast majority of disadvantaged students would suffer the most under a voucher program.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

In highlighting only a few options senators could focus on instead of vouchers in order to help poor and minority students, Exter pointed to updating formulas that currently fail to adequately direct money to the kids who need it most and cost the most to educate (such as English language learners and students with special needs), fully funding a bilingual education program, and reinstating support for the math and reading academies that resulted in big educational impacts on students at the bottom of the education gap.

Exter also highlighted the costs associated with vouchers that senators are failing to consider. He told the committee that in addition to the money that will be taken out of the public school system due to student movement to other education options provided to them through vouchers, the much greater cost would come in subsequent years, when children not currently of school age become eligible without having ever stepped foot in the public school system.

Under SB 3l, any child currently of school age must first spend a year in the public school system; if their parents determine the public school doesn’t meet their needs, those students can opt for a voucher. However, children who reach school age in the coming years wouldn’t be required to ever try a public school. Some 600,000 parents currently educate their children in a home or private school setting in Texas, which means many parents would have access to public funds they could use to supplement their child’s non-public education in the future.

The fiscal note, which estimates the impact a bill would have on the state budget, for SB 3 was released yesterday in connection with the hearing. Surprisingly, the number used to calculate the impact was based on merely 25,000 Texas schoolchildren choosing vouchers, resulting in a negative impact to the state of more than $300 million. That is a usage rate of less than one percent, a percentage lower than the usage rates in states that already have vouchers. For instance, it was mentioned during the hearing that Indiana has a usage rate of closer to 3%; at that rate we would be talking about a hit to Texas education funding in the billions, not millions. Using the rate of 5%, the Center for Public Policy Priorities estimates a negative impact of $2 billion to the state coffers.

Yesterday’s voucher hearing took place on the heels of stunning news reports about legislators receiving fake letters in support of SB 3. As reported by our friends at The Texas Tribune, a few rural lawmakers called their constituents who were identified as purported senders of the letters and learned that some of them had no knowledge of the letters being sent in their names and were, in fact, opposed to the voucher legislation.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1The Senate Education committee met until 10 p.m. last night hearing testimony and ultimately left SB 3 pending. The committee meets again Thursday, March 23, to consider pending business. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to senators about SB 3.

Federal Update: Trump budget proposal, new ESSA guidelines for state plans

President Donald Trump released his 2018 federal budget proposal today, which would cut funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by $9 billion and invest significant dollars into vouchers, charter school expansion, and portability funding. The budget proposal comes a week after Congress voted to scrap Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability rules and days after ED released its new guidance for states to use while designing their ESSA plans.

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

The President’s budget blueprint proposes to cut funding for ED by 13%, reducing its budget from the current level of $68 billion to $59 billion. Cuts to those programs come in various areas affecting both K-12 and higher education funding. Congress will consider the proposal as they negotiate the budget they are tasked with writing.

Dollar banknotes heapThe budget proposal entirely cuts a program aimed at recruiting, supporting, and training educators. That program, which primarily focuses on educators in high-needs schools, totals $2.4 billion. The 1st Century Community Learning Centers program that totals $1.2 billion and provides funding for before-school, after-school, and summer enrichment programs would also be gutted. Other programs seeing significant cuts would include Federal Work-Study, TRIO, and GEAR UP (the latter two both support disadvantaged students in becoming college ready).

“The 2018 Budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs,” opening lines of the ED section of the blueprint read.

In the case of President Trump’s budget, school choice means charter school expansion, portability funding, and vouchers, and, although no specifics are offered, the $1.4 billion dedicated in 2018 would ramp up to an annual total of $20 billion (a number then candidate Trump touted on the campaign trail) over the course of an unspecified time. The budget also estimates that funding for these projects will hit $100 billion when state and local matching funds are included. Trump campaigned on a plan that would “favor” states with private school choice and charter laws.

Specifically, President Trump’s proposal provides a $168 million increase in funding for charter schools, $250 million that would go toward a new (but undefined) private school choice program, and a $1 billion increase to Title I funding that would all be dedicated to portability within public schools, a term commonly used to refer to the idea of Title I money following the child to the school of their choice (rather than focusing the money on schools with the most need). ATPE wrote a letter to members of Congress in 2015 that touched on portability funding. Title I portability was being considered at the time but didn’t pass.

One thing the budget outlined by the White House doesn’t touch is funding for educating students with disabilities. While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains vastly underfunded, President Trump’s budget maintains its funding level at around $13 billion. IDEA was passed by Congress with the promise to give states 40 percent of the cost required to educate children with disabilities. However, the federal share has fallen significantly short for decades; it now sits around 16 percent.

(I have a little more here on the federal budget process as a whole. The post is from 2015 and also offers a look back at how a budget proposal under President Obama and the Congressional budgeting process compared.)

New ESSA guidance on state plans

A few days before President Trump released his budget proposal, ED released a new guideline document for states to use as they develop their state plans required under ESSA. The guidelines replace a similar document issued by the Obama administration late last year, which was aligned to the accountability rule Congress scrapped last week. The new guidelines align only with what is written in ESSA, since the now obsolete rule has no teeth and ED cannot replace it unless Congress writes a new law that gives the department the new authority.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeUltimately, states have more flexibility with regard to designing their plans. That includes offering summative accountability scores for districts, which ATPE argued against in comments to the Obama administration. Texas enacted an “A through F” grading system for schools last legislative session and there are bills in the current legislature that aim to tweak the system prior to its going into effect next school year. Despite the lack of requirement from the federal government and the fact that several states have abandoned their own versions of the letter grading system, Texas does not seem poised to scrap the “A through F” grading aspect of the law.

States must still submit their ESSA state plans by April 3 for review and by September 18 for approval. The Texas Education Agency has yet to share its ESSA plan.

 

Voucher alert: Patrick’s priority bill to be heard Tuesday

NO VOUCHERSUPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that SB 3, originally scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday, March 16, will be heard instead on Tuesday, March 21.

The Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s priority voucher bill authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Thursday Tuesday, March 21, at 9 a.m. The bill has been referred to as a “school voucher on steroids,” because it contains not one, but two forms of vouchers.

The bill sets up two different voucher programs: An education savings account (ESA) and a tax credit scholarship. One funnels public tax dollars through parents while the other allows a private vendor to redirect taxpayer money, but the result is the same. Under both, public tax dollars are sent to private entities without public oversight, transparency, or accountability. (My colleague, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, has a thorough run-down of the bill and both proposed voucher programs here.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE will oppose SB 3, as we do all efforts to privatize public education and redirect needed taxpayer dollars to private or home schools, but your voice must be heard too! ATPE members can log on to Advocacy Central to inform their legislators of their opposition to SB 3 and encourage committee members to vote against the legislation.

Visit the Senate broadcasts page to watch the hearing live on Thursday or search the archived footage for a chance to catch the hearing at a later date. All educators with free time over spring break are encouraged to attend and register their opposition to SB 3!

Federal Update: Obama education regulations likely to be repealed

medwt16002Two Obama administration rules involving teacher preparation and accountability are in the process of being scrapped. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block recently finalized regulations involving teacher preparation and accountability, and the U.S. Senate did the same this week. The resolution to repeal the rules is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for final approval.

The teacher preparation rules were released in October after years of delay due to significant opposition from some stakeholders. The final version did include revisions to temper concerns, but the original proposal remained largely intact. The accountability rules were a piece of the much bigger set of regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and involved a much more contentious debate on the Senate floor. The Senate narrowly passed the repeal measure. (Eight Democrats joined Republicans in voting the repeal the teacher preparation rules, but no Democrats voted to dismantle the accountability rules and one Republican joined them in opposition.)

Proponents of scrapping the regulations say the rules represent federal overreach and fail to convey the intent of Congress. Critics of the repeal believe strong standards are needed in order to hold teacher preparation programs and schools accountable. President Trump is widely expected to sign the rule repeals.

Interestingly, the Congressional Review Act prohibits agencies from issuing new rules in “substantially the same form” without Congress passing a new law that explicitly allows them to do so. While the teacher preparation rules could be readdressed in a more timely manner, since Congress is due to rewrite the Higher Education Act, a new law pertaining to accountability is likely years out.

In the meantime, states will have to rely on statutory language of ESSA to remain compliant under the law. The timing of the effort to do away with these administrative rules interpreting ESSA has created some ambiguity for states that are currently in the process of developing their required state plans for implementing the federal law. Some states have already announced that they will proceed with ESSA state plans that were being developed in alignment with the regulations previously put out by the Obama administration, even though those regulations may no longer be in effect going forward.

SBEC delays potential early childhood education certificate

SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met last week for its first regular meeting of 2017. The board welcomed its newest member, Yes Prep’ alternative certification program Director Carlos Villagrana, and continued discussion on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) interest in developing a Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate.

As we previously reported, TEA, through its Office of Early Childhood Education, began discussions with SBEC in December 2016 regarding internal interest in developing a new certificate dedicated to early childhood education. Following the December discussion, the board instructed TEA to (1) gather input from stakeholders on the new certificate and (2) explore the possibility of an early childhood endorsement that would be added to the existing Early Childhood through Grade 6 Certificate (EC-6), the current generalist certificate that would remain under either scenario.

TEA gathered input via a public survey tool and through conversations with stakeholders. When the data from the survey was presented to SBEC at last Friday’s meeting, members of the board expressed frustration over the fact that the survey and subsequent discussion failed to involve consideration of an endorsement, instead focusing solely on the potential new certificate.

Early Childhood EducationOne board member also highlighted that data from the survey showed that the majority of respondents expressed some level of concern with offering a new Prekindergarten-Grade 3 Certificate in addition to the current EC-6. Public testifiers were largely in support of the discussion to offer more specific and focused training to educators of early childhood educators, but several expressed concerns with the additional certification. I previously outlined some of the concerns based on historical context here.

Ultimately, SBEC instructed TEA to take a step back in order to gather better information and stakeholder input on both options. The item will be back before the board at its next meeting in June.

 

Texans in Congress support federal voucher bills as Trump continues privatization push

United States Capitol BuildingIt probably comes as no surprise to Texans that federal voucher bills are being filed in the U.S. Congress after President Donald Trump campaigned on a $20 billion voucher plan promise. He continued to promote such a plan last night during his first speech to Congress. However, Texans might be surprised to learn that some of their elected representatives are jumping on board as supporters of these pieces of legislation.

Texan serves as original co-sponsor on House voucher bill

A bill termed the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was filed in the U.S. House recently with Texas Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. H.R. 610 would create a federal voucher program and repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was most recently amended by and is commonly referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Instead, the Department of Education’s (ED) authority would be limited to awarding block grants to states that legalize vouchers and follow the federal voucher program requirements.

The “Choices in Education Act” voucher would work like this:

  • ED would distribute block grants to qualified states.
  • States would distribute that money to districts based on the number of eligible school children within each district.
  • Districts would be responsible for distributing a portion of their funds to parents who choose to enroll their child in a private school or home-school their child. The amount distributed would be equal to the per-student federal funding in each state. Districts would be responsible for distributing funding in a way that ensures money is spent on “appropriate educational expenses.”

Both Texas senators co-sponsor Senate voucher bill

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has a voucher bill (S. 235) called the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or the CHOICE Act. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have signed on as cosponsors.

The “Choice Act” has three parts:

  1. The bill would expand eligibility for the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the federally funded voucher program that distributes funding to students in the District of Columbia only.
  2. The bill would make funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) portable, meaning qualified students could take their portion to the private or public school of their choice. It would also provide states seed money for establishing a special education voucher program.
  3. The bill would create the Military Scholarship Program, allowing students living on military bases to use a voucher at the private or public school of their choice. Students would be eligible for the combined cost of tuition, fees, and transportation, with an $8,000 cap for elementary students and $12,000 for secondary students.

White House continues push but offers no details

The White HouseLast night during his prime time speech to a joint session of Congress, his first time to address the body, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for vouchers and called on Congress to pass a bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He didn’t offer additional details on such a plan, adding that ”families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

It has been reported that the White House is considering a tax credit scholarship approach, something neither of the above bills would offer. Again, details on the type of federal tax credit scholarship President Trump might be considering have not been released. (Check out an example of a tax credit scholarship in our post on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill being considered here in Texas.) In short, tax credit scholarships give taxpaying entities or individuals a break on their taxes in exchange for donations to a voucher fund. The fund is then used to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools or to fund a home-school education. During his campaign, President Trump campaigned on a promise to redirect $20 billion dollars in federal spending to a voucher program.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can alert their federal representatives of their opinions on these and other federal voucher bills by logging on to Advocacy Central.

TEA seeks input on Early Childhood certification issue

Early Childhood EducationThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) is seeking input from stakeholders on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. TEA has begun discussions with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) regarding adding such a certificate and would like to utilize feedback from the survey when addressing SBEC about the idea at its March meeting.

Your input as an educator working within the Texas public school system will be valuable to TEA and SBEC as they consider moving forward on this possible new certificate. The survey is open until Friday, February 24 and can be found here.

Background and Context

Supporters of adding a more narrow certificate field for early childhood educators believe it would help teachers assigned to those early grades focus on the needs of their students. More specified certification and training gives teachers in the classroom a more specific skill set, knowledge, and understanding of the grades they go on to teach. Educators know that the way one teaches and the content one teaches vary significantly between grade levels. Certainly, early education looks much different than education in upper-level primary grades and at the secondary level.

A more specified certification is not a new concept to Texas. Many Texas educators will remember a time when teachers could get either an Early Childhood-Grade 4 Certification or a Grades 4-8 Certification. The vast majority of teachers sought and received an Early Childhood-Grade 4 Certification, leaving few available to fill the remaining primary school classrooms in grades 5 and 6. The unfortunate reality under this scenario was that many teachers were asked to teach outside of their certification area without corresponding training and additional support. Recognizing this wasn’t a good scenario for the teacher or the students in those classrooms, the state moved to the more general Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certification that is now available.

TEA has stated that it is not proposing to do away with the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certification. The new Pre-K to Grade 3 Educator Certificate would be offered simply as an alternative to the current general certificate that covers more grades. However, some worry that if more certification candidates choose to pursue early childhood certification instead of the EC-6 certificate, then the supply of those teachers will outpace the demand in terms of job openings, and teaching assignments in grades 4 through 6 will become harder for districts to staff. This could lead to another waiver situation as was experienced a decade ago when teachers certified in grades K-4 were forced to teach grades 5 or 6 in order to keep their jobs.

ATPE encourages educators to share their feedback on this idea with TEA before the survey closes on Feb. 24.

Senate confirms Betsy DeVos with help from Vice President

The U.S. Senate voted today to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. Senators were literally split on her nomination, a 50-50 tie. The anticipated scenario meant Vice President Mike Pence was on hand to break the tie, and his favorable vote sealed her confirmation.

Two Republican senators announced last week that they would vote against DeVos, which meant just one more Republican senator needed to join Democrats in opposing her nomination in order to block her confirmation. Despite reports that Senate offices were flooded with messages from constituents and despite targeted communication efforts aimed at a few seemingly sympathetic Senate Republicans, no additional “no” vote was identified. Interestingly, today was the first time the Vice President has broken a tie vote for a cabinet nominee.

ATPE weighed in on DeVos’s confirmation once it was final. In a statement to the press, I shared our intent to work collaboratively with DeVos and our hope that she “will focus her energy on supporting the only school system that supports all children — the public school system.” We will continue to work in conjunction with our federal relations team to ensure the voice of Texas educators and ATPE members is heard in Washington.

Final DeVos confirmation vote anticipated Monday

The nomination of Betsy DeVos to become the U.S. Secretary of Education advanced to the Senate floor this week. The full Senate is expected to take a final vote on her nomination Monday.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced her nomination out of committee Tuesday on a party line vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposing the advancement of her nomination out of committee. Two Republicans expressed uncertainty during the committee but ultimately voted in favor at that time; they later said they will oppose her nomination on the Senate floor. Without an additional identified “no’ vote, this creates a tie vote, with 50 senators expected to vote for her nomination and 50 expected to vote against. Under that scenario, the Vice President breaks the tie, meaning DeVos would seek confirmation through the help of Vice President Mike Pence.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1All reports still suggest that Texas’s two senators are poised to vote in favor of her nomination. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told CNN this morning that concerns over DeVos were not fair, adding, “If people think our public education system is perfect, then I guess they don’t think we need to have any changes or any choices for students and their families,” he said. “I certainly think we do.” ATPE members can still log on to Advocacy Central to express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos by writing, calling, or contacting their Texas senators via social media.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee is quickly pressing forward on something seen as a huge opportunity under the Trump Administration: vouchers. The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing this week entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers was Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. He advocated for “private school choice” and encouraged the federal government to leave accountability up to states. The full hearing can be viewed here.

DeVos nomination heads to Senate floor while opposition votes grow

 

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the Senate floor on Tuesday. The 12-11 vote broke down on party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed to the vote. However, two Republicans expressed some indecision during the hearing and later confirmed they’ll vote against her nomination on the Senate floor.

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The partisan breakdown over the nomination of Betsy DeVos has been on display since her confirmation hearing. The vote this week was no exception. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continued to express his support for the nominee and denied a request from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to delay the vote. Alexander called DeVos the “most questioned” education secretary in Senate history, which again had Murray pointing to the fact that this nominee is different from previous education secretaries and more time is needed in order to adequately vet the nominee.

This time, however, Alexander didn’t seem to have the full backing of all of his Republican colleagues on the committee. Two Republican Senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), expressed uncertainty with regard to their position on DeVos’s nomination. Both ultimately advanced the nomination to the Senate floor, but acknowledged the nominee had not yet earned their full support.

Today, both Republican senators announced that they have decided to oppose DeVos’s nomination when a vote is taken on the Senate floor. This is a big development as now only one additional Republican would need to join Democrats in opposing DeVos in order to block her confirmation. A simple majority on the Senate floor is all that is needed to confirm DeVos.

Opposition has grown since DeVos fumbled her confirmation hearing and calls to Senate offices have increased. The opposition has expressed serious concerns over DeVos’s credentials, lack of commitment to public education, understanding of federal law, and financial connections and contributions, among others. Murray asked for Tuesday’s committee vote on the nominee to be delayed in order to have more time to review DeVos’s responses to questions senators were not given time to ask during her confirmation hearing. Answers to most of the follow-up questions asked of DeVos can be found here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will now have a chance to vote on Betsy DeVos when her confirmation vote hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write, call, or contact their senators via social media and express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos. A date for the final vote has not been set.

Related Content: The U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education will meet tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017) for a hearing entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers is Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. Read more about the hearing and access to information to view the hearing live here.