Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Busy House tackles TRS, vouchers & merit pay

The Texas House of Representatives approved a pair of bills designed to aid retired teachers who have experienced sticker shock under new TRS-Care rates that resulted from the legislature’s underfunding of the health care program for retired public school employees. Inadequate funding formulas created a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the next biennium, which House lawmakers fought to close by contributing roughly $500 million to the program. Their efforts prevented TRS-Care from completely collapsing, but rate hikes were required to make up for the remaining deficit.

House Bill (HB) 20 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would make a one-time $212 million appropriation from the $11 billion economic stabilization fund (ESF) to lower premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for retired teachers. HB 80 by state Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) would provide for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) once TRS-Care is designated actuarially sound.

The House passed HB 20 by a vote of 130-10, with state Reps. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Jim Murphy (R-Houston), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) and Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) voting no. HB 80 was approved by a vote of 139-2, with state Reps. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) and Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) voting no.

“Based on the feedback we’ve heard back home, the House cast an overwhelming vote Tuesday to help retired teachers who are facing very steep increases in their monthly expenses,” House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote after Tuesday’s vote.

“Helping retired teachers is one of the most significant and important things that we can do in this special session, and I’m proud that the House came together today to support these educators,” said Straus. “This vote was a smart and appropriate use of about 2 percent of the $11 billion that is projected to be in the state’s Rainy Day Fund in the next budget cycle. It will keep the Rainy Day Fund balance at a historically high level while helping Texans who have committed their lives to the education of our children.”

In committee news, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) recommitted school finance HB 21 to the committee Monday afternoon. The committee then met briefly Monday evening to approve a committee substitute to HB 21 that removed the charter school funding added to the version filed at the beginning of the special session. The committee reconvened Tuesday to hear the following bills:

House Public Education Committee meeting August 1, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 1, 2017.

HB 54 by state Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would require school districts to reimburse classroom teachers at or below the sixth grade level up to $600 per school year for the cost of classroom supplies. Reimbursement would be paid through state and federal funds identified by the commissioner of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 60 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would exempt school buses from paying tolls. Similar legislation passed the Senate on the local and consent calendar during the regular session.

HB 130 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to annually report the expenses related to administering the STAAR test. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 132 by state Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) affects Fort Bend ISD, and would change the board of trustees from the current at-large system of representation to a hybrid system to include single-member districts.

HB 145 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow school districts to employ a social worker to provide “services specialized to assist students and families and designed to alleviate barriers to learning, connect the home, the community, and the school, advocate for the best interest and academic success of students, strengthen relationships, and assist with basic and psychosocial needs.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 149 by state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) would allow school districts to proportionally reduce the days of service required of an educator employed under a ten-month contract if the district anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, according to its academic calendar. This change would not affect an educator’s salary. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 157 by state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) would expand eligibility requirements for admission to an educator preparation program to include a high school equivalency certificate and full-time wage-earning experience obtained while serving in the United States armed services. ATPE submitted testimony against HB 157, pointing out research that has correlated poor preparation with lower retention and higher attrition rates for classroom teachers. This makes selected the best qualified candidates all the more important. Furthermore, expedited preparation programs are untested in Texas, and standards should not be further degraded until more is known about program effectiveness.

HB 191 by state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. The 13-member commission would include four members appointed by the governor, four appointed by the lieutenant governor, four appointed by the speaker of the House and would be chaired by a member of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Members would include legislators from each chamber, members of the business and civic communities, and a public school administrator or elected school board trustee. ATPE submitted neutral testimony on HB 191, pointing out that legislators have previously studied school finance as part of their interim charges. With school finance reform added to the expanded special session call, lawmakers should focus efforts toward substantive changes. Furthermore, any commission that studies school finance should incorporate educator input.

HB 198 by state Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) would order school districts to increase teacher pay and would create a system of teacher performance designations carrying additional pay for teachers who demonstrate high levels of student growth. HB 198 would order districts to raise the average teacher salary by $1,000 every other year, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Districts in which the average teacher pay is less than $51,000 per year would also be required to raise the average teacher salary by $1,000 for the 2019-2020 school year. School districts that received less state and local maintenance and operation (M&O) funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) or the same or less state and local funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) than the previous year would be exempt.

The bill would create a three-tiered program to designate accomplished, distinguished and master teachers. The “accomplished” designation would require a national board certification issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, for which districts would be eligible to receive a $1,900 advance from the FSP in order to cover the cost. To become “distinguished,” an accomplished teacher would need to show student growth in the top 25 percent of teachers in a similar certification field over the most recent three years. A master teacher must perform in the top five percent. Eligibility requirements and performance metrics would be established by the commissioner of education through negotiated rulemaking with educators and experts in the field of education. Applicants would be evaluated by a peer review panel consisting of a majority of master teachers.

Districts would receive an additional $4,000 in state funding for each accomplished, distinguished and master teacher employed. Alternately, rural and majority economically disadvantaged schools would be eligible to receive $8,000 for each distinguished teacher and $20,000 for each master teacher. Schools that receive alternate funding would be required to raise the average annual pay of teachers who receive additional funding to $68,000 within three years and $85,000 within five years.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on HB 198, pointing out that the devil is in the details of any merit pay system. While the bill has some promising components, there are concerns regarding the viability of funding and how to go about designing a system that works well in both small, rural schools and large, urban schools. It is also important to ensure that such a program does not become heavily reliant upon standardized test scores. ATPE applauds efforts to develop meaningful legislation, and encourages lawmakers to continue this conversation through the interim in pursuit of a plan that will achieve the critical grassroots buy-in necessary to be adopted statewide.

HB 200 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create an 18-member commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system which would include the chairmen of each chamber’s committee overseeing public education. Appointed positions would be required to include a parent, an administrator, a classroom teacher, and specialists in special education, bilingual education and career and technology education (CTE). The committee would be required to broadcast meetings live via the Internet. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 204 by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) would require electrocardiograms for students participating in University Interscholastic League (UIL) sports.

HB 224 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would entitle districts purchasing attendance credits to retain M&O tax revenue sufficient so that funding would not drop below the average M&O costs for the preceding three school years.

HB 231 by state Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) would add teacher turnover information to the information required in the performance report of a public school district. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 232 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 253 by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) is the Senate’s voucher bill, and is identical to the filed version of Senate Bill (SB) 2. The bill includes a $10,000 voucher for special education students, continued ASATR funding for certain schools that say the funding is necessary, $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a limited grant program for public school special education students to access up to $500.

Parents of disabled children have raised numerous concerns, and ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified against HB 253. The voucher in HB 253 would not cover the full cost of private special education tuition in most cases, which can average around $30,000, and which some public school districts required to fully cover under existing federal laws. Admission to private institutions would not be guaranteed, transportation is not guaranteed, and participating students would be required to waive their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

HB 263 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would require charter schools to adjust their admissions policies to prioritize students who reside within the school’s attendance zone.

HB 264 by Rep. Hinojosa would prohibit charter schools from maintaining admissions policies that discriminate on the basis of discipline history. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 272 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses. The program would have the authority to issue up to $100 million in bonds or other obligations, which would be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund.

HB 290 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would modify the sparsity adjustment to increase funding for small school districts operating programs with fewer than 130 students.

HB 306 by Rep. González would order an annual increase in the basic allotment by the greater of the national inflation rate or one percent of the allotment for the preceding school year. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 320 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would create an education enhancement program for certain students with disabilities. The program would cover costs for transportation, private tutoring, educational therapies and related services for students with dyslexia, autism, speech disabilities, and learning disabilities. Program participants would continue to be public school students and would retain IDEA rights. The program would be funded at $10 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 320, while also pointing out room for improvement. Exter suggested agency oversight can and should play a role in ensuring children receive the correct services and is in a position to review disputes between parents and local school districts.

HB 324 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of the “A through F” school accountability system.

HB 325 by Rep. Dutton would include a student residing in the boundaries of a school district who is attending an open-enrollment charter school in calculating the district’s WADA.

School finance reform bill heads to full House

The House Public Education Committee approved school finance HB 21 Tuesday by a vote of 10-1, with state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) voting in opposition. The committee unanimously approved HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding, and HB 23, which would create an autism grant program. One or more could reach the House floor by Monday.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

Noting concerns raised by some over changes from the regular session version of the bill, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) indicated he would be open to floor amendments to HB 21 restricting charter school funding in the bill to special needs and dropout recovery schools, as well as extending hardship grants to 1993 hold harmless districts.

The committee met Tuesday morning to consider additional bills related to school finance and other subjects. Among those is HB 22 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would extend additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR) funding to certain school districts for an additional biennium.

HB 98 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor teacher program, and is identical to HB 816 filed by Bernal during the regular session. The program would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note for HB 816, the program would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 140 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would allow districts to include full days of attendance for each student who attends full-day prekindergarten. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 178 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend career and technology education (CTE) allotment eligibility to the eighth grade. Currently, only high school programs are eligible for weighted funding through the CTE allotment.

HB 248 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would extend ASATR funding to districts that received ASATR funding for the 2016-2017 school year and operated a campus in a county in which no other district operated a campus. Funding under HB 248 could be counted against the total amount of attendance credits required to be purchased by districts under recapture.

HB 256 by Vice-chair Bernal would modify the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) report on equalized funding elements under the public school finance system. The bill would add a requirement that the LBB adopt rules necessary to enable each student to achieve satisfactory performance on state assessment instruments and include in its report recommendations regarding the equalized funding elements necessary to do so.

Chairman Huberty announced the House could see a long day on the floor next Monday, and the committee will therefore plan to meet again next Tuesday.

House Public Education sets focus on school finance

The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the special session Monday at the Texas Capitol. After championing public education during the regular session, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) made clear that the committee will continue to devote its time to real solutions to public education issues, beginning with school finance.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

HB 21 by Chairman Huberty remains House leadership’s priority school finance bill, and the refiled special session version contains a few changes from the engrossed version approved by the Texas House during the regular session. The current bill would roll the transportation and high school allotments into the basic allotment, which would increase by $375 to $5,140 from $4,765, and would increase the guaranteed level of state support for interest and sinking (I&S) funding. HB 21 would create a weighted allotment for students with dyslexia or related disorders and increase the weight for the bilingual allotment. The legislation adds $25 million in charter school funding and would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment over a five year period. It includes $159 in hardship assistance grants for districts that are scheduled to lose funding under additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR).

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 21, pointing out that the committee’s decision to focus on meaningful school finance solutions sends a strong message that the Texas House continues to put children first. ATPE supported HB 21 during the regular session as well.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty is identical to HB 23 filed during the regular session, which would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 61 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would grant school districts required to reduce their wealth per student the ability to count their transportation allotment against the total amount of attendance credits the districts is required to purchase.

HB 62 by Rep. Hinojosa would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to reduce the taxable value of property of a school district that provided social security coverage for district employees before January 1, 2017, by a percentage of value equal to the percentage of the district’s required contribution for social security coverage.

HB 194 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment under the Foundation School Program over a five year period and eliminates the bracketing to districts that contain at least 300 square miles. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 197 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would increase the weight for the bilingual education allotment to .25 from .1. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 234 by Vice-chair Bernal would increase the weight for the compensatory education allotment to .25 from .2. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 258 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would increase the basic allotment by $1,075 and increase weighted funding for bilingual education and students with disabilities. It would also eliminate the high school allotment and increase the guaranteed level of funding per cent of tax effort. Additionally, HB 258 would order a study of the funding weights and a review of the state’s school finance system following each legislative session. ATPE supports this bill.

All bills were left pending Monday. The committee is scheduled to convene Tuesday morning to discuss additional legislation.

Special session begins with educators out in force

Rally attendeesThe July special session of the 85th Texas Legislature – formally referred to as the “first called session” in Capitol parlance – kicked off this week on the heels of a large rally in support of public education.

More than 800 educators and allies rallied Monday on the Capitol steps to show lawmakers headed to town for the special session that educators are ready to stand up for children and classrooms. The event was hosted by grassroots group Texans for Public Education and organized with the help of ATPE. Nearly a dozen educator organizations contributed speakers.

Julleen speaking to media at rally

Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to add a number of anti-public education items to the special session call, including harmful voucher legislation and bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction to support professional organizations. Both could have catastrophic effects on public education, and educators vowed to hold lawmakers accountable for their actions during the 30 days ahead.

The governor’s special education voucher would subsidize unaccountable private schools with public taxpayer dollars. Proposals during the regular session would have covered at most around $9,000 of the $40,000 tuition typical of private special education program providers, which would guarantee only a small number of affluent families would benefit. Furthermore, vouchers would not guarantee children admission into private programs and would force those who were admitted to surrender federal rights and protections guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). State Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrolton) is carrying two voucher bills during the special session, House Bill (HB) 52 and HB 58.

Kate and mom at rally

The rally’s turnout highlighted the power of educators’ voices at the Capitol, which some lawmakers hope to diminish by limiting their ability to join a professional organization or association through a ban on payroll deduction of membership dues. Senate Bill (SB) 7 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and HB 156 by state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) target educators while exempting police, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel. The legislation purports to hurt unions, but would actually protect some of the state’s largest unions while singling out educators in non-union professional associations including ATPE. Supporters of these anti-teacher payroll deduction bills (identical to the regular session predecessor that was Senate Bill 13) hope to diminish the ability of educators to influence legislation that improves public schools, helps the state’s 5.4 million public school children, and uplifts the teaching profession.

Both retired and active educators face rising costs for healthcare under the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), and school districts face increasing financial hardships as a result of the Texas Senate’s killing desperately needed school funding proposals during the regular session. Both are a result of lawmakers failing to heed the voices of public education supporters, who are preparing to track the actions of legislators during the special session and hold them accountable at the ballot box.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey summed up the message of Monday’s event to the teachers in attendance: “Vote your profession.”

Godsey speaking at rally

Monday’s rally was attended by a number of pro-education legislators, including state Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), Donna Howard (D-Austin), Ed Thompson (R-Pearland), Ernest Bailes (R-Coldspring), Celia Israel (D-Austin), Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), Dan Flynn (R-Van) and others. Hundreds of ATPE members and staff attended, including newly-elected state officers and past presidents. With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees, ATPE provided water that was generously donated by Pepsi and Dr. Pepper/Snapple.

Educators with Cook at rally

The Texas House and Senate gaveled in Tuesday morning for the official start of the special session. The 30-day special session was necessitated by the Senate’s failure to pass a “sunset” bill reauthorizing the Texas Medical Board (TMB) during the regular session. Sunset legislation must pass in order for the medical board that licenses doctors to continue to exist, and the TMB legislation is the only item formally before the legislature at this point. The governor has vowed to add another 19 items to the special session call as soon as the sunset legislation clears the Senate.

In the House, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) confirmed that the TMB sunset legislation is the only item eligible for action until the governor expands the special session call to include other legislation. The House’s TMB legislation was referred to committee, where it was swiftly approved today.

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick broke 50 years of legislative precedent by waiving the “tag rule” that allows Senators to require 48 hours’ notice before holding a public hearing on a bill. This rule gives lawmakers who may be voting on the bill time to prepare and gives members of the public wishing to voice their opinions on the bill time to arrange for travel. Instead, Senate Republicans voted with Patrick to suspend the rule and hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee approved the sunset bill in less than an hour, setting up a full Senate vote today. After approving the legislation on second reading, the Senate adjourned until 12:01 a.m. Thursday, at which point the Senate is expected to approve the legislation on third reading and send it to the House. The lieutenant governor gave no explanation for scheduling the midnight vote.

With sunset legislation moving expediently through the Senate, an expansion of the governor’s special session call to include private school vouchers, eliminating payroll deduction, and other education-related issues could come at any time. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on any legislative activity that affects public education. ATPE members are also urged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their legislators about these issues.

Lt. Gov. Patrick outlines teacher pay, TRS proposals

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlined a plan Thursday that on the surface promised a raise for teachers and relief for rate hikes resulting from the TRS-Care funding shortfall which lawmakers only partially covered during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Patrick proposed to provide pay increases and bonuses based on longevity, which is at odds with what is widely expected to be a performance-based plan offered by Gov. Greg Abbott. A $1,000 pay raise for the state’s roughly 350,000 teachers would carry a state fiscal note of approximately $700 million over the next biennium. Abbott and Patrick have both suggested raises could be funded through existing district budgets, which in reality would amount to an unfunded mandate districts would be unlikely to afford.

The budget passed by the Texas Senate during the regular session spent nearly $2 billion less on public schools, forcing districts to rely even more on local property tax revenue to keep funding flat relative to inflation and enrollment growth. In an unsuccessful effort to pass a voucher bill unpopular with Texas voters, the Senate blocked a plan by the House to invest an additional $1.6 billion in public education that would have increased overall funding and provided relief to schools facing potential closure as a result of the loss of Additional State Aid for Tax Relief (ASATR) funds.

On Thursday, Patrick suggested providing $150 million in relief to the mostly small, rural schools that now face a funding crisis and putting another $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). The system was forced to raise rates in June after the legislature covered roughly half of the $1 billion shortfall facing TRS-Care heading into the 2017 legislative session.

The House plan would have made use of a common budget process known as a deferral, which Lt. Gov. Patrick referred to Thursday as a “Ponzi scheme.” Yet the lieutenant governor suggested finding $700 million in funding for his plan by using just such a deferral – this time for payments to managed care organizations. In the long term, Patrick suggested using $700 million of the $1.3 billion the Texas Lottery already sends to public education. It is important to note that such a procedure would not involve new funding, and could force local districts to cut spending in other areas in order to cover the cost.

ATPE maintains that teachers deserve a raise and relief from rising health care costs that is fully funded by the state. Without a formal proposal to review, it is difficult to judge the merits of the lieutenant governor’s plan. While it is heartening to hear the lieutenant governor acknowledge these as important issues, it’s difficult to take any proposal without new funding seriously.

The education community remains under attack by bills to weaken public schools through private school vouchers and legislation to silence educators by banning payroll deduction for membership association dues. Both the governor and lieutenant governor support these bills.

 

SBOE completes ELAR/SLAR TEKS review

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday to conclude its June meeting. The 15-member body kicked off the day by approving a list of consent items approved earlier in the week, including sweeping changes to the TEKS review process and the appointment of three board members to the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee. Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) successfully offered an amendment to ensure that at least one person nominated by each of the ten remaining SBOE members will be appointed to the committee.

State Board of Education meeting June 23, 2017.

State Board of Education meeting June 23, 2017.

The board then moved on to consider a handful of open-enrollment charter school applications awaiting final approval. The five schools were Bridgeway Preparatory Academy in Dallas, which plans to focus on students with special needs, Etoile Academy Charter School in Houston, Legacy School of Sport Sciences in the Woodlands, which plans to focus on non-athletic careers in sports, Valor Public Schools in Austin, and Yellowstone College Preparatory in Houston.

It’s important to note that the board has the statutory authority to veto charter applications if members have concerns, and it is the only point in the life cycle of a charter in which representatives elected by Texas citizens have a say in the process. This power preserves the democratic process and ensures taxpayers have at least a small say regarding taxpayer-supported charter schools.

Members asked pointed questions Friday to ascertain the goals and capabilities of each applicant, including ties by the founders of Valor Public Schools to Arizona-based charter school chain Great Hearts Academies. The SBOE vetoed an expansion of Great Hearts in 2014 over concerns that the chain catered to a less diverse, more affluent student population and failed to make proper notifications for its Texas project. Member Lawrence Allen (D-Houston) prodded Yellowstone, which plans to open in Houston’s Third Ward, to assure the board that the charter would primarily serve students who currently reside in the historically low-income community, as opposed to “importing” students from wealthier communities. The board approved all five charters on Friday’s agenda.

The board then approved on final adoption the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for high school English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), Spanish Language Arts and Reading (SLAR) and English as a Second Language (ESL). The rules recommend an implementation date of the 2020-2021 school year. Members also approved two new innovative courses: Making Connections III, Making Connections IV.

The board will next meet September 12 through 15.

SBOE reviews bills related to permanent school fund

The State Board of Education (SBOE) broke into committees Thursday, and the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund took a look at legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature.

State Board of Education Committee on School Finance/PSF meeting June 22, 2017.

State Board of Education Committee on School Finance/PSF meeting June 22, 2017.

Effective September 1, 2017, House Bill (HB) 89 prohibits state agency contracts with and investments in companies that boycott Israel. The state comptroller is currently compiling a list of companies that could fall under this category. Agencies would be required to submit a report by January 1 of each year to the legislature and the office of attorney general. This affects the SBOE due to the board’s role in overseeing investments of the Permanent School Fund (PSF).

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) asked whether HB 89 would require the board to scrub hedge fund portfolios. Staff advised that in such cases, the board may not necessarily be required to divest. Staff suggested the board may not be required to comply with HB 89 in the event that doing so would violate the board’s fiduciary responsibility.

Similarly, Senate Bill (SB) 253 relates to companies that engage in business in Sudan or Iran or with terrorist organizations. This legislation does not specifically name SBOE or the PSF, so staff advised that the board is likely unaffected.

SB 1480 phases in a higher capacity for charter schools to access the Bond Guarantee Program (BGP), which guarantees bonds for public and charter schools by backing them with the PSF. This enables public and charter schools to access better interest rates. The total capacity available to charters was $1 billion on January 1, 2017. SB 1480 will increase the total capacity to $5.4 billion over five years, increasing by about 20 percent, roughly $800 million, each year. The SBOE will have to determine the exact percentage of increase each year, beginning in September.

The committee also approved changing the definition of tax collections used to calculate state aid for ad valorem tax credits. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff recommended the change to conform the rules to align with statute. Instead of the current process in which a refund is issued after taxes are collected, the tax credit will be excluded from collection.

The board will conclude its June meeting on Friday.

SBOE considers big changes to TEKS review

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday to begin a work session on the schedule for review and revision of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the processes for review and streamlining of the TEKS, and the review and adoption cycle for instructional materials aligned to revised TEKS.

State Board of Education meeting June 21, 2017.

State Board of Education meeting June 21, 2017.

Staff began by outlining a new TEKS review process. The current process can be viewed on the TEA website. Instead of a separate streamlining process and revision process, the agency proposed combining both into a single process that allows board members the option to decide whether each set of TEKS requires a full revision, revision based on current standards or something else. This would allow the board to set a formal charge stating its intent regarding each TEKS under review.

TEKS Review and Revision Process

Staff provided a flow chart to illustrate the process, which would begin with TEA collecting information via survey from educators regarding student expectations. This is similar to how TEA began the most recent streamlining of science TEKS. The agency would conduct a briefing or set of briefings for interested stakeholders to allow for earlier feedback.

The board would identify content advisors with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, who have demonstrated expertise in the subject area in which he or she is being appointed, and has either taught or worked in such field. The board discussed appointing up to seven advisors, plus two advisors recommended by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), for a total of nine. Board members suggested the higher education advisors could be selected from a list of candidates provided by THECB. Content advisors would be involved in the process at many more points than in the current process.

The agency would post an open application for work group participants. Instead of a single work group from start to finish, the agency suggested appointing a series of smaller work groups, which would be assigned a certain task over a certain period of time. Work groups would include representation from all SBOE members, and would include educators, parents and business leaders. The work groups would be refreshed over time from a pool of applicants approved by the board, with participants rolled off to be replaced by new participants on a staggered schedule that would replace half the group at a time. Each participant would be able to participate in two face-to-face meetings.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) noted that roughly 500 educators applied to review the English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS, and many had to be turned down because of the limited number of work group positions. Board chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) said the new process would allow for many more participants over the life cycle of the TEKS review.

Work products would be updated to the TEA website after each work group cycle. Staff said this will result in more documents made available to the public, which will provide more opportunities to track the process and offer feedback. Staff suggested moving the public hearings to the discussion and first reading meetings, which would be earlier in the process, in the hopes of encouraging public feedback sooner and reducing the amount of amendments later in the process. Content advisors would review public comments during the 30-day public comment period and present recommendations to the board. The goal is to eliminate meetings that stretch late into the night, resulting in members feeling rushed to vote on language they may not have fully digested.

The board indicated that in the event a board member misses a deadline to approve or reject work group applicants from his or her district, the staff may draw upon applicants as though they’ve been approved. The board also indicated it is favorable to continuing to pay content advisors a $2,000 stipend and reimburse them for travel.

“This is a big deal. This is a big change,” Bahorich said, recognizing staff for their work in compiling framework for the new process. The board approved the changes at the end of Wednesday’s meeting.

The board also discussed the TEKS review schedule. Because of the large number of career and technical education (CTE) courses, staff recommended the board consider CTE on its own cycle, taking up one to three career clusters at a time. Since instructional materials for social studies are not currently in danger of aging out, staff recommended the board simply streamline the social studies TEKS beginning in the fall and postpone a full revision to 2023. This would enable the board to tackle a more pressing need to revise the science TEKS.

After breaking for lunch, the board reviewed development of TEKS for new high school courses. Development has been completed for courses on personal financial literacy, CTE personal financial literacy, computer programming languages, applied Algebra II, non-AP statistics, financial accounting, DC circuits and digital fundamentals.

The board recommended expediting the development of TEKS for courses on interaction with law enforcement and cybersecurity, which were mandated by legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Staff estimated both could be completed in 2018. The board approved a priority list of pending courses scheduled for development, including non-AP calculus and Mexican-American studies scheduled for 2019, and comparative literature and world geography/world history for 2020. The board had initially expressed uncertainty over whether to develop TEKS for a course on Mexican-American studies, which is one of several currently approved innovative courses. Innovative courses can be offered by districts without the need for new TEKS. There must be TEKS before textbooks are solicited through the proclamation process, since new textbooks are judged against the TEKS for each specific course.

Finally, the board elected members Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), and Georgina Cecilia Perez (D-El Paso) to join member Cargill and chair Bahorich on the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee. The first meeting of the steering committee will be immediately prior to the board’s September meeting. Subsequent meetings will go into “deep dives” on education issues. The committee will draft priorities, then draft strategies for those priorities. The committee will then compile a full report which will be submitted to the board.

The 18-member committee will also include one appointee each from TEA, THECB, and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), and ten members of the public. Shortly after Friday’s SBOE meeting, TEA will post a Long-Range Plan Steering Committee application similar to those used for TEKS work groups, which will be active through July. Board members not on the committee will each nominate three people from the applicant pool to serve on the committee. Of those 30, the five SBOE members on the committee will choose the final ten nominees to join them on the committee, as well as alternates.

SBOE begins June meeting with A-F update

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Tuesday for its June session, during which the 15 members will continue work on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) and Spanish Language Arts and Reading (SLAR) and English as a Second Language (ESL). The board is also scheduled to discuss changes to the TEKS review schedule and appoint members to a Long-Range Plan Steering Committee.

The State Board of Education hears from education commissioner Mike Morath at the board's June 2017 meeting.

The State Board of Education hears from education commissioner Mike Morath at the board’s June 2017 meeting.

Tuesday began with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner Mike Morath, who reported the spring testing cycle was completed with satisfactory results. After encountering issues with scoring and test delivery in 2016, Morath stated, “All the problems with last year were resolved.”

A result of testing this year and a one-year effort to redesign the Confidential Student Report (CSR) is the new STAAR report card. The new report card goes beyond numerical results to include more information, context and terms that are easier to understand. More information on the new STAAR report card can be found on the TEA website.

The commissioner also provided a brief summary of changes to the “A through F” accountability system passed during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature as part of House Bill (HB) 22. The legislature compressed the system to three domains: Student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.

The student achievement domain will primarily rely on test data to calculate student performance. Under the school progress domain, the same test data will be used to determine how much students gain year over year and how schools compare to other schools with similar levels of poverty. The closing the gaps domain will focus on identifying whether certain student groups are struggling, relative to the campus. The student achievement and school progress domains will be combined for a single “best of” score, which will be weighted against the closing the gaps domain to calculate the overall or “summative” score.

The agency will focus on outreach to stakeholders through December, and the first district-level ratings under the new system will be issued in August 2018. At that time, campus-level ratings will still be either “met standard” or “improvement required.” All campuses are scheduled to receive a “what if” report using the A through F system on January 1, 2019. Official campus-level A through F ratings will be issued in August 2019, at which time a local accountability plan framework will also be rolled out.

Districts using a local accountability plan must continue to use the three state domains, but may add as many additional domains as they like and come up with an independent formula for calculating a summative score. Only schools that have not scored a “D” or an “F” will be able to participate, and local accountability plans will be vetted through a “peer-review” process.

Under HB 22, attendance rates have been removed from the accountability system, fixing problem identifying by many elementary and middle schools. A task force has been commissioned to look at incorporating extracurricular activities, which is expected to be a five-year process.

Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) asked about the effects of Senate Bill (SB) 1784, which promotes the use of “open-source instructional materials.” These materials are currently licensed through the state procurement process, which already includes accessibility requirements. Morath said the agency plans to make the process more similar to the proclamation process used by the SBOE for textbook vendors.

The board received an update from TEA staff on other bills passed during the legislative session. The agency is currently tasked with implementing 145 pieces of legislation passed by lawmakers of the 85th Texas Legislature.

The board proposed eight legislative recommendations, of which five were successfully carried out. Lawmakers expanded SBOE authority over approving instructional materials to consider suitability for subject and grade level, with an additional requirement that it be reviewed by academic experts. Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) noted that the legislature provided no guidance regarding the definition of “suitability” and “expert,” though staff pointed out that a definition of expert already exists in agency rule.

The legislature did not allocate any funds for the long-range plan, nor did it appropriate money to increase TEA staffing in the curriculum division, which oversees and supports TEKS review and implementation. The legislature did approve a $5 million rider for data privacy and other items, as well as a $25 million rider to allow districts to access federal matching funds for the E-Rate Infrastructure Program.

Lawmakers passed SB 160, which prohibits the agency from adopting or implementing a performance indicator in any agency monitoring system that solely measure the number or percentage of students who receive special education services. This legislation was passed as a result of an investigative series by the Houston Chronicle that uncovered a de facto cap on special education enrollment.

Finally, the board recommended lawmakers conserve public free schools and prohibit public dollars from going to private schools or parents/guardians. Despite attempts by the Texas Senate to pass a voucher bill, the Texas House stood strong and prevented the passage of any private school voucher legislation. However, Gov. Greg Abbott has announced he will include vouchers on the call for a July special session. Noting that voucher proponents had focused on special needs vouchers during the regular session, Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) asked what a special needs voucher would look like. Staff indicated the governor specifically mentioned HB 1335 by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton).

The board spent the latter half of Tuesday resuming their work on ELAR/SLAR and ELL high school TEKS. On Wednesday, the board is scheduled to discuss the broader TEKS review schedule.

About that proposed pay raise…

Falling US MoneyGov. Greg Abbott surprised many in the education community on Tuesday when he stated what is old hat for us, but seldom admitted by fiscal hawks: “Teacher pay is too low.”

The governor followed that with a call to add a $1,000 teacher pay raise to this summer’s special session.

Fantastic!

Only the state is not going to pay for it.

In fact, the governor claimed such a raise “can easily be achieved by passing laws that reprioritize how schools spend money, and we can do that without taxpayers spending a penny more.” In other words: An unfunded mandate.

Well, at least we can appreciate the sentiment. Or perhaps we could, had the governor not followed that empty promise with a more disturbing one: To pass a laundry list of bills aimed at stripping teachers of their rights and redirecting even more resources from Texas school children – at a time when schools and teachers are being asked to do more with less.

Let’s quickly recap how lawmakers spent our money in this most recent legislative session.

Despite ATPE-supported attempts by leaders in the Texas House of Representatives to increase public education funding across the board, the final budget negotiated with the Senate actually decreased the overall amount of state spending on public schools by about $1.1 billion, forcing districts to rely on rising local property tax collections just to maintain current funding levels. The decision by Senate leadership to scuttle the House’s school finance legislation also means some schools are likely to close as existing funding streams expire.

Within this budget, Gov. Greg Abbott requested that lawmakers designate $236 million for “high-quality” pre-K programs, without providing any additional money to do so. This will basically force districts to cut money from other parts of their own budgets; whether that means from teacher payroll, band instruments, or football pads, it will be up to districts to decide. Now the governor has proposed using the same approach to generate a raise of $1,000 for teachers over the course of a year.

The state’s underfunding of public education has already had a pretty devastating effect on teachers’ healthcare. While ATPE effectively advocated for increased funding for TRS-Care, lawmakers chose to only increase that funding enough to avoid shutting the system down completely. The result is a restructured TRS-Care plan that reduces benefits and raises premiums. Lawmakers’ decision not to provide adequate funding will also result in an average rate increase of 8.1 percent for those enrolled in TRS-ActiveCare plans.

Let’s not forget that this is the same budget that found $800 million to spend on border security, despite President Trump’s promises to ramp up federal involvement along the Rio Grande.

Now Gov. Abbott intends to hold a 30-day special session at a cost of around $1 million in taxpayer money to pass a long list of bills that were either unnecessary or too controversial to pass during the previous five months of the regular session. This includes legislation that would make it easier for districts to fire teachers, plus the anti-teacher payroll deduction legislation and private school vouchers for students with special needs.

ATPE has fought and continues to fight for educators to be paid what they deserve. That means a pay raise that is fully funded by the state legislature. Without any funding for the governor’s offer to raise teacher pay – and with that offer having been waved in front of a grab bag of other offensive legislation – we cannot help but feel trepidation about his proposal.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Now more than ever, Texas educators must be vigilant. We now know that this special session is shaping up to be an all-out assault on teachers and public education by the governor and lieutenant governor. We urge ATPE members to be active through ATPE’s Advocacy Central and let your legislators know you will stand up for your rights and those of your students.