Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 13, 2017

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

House Public Education hears Harvey costs

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday in Austin to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the disastrous hurricane that wrecked Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to investigate the costs and potential actions the state could take to aid recovery efforts.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

“We need to understand what you need,” Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told superintendents preparing to testify at Monday’s meeting. As of today, all but two of the school districts affected by the storm have reopened, but Port Aransas ISD and Aransas Pass ISD remain closed.

The committee first heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Nine districts closed for four weeks or more as a result of the storm, which affected some 1.4 million students. More than 100 schools became emergency shelters during the storm, and the commissioner credited educators with countless “acts of heroism” that saved thousands of lives.

“I think we can all be proud of educators in Texas,” Morath told the committee.

Morath detailed the agency’s efforts to aid district, including creating a website that operates similar to a “wedding registry.” Impacted districts can list needed supplies, such as instructional materials, which can be viewed by other districts interested in making donations.

Four districts have applied for accelerated funding as a result of increased enrollment due to students transferring from storm-affected districts. Morath explained that this is a cash-flow issue which will not have a negative impact on the state budget. However the commissioner has exercised emergency authority to hold districts losing students harmless from funding losses. The measure is expected to cost $250 million in additional state funding, along with $150 million in waived recapture payments, for a total cost of $400 million.

The commissioner noted that lagging appraisals mean affected homeowners are still scheduled to pay the same property taxes this year as if the storm had never occurred, and will not see any reduction in property values until next year. Notwithstanding that, property tax collections could decrease if homeowners abandon or sell their homes. This could have a negative impact on the ability of districts to cover existing bond payments.

Districts receive state formula funding based on expected property tax revenues, which means a rapid decline in actual collections will result in less funding than budgeted. Districts will be able to request reappraisal of property values in order to offset these losses through higher state aid or lower recapture payments, but there will be a lag until the 2018-2019 school year. Chairman Huberty pressed TEA to run reappraisals for all affected districts, which Commissioner Morath agreed to try and provide within the next few weeks.

Chapter 42 districts, which serve 74 percent of students affected by the storm, can only receive additional funding if the commissioner declares there will be a surplus in foundation school program (FSP) funds at the end of the fiscal biennium. Morath cautioned this could create a significant supplemental appropriation requirement when the 86th Texas Legislature meets in January 2019, and suggested TEA could be in a position to determine the existence of any actual surplus in six months. The dilemma sparked earnest discussion among committee members who fought to pass legislation in 2017 to reform the school finance system.

“We’re going to have to have a meaningful conversation sooner, rather than later,” said Huberty.

The state also anticipates spending an additional $266 million as students made homeless by the storm qualify for new categories of weighted funding that the state is obligated to cover. This includes additional enrollment in programs for which homelessness is a qualifying factor, such as pre-Kindergarten.

Morath noted some educator candidates faced State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) paperwork deadlines during the storm, and lamented that he did not have authority to provide waivers or exemptions from SBEC requirements.

Following the commissioner, five panels of school superintendents testified regarding the costs incurred by their individual districts. Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said more than 1,000 students remain displaced by the storm, and has had many students enroll from other districts. The district already faces $16 million in losses, including $8.5 million for a single school that did not have flood insurance, and will have to dip into its reserves to cover this cost.

Houston ISD Chief Financial Officer Dr. Rene Barajas said more than 200 campuses were impacted by the hurricane, 75 of which were severely damaged. Six elementary schools remain unopened, affecting some 5,000 children. Some of those campuses could require full replacement. Dr. Barajas called $78 million “a very conservative estimate” for the district’s total cost. Barajas suggested the state keep property values frozen for the next two years in order to protect formula funding for Houston and other Chapter 41 districts. According to Dr. Barajas, the district anticipates reappraising property values would have a negative budget impact.

Chairman Huberty also pressed TEA to assist children who newly qualified for free lunches. The committee did not address how the storm may affect school accountability scores, and whether certain state assessments should be delayed. The chairman suggested the committee is prepared to consider accountability at a future meeting in the next two to three weeks.

TEA approves ADA adjustments for Harvey districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Monday that Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has exercised his authority to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey,” said Commissioner Morath. “This one-time adjustment is meant to bring some certainty for the remainder of this school year as school leaders face a number of major financial decisions following this devastating storm.”

“Many Texas schools have suffered setbacks following Hurricane Harvey, but Texas is committed to ensuring that our students continue to receive the best education possible,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement provided by TEA. “I commend Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency for their efforts to get our students back on track and helping ease the burdens on school districts impacted by the storm. We will continue to work diligently to limit disruption in education while our schools and communities continue to recover and rebuild.”

Under the current school finance system, ADA is a critical component used to determine the level of state funding to which each district is entitled. Many districts lost students as a result of widespread displacement caused by the storm. The resulting decline in ADA means these districts would likely face the loss of state funding or increased recapture rates. The adjustment authorized by Commissioner Morath is intended to prevent major decreases in state funding to these districts during the 2017-2018 school year.

This one-time adjustment applies to eligible districts within the 60 counties listed under Governor Abbott’s state disaster declaration. Eligible districts and charter schools within the Harvey disaster zone must also meet the following criteria:

  • The school district or charter school has had damage to at least one campus which has resulted in a disruption of instruction lasting two or more weeks, OR
  • The school district or charter school had instructional facilities that were closed for the nine or 10 hurricane related waiver days; AND
  • The school district or charter school must complete the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas Worksheet by Oct. 27, 2017.

Additional factors will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In September, the agency promised districts and charters would continue to receive full payments based on their individual Legislative Payment Estimates (LPE). Under the adjustment, according to the TEA, “The commissioner will hold affected districts and charters harmless to a projected ADA number calculated using a three-year average trend from the 2014–2015 through 2016–2017 school years, unless this projection is both 15% higher and 100 ADA higher than the 2017-2018 LPE projections. In the latter case, 2017-2018 LPE will be used.  This calculation is included in the attached spreadsheet.”

“The Texas House wants to make sure that schools are not punished for enrollment declines caused by Harvey,” said Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). “This decision will provide funding certainty for schools as they continue to cope with Harvey’s aftermath and as legislators look closely at other ways the storm affected public education. I want to thank Commissioner Morath for listening to the concerns raised by House members on behalf of their constituents.”

The agency also released a full list of school districts affected by the hurricane. On the same day, the agency announced additional funding to help provide transportation for students displaced by the storm. More information regarding ADA adjustments can be found on the TEA website. The commissioner has also authorized waivers for missed schools days as a result of Harvey.

House weighs Harvey’s cost to government, schools

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

The House Appropriations Committee met Monday at the University of Houston to discuss the state’s response to Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend in August. The hearing was held in response to interim charges relating to the storm announced by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Committee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) opened the meeting with a moment of silence for victims of the deadly mass shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas. Houston was the site of Hurricane Harvey’s second landfall, and saw billions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure. The storm first came ashore near Corpus Christi, and Chairman Zerwas announced that the committee would hold future hearings in the Coastal Bend as well.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

Chairman Zerwas said legislature may need to act to ensure that infrastructure is strong and is rebuilt quickly in the wake of the storm.  When it comes to using the state’s rainy day fund, Zerwas said, “I can’t think of any other type of event” that would be as well qualified for tapping the $11 billion account. The chairman qualified his remarks by adding that before taking action, lawmakers must know what expenses the state will be responsible for and how to leverage federal funds.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was the first local official to testify before the committee. Turner noted that 27 trillion gallons of water fell on the region, and congratulated first responders for doing an “exemplary job” during and immediately following the hurricane. Turner called the storm “indiscriminate,” and announced he has tapped retired Shell president Marvin E. Odum as the city’s chief recovery officer.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston’s top two priorities are debris removal and housing. On housing, Turner said his administration is particularly sensitive to seniors, people will special needs and low-income communities. The mayor testified thousands of people are still living in damaged homes that are in need of assistance.

Turner, who served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee before running for Houston mayor, walked the committee through a detailed breakdown of the city’s costs. The city has received a 90/10 federal match for the cost of debris removal. With the total for debris removal estimated at around $260 million, the city’s share will total roughly $26 million. Working at an “aggressive” pace, the first of three debris removal passes is estimated to be completed within the next couple of weeks. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of emergency and first responder services for the 60 days following the storm, after which the split will also be 90/10. The same match will apply to costs associated with parks and public spaces.

Houston carries a $100 million insurance policy for damage to buildings. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused the city to file a record $33 million claim. The claim for Hurricane Harvey is anticipated to be north of $175 million.

“The insurance is gone,” said Turner. The city is responsible for a $15 million deductible under its current policy, and will need $10 million to reinsure buildings against another hurricane. Turner explained that these costs, added to the city’s $26 million share for debris removal, were covered by $50 million in state funds unlocked by Governor Greg Abbott on Friday.

“I appreciate what the governor did, and I want to thank him,” said Turner, who added that the funds will prevent the need to ask for a local tax rate hike. Turner warned that other federal matches will still incur local costs, and the city must earnestly pursue costly flood mitigation projects to prevent further catastrophe.

Among those are three bayou projects that are shovel ready and awaiting federal money, which Turner testified could have saved thousands of homes. Other projects include $311 million to expand bayou capacity, $400 million for a reservoir in West Houston and a number of detention basins, including a $25-$30 million project to convert an unused golf course into a reservoir capable of holding more water than the Astrodome. Experts have long warned that a hurricane hitting Galveston Bay could wipe out the Port of Houston, and Turner suggested spending $12 billion for the “Ike Dike” or coastal spine would be a frugal investment compared to Hurricane Harvey’s $180 billion estimated cost.

The city has already exhausted its own $20 million economic stabilization fund. Turner emphasized that until money from the state rainy day fund is made available, state agencies should waive administrative fees for federal funds. In addition, Turner suggested lawmakers could tap state Fund 5000. A portion of the dedicated fund’s revenue comes from solid waste disposal and tipping fees, and the mayor argued $133 million from the fund could be made available for recovery efforts in Houston.

Concluding his remarks, Turner emphasized the role of Houston as the state’s economic heart. Urging lawmakers to consider ways to assist, Turner cautioned, “If you stop the engine of this city, you will stop the movement of this state.”

Up next, Harris County Judge Ed Emmitt called attention to the 2.5 million county residents outside of Houston proper. The county costs include $110 million for debris removal. The hurricane damaged 55 county buildings, 19 of which cannot be reopened. The county’s criminal justice center is among the buildings unable to be reopened, which altogether present the county with a $220 million loss. County workers must inspect 190 roads and bridges, as well as 900 traffic signals, at an additional cost of $220 million.

Buyouts for destroyed homes are expected to top $6 billion dollars, and public health costs, such as mosquito spraying, will tally around $7 million. Judge Emmett said that the completion of critical flood control projects already on the books will also be in the billions, and local taxpayers will likely be asked to approve a billion dollar bond package as a result of the disaster. Emmitt concluded that the strain on local governments responsible for storm recovery illustrates the folly of recent legislation that would have made it more difficult for counties to raise property taxes.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, appointed by Gov. Abbott to chair the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, opened his remarks by reading a letter from the governor commending local, state and national leaders for their response efforts. Four weeks into the job, Sharp described the commission’s role as finding ways to cut red tape and acting as the main point of contact for coordinating the state’s response. That said, Sharp reminded the committee that individual mayors and county judges hold sole executive authority during a disaster, and the commission is limited to offering advice and facilitating their requests.

Sharp emphasized the importance of counties filing federal paperwork before spending local dollars in order to ensure that federal funds are delivered. Following its recovery work, the commission will produce a report with future recommendations. Responding to Turner’s testimony, Sharp argued that the state does not take an administrative fee from federal disaster funds. Instead, Sharp characterized the money state agencies receive as a separate disbursement from the federal government.

After Sharp, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified that the full cost to the state won’t be known for several more months, or possibly years. The state will be able to meet its cash flow needs, but will see a short-term loss in economic output as a result of factories and businesses being knocked out by the storm. Despite this, the state expects a subsequent bump in GDP as a result of the recovery. Regarding state procurement efforts, Hegar raised a concern with the inability of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff to provide assurances that specific contract terms and conditions meet FEMA requirements for reimbursement. The comptroller also chided the legislature for failing to pass legislation Hegar suggested that would have invested a portion of the rainy day fund, which Hegar argued could have yielded several hundred million additional dollars for recovery efforts. Importantly, Hegar warned that public education costs could be the most significant area of exposure facing the state.

The committee also heard from top staff at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Commissioner Charles Smith fielded a number of pointed questions regarding staff losses, budget cuts and the rollout of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Commissioner Smith pushed back against criticism of the agency’s response to Harvey levied by former staff in a report by the Texas Tribune. Smith estimated a total cost to the agency of $1.3 billion.

Staff from HHSC testified that the commission is working with Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure additional counselors are available to go into schools to serve children displaced or affected by the storm, but could not say how many counselors are currently involved or how schools were informed of the additional resources.

Legislative Budget Board (LBB) staff briefed the committee on the state’s spending flexibility through budget execution, which Gov. Abbott had earlier suggested could be utilized to cover recovery costs without immediately tapping the rainy day fund. Funding can be transferred between executive agencies, as well as from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2018. Agencies are required to notify LBB of transfers, but do not need the board’s permission. Currently, most of the HHSC resources transferred for recovery efforts have been redirected from funds set aside for Medicaid.

With regard to the debate over administrative fees, LBB staff indicated that not all agencies receive fees in the same way. Staff volunteered to look into whether administrative fees waived by state agencies would be able to pass through to city governments or be forfeited back to the federal government. Board staff also confirmed Fund 5000 could be utilized for disaster response, and could be accessed without a legislative appropriation through a budget rider that allows the governor to utilize certain dedicated funds for disaster relief with the approval of the comptroller and LBB.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd told the committee Hurricane Harvey is expected to be an $18.5 billion FEMA event. Some 845,000 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance, of which 305,000 have been processed for a current total of $857 million in FEMA funds. Like Mayor Turner, Chief Kidd listed debris removal and housing as the state’s most immediate concerns. In contrast, Chief Kidd testified that administrative fees are drawn down separately and on top of approved federal disaster funds and are used by state agencies to pay for compliance monitoring. Kidd contended that if the state were to waive administrative fees, no additional money would go to local governments and agencies would ask the legislature to pay for compliance monitoring.

The committee also heard from representatives of the Texas Military Forces and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Executive Director James Bass from TxDOT testified the state incurred about $125 million in damage to roadways alone. Bass said Texas is not in danger of having to compete with Florida, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma, for federal highway dollars.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath reiterated the comptroller’s warning that the public education system could face significant costs related to the hurricane. The commissioner again commended educators for “unbridled and remarkable acts of heroism” during the chaos, pointing out that many chose to go to work saving lives while their own homes were underwater. As of now, all school systems have reopened except for Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Aransas County ISDs. Progress notwithstanding, Morath said there are still students who are unaccounted for in a formal educational setting following the storm. Truancy laws remain in place, and Morath said it’s “too soon to tell” how the storm will affect dropout rates. Many districts have extended the school day or begun offering Saturday school in order to make up missed instructional time.

Morath presented the committee with an itemized list of nine major cost centers. Initially, districts receiving students displaced by the storm would normally not see the additional funding accompanying those students until the following year. Fortunately, Morath said the agency is able to shift funding sooner in order to accommodate those districts. Second, Morath said the agency could hold harmless districts losing substantial numbers of students by adjusting the average daily attendance (ADA) for those districts at a cost of roughly $400 million.

The commissioner also highlighted the worrying fiscal impact on districts in which the local property tax base is negatively impacted by the storm. Because the school finance system is based on lagging property tax collections, Morath suggested districts may not see the full impact until 2020. Morath noted the bifurcated maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S) funding streams create additional complications, and argued action should be taken to mitigate districts’ losses.

The storm has also had a large impact on facilities. Schools will need to be repaired or replaced, and the legislature will likely be faced with a decision regarding how much to appropriate to districts that have exhausted insurance and federal funds. The storm has also caused many students to become homeless or qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The additional weighted funding carried by these categories is expected to cost the state $266 million. Newly homeless students will also qualify for pre-Kindergarten programs. Other costs associated with absorbing displaced students include additional transportation and mental health services, and districts will face costs for monitoring compliance with regard to federal emergency funds.

Responding to a question from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) regarding whether it is correct that the STAAR test will proceed without changes to the administration schedule, Morath answered, “Not entirely.” Morath explained a survey has been sent to affected districts, and indicated a decision whether to delay testing for displaced students has not yet been reached.  The commissioner also suggested affected schools labeled “improvement required” may receive a “bye” year for accountability purposes.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to hold additional meetings to discuss the ongoing recovery. The House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet October 12 in Austin to focus in-depth on Hurricane Harvey’s effects on the public school system.

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

SBOE wraps quiet September meeting

The State Board of Education met Friday to conclude its September meeting in Austin. After recognizing the 2017 Heroes for Children award recipients, the board heard public comments and took up the agenda.

The board swiftly moved though items from the Committee on Instruction that removed duplicative rules regarding certain science classes and an amendment changing the amount of credit offered for extended practicum in fashion design. Members approved a measure from the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund to update the rule to comply with the Texas Tax Code regarding the definitions used for tax collections to calculate state aid under the Texas Education Code.

The board approved an item from the Committee on School Initiatives that would expand the commissioner’s ability to dismiss or decline to recertify hearing examiners, as well as an item that clarifies policies regarding late renewals of educator certifications. The board took no action on an item that would make adjustments to the qualifications for educators whose degree was earned outside the United States.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) updated the board on the first meeting of the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, which Cargill chairs. The 18-member committee met Tuesday for what Cargill described as a “great meeting,” in which attendees received a presentation by the state demographer. Cargill noted that according to the demographer, 86 percent of the state’s population lives along the I-35 corridor or east of it. After brainstorming ideas for main topics on which to focus, the committee is now working to narrow its list down to four items.

Before the board adjourned, member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) thanked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff for creating a Spanish language support group in response to the myriad issues facing bilingual speakers in the public school system.

Commissioner: 1.4 million students affected by Harvey

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its September meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner Mike Morath regarding the agency’s response to Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

The commissioner described the storm that smashed into the Coastal Bend as a category four hurricane as “pretty nasty.” More than 1.4 million students (roughly 1 in 4) attend school in one of the 58 counties designated under Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) state disaster declaration.

According to the agency, a majority of those districts have reopened or will soon reopen. Districts facing longer delays include Ingleside, Taft, Aransas County, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas in Education Service Center (ESC) Region 2 (Corpus Christi). In Region 3 (Victoria), Refugio ISD remains closed and Woodsboro ISD could possibly reopen by September 18. Houston ISD in Region 4 is implementing a rolling start for campuses, and Sheldon ISD is looking to reopen September 18. Finally, eight districts in Region 5 (Beaumont) are still determining potential start dates.

Commissioner Morath said the agency has been “feverishly busy” trying to support affected districts and charters, noting the invaluable role played by the education service centers play. The commissioner has conducted daily “war room” sessions with agency staff, and waived a number of state education laws under the agency’s purview. Those include a waiver for missed instructional days, adjustments for average daily attendance (ADA), submitting crisis code data and changing the PEIMS school-start window, reducing the minimum days of service and extending various deadlines. The commissioner has met with superintendents in Houston and is scheduled to meet with superintendents in Corpus Christi, Victoria and Beaumont.

Morath called Governor Abbott’s recovery efforts “quite remarkable,” and credited the governor with negotiating fund matching that would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 90 percent of recovery costs, leaving local districts responsible for the remaining ten percent. Between FEMA funds and insurance, the commissioner suggested districts and charters should be able to cover recovery costs without any additional money out of pocket. That said, Morath noted the storm “was not without cost,” and praised those who contributed “many small acts of heroism” to save lives in immediate aftermath.

In Houston, Morath said 35-40 schools quickly became makeshift shelters for storm victims. Many educators became first responders, including a Spring Branch teacher and ATPE member who joined the “Cajun Navy” rescue efforts. Praising the work of educators, Morath said, “What we saw was public service on an epic scale.”

The agency has set up a hotline (512-463-9603) for parents who aren’t sure what to do with their children after being displaced by the storm. Additionally, staff advised the board that approximately 340 individuals were scheduled to take the high school equivalency exam but were prevented from doing so due to the storm. Because board rules do not allow the state to provide refunds, the agency has asked test vendors to waive the administrative fee for those retaking the test. Agency staff advised that this would accomplish the same goal without requiring the board to amend rules.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) noted that the College Board is waiving SAT fees for those affected by the storm. Cargill also raised a question about how the storm would affect the schedule for STAAR test administration. The commissioner indicated that the agency is unable to alter the schedule, therefore the STAAR will be administered according to the normal timeline.

Responding to a question from Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth), Morath indicated that the agency has broad authority to tap additional funds in response to a national disaster. Such a move could be done with or without dipping into the economic stabilization fund (ESF), often called the “rainy day fund.” Morath suggested tapping emergency funds could be done without the need for a special session, although it could present legislators with budget challenges in the next legislative session.

Following the commissioner’s update, the board reviewed statutory changes from bills passed during the 85th legislative session, including legislation consolidating the instructional materials allotment into the instructional materials and technology allotment and ordering the creation of an instructional materials web portal. The legislature also expanded the board’s authority to approve or decline to endorse textbooks based upon suitability for the subject and grade level.

Members breezed through a new vendor’s proposal for a Mexican-American studies textbook, after a previous vendor’s offering generated controversy and resulted in the board declining to endorse the book. The board opened up discussions on aligning the education code to accommodate new courses created in statute by the 85th Texas Legislature, including advanced computer science, cybersecurity, and interaction with law enforcement officers. Prompted by an individual who spoke during public testimony, members engaged in a spirited discussion about the relative merits of personal financial literacy and economics. Some members indicated they would be open to a future discussion that would ponder placing more emphasis on personal financial literacy than on economics – which is among the courses eligible for college credit.

The governor signed legislation in May that removes sequencing requirements for English and math. Senate Bill (SB) 826 eliminated the requirement that advanced English and math courses be taken only after the completion of English I, English II, English III, Algebra I and geometry as appropriate. The legislature also passed legislation that will allow certain computer science courses to satisfy the requirement for students to take a language other than English. The board devoted significant discussion time Wednesday contemplating how to credit computer science courses that may satisfy either a language or a math requirement, and whether such courses should be allowed to count as satisfying both requirements. The board will face several such decisions over the next few months as it determines specifically how to enact certain legislative changes.

The board heard from representatives from the International Baccalaureate program Wednesday afternoon who voiced concern about a lack of PEIMS codes for IB courses. The conversation will continue over the next few meetings in which the board will likely undertake a deeper dive into IB coursework.

The meeting concluded with an update on the review process for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Members received an updated cycle for review and revision, and a recommendation from agency staff that the board delay the upcoming social studies TEKS review by one meeting in order to accommodate those who may have been affected by the storm.

 

SBOE Long-Range Plan committee holds first meeting

Members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) hosted the first steering committee meeting Tuesday for the development of a Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

Long Range Plan Steering Committee meeting September 12, 2017 at the Texas Education Agency.

Long-Range Plan Steering Committee meeting at the Texas Education Agency, Sept. 12, 2017.

The 18-member steering committee includes SBOE chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and members Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Georgina Perez (D-El Paso), and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo). Three staff members from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are also on the committee, as well as 10 public stakeholders representing various community and education interests. Additional information on the Long-Range Plan and steering committee members can be found on the TEA website.

The steering committee’s purpose is to recommend long-term goals for the state’s public school system and to identify strengths, opportunities, and challenges. The purpose of the steering committee’s first meeting was to adopt operating procedures, elect a chair, look at examples of long-range plans from other states, brainstorm a vision, get an image of the Texas demographic landscape in 2030, and prioritize three to four topics for deep dive sessions.

One of the committee’s first actions was to elect Barbara Cargill as chair and Lanet Greenhaw, vice president of education and workforce at the Dallas Regional Chamber, as vice-chair. The committee then reviewed examples of plans produced in Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Texas State Demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter presented the committee with an overview of state demographics and how those trends may impact the public education system. Below are some highlights of the presentation to the committee.

According to Dr. Potter, Texas is experiencing urbanization characterized by people moving from rural areas to urban and suburban areas. Significant growth is also occurring in the suburban “rings,” a factor of migration out of urban cores as well as immigration from outside the state following employers to the suburbs. Dr. Potter pointed to Harris County as the most significant growing county in the nation, with roughly a dozen counties in the national top 100. Texas also is home to three of the top ten fastest growing counties in the United States. California is the top state contributing migrants to Texas, comprising 22.1 percent of the net migration from out of state.

In 2000, Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the state’s total ethnic makeup. By 2015, Hispanics comprised 39 percent. During the same period, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites roughly held steady. Much of the non-Hispanic white population consists of Baby Boomers, who are now in their 60s and 70s. Older cohorts in the Boomer age range comprise a larger percentage of the overall population each year. Across all nationalities, cohorts of school-age children are increasing year-over-year.

Using data from 2010 to 2015, projected population growth has slowed compared to previous models. Dr. Potter hypothesized this could be a result of reduced immigration from Mexico and declining fertility rates. According to the newer calculations, Texas could reach a population of just under 29 million by 2020. While the number of people who primarily speak Spanish at home has increased slightly, the percentage of school-aged children from primarily Spanish-speaking households has decreased. The percentage of children from households below the federal poverty level has slightly decreased. Looking at the labor force, low-skilled, low wage jobs are declining as high-skilled, high wage jobs are increasing as a share of the overall workforce. This is accompanied by increases in educational attainment, with the number of college graduates increasing compared to a decrease in workers with a high school diploma or less.

Among the more troubling statistics shared by the demographer today, Texas is one of the worst states in terms of teen births. Texas is ranked number five out of 50 states, ahead of only Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and New Mexico. Dr. Potter suggested there is a direct correlation between high teen birth rates and high levels of poverty. Additionally, adult obesity in Texas is on the rise.

Following the presentation by Dr. Potter, the committee moved on to prioritizing topics for deep dive discussions. Future-readiness, equity, poverty, teacher recruitment and retention, alternative certification, family and parent empowerment, parent education, early learning, numeracy and literacy, access, additional measures of accountability, and readiness to participate in the global economy were among the topics identified by members of the committee as important leverage points for improving public education.

The committee is next scheduled to meet November 6 at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Austin.

How you can assist Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Much of Texas, especially Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, continues to deal with the disastrous results of Hurricane Harvey. With ongoing emergency conditions across large parts of the state, many of our members in less affected areas are asking how they can help.

AFFECTED AREAS

Thousands of students, faculty and staff are expected to be displaced in Houston, which continues to experience catastrophic flooding and rescue operations. There will be a need for school uniforms, school supplies, and financial donations in HISD. District staff is organizing recovery and relief efforts at this early stage. Surrounding districts will likely face similar challenges.

The Red Cross is operating emergency shelters and is distributing truckloads of supplies across affected areas. Information on where to find a shelter, reconnect with loved ones, and obtain relief can be found by following this link to the Red Cross website. General information regarding emergency shelters for those evacuating disaster areas can be obtained by calling 2-1-1.

NORTH TEXAS

Dallas County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster member Trusted World is accepting donations and volunteers for the Hurricane Harvey Donation Drive. Supplies needed include:

  • New underwear and socks (all sizes)
  • Non-Perishable food
  • Toiletries
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby diapers, wipes and formula

Donations can be dropped off Monday between 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm at 15660 Dallas Parkway. More details can be found by following this link to their website.

CENTRAL TEXAS

According to Austin Eater, several Austin bars and restaurants are collecting money or sending partial sales proceeds to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The city of San Antonio is collecting non-perishable food, baby food, water, new or packaged clothing and hygiene items. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg posted a list of donation drop locations to Twitter:

 

STATEWIDE Providing financial assistance through the Red Cross is quick and easy:

      • Text “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a $10 donation
      • Call 1 (800) RED-CROSS
      • Visit www.redcross.org

The Houston Press has compiled a list of food banks, which can also accept monetary donations as well as foodstuffs: 

Houston Food Bank
832-369-9390   
www.houstonfoodbank.org

Galveston Food Bank
409-945-4232 
www.galvestoncountyfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria) 
361-578-0591 
www.victoriafoodbank.org

Closed Friday

Corpus Christi Food Bank
361-887-6291
www.foodbankcc.com

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont) 
409-839-8777 
www.setxfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr) 
956-682-8101 
www.foodbankrgv.com

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)
979-779-3663 
www.bvfb.org

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)
512-282-2111
www.centraltexasfoodbank.org

San Antonio Food Bank
210-337-3663
www.safoodbank.org

Houston Texans NFL star J.J. Watt launched a YouCaring Houston Flood Relief campaign which has raised more than $460,000 of its $500,000 goal. Watt announced the fund in an Instagram post: 


Donations can also be made to the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Texas Diaper Bank, Samaritan’s Purse, North American Mission Board/Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and SPCA of Texas. Texas Monthly has a list of additional aid organizations in this article on Hurricane Harvey aid.

TEA launches Equity Toolkit for school districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a new set of online resources this week aimed to assist districts in submitting Equity Plans as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal law passed in 2015 requires schools receiving Title I funding to determine whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers,” and to address any inequities.

The agency is accepting submissions for Texas Equity Plans from September 1 through November 1. The deadline is designed to encourage districts to develop their plans as part of their annual improvement planning process. To make things easier, TEA has launched the Texas Equity Toolkit. The website provides templates for reporting and project management planning, as well as equity plan submission guidelines.

According to TEA, the process “is about improving student learning for every single student throughout the state.  Are all students within an LEA learning at commensurate and appropriate rates?  If not, what factors contribute to that, and what strategies can LEAs pursue or continue to pursue to help close those gaps?”

The process begins with engaging stakeholders, then reviewing and analyzing data on equity gaps. Next, districts will conduct a root cause analysis, select strategies to improve equitable access, and craft a plan for implementation. The Texas Equity Toolkit provides details and resources for each of these steps, as well as training materials.

It’s important to note that Districts of Innovation (DOI) are not exempt from the federal requirement. The agency also advises that all regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) have staff available to assist districts with their plans. A list of “Equity Leads” can be found here.