Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

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.

TRS board approves major healthcare changes

TRS logoThe board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas met Friday to make changes to healthcare and retirement following the actions of the 85th Texas Legislature, which adjourned sine die on Monday.

Before delving into plan information, the board approved new contracts with CVS Caremark as the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) administrator for TRS-Care Standard, TRS-Care Part D, and TRS-ActiveCare. Staff then reviewed the two major pieces of legislation that will define healthcare and retirement benefits under TRS moving forward:

Senate Bill (SB) 1

The state budget covered roughly $480 million of the estimated $1 billion shortfall facing TRS-Care by increasing contributions by both the state and school districts, including one-time state supplemental funding of $182.6 million. While this prevented a worst-case scenario for retirees, the balance will unfortunately have to come from higher premiums and benefit reductions.

House Bill (HB) 3976

This bill represents a major structural overhaul of TRS-Care. It establishes two separate plans: A single High Deductible Plan for non-Medicare participants and a Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Plan for Medicare participants.

Under HB 3976, TRS cannot charge a premium during the 2018-2021 plan years to disability retirees who retired as a disability retiree effective on or before January 1, 2017, who are currently receiving disability retirement benefits, and who are not eligible to enroll in Medicare. The bill eliminates the statutory requirement to provide a free healthcare plan for retiree-only coverage, but will provide free generic preventative maintenance medications for enrollees in the high deductible plan. The new program provides an opt-in window for retirees under the age of 65 who choose coverage elsewhere to opt-in to the Medicare Advantage Plan at age 65.

What’s next

On Friday, the board approved the new TRS-Care plans created under HB 3976. From September 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, the agency will maintain the current TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 Plans, such that FY 2017 will be an extended 16-month plan year. Deductibles and out-of-pocket accumulators will not restart on September 1, 2017. The agency plans to maintain current retiree premium contributions by plan, Medicare status, family size, and years of service.

New TRS-Care plans

Non-Medicare participants on the TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 plans will be absorbed into the new TRS-Care Standard Plan. In-network coverage will include a $3,000/$6,000 deductible, $7,150/$14,300 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 80/20% coinsurance. Out of network coverage will include a $6,000/$12,000 deductible, $14,300/$28,600 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 60/40% coinsurance.

Medicare participants will be absorbed into the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part D Plan, which includes a $500 deductible, $3,500 maximum out-of-pocket limit, 95/5% coinsurance, $500 IP hospital copay per stay, $250 OP hospital copay per visit, $65 ER copay, $35 urgent care copay, $5 PCP office visit copay, $10 specialist office visit copay, $0 preventive services copay, $5/$25/$50 retail pharmacy copay, and $15/$70/$125 mail order pharmacy copay.

TRS will make an alternative plan available for certain participants who are Medicare eligible but not enrolled in either Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, or cannot access a provider through the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage Plan.

New premiums are scheduled to take effect January 1, 2018. A non-Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $200, and a Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $146. Premiums for retiree and spouse are $739/$590, retiree and children $433/$504, and retiree and family $1,074/$1,106.

The TRS-Care Medicare Advantage network is a PPO plan network with an out-of-network benefit equivalent to the in-network benefit. Providers do not need to be in network as long as a provider accepts Medicare and agrees to bill Humana, the TRS-Care vendor.

The agency has already begun the first phase of implementation, which involves communicating to participants the changes that will take effect January 1, 2018. These communications will include a monthly e-newsletter, direct mail correspondence, and online information. While these changes will increase the burdens on plan participants, they are estimated to keep TRS-Care positively funded until 2021.

TRS-ActiveCare Changes

The legislature did not pass any legislation affecting TRS-ActiveCare, which is a self-funded program, but the board did make significant plan changes on Friday.

The sole source of funding for TRS-ActiveCare is premiums. The state contributes $75 per month per employee through the school finance formulas, and districts contribute a minimum of $150 per month per employee, with some districts contributing more. Employees contribute the remainder of the projected gross premiums. Funding requirements for the state and districts have not changed since the program’s inception in 2002.

While in much better shape than TRS-Care, TRS-ActiveCare is facing a shortfall of just under $100 million in 2018, which has placed pressure on premiums. The agency’s goal is to balance premium increases against the need to build the fund balance to protect the plan. The target fund balance at the end of FY 2018 is one month of claims, or $158 million. Without plan design changes, staff suggested an average rate increase of 9.9 percent would be required to achieve the target ending fund balance.

With that in mind, the board approved a number of changes based on agency recommendations. Those on the TRS-ActiveCare-Select and TRS-ActiveCare-2 plans will see increased costs associated with out-of-network providers, and will see ER copays increase to $200 from $150. There are no changes planned regarding prescription drug benefits.

These changes will allow for a slightly smaller 8.1 percent average rate increase. TRS-ActiveCare-1HD rates will increase 2.9 percent for employee only, 8.4 percent for employee and spouse, 9.1 percent for employee and children, and 6.9 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare Select rates will increase 6.2 percent for employee only, 10.2 percent for employee and spouse, 7.1 percent for employee and children, and 16.8 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare-2 rates will increase 10.7 percent for employee only, 9.1 percent for employee and spouse, 1.9 percent for employee and children, and 25.5 percent for employee and family.

Other legislative changes

At Thursday’s meeting, executive director Brian Guthrie told board members “we are very pleased” with how the legislative session turned out for TRS. Three key bills related to the system passed within minutes of a crucial deadline late in the session. Debriefing the board, TRS governmental relations director Merita Zoga identified several additional items passed by the legislature related to TRS:

  • HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from contracting with or investing in a company that boycotts Israel.
  • SB 253 adds to the existing divestment statute, prohibiting TRS from investing in companies designated as terrorist organizations.
  • SB 252 prohibits government entities from contracting with companies doing business with Iran, Sudan, or a foreign terrorist organization.
  • SB 7, the teacher misconduct bill, includes language related to TRS. The bill strips the service retirement annuity from a TRS member who is convicted of felony sexual abuse, sexual assault, or improper relationship between educator and student. All or part of the annuity may be awarded instead to an innocent spouse.
  • SB 500 would strip the service retirement annuity of a member of a public retirement system, such as TRS or ERS, if the member is an elected official and is convicted of certain qualifying felonies, including bribery, corruption, perjury, and other offenses related to their official capacity.
  • HB 1428 would allow TRS to act as a mediator in balance billing disputes.

Staff pointed out that the legislature did not pass any bills related to a cost of living adjustment (COLA), TRS-ActiveCare, or pension studies. Other major bills affecting TRS include the following:

SB 1954

This bill allows Optional Retirement Program (ORP)-eligible employees who are not notified properly additional time to elect ORP participation. The proposed bill creates an error correction process for reporting an ORP employee to TRS when the employee is not eligible for TRS. The person would be restored to ORP participation and member, state, and employer contributions related to the incorrect reporting, plus interest, would be paid to the employee’s ORP account. Amounts contributed to TRS that are in excess of participant contributions due to ORP would be refunded to the individual.

SB 1663

SB 1663 provides a number of member friendly benefit and administrative changes. It allows the TRS board to go into executive session to discuss particular investment transactions, strategies, portfolios, and other potential transactions related to private investments if the board determines that deliberating or conferring in an open meeting would have detrimental effect on TRS’s negotiations with third parties or place TRS at a competitive disadvantage in the market. The bill provides TRS with the authority to charge late fees on late reports by reporting entities.

It further allows TRS to add an additional five years of service credit when determining whether an early age reduction is applicable and the amount of the reduction, for a 100 percent joint and survivor annuity payable at the death of an active member. The bill amends current law to provide that disability retirees with less than 10 years of service credit who choose a $150 per month annuity for the number of months of membership to allow their beneficiaries to receive any remaining member contributions as an additional death benefit if the disability retiree dies before the period ends. The bill also moves the TRS sunset review to 2025.

SB 1664

SB 1664 bill provides IRS code compliance, statutory corrections, and member friendly benefit changes. It provides additional time for TRS members to purchase sick and personal leave service credit at retirement and corrects an error referencing the TRS board rather than the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to certify state contributions to the ORP.

SB 1665

This bill continues the use of derivatives and external managers capped at 30 percent of total assets and repeals the sunset dates on the authorities.

House committee wraps up hearings with educator prep bill

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday morning for the last public meeting of the legislative session. Saturday is the deadline for House committees to report Senate bills (SBs), which means any SBs that are not considered and voted out of the committee by then are procedurally dead.

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

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

The committee also voted out the following bills:

  • SB 1005, which would allow the use of the SAT or the ACT as a secondary exit-level assessment instrument to allow certain public school students to receive a high school diploma.
  • SB 1122, which would create a mechanism to abolish Dallas County Schools. State Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1353, which would put in place a process for dealing with the facilities of certain annexed districts.
  • SB 1483, which would establish a grant program to implement a technology lending program to provide students with electronic instructional materials.
  • SB 1658, which would make changes to laws regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school.
  • CSSB 2131, which would add requirements to counseling regarding postsecondary education, encouraging a focus on dual credit programs.
  • SB 1963, which would allow non-classroom teacher certification observations to be held on the candidate site or through video technology. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) voted against the bill.
  • SB 2144, which would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system.

SB 1786, which would prohibit charter school employees from unionizing, failed on a vote of five to four. Reps. Bernal, Allen, Deshotel, and Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) voted against the bill.

The first bill heard Thursday was SB 2095 by state Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which would change the regulation of UIL students who may have been prescribed medical steroids because of a medical condition. The bill would allow the league to ban a student who is undergoing steroid treatment if the league believes there is a safety or fairness issue. Critics of this bill argue it targets LGBTQ students.

SB 1981 by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) would set in statute rules regarding how the University Interscholastic League (UIL) selects locations for statewide competitions. The bill would order UIL to periodically issue a statewide request for proposals from institutions of higher education and other appropriate entities seeking to host statewide competitions.

SB 801 by state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would add a requirement that textbooks approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) are “suitable for the subject and grade level” and “reviewed by academic experts in the subject and grade level.”

SB 1177 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would expand the statute providing the ability of juvenile correctional or residential facilities to be granted a charter to include entities that contract with a juvenile correctional or residential facility.

SB 1659 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would allow the TEA commissioner to accept gifts, grants, or donation on behalf of the public school system and use them the way the commissioner sees fit. SB 1659 would allow the commissioner to transfer funds from the Charter School Liquidation Fund to a competitive grant program to promote “high-quality educational programs” and authorize the commissioner to establish rules to ensure that schools are in compliance with state funded grants. According to the fiscal note, SB 1659 could cost $12.3 million per biennium, but may be paid for through donations.

CSSB 1278 also by Chairman Larry Taylor would significantly reduce the standards for new teacher certification, and ATPE opposes the bill. First, SB 1278 would limit the number of in-person support visits to teacher candidates during their clinical training. This would reduce the opportunities to coach candidates in the best instructional methods and to provide feedback and support that is immediate, which ATPE members share is the most meaningful to their preparation and development. While virtual observations can be valuable as supplemental training tools, they should not be viewed as a substitute for in-person training and mentorship.

The bill would also differentiate among candidates training to teach in shortage areas by lowering the accountability standard for educator preparation programs that teach these students. Exhaustive research has been done on addressing teacher shortages around the nation, and multiple studies have identified high-quality preparation and induction as key factors in retaining educators.

ATPE member and 2012 Secondary Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe testified against SB 1278 this morning, noting that rigorous teacher preparation programs are critical to ensuring high quality educators are in the classroom. We must ensure that all Texas educators receive strong preparation, meet quality certification standards, and are prepared by programs held to high accountability standards. This is especially true in the fields identified as areas of teacher shortage, which include special education, bilingual education, math, science, and computer science. According to the fiscal note, SB 1278 would cost roughly $631,000 through the biennium ending August 31, 2019.

House Public Education advances another round of SBs

The House Public Education Committee met for a formal hearing after Wednesday’s floor session in order to advance a number of Senate bills. The committee approved the following items Wednesday evening:

  • SB 195, which would allow additional transportation allotment funding to districts with children living within the two mile zone who are at a high risk of violence if they walk to school.
  • SB 196, which would require parental notification when a campus lacks a nurse, school counselor, or librarian.
  • SB 384, which would give the State Board of Education (SBOE) flexibility in scheduling end-of-course exams to avoid conflicts with AP/IB national tests.
  • SB 490, which would require a report on the number of school counselors at each campus.
  • CSSB 1398, which makes lots of clarifying and limiting changes to the classroom video camera law. Among them, the bill would require requests in writing and only require equipment in classrooms or settings in which the child is in regular attendance or to which the staff member is assigned.
  • SB 1484, which would create a web portal and instructional materials repository to assist schools in selecting open education resources. The bill provides for a third party to provide independent analysis regarding TEKS alignment.
  • SB 1566, which would hand broad powers to local school boards to compel the testimony of district officials and obtain district documents.  Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) voted against the bill.
  • CSSB 1660, which would allow districts to choose between using either minutes or days to calculate operation.
  • SB 1784, which would encourage the use of “open-source instructional materials.”
  • CSSB 1839, which would create a certification for early childhood through grade three, and would grant the commissioner authority to set reciprocity rules regarding the ability of teachers from outside the state to obtain a certificate in Texas.
  • SB 1854, which would require district-level committees to review paperwork requirements annually and recommend to the board of trustees instructional tasks that can be transferred to non-instructional staff.
  • SB 1873, which would require a report on physical education provided by each school district.
  • SB 2039, which would develop instructional modules and training for public schools on the prevention of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
  • SB 2188, which would specify that a student who is 18 or older in an off home campus instructional arrangement is a full-time student if they receive 20 hours of contact a week. Part-time would be defined as between 10 and 20 contact hours per week.
  • SB 2270, which would create a pilot program in ESC Region 1 to provide additional pre-K funding for low-income students.
  • SB 2078, which would require TEA develop a model multi-hazard emergency operations plan and create a cycle of review.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday morning to consider a handful of remaining Senate bills.

Graduation committees advance in House hearing

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning to consider a large agenda of Senate bills as the session winds down. The committee also approved the following bills Tuesday evening:

  • CSSB 463, which was heard earlier in the day. The bill would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) through 2019.
  • SB 436, the Senate companion to HB 4226, which would require meetings of the Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee to be conducted in compliance with open meetings laws.
  • CSSB 529, the Senate companion to HB 2209, which would incorporate “universal design for learning” into the required training for all classroom teachers.
  • SB 585, the Senate companion to HB 545, which would require principals to allow “patriotic societies” such as Boy Scouts to speak to students about membership at the beginning of the school year.
  • SB 748, the Senate companion to HB 4027, which would add additional guidelines to the transition plan for special education students preparing to leave the public school system.
  • CSSB 1481, the Senate companion to HB 4140, which would rename the instructional materials allotment (IMA) the “instructional materials and technology allotment” and require districts to consider “open education resources” before purchasing instructional materials.
  • SB 1942, the Senate companion to HB 1692, which would allow a licensed handgun owner to store a firearm in a vehicle parked in the parking lot of a public school, open-enrollment charter school or private school. State Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) voted against the bill.
  • SB 2080, the Senate companion to HB 69, which would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

The meeting began with SB 1566 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would hand broad powers to local school boards to compel the testimony of district officials and obtain district documents. It would also require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) develop a website for boards to review campus and district academic achievement data.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

SB 2131 by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add requirements to counseling regarding postsecondary education, encouraging a focus on dual credit programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1294 by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit “exclusive consultation,” ensuring that educators on campus-level advisory committees do not all belong to a single professional association. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1660 by Sen. Taylor would allow districts to choose between using either minutes or days to calculate operation. According to the fiscal note, SB 1660 could cost the state $1.7 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2019.

SB 195 by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) would allow additional transportation allotment funding to districts with children living within the two mile zone who are at a high risk of violence if they walk to school. In the fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board indicated that there is insufficient data regarding the number of students who are at risk of violence to be able to calculate a fiscal impact. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1854 by state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) would require district-level committees to review paperwork requirements annually and recommend to the board of trustees instructional tasks that can be transferred to non-instructional staff. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 384 by state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) would give the State Board of Education (SBOE) flexibility in scheduling end-of-course exams to avoid conflicts with AP/IB national tests.

SB 1883 by Sen. Campbell would modify the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE opposes the bill because the removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible. Adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

SB 1005 by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow the use of the SAT or the ACT as a secondary exit-level assessment instrument to allow certain public school students to receive a high school diploma. The fiscal note estimates an annual cost of $2 million per year.

SB 1839 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would create a certification for early childhood through grade three, and would grant the commissioner authority to set reciprocity rules regarding the ability of teachers from outside the state to obtain a certificate in Texas. ATPE believes that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), as the official state body charged with the oversight of educator standards, is the more appropriate authority to set these rules.

SB 2270 by Sen. Lucio would create a pilot program in ESC Region 1 to provide additional pre-K funding for low-income students.

SB 1784 by Sen. Taylor would encourage the use of “open-source instructional materials.”

SB 2188 by Sen. Taylor would specify that a student who is 18 or older in an off home campus instructional arrangement is a full-time student if they receive 20 hours of contact a week. Part-time would be defined as between 10 and 20 contact hours per week. According to the fiscal note, SB 2188 would cost roughly $7 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 463 by state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) to 2019 and order the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to compile a report tracking the progress of IGC graduates. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2039 by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would develop instructional modules and training for public schools on the prevention of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1483 by Sen. Taylor would establish a grant program to implement a technology lending program to provide students with electronic instructional materials. The program would be funded through instructional materials fund. The fiscal note anticipates no additional cost, but indicated the commissioner could use up to $25 million of existing funds from the instructional materials fund each biennium.

SB 1398 by Sen. Lucio makes lots of clarifying and limiting changes to the classroom video camera law. Among them, the bill would require requests in writing and only require equipment in classrooms or settings in which the child is in regular attendance or to which the staff member is assigned.

SB 1122 by state Sen. Donald Huffines (R-Dallas) would create a mechanism to abolish Dallas County Schools, one of two remaining county school districts in the state, which primarily provides transportation services to multiple independent school districts in the Dallas area.

SB 1886 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would create an office of the inspector general at TEA appointed by the commissioner to prevent and detect criminal activity in districts, charter schools, and education service centers (ESCs). The bill would allow the new TEA inspector general to issue subpoenas in order to secure evidence.

SB 490 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would require a report on the number of school counselors at each campus. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1484 by Sen. Taylor would create a web portal and instructional materials repository to assist schools in selecting open education resources. The bill provides for a third party to provide independent analysis regarding TEKS alignment. According to the fiscal note, SB 1484 would not require additional state funding, but would result in an additional cost of $1.85 million in fiscal year 2018 and $450,000 in subsequent years that would be paid from existing instructional materials funding.

SB 1658 by Sen. Taylor would make changes to laws regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school.

SB 2078 by Sen. Taylor would require TEA develop a model multi-hazard emergency operations plan and create a cycle of review. The fiscal note anticipates a fiscal impact of roughly $215,000 per year.

SB 2144 by Sen. Taylor would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. ATPE supports this bill.

House continues clearing out Senate education bills

House Public Education Committee meeting May 11, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 11, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee advanced another raft of Senate bills while the House was in session Thursday afternoon. The committee approved the following measures today:

  • SB 1837, the Senate companion to HB 3231, which would exempt charters operated by a public senior college or university from being assigned a financial accountability rating under Section 39.082(e)
  • SB 489, the Senate companion to HB 3684, would add instruction to prevent the use of e-cigarettes to the tobacco prevention section of the duties of the local school health advisory committee.
  • SB 601, which would allow charter schools to be exempt from paying municipal drainage fees. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) voted against the bill.
  • CSSB 725, the Senate companion to HB 367, which would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. A committee substitute included language from a “food shaming” bill by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) that was pulled from the local calendar on Wednesday.
  • SB 754, the Senate companion to HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • SB 1051, which would create a driver education course for the deaf or hard of hearing and create a fee for the course.
  • SB 1152, which would create an excused absence for a student to pursue enlistment in the armed services or the Texas National Guard, similar to the way in which students may currently be excused to visit a college or university.
  • SB 1153, which would guarantee a parent’s right to information regarding intervention strategies for children with learning difficulties.
  • SB 1318, the Senate companion to HB 2014, which would allow the TEA commissioner to designate a campus as a “mathematics innovation zone.” Such a campus would be exempt from accountability interventions for two years and would be allowed to use a “pay for success” program approved by the commissioner. The bill sets up a framework for creating such pay for success programs funded by private investors.

Members met again Thursday evening to pass SB 22, which would replace the current tech-prep program with a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program.

The committee is next expected to meet on Tuesday, but Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told members to expect more formal meetings to vote on individual bills.