Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Sen. Bettencourt leads attack on educators voting

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has fired the first public shot in what has been a heretofore behind-the-scenes effort to discourage educators from voting en masse in the upcoming elections.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bettencourt submitted a request for a legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding school districts that are actively promoting a culture of voting. In his request, Sen. Bettencourt raises grave concern over the prospect of school districts encouraging teachers, students, and staff to exercise their civic right and responsibility to vote.

In his letter, Sen. Bettencourt draws attention to the Educator’s Oath to Vote championed by the nonpartisan Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member. The oath is a means for Texas educators to demonstrate their commitment to voting in 2018 by participating in the March primary elections and November general election. The coalition has long advocated for members of the education community to develop a habit of voting by taking part in all elections.

“I am concerned about the legal implications of coercing government employees to ascribe an oath to a particular political viewpoint,” Bettencourt states in his request (emphasis added) to AG Paxton. Bettencourt offers no guidance as to which particular political viewpoint is opposed to supporting Texas school children.

Guidance offered through the Texas Educators Vote (TEV) website is nonpartisan and discourages campus leaders from advocating for any candidate, issue, or party. In promoting increased participation in the democratic process, TEV materials correctly point out embarrassingly low voter turnout in Texas. In a state of nearly 27 million people and 19 million eligible voters, just 34 percent of the state’s 15 million registered voters voted in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Only 14 percent voted in the 2014 primaries.

“In accepting a position of public trust as Texas educators, we are charged with the noble responsibility of demonstrating exemplary conduct – both to our colleagues and to our students,” the TEV Care Enough to Vote guide states. “We must model positive civic conduct by regularly casting our ballots in every election. It is our responsibility as educators to participate in elections. It is our responsibility to VOTE.”

Sen. Bettencourt’s letter further questions school districts’ legal ability to encourage teachers, staff, and eligible students to exercise their civic responsibility by voting, and whether school transportation can be used to offer assistance to those who may be otherwise unable to exercise their right to cast a ballot. Bettencourt argues that such support does not serve a public benefit.

“Rather, it is for only a certain few who are being asked to go to the polls by the school district to vote in a manner befitting their own self-interests, or those of particular organizations,” Bettencourt claims. Again, Bettencourt offers no further example of “self-interests” other than pointing to the oath to support Texas school children.

The letter asks Paxton to consider two legal questions:

  1. Does a school district providing or securing transportation for employees or students to and/or from polling places violate the Gift Clauses of the Texas Constitution?
  2. What legal constraints exist regarding a school district’s ability to spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising or communications designed to influence voters to vote for or against a particular measure or candidate?

It is important to note that opinions from the Texas attorney general are non-binding, non-enforceable, and neither indicate nor create actual law. Opinions are often used as the starting point for formal litigation.

Sen. Bettencourt’s action comes amid mounting efforts to quietly discourage educators from voting as a group. These efforts include numerous public information requests targeting teachers’ and administrators’ e-mails. Such tactics are often employed by political operatives to create a chilling effect.

As long as the constitutions of Texas and the United States guarantee the right to vote, the law will continue to be on the side of those fighting to exercise their civic responsibility. Like our other coalition partners, ATPE strongly supports the right to vote and encourages all registered voters in Texas to exercise that right in every election. Educators are no exception, and the dedicated education professionals who work in our state’s public schools should not be subjected to intimidation simply because of the fact that they have chosen to work in an institution of the government that some in power would prefer to dismantle. Those who are in fact opposed to the interests of more than 5.4 million Texas public schoolchildren clearly view educators as those children’s most formidable defenders. We anticipate more attacks on teachers similar to this as the March 6 primaries approach, and we will keep you updated as we find out new information and continue to stand up for educators’ voting rights.

Republican primary voters will face voucher question

Republican Party of Texas officials have placed a voucher question on the ballot that will go before GOP primary voters in 2018. The measure is among eleven ballot proposals announced this week by the 62-member State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) that will appear on the 2018 Republican primary ballot.

The question asks if “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government constraints or intrusion.”

Despite several days of testimony during the 2017 legislative session by parents, teachers, and experts explaining the negative impacts of diverting taxpayer dollars from the public school system to subsidize unaccountable private institutions, SREC members chose to characterize vouchers as something that would empower families. This is language lifted from special interest groups aimed at defunding and privatizing constitutional public schools in Texas in order to make a profit.

In reality, vouchers would result in lower-income, rural families subsidizing the tuition paid by well-off parents to private, big-city academies. Vouchers would also force disabled students to surrender their federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). By reducing the already scarce resources the state is constitutionally required to provide to Texas’ 5.4 million school children, vouchers would hurt children and increase the upward pressure on local property taxes.

Furthermore, the ballot question admits that taxpayer dollars would be transferred to private businesses without any state accountability. While constitutional public schools face rigorous academic and financial accountability requirements, private schools do not. Public schools are required to hire well-trained and certified educators who pass multiple layers of background checks. Because taxpayer money is involved, public schools are required to be open and accountable to voters. They are required to accept all children, regardless of background, and provide them with resources guaranteed under state and federal law. None of these requirements apply to private schools.

“The SREC deliberated and delivered eleven propositions to place on our Primary ballot,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said in a statement on the RPT website. “We look forward to hearing from our voters on these issues and to sharing the results with lawmakers. Whatever the results, we will continue working towards making our principles a reality.”

Propositions that appear on party primary ballots in March are different from propositions that appear on the general election ballot in November in a number of ways. Unlike the propositions on the November ballot, the propositions on March primary ballots are nonbinding, which means they do not create laws. Instead, they act as a sort of opinion poll.

Another difference is that the language on party primary ballots is drafted by committees within each political party. These questions are not required to adhere to the same neutral language standards as questions that appear on the general election ballot. This sometimes results in voters being asked misleading questions, such as the voucher question stated above. Another example of this is when 2016 Republican primary voters were faced with a question regarding payroll deduction that mischaracterized the process and which was later used by politicians promoting legislation aimed at hurting teachers and educator associations.

ATPE members and their fellow educators, many of whom are loyal Republican voters, spoke loudly against attacks on educators during the 2017 legislative session. The State Republican Executive Committee did not place a payroll deduction question on the 2018 GOP primary ballot.

As a voter, you can help steer the Republican Party of Texas and members of the State Republican Executive Committee in the right direction by weighing in when you cast your primary vote.

Here is the full list of questions that will appear on the 2018 GOP primary ballot:

  1. Texas should replace the property tax system with an appropriate consumption tax equivalent. Yes/No
  2. No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval. Yes/No
  3. Republicans in the Texas House should select their Speaker nominee by secret ballot in a binding caucus without Democrat influence. Yes/No
  4. Texas should require employers to screen new hires through the free E-Verify system to protect jobs for legal workers. Yes/No
  5. Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government constraints or intrusion. Yes/No
  6. Texas should protect the privacy and safety of women and children in spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in all Texas schools and government buildings. Yes/No
  7. I believe abortion should be abolished in Texas. Yes/No
  8. Vote fraud should be a felony in Texas to help ensure fair elections. Yes/No
  9. Texas demands that Congress completely repeal Obamacare. Yes/No
  10. To slow the growth of property taxes, yearly revenue increases should be capped at 4%, with increases in excess of 4% requiring voter approval. Yes/No
  11. Tax dollars should not be used to fund the building of stadiums for professional or semi-professional sports teams. Yes/No

Texas school endowment hits record value

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday that the endowment used to help fund public education in Texas hit a milestone achievement. The Permanent School Fund (PSF) reached its highest-ever value of $41.44 billion as of August 31, up $4.16 over the previous year.

The nation’s largest educational endowment today, the PSF was created in 1854 with a $2 million appropriation by the Texas Legislature. The Constitution of 1876 added certain public lands and all proceeds from the sales of those lands to the fund, and the Submerged Lands Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1953 gave the fund control of mineral rights extending off the Texas coast into the Gulf of Mexico.

The majority of the fund, worth $32.73 billion, is managed by the State Board of Education (SBOE). The remaining $8.7 billion is managed by the General Land Office (GLO) through the School Land Board. The fund is invested in a diverse portfolio of assets and undergoes regular audits and performance reviews. Investment decisions often come before the board’s Committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund.

“The Permanent School Fund is the gift that keeps on giving to Texas schools,” State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich said in a statement provided by the TEA. “With the board’s careful oversight and the continued strong day-to-day administration of the Fund by the Permanent School Fund staff, the Fund will continue to support Texas schools for generations to come.”

“During the 2018-2019 biennium, the Permanent School Fund is projected to distribute $2.5 billion to Texas schools,” SBOE member David Bradley, who chairs the PSF committee, told the TEA. “This is the largest distribution in the Fund’s 163-year history and is $400 million higher than the distribution made in the 2016-2017 biennium.”

The PSF is also used to guarantee bonds by leveraging the fund’s AAA credit rating. Since 1983, the Bond Guarantee Program (BGP) has guaranteed more than $166 billion in bonds without default. In 2011, the Texas Legislature allowed charters to access the BGP. Despite the danger posed by risking taxpayer funds to guarantee loans to charters, which have shown a greater likelihood of financial trouble or default than school districts, the Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2017 to expand the amount of capacity available to charters.

TEA releases final accountability ratings before A-F

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the final 2017 academic accountability ratings this week for school districts and campuses. This represents the last time in which districts and campuses will be graded under the “met standard/improvement required” system, which is scheduled to be replaced by the new “A through F” accountability system.

More than 1,200 districts and charters and more than 8,600 campuses were graded. In total, 95.4 percent met standard or met alternative standard, and just 3.5 percent were labeled “improvement required” and subject to potential interventions. A final 1.1 percent of districts and charters were listed as “not rated.”

Just 26 of 1,023 school districts, or 2.5 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” A total of 16 out of 180 charters, or 8.9 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” According to the 2017 numbers, charters were more than three times as likely as districts to fail to meet academic standards.

The new “A through F” accountability rating system is scheduled to go into effect in 2018. Under House Bill (HB) 22, schools will receive grades of A, B, C, D, or F in each of three academic domains, as well as an overall letter grade. Districts and charters will receive their first “A through F” grades beginning with the 2017-18 school year, while campuses will still be graded on the “met standard/improvement required” scale. Individual campuses will begin receiving “A through F” letter grades in the 2018-19 school year.

The agency is still in the process of making rules for the “A through F” system, and ATPE continues to represent educators’ perspectives in discussions with rulemakers regarding the system’s implementation. The full 2017 accountability report for districts, charters and campuses can be found on the TEA website.

House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

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

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.

 

SBOE concludes November meeting

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday to conclude its November meeting in Austin. The board declined to approve a Mexican-American studies textbook that members and reviewers concluded fell short of instructional standards. Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) and others reiterated their commitment to supporting the Mexican-American studies curriculum and encouraging additional submissions for instructional materials on the subject.

A&M Consolidated High School choir performs for the State Board of Education, November 10, 2017.

The board breezed through a number of items initially approved during Thursday’s committee hearings, including a rule change as a result of legislation aimed to ensure schools continue to receive funding for students who are excused from class for the purposes of military recruitment.

Members also approved an item to expand the commissioner’s authority to decertify and decline to recertify independent hearing examiners (IHEs). Under the change, the commissioner – rather than solely an attorney – would be able to initiate a complaint against an IHE. Additionally, the commissioner would be able to take action against an IHE if the examiner applied the incorrect legal standard. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) questioned whether the change would hinder the due process rights of IHEs. Perez-Diaz suggested reopening the rule at a future meeting to address training. Staff advised the earliest the rule could be reopened would be September 2018.

The board entered into a lengthy debate regarding certification for family and consumer science teachers, as part of the agency’s “Grow Your Own” initiative to encourage students to pursue careers in education. Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) raised a concern that the rule change, which was approved through the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), was advanced in a way that many stakeholders felt was not fully transparent and collaborative. The 15-member body declined to endorse the rule change, but fell short of the two-thirds vote required to reject the rule and send it back to SBEC. The rule will go into effect within a 90-day period unless the board votes to reject it by a two-thirds majority by December 15.

Members voted nine to five to allow another SBEC rule to go into effect that would increase the requirements on school counselors. Counselors testified in favor of the rule on Thursday, arguing that 48 hours of master’s-level counseling instruction would better prepare counselors to meet students’ increasing mental health needs. Administrators opposed the rule change, suggesting the requirement would make it more difficult for rural schools to hire counselors.

The board is scheduled to meet again January 29 through February 2, 2018.

SBOE committee considers IHE, SBEC rules

State Board of Education (SBOE) committees met Thursday morning to consider a variety of issues before the board. The Committee on School Initiatives considered a rule change regarding the certification and recertification of independent hearing examiners (IHEs), who weigh disputes between educators and school districts. The change would allow the commissioner to decline to recertify an IHE who applies an inappropriate legal standard, and would allow anyone – not just an attorney – to initiate a complaint. It would further grant the commissioner the authority to decertify an IHE who fails to issue a timely recommendation.

Some attorneys representing educators questioned the statutory authority for the rule change and testified that the change, while perhaps well-intentioned, could expand the commissioner’s authority to a degree that is disproportionate to the number of cases in which independent IHEs have applied an inappropriate legal standards. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff documented, at most, three instances of an inappropriate legal standard being applied. Notwithstanding that, issues regarding poorly-trained IHEs are sometimes difficult to resolve, as attorney may be hesitant to file a complaint against someone before whom they may regularly appear.

SBOE Committee on School Initiatives meeting, Nov. 9, 2017.

The committee approved the changes after some members discussed the possibility of increasing the training in school law required of IHEs at a future time. Members Ruben Cortez, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) voted against the measure.

The committee also approved three rule changes from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). One would conform with statutory changes made by the 85th Texas Legislature to extend temporary certificates for military spouses. The committee heard extensive testimony over a rule that would add a 48 hour master’s degree requirement for certificate school counselors. Counselor associations advocated in favor of the change, arguing that counselors should undergo robust training in order to meet students’ various needs. Administrators argued against the measure, noting that the rule change would affect certain education service center (ESC) programs utilized by districts that face counselor shortages.

The full board will meet Friday to conclude its November meeting.

SBOE begins November meeting

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Tuesday to undertake work sessions on school finance and new textbooks. After spending the morning reviewing the history and operation of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), the board began the afternoon with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas SBOE meeting, November 8, 2017

“The work related to Hurricane Harvey is ongoing,” Morath told the board. The commissioner drew the board’s attention to rule changes initiated by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that are tied to the state’s “grow your own” strategy to recruit more highly skilled teachers.

“There is increasing strain on school systems and their ability to hire teachers,” said Morath, who added the strain is most acutely felt in rural settings. The commissioner explained that there are students in schools throughout the state who are thinking of becoming doctors and lawyers. Morath then posed the question: Are we creating incentives and pathways for them to become teachers?

The SBEC rule changes subject to the board’s approval this week are aimed to help schools that offer CTE courses in the field of teaching as part of the “grow your own” strategy. The rule change would allow districts to place any teacher, regardless of their certification area, in charge of “Ready, Set, Teach” courses.

The commissioner also updated the board on improvements to the agency’s STAAR report card at www.TexasAssessment.com. Following the commissioner’s presentation, the board turned its attention to Proclamation 2018. The board voted to extend the deadline by two weeks for Kendall Hunt, a publisher that was unable to meet the published deadline as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Board members returned Wednesday to tackle a lengthy agenda. The board declined to add a Mexican-American studies textbook to the list of approved instructional materials. The board adopted changes to correct inconsistencies in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Career and Technical Education (CTE).

Members next turned their attention to changes to graduation requirements made by legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The board approved rule changes to align with legislation that eliminates sequencing requirements for advanced mathematics and English courses. The board debated at length how certain computer science courses could satisfy graduation requirements for languages other than English (LOTE) and/or advanced mathematics. Members cast a preliminary vote to allow courses to satisfy both requirements, while counting as a single course credit.

The board also considered rules regarding International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, and received an update following previously-adopted changes to the TEKS review process. After receiving many volunteers to serve in TEKS review work groups, TEA staff indicated more volunteers are needed for elementary-level panels.

Speaker’s exit puts public education on edge

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) announced yesterday that he will not be running for re-election to the Texas House of Representatives, and therefore will not return to lead the Texas House of Representatives when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in January 2019. In addition, state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who chairs the House State Affairs Committee, announced the same day that he will not run for re-election in 2018.

The significance of yesterday’s announcements can’t be overstated. Speaker Straus and Chairman Cook each have played a tremendous role in protecting public school students and teachers, and their leadership during the 2017 legislative session prevented the worst anti-public education and anti-teacher legislation from becoming law.

ATPE presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed in July 2017, recognizing his support for public education.

ATPE presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed in July 2017, recognizing his support for public education.

Under Speaker Straus, the Texas House made public education its top priority. As part of House Bill (HB) 21 during the regular session, the House proposed $1.9 billion in increased funding for all Texas students. This legislation was opposed by the Texas Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has repeatedly made private school vouchers a top legislative priority. The Texas House blocked Senate voucher legislation during both the regular and special sessions, as well as legislation that would have taken away the rights of teachers who choose to advocate for their children as members of professional associations like ATPE.

It is unclear who will step into the void created by the absence of Speaker Straus and Chairman Cook. What we do know is that anti-education forces are already celebrating victory, and those hoping to privatize public education and revoke the rights of students and educators will only be emboldened by this week’s announcements.

It is therefore all the more important that we use our teacher voices in both the March primary and November general elections in 2018 to put public education supporters in office.

Rep. Byron Cook joined Corsicana ATPE members at a pro-public education rally in July 2017.

Rep. Byron Cook joined Corsicana ATPE members at a pro-public education rally in July 2017.

It is likely that there will be more news in the coming days related to leadership in the Texas Legislature, and we will continue to provide you with updates here at TeachTheVote.org. You can also check back soon at TeachTheVote.org to find out how your individual representatives voted during the 2017 legislative sessions.

The next Texas House speaker will have some mighty boots to fill. In the meantime, please join us on Twitter and Facebook as we say #thankyoujoestraus for all he’s done for public education.

Speaker Straus releases House interim charges

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) released interim charges Monday for the Texas House of Representatives. Interim charges are customarily issued between legislative sessions, and outline the work to be done by lawmakers before they meet again. Speaker Straus issued more than 230 charges Monday, focusing largely on Hurricane Harvey.

“This is an opportunity for the Legislature to better understand the impact of the storm, to evaluate the response of state agencies and to prepare for future disasters,” Straus said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Hurricane Harvey will impact just about every major issue in the next legislative session, and the House should be fully prepared for that moment.”

The Speaker also created a new Select Committee on Opioids and Substance abuse, to be chaired by state Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Vice-Chair Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso). The charges include directing lawmakers to examine Harvey-related funding, both from the state and federal government. The Speaker ordered the Committee on Appropriations to continue to study the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), which is commonly referred to as the “rainy day fund,” with a focus on strategies to generate additional revenue for state obligations without compromising the fund’s intended purpose.

The Appropriations Committee is also ordered to study the sustainability of TRS-Care, which remains underfunded by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars after the House successfully spearheaded stopgap legislation during the 85th Texas Legislature that kept the program from disappearing completely. The charge directs lawmakers to consider options for funding TRS-Care, especially as it pertains to contributions being based on active employee payroll rather than the cost of health care, which has increased more quickly than state funding.

The Higher Education Committee and Public Education Subcommittee on Teacher Quality are jointly charged with reviewing current data available to the public about Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and making recommendations to ensure the data is transparent, user-friendly, and actionable. The committees are ordered to review the current EPP accountability system and recommend any new indicators or changes, including evaluating the ability of programs to meet the workforce needs of school districts by preparing teachers for high-needs areas, and determine ways to measure the effectiveness of teachers prepared by individual programs. For traditional EPP programs, the committees are asked to make recommendations on how to more fully involve boards of regents in an effort to elevate the importance of teacher preparation within our state institutions. Finally, they are asked to examine current joint partnerships between EPPs and public schools to meet regional workforce needs, and make recommendations on how to scale these partnerships.

Speaker Straus issued eight charges to the Public Education Committee. The first three were issued last month as part of a set of Harvey-specific interim charges:

1. Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Hurricane Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

2. Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

3. Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

4. Review current state mechanisms for identifying and rewarding educators through state-level strategies. Examine how providing additional funding to enhance compensation in districts facing a shortage of experienced, highly rated teachers would affect retention and teacher quality, in addition to whether it would encourage teachers to provide additional services through extracurricular activities, tutoring, and mentoring.

5. Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

6. Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

7. Review the charter school system in Texas. Determine if changes are needed in the granting, renewal, or revocation of charter schools, including the timeline for expansions and notification of expansions to surrounding districts. Review the educational outcomes of students in charter schools compared to those in traditional schools, and to what extent schools participate in the alternative accountability system. Monitor the implementation of facilities funding for charter schools. Consider differences in state funding for charter schools compared to their surrounding districts and the impact on the state budget. Consider admissions policies for charters, including appropriate data collection to assess demand for additional charter enrollment, compliance with access by students with disabilities and the effect of exclusions of students with criminal or disciplinary histories. Consider differences in charter and district contributions to the Teacher Retirement System on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

8. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee will also specifically include: H.B. 21 (85R), H.B. 22 (85R), and S.B. 179 (85R).

The full list of House interim charges can be viewed by following this link.