Category Archives: 85th Legislature

Working group releases first set of school finance recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Tuesday in Austin to consider recommendations based on more than 60 hours of testimony heard by the commission since its first meeting in January.

School finance commission working group on outcomes meeting July 3, 2018.

Group leader Todd Williams began the meeting reading from a detailed report that suggested the state should invest more dollars in specific strategies to accelerate reaching the “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students go onto post-secondary success by the year 2030.

Common themes from testimony included the importance of early intervention, since only 60 percent of students arrive at school kindergarten-ready. The report indicated teachers are the most important in-school factor in student outcomes, and funding should ensure that every teacher candidate has access to high quality educator preparation programs, ensure they stay in the profession and classroom, and ensure they address student challenges as early as possible.

In order to achieve post-secondary achievement, the report suggested funding should ensure graduates do not require remediation in higher education and that achievement of a post-secondary credential is not only expected, but achievable, affordable and supported. In addition, the report suggested systemic incentives, including ensuring that financial incentives are tied to the achievement of our most critical outcomes.

The working group’s formal recommendations encompass three core principles: Ready to learn, ready to teach, and ready to earn. According to the report, funding should include some specific incentives within the formula funding tied to specific goals at critical gates.

The first of these incentive gates is 3rd grade reading, and the working group is recommending providing an additional weight for low income and/or English language learners for pre-K through grade 3. At each district’s discretion, dollars from this 3rd grade reading investment would be sufficient to be used to fund full day pre-K, tutoring interventions, expanded dual language programs, specialized multi-year early childhood professional development, and a longer school year.

The second incentive is funding for every 8th grader who meets the state’s standard in reading and Algebra I. This is expected to help increase college readiness. The third incentive is funding for every high school graduate assessed as college or career ready, who successfully achieves industry certification or enrolls in college or the military. Incentives for rewarding low-income student achievement should be higher in recognition of the greater associated challenges. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) was emphatic that incentives should not further increase inequity in the school funding system.

The fourth incentive is to provide the optional ability for districts to implement multi-measure evaluation systems and fund higher teacher distinction levels to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The working group noted the issues with current salary levels in recruiting and retaining teachers, and expressed the goal that districts be able to pay top-quality teachers more. Melissa Martin, the only teacher on the commission, said she’s torn over performance pay. Martin voiced concern that evaluations are property constructed and not totally subjective, which could introduce campus politics into the process.

The working group included the following additional recommendations:

  • Adjust compensatory education funding (currently $3.9 billion annually) in recognition that “free and reduced lunch” percentages are a very simplistic measure and do not adequately reflect the varying levels of poverty that exist throughout the state.
  • Strongly consider eliminating the five end-of-course (“EOC”) STAAR assessments and replacing with either SAT or ACT assessments that can measure growth based on a pre-SAT/ACT assessment given in 9th grade vs. a SAT/ACT assessment given in the 11th grade.
  • For districts choosing to implement a full day Pre-K program, consider crediting the appropriate full-day attendance for purposes of funding within the Foundation School Program.
  • TEA financially incent dual language strategies and disallow ELL pullout strategies as an accepted approach toward ELL instruction for larger districts exceeding 5,000 students (this subset of districts educates roughly 80% of all Texas students).
  • Align the current CTE weight of 1.35 (equivalent to $2.2 billion annually) toward CTE programs of study that are vigorously tied to the attainment of living wage credentials aligned with current workforce need and/or which provide students with critical financial literacy skills.
  • Amend legislation to require that failing ISD elementary and middle school campuses may be reconstituted after three years with an ACE-like school reconstitution plan (where better educators have been purposely placed at the struggling campus) with the state providing matching funds to reduce district costs.
  • To reduce prison recidivism and its associated costs to the state, TEA should amend the accountability system to incent school districts to help formerly incarcerated individuals receive their high school diploma or GED.
  • State funding should target professional development training towards schools/districts willing to launch blended learning and personalized learning pilots that help students matriculate faster than their peers if necessary, providing net savings in the long run to the state due to paying for less seat time.
  • Schools should be incentivized by the academic accountability system by creating a separate post-secondary readiness academic distinction. In addition, additional state funding should be awarded if the high school achieves the post-secondary readiness academic distinction.

The working group also expressed support for researching the costs associated with providing all-day pre-K for teachers’ children. The report concludes, “For us to succeed requires very substantive, immediate action on the part of the state (emphasis in original document) – we simply cannot “tweak” our K-12 system to meet this critical objective. Only by making strategic, impactful investments above current levels in the key areas noted, and implementing the innovative structural formula changes that are necessary, can we ensure Texas remains a thriving economy that all of its citizens can participate in.”

The recommendations carry an estimated $1 billion annual price tag, which would average out to about $200 per student and a 4 percent increase in the current basic allotment – still below 2008 inflation adjusted funding levels. This would gradually increase to $2.5 billion annually by 2030, which would average out to $450 per student, which would only be achieved if all districts implement performance pay programs. According to the report, this would still place Texas in the lowest quartile of per-student spending compared to other states.

The report argues these measures could pay for themselves by creating up to $4 billion in incremental potential yearly earnings and up to $250 million in additional state sales taxes for each yearly graduating cohort. Better-prepared graduates will earn more money and pay more in taxes. The report suggests success could also reduce growth in the approximate $12 billion the state spends each year in uninsured medical costs and incarceration.

The report, as amended, was approved with a unanimous vote of the five working group members. You can read all of the recommendations in the full draft report from the outcomes working group here, however some of the recommendations were altered or struck in Tuesday’s meeting. This article contains the most up-to-date versions of the recommendations. The full commission meets July 10.

Joint panel discusses student mental health services

The House Public Education Committee met jointly with the Public Health Committee Thursday at the Texas Capitol in order to discuss interim charges related to students’ mental health. The joint hearing focused on the following charge:

  • Consider testimony provided at the May 17 House Public Health Committee hearing regarding improving mental health services for children. Identify specific strategies that would enhance overall school safety. Study ways to help parents, youth and primary care providers support school personnel in their efforts to identify and intervene early when mental health problems arise. In addition to school-based trauma-informed programs and those that treat early psychosis, consider the benefits of universal screening tools and expanding the Child Psychiatry Access Program (CPAP). Make recommendations to enhance collaboration among the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, local mental health authorities, and education service.

House Public Education Committee meeting in a joint hearing with the House Public Health Committee June 28, 2018.

Invited witnesses representing school counselors recommended adding more counselors, social workers and licensed specialists in school psychology (LSSPs), as well as reducing the number of non-counseling duties assigned to counselors – such as bus duty and cafeteria monitoring. One expert testified that counselors and mental health professionals should be used appropriately, and warned of potential stigma associated with referrals for certain mental health services. State Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Cindy Burkett both expressed concern that stigma should not prevent students from receiving the mental health services they need.

Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) admonished witnesses to make specific asks and supply hard numbers along with their recommendations, rather than make vague suggestions. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) noted that the issue seems to be one of capacity, with the current number of counselors lacking sufficient time and resources to achieve maximum effectiveness.

A representative from Communities in Schools (CIS) testified to the importance of wraparound services and incorporating these into emergency response plans. Several members of the committee praised CIS for its work and voiced their continuing support. Lisa Descant with CIS of Houston testified that case management services cost about $218 per student annually, which is funded by a combination of public and private money.

Billy Philips with the Texas Tech University Health Science Center testified regarding the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral (TWITR) Project. The program provides school-based screening, assessment and referral using telemedicine for students that come to their attention. The program also coordinates handoff to support services and follows certain kinds of outcome data. Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) screen students who are referred due to behavioral issues and connect them to the appropriate care resources, which often include getting the right medication. Students may be removed from school for therapeutic services or for security reasons.

Public testimony consisted of a mix of counselors and individuals performing similar support services. A panel of high school students who became activists following the Santa Fe school shooting impressed lawmakers by offering specific recommendations, such as making additional counselors available and offering ways to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

State Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) polled the students whether they would use an app to anonymously report cyberbullying, which is among the ideas under consideration. The students indicated they would use an app for this purpose, provided that they could be confident reports would be acted upon and follow up.

A number of witnesses also asked to provide teachers with trauma-informed instruction training, which they believe will help teachers better identify and help students who may be experiencing trauma at home that could lead to serious academic and behavioral issues.

House committee discusses school security issues

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday to discuss two interim charges related to school safety. Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the significance of these charges in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and a list of school safety recommendations released by Gov. Greg Abbott. Rep. Huberty opened the meeting by reading the interim charges aloud:

  • Review the effectiveness of schools’ current multi-hazard emergency operation plans. Determine any areas of deficiency and make recommendations to ensure student safety. Research violence prevention strategies, such as threat assessment, that are available for school personnel to identify students who might pose a threat to themselves or others. Identify resources and training available to schools to help them develop intervention plans that address the underlying problems that caused the threatening behavior.
  • Examine current school facilities and grounds. Consider any research-based ‘best practices’ when designing a school to provide a more secure environment. Review the effectiveness of installing metal detectors, cameras, safety locks, streaming video of school security cameras, and other measures designed to improve school safety.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath was the first to testify, and addressed the school marshals program that allows districts to arm teachers and staff who voluntarily undergo special training. Morath noted that this is an option for districts that choose to use it. He also encouraged districts to partner with local law enforcement organizations to find innovative ways to increase police presence on campus, such as by inviting officers to take their breaks on school campuses.

House Public Education Committee meeting June 27, 2018.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) asked whether school marshal candidates must undergo a psychological evaluation in order to ensure individuals who volunteer for the position do so for the right reasons. Morath indicated that individuals must be nominated by others, and stressed the training requirements for the program.

Much of Commissioner Morath’s testimony mirrored what he told a Senate committee earlier this month. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) indicated funding is a challenge for making additional training and supports available for character education. Morath suggested that teacher certification redesign may help, but the redesign isn’t schedule until 2022.

Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) recommended more mental health personnel, such as trauma counselors, on school campuses. State Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) asked the commissioner directly whether the legislature should require and fund trauma counselors. Morath punted on the question, saying needs and resources vary from district to district. On further questioning from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morath acknowledged that mental health services could be part of a special appropriations request independent of TEA’s regular budget submission. Chair Huberty pressed the commissioner on the question – clearly indicating the committee is focused on getting more counselors into school with a potential state funding assist.

Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen testified regarding a number of physical security issues, such as fire alarms and building design. Fagen indicated that making the changes proposed by the governor’s office could cost between $100,000 and $250,000 per campus. Members heard from a total of nine panels, covering everything from student mental health services to how schools are designed. Representatives from groups representing school social workers and licensed specialists in school psychology emphasized the difference between their jobs and those of standard school counselors, who are primarily focused on preparing students to graduate. Public testimony consisted of a mix of school safety product vendors and advocates for students with mental health issues — the latter of whom warned against unfair discrimination.

 

Senate committee talks school security programs

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met for the second day in a row Tuesday. While Monday’s hearing was dedicated to discussing school infrastructure and design that can help address school safety, Tuesday’s hearing centered around school security programs and resources. Invited testimony was primarily represented by law enforcement officers who discussed the following charge:

“Study school security options and resources, including, but not limited to, the school marshal program, school police officers, armed school personnel, the Texas School Safety Center, and other training programs to determine what improvements can be made to provide school districts and charter schools with more robust security options.”

In addition to representatives from various levels of law enforcement, invited testifiers included the director of the Texas School Safety Center, a superintendent, and a principal. All were there to highlight existing programs in Texas and offer other options. A considerable amount of time was spent on the School Marshal Program, which allows Texas school districts to appoint School Marshals on campuses who are authorized to carry firearms. On the School Marshal Program and other programs discussed, panelists emphasized strong training for participants.

One of the invited panelists, a retired principal from Friendswood ISD, also made a strong case for reducing class sizes in schools to address school safety. She highlighted what she has heard from educators in schools and what she knows from her own experience in the field: relationships are a key element of school safety and teachers cannot have meaningful one-on-one relationships with their students when there are 35 or more students in a classroom. She argued that reducing class sizes could improve the opportunity for teachers to really know and understand their students.

ATPE provided written testimony to the committee that highlighted relevant positions in our member-written-and-approved ATPE Legislative Program and pressed committee members to keep several things in mind as they continue these important discussions: (1) respect that the wishes of local school districts and their communities differ broadly based on local needs, (2) understand that adequate funding must accompany any proposals to address school safety, and (3) engage educators in the discussions as they continue.

Public testifiers included a number of Texas students and a big contingent of activists from the group Moms Demand Action, who were largely there to oppose the discussion around arming educators. The committee is not scheduled to meet again at this time, but future hearings are expected. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said that the committee will host a meeting dedicated to mental health in July.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 8, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting June 6, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week both as a whole and in smaller working groups. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins followed the conversation and provided updates for TeachTheVote.org. His first post details Tuesday’s meeting of the full commission, in which members heard from a number of invited witness who talked about teacher supports, such as merit pay programs.

The working group on revenues, led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), held a last-minute meeting afterward that resulted in most of the public not being able to attend, but reports from those inside provided an idea of what the group has planned. State Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Houston) working group on expenditures met Wednesday morning, and engaged in a lively discussion about textbooks and classroom technology.

The commission is scheduled to meet again on July 10, followed by an expenditures meeting on July 11 in which the working group will vote on recommendations to submit to the full body.


The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security is set to hold two hearings next week in response to the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick assigned Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) to chair the select committee, which is composed of six Republicans and three Democrats.

Monday’s agenda includes invited and public testimony on the following: “Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Tuesday’s agenda includes invited and public testimony on the following: “Study school security options and resources, including, but not limited to, the school marshal program, school police officers, armed school personnel, the Texas School Safety Center, and other training programs to determine what improvements can be made to provide school districts and charter schools with more robust security options.”

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) asked the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence to study a “red flag” law that would provide a legal process for temporarily removing guns from someone considered potentially dangerous by family members or law enforcement. Straus also announced nine new interim charges for House committees:

Committee on Appropriations

“Examine the availability of federal funding and Governor’s Criminal Justice grants that may directly or indirectly improve school safety. Evaluate the potential costs of proposals identified by the Governor and House Committees related to improving access to mental health services for children, improved school safety, and enhanced firearm safety.”

Committee on Public Education

“Review the effectiveness of schools’ current multi-hazard emergency operation plans. Determine any areas of deficiency and make recommendations to ensure student safety. Research violence prevention strategies, such as threat assessment, that are available for school personnel to identify students who might pose a threat to themselves or others. Identify resources and training available to schools to help them develop intervention plans that address the underlying problems that caused the threatening behavior.”

“Examine current school facilities and grounds. Consider any research-based ‘best practices’ when designing a school to provide a more secure environment. Review the effectiveness of installing metal detectors, cameras, safety locks, streaming video of school security cameras, and other measures designed to improve school safety.”

Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence

“Examine current statutes designed to protect minors from accessing firearms without proper supervision and make recommendations to ensure responsible and safe firearm storage, including enhancing the penalty to a felony when unauthorized access results in death or bodily injury.”

Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety

“Evaluate options to increase the number of school marshals available, and identify current statutory requirements that limit utilization of the program.”

“Examine best practices and measures adopted in other states regarding reporting lost or stolen firearms. Gather information on reporting strategies, fines, and/or penalties for noncompliance, and receive testimony from law enforcement related to mishandling of firearms.”

Committees on Public Education and Committee on Public Health (Joint Charge)

“Consider testimony provided at the May 17 House Public Health Committee hearing regarding improving mental health services for children. Identify specific strategies that would enhance overall school safety. Study ways to help parents, youth and primary care providers support school personnel in their efforts to identify and intervene early when mental health problems arise. In addition to school-based trauma-informed programs and those that treat early psychosis, consider the benefits of universal screening tools and expanding the Child Psychiatry Access Program (CPAP). Make recommendations to enhance collaboration among the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, local mental health authorities, and education service centers.”

Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety and Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence (Joint Charge)

“Examine current judicial procedures and practices and make recommendations to assist all courts and jurisdictions in reporting judgments and verdicts which make up the information sent to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Review and make recommendations regarding the list of convictions, judgments, and judicial orders which disqualify a person from possessing a firearm.”

Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs and Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety (Joint Charge)

“Examine the experience of other states in prioritizing retired peace officers and military veterans for school security. Determine the minimum standards necessary to implement such a program.”

ATPE will be attending these hearings will post updates at TeachTheVote.org. The House and Senate actions come after Gov. Greg Abbott released his outline of ideas to prevent further school shootings last week. Many of those ideas would require legislative action, which is among the things the committees will consider.

 


State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) announced his resignation this week, saying it’s time to move on. The Texas Tribune reported on his announcement, which we’ve been expecting since he announced last year he wouldn’t be running for reelection. Rep. Gonzales chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Articles VI, VII and VIII of the state budget, which includes funding for big state agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). As a member of the Texas Legislature, he was well known for being a friendly guy and a straight shooter who worked with both parties to get things done. Gonzales was a good friend of public education, and his presence in the legislature will be dearly missed.

The race to follow Rep. Gonzales in representing House District (HD) 52 is between Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico. You can click on each of their names to view their candidate information and survey responses they provided to TeachTheVote.org. This is expected to be a close race, which underscores the importance of every vote.

The November 6 General Election will be the last opportunity for education supporters to make sure pro-public education candidates are elected into office. Whomever voters choose will decide what direction to take the Texas Legislature when it meets in January. Will we see a resurrection of vouchers and bills attacking teachers? Or will we see a comprehensive school finance reform bill that puts more resources into classrooms and gives local taxpayers a break? It all depends on who you elect!

 


 

Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Wednesday the criteria for schools affected by Hurricane Harvey to receive waivers from the state accountability ratings. Campuses, districts, and open enrollment charter schools are eligible to be evaluated under the Hurricane Harvey Provision if 10% or more of students or teachers were reported as homeless after the storm, if the campus was closed for ten or more instructional days, or if the campus was reported as being displaced due to the geographic relocation of students or the sharing of instructional facilities. Campuses or districts that meet at least one of these criteria AND are labeled Improvement Required or receive a B, C, D, or F rating will have their accountability rating changed to Not Rated. You can read the full announcement here.

 


ATPE educator and Round Rock ISD fourth grade teacher Stephanie Stoebe testifying at the Texas Capitol June 7, 2018.

Lawmakers on the House Committee on Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality and the House Committee on Higher Education combined forces on Thursday to discuss educator preparation programs (EPPs). The differences between alternative certification or “alt-cert” programs and traditional EPPs was examined during the hearing. The combined committees also heard from ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe, who spoke about her efforts to identify what marks a quality EPP. Stoebe’s recommendations for the committees included creating a dashboard to share EPP information and setting high standards relevant to student achievement. Teacher pay and attrition were also among the topics discussed at the hearing. The combined committees also heard from Stephen F. Austin University, College of Education Dean, Dr. Judy Abbott about partnerships between colleges, universities, and local districts. A detailed breakdown of the hearing can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


On Wednesday, June 6, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released guidelines to all administrators relating to services for students with dyslexia and other disorders. The provisions come after a final monitoring report from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) disclosed that TEA failed to comply requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The provision of services outlines the appropriate responses educators should have if a student is showing early signs of dyslexia, the need for special education, or other services. Read the full correspondence here.

ATPE educator talks ed prep with state lawmakers

The House Committee on Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality and the House Committee on Higher Education met Thursday morning for a joint hearing on educator preparation programs (EPPs), which is among the interim charges assigned by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) before the next legislative session.

ATPE educator and Round Rock ISD fourth grade teacher Stephanie Stoebe testifying at the Texas Capitol June 7, 2018.

The first panel focused on data and accountability, and Texas Education Agency (TEA) associate commissioner Ryan Franklin began testimony with a summary of new teacher demographics. Only a third of new teachers come from traditional four-year undergraduate programs, while half come from alternative certification, or “alt-cert” programs. A+ Texas Teachers, which is an alt-cert program, certifies about a quarter of all new teachers in the state.

All programs require 300 hours of training, but the timing and nature of the training can vary greatly. For example, traditional programs require 14 weeks of training with a teacher of record before allow candidates to take over the classroom themselves, while alt-certs allow candidates to enter the classroom alone as the teacher of record without the benefit of that training.

ATPE member and Round Rock ISD fourth grade teacher Stephanie Stoebe testified about the importance of robust educator preparation programs. Poor preparation leads to higher dropout rates for new teachers. Stoebe testified a campus where she previously worked saw a nearly 50 percent turnover rate for four years because of teachers unprepared to teach students in high levels of poverty, which resulted in neediest kids getting abandoned.

Stoebe conducted research over the past year into indicators of quality EPPs. A survey of 225 classroom teachers found that teacher candidates rely primarily on reputation and flexibility in choosing an educator preparation program. When it comes to the type of preparation, Stoebe emphasized the value of classroom experience, noting that she was taught in the Army to “train as you fight.” Stoebe offered several recommendations, including setting a high bar relevant to student achievement and creating a dashboard to share EPP information. Stoebe also pointed out, “What gets measured gets done.” Stoebe testified teachers are calling for transparency of data, and urged leaders to use data to hold EPPs accountable.

Members of each committee discussed teacher pay and working conditions, noting that both are contributing factors to teacher turnover and retention. State Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) raised concern about the increasing reliance on alt-certs, which see higher attrition rates. “This is something that we really need to delve into next session,” said state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin). State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the Educator Quality Subcommittee, emphasized the importance of “grow your own” programs in closing the equity gap between rural and urban districts with regard to teacher quality.

Dr. Judy Abbott, the Dean of the College of Education at Stephen F. Austin State University, suggested lawmakers pass legislation to better support partnerships between local districts and institutes of higher education by assigning a dollar value to the time educator candidates spend in classrooms while pursuing their certification. Dr. Abbott estimated this benefit to be around $12,000 per teacher.

Expenditures group takes hard look at textbooks

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met Wednesday morning to listen to a final round of witnesses invited to discuss issues related to school spending.

At the beginning of the meeting, group leader state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) announced plans to solicit formal recommendations from all witnesses who’ve testified before the working group. The group’s five members will meet again July 11, the day after a scheduled July 10 meeting of the full commission, and vote on which recommendations to endorse.

School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting June 6, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff opened Wednesday’s testimony with a review of the instructional materials allotment (IMA), and members of the group expressed interest in increasing the flexibility of IMA funds. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) suggested consulting teachers as to how much physical textbooks are currently used in the classroom, and hypothesized that use is declining. Members seemed to unanimously support the idea of encouraging more reliance on technology and cheaper or free online resources, while freeing up IMA funds for other purposes.

Members also expressed frustration with textbook makers over the ongoing costs of keeping physical textbooks, while many educators are supplementing their instruction with materials found online at no charge. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) suggested instructing TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop a working relationship and establish a timetable wherein the legislature mandates universities to develop open-source materials aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which school districts would be required to use for classroom instruction. Sen. West contended this would address both textbook costs and complaints by higher education institutions that Texas high school graduates are not college-ready.

The discussion then turned to bilingual education and dual language. Witnesses testified that dual language programs are more effective than traditional English as a second language programs, but carry higher start-up costs. This includes textbooks in both English and Spanish, for example. Rep. Huberty noted that costs would necessarily be compounded with each additional language, such as programs for students who speak Vietnamese. West and Bernal expressed interest in legislation ordering a study of the costs of implementing more dual language programs.

Members also heard about funding for gifted and talented (GT) and career and technical education (CTE) programs. Each carries additional costs, but achieves important outcomes. The working group also heard from TEA staff regarding the high school allotment, and discussed the idea of folding the high school allotment into the basic allotment. This was a component of House Bill 21, the school finance reform bill authored by House leadership during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Additionally, members discussed the adjustments for sparsity, and for small and medium-sized districts. Commission Chair Scott Brister has repeatedly advocated consolidating school districts as a way to reduce costs, and TEA indicated that these adjustments total roughly $600 million annually. Staff explained the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) and New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), and representatives from fast-growth school districts testified to the importance of funding for new facilities.

Finally, a representative with out-of-state education reform think tank EdBuild suggested improving equity by decoupling school funding from average daily attendance (ADA) and instead using the number of students for whom a school is responsible. Rep. Huberty noted that ADA provides an incentive for districts to ensure that students are actually in the classroom. The EdBuild representative also suggested that by allocating some adjustments at the district level instead of per student, Texas’s school finance system creates unnecessary conflict and confusion between how charter schools and traditional ISDs are funded.

 

School finance commission talks about teacher supports

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin for a discussion on English learners. Opening the meeting, commission Chair Scott Brister urged the working groups assigned to study different aspects of school finance to be specific in the recommendations they make. In particular, Brister said the commission should strive to reach a consensus on the numbers: How much is the state spending on public education? Is it raising or cutting funding? Should textbooks be included in the cost of education?

School finance commission meeting June 5, 2018.

It’s important to note that most of these numbers are readily available from the Legislative Budget Board and are not in dispute. The disagreement has arisen as a result of some witnesses and commission members attempting to use alternative calculations that are not used in state accounting documents, usually in an attempt to inflate spending figures. Part of the argument used by those hoping to privatize public education is that the state spends enough on public schools already. Compared to other states, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending.

The English learners discussion began with invited witnesses pointing out the benefits of dual-language programs over traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) models. Texas has a high percentage of English learners, who benefit the most from strong language instruction early in their academic careers. Students who don’t become proficient in English in elementary school are increasingly likely to struggle later on, and are at a higher risk of failing to graduate. Chair Brister expressed concern over the cost of high-quality programs for English learners. Conversely, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) warned of the future costs of failing to ensure students successfully learn English.

A witness from the Mark Twain Dual Language Academy in San Antonio explained that most of the costs of dual language program are related to start-up, such as training and hiring bilingual educators. The challenge for many schools is hiring educators from a limited pool of certified teachers who are highly proficient in both English and Spanish.

The next panel focused on supports for teachers in general. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that the evidence supports the idea that teachers should be paid significantly more, which would aid retention at high-poverty schools. Morath suggested it is also possible to develop an evaluation system that can identify high quality teachers, and advised the commission that a policy framework to provide better pay for high-quality teachers will require long-term commitment by the state, not a one-time grant or budget rider.

Morath further said that pay, not working conditions, is the top hurdle when it comes to recruiting people into the education profession. When it comes to retention, teachers say working conditions are more important than pay. Pay for education jobs has decreased over time, and the average classroom teacher has gotten younger as veterans leave the profession.

The commissioner discussed legislation filed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature that would have created a system of tiered certification distinctions tied to significant increases in pay. For example, a “master teacher” who has received a national certification and fulfilled additional requirements and serves at a rural or high-poverty campus could earn up to $20,000 more.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he declined to support the bill because of the cost it would have imposed on a long-term basis. Morath emphasized that higher pay is a long-term strategy and would not improve current performance, rather it would recruit and retain better quality educators in the future. In endorsing the idea, Morath indicated it will only work if the funding is baked into the funding formulas for school districts. The commissioner also suggested that one of the bill’s flaws was calibrating the process of identifying high-performing teachers, explaining that each school principal could have a different opinion when it comes to what defines a great teacher.

Responding to a question about high-stakes testing from State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath said testing would have to be at least one component of a program that evaluates teacher quality. The commissioner suggested there should also be an observational component and perhaps a student survey, which is included in the Dallas ISD program upon which the bill was based.

Commission member Todd Williams also noted that there is no incentive for teachers to work in high-poverty or rural schools. In addition, teachers who are at the top of the pay scale cannot increase their pay without leaving the classroom and becoming an administrator, which means their teaching talent would be removed from the system. Finally, Williams noted that there is no incentive for teacher candidates to choose a high-quality preparation program over a cheaper, fly-by-night program. Williams suggested creating incentives in these areas could increase teacher quality and retention.

Concluding his testimony, Morath said that investing in better quality teachers would lead to better-prepared students graduating and pursuing more lucrative jobs. That, combined with teachers themselves earning more, would materially increase the state’s GDP. Morath reasoned this would have a positive and measurable impact on the Texas economy.

Following up on Morath’s testimony, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers noted that rising health care costs have also driven teachers out of the profession. Chambers said children need to come to kindergarten ready to go to school, which pre-K helps accomplish, and must be reading on grade level by the third grade. Quality teachers should be in all classrooms, which is helped by differentiated teacher pay, such as paying teachers more to teach in more challenging classrooms.

San Antonio ISD fourth grade teacher Sarah Perez, who is also a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, rounded out the panel on educator supports. Perez testified that students need more social and emotional supports, such as counseling services. According to Perez, a teacher survey by Teach Plus found that teachers identify large class sizes and low teacher pay as having a negative impact on student learning. So do inadequate facilities and limited access to technology or funding for classroom expenses. This led to a lively discussion regarding how much the state could reimburse teachers for classroom expenses and how renewing this program could be done using technology, such as a debit card.

The rest of the day’s panels focused on “inefficiencies” in public education. Michael Szabo, a high school math teacher from Galena Park ISD, gave moving testimony about the struggles his students face. Some deal with teen pregnancy, homelessness, deportation, absent parents and other issues that distract from their ability to concentrate on schoolwork. At the same time, they and the school are being judged based on their performance on standardized tests. Instead, Szabo suggested tying performance evaluation to the percentage of graduates who enter the workforce, as well as those who are incarcerated or end up on welfare.

Other witnesses testified regarding reviewing special program allotments and how those funds can be spent. That included raising the compensatory allotment and easing back spending requirements. Responding to a question about charter schools, one witness noted that while charter school teachers are eligible to participate in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, charters are not required to pay into the system. Another district suggested requiring charter schools to provide more notice and information to the district before setting up shop within a district’s borders and a “universal wait list” for charters. Some charters have touted dubious statistics regarding the number of students who are on wait lists. At the conclusion of the meeting, Brister invited a representative from a charter school to advocate for charters in general.

Districts requested more flexibility with regard to instruction time, as well as accessing the virtual school network. Districts also identified unfunded mandates and the unique challenges facing small, rural districts as drivers of inefficiency. There was some discussion as well from members of the commission who suggested districts faced with burdensome regulations consider becoming districts of innovation (DOI). It’s important to note that despite the perceived benefits of becoming a DOI, most districts have used DOI to hire uncertified teachers and expand class sizes beyond the statutory maximum. These are cost-cutting measures that ultimately hurt students.

The commission working group on expenditures is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning. The next meeting of the full commission is July 10.

Abbott outlines school shooting response plan

Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled his school safety action plan Wednesday in response to the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The 40-page plan, which can be read in its entirety on the governor’s website, is the end product of three roundtable discussions held last week in Austin which included shooting survivors, school administrators and activists on both sides of the gun control debate.

“No one provided a more powerful voice for those strategies than the victims themselves,” Abbott told reporters gathered in Dallas for the announcement.

“I am so proud and inspired by their strength and resiliency,” Abbott added. In summing up the roundtable discussions, the governor concluded, “There seems to be a consensus about the need to act.”

Abbott summarized the elements of his plan as ideas that could be put in place before the next school year begins. According to governor, this includes $70 million in funds to which the state already has access, as well as $40 million in federal funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 for which the state can compete. Altogether, Abbott claimed this adds up to $120 million in funds that do not require a legislative appropriation.

A crisis response team consisting of counselors from the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) has been deployed to Santa Fe, and the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) has an open reimbursement application. CJD grant funding is also available for costs associated with long-term behavioral health response by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The state has already secured a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for mental health services, teacher overtime, security staff and substitutes for Santa Fe ISD.

Many of the governor’s plan would require legislative action. Gov. Abbott is suggesting the state consider offering a $10,000 matching grant to schools that draw down federal funds to help pay for additional law enforcement on campus. Abbott also recommends a state policy authorizing schools to prioritize retired law enforcement officers and military veterans to serve as school resource officers.

Gov. Abbott quoted one student who said during the roundtable discussion, “Arming teachers and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.”

Accordingly, the governor’s plan calls for increasing the number of “school marshals” – armed school personnel who have completed a specialized law enforcement training program – on public school campuses. To do so, Abbott is asking the Texas Legislature to direct funding to be used for additional training this summer at no charge to districts, as well as act to double to number of marshals allowed per campus to one for every one hundred students, up from one for every two hundred students under the current law. The plan also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to issue a letter encouraging administrators to identify personnel to participate in the program. Additionally, Abbott is asking lawmakers to reduce the training required to be a marshal and to change the current requirement that marshals keep their firearms stored in a safe to instead allow them to keep firearms on their persons.

In a nod to local control, Gov. Abbott noted that the plan does not mandate school marshals, and acknowledged that some schools will not adopt the program.

“We understand that when it comes to education, one size simply does not fit all,” Abbott told reporters.

The governor’s plan recommends expanding the state’s active shooter training through the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program, and CJD has provided a $1.25 million grant to offer the program free of charge to participating school districts and charter schools for the remainder of the calendar year.

In his remarks to media, the governor proposed reducing the number of entrances and exits in order to “harden” school campuses. This has already been incorporated into the design of many schools built following the Columbine shooting in 1999, and has significant implications regarding fire safety. The written plan recommends actions such as installing metal detectors and controlling access to campus facilities. The plan also calls for installing active shooter alarm systems separate and different from fire alarm systems.

The TEA will direct $62 million in additional federal funds under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant program to districts for improving campus safety, such as metal detectors as well as mental health programs.

Gov. Abbott spoke of the need to prevent people from becoming shooters in the first place, and recommended doing so by expanding the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) project headed up by Texas Tech University, which current being utilized by ten different school districts to identify potential threats before they manifest. Abbott is asking lawmakers to provide $20 million to expand program further, eventually making it statewide.

In order to further prevent threats from turning into violence, Abbott recommends expanding campus crime stopper programs. The plan aims to make it easier for students to anonymously report suspicious behavior through an upgraded mobile app called iWatch Texas, which will is scheduled to launch June 7. Concomitant with this, Abbott recommends increasing the number of fusion centers that identify threats that appear on social media in order to allow law enforcement to intervene before an event occurs.

Abbott further suggested allowing educators to remove threatening students from the classroom through a zero-tolerance policy for students who commit assault. Noting that the 85th Texas Legislature passed a law removing teachers who assault students, the governor is now asking legislators for a law removing students who assault teachers.

The governor also outline a number of steps aimed to enhance gun safety.

“I can assure you, I will never allow second amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership,” said Abbott.

The governor pointed to current law requiring gun owners to safely store firearms from children under the age of 17. Because the Santa Fe shooter was 17 years old, his parents cannot be criminally charged under this statute. Gov. Abbott suggested lawmakers change the law to apply to “children 17 years of age and younger.”

Furthermore, the governor advocates requiring gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to police, and requiring courts report mental health adjudications within 48 hours, instead of the current 30 days, in order to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing firearms. Gov. Abbott is asking lawmakers to consider mental health protective order procedures that would allow family or law enforcement to remove firearms from the home of someone who has proven to be a danger to themselves and others. This would be accomplished in a manner respectful of due process, and for a specified period of time.

Gov. Abbott concluded by listing his top recommendation as greater investment in mental health, especially in crisis intervention counselors. Abbott called the plan outlined Wednesday “a starting point, not an ending place.”

The governor disclosed he will soon be participating in a program to educate the public about safe storage and use of gun locks, as well as pursuing a grant program to provide $1 million for 100,000 free gun locks.

Asked what must change over the summer, Gov. Abbott answered that schools must ramp up personnel and strategies to show a greater law enforcement presence. Additionally, the governor said schools should focus on active shooter training, going back over school safety plans and look into implementing TWITR program.

Questioned about calls from a handful of lawmakers for a special session this summer focused on school shootings, Gov. Abbott told reporters he remains open to calling one if there is a consensus of legislators in favor of passing specific legislation. Abbott also correctly noted the constraints of the legislative process would make any laws passed in a special session unlikely to take effect before the next school year begins.

School finance group looks at costs of undereducation

The Texas Committee on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Tuesday morning to take invited testimony on a number of subjects. The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting at the Texas Capitol included intersections of education, healthcare access, child and family well-being, and economic outcomes in Texas; strategic talent management and building systems to attract, retain, and develop highly qualified talent into Texas public schools; and teacher quality / certification.

School finance commission working group on outcomes meets May 29, 2018.

Anne Dunkelberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities was the first to testify regarding the consequences of an undereducated workforce, including effects on poverty, uninsured and incarceration rates. Texas leads the nation in both the rate and number of uninsured. Meanwhile, as healthcare premiums continue to rise, employees are paying a larger share each year from their own paychecks. Texas is also among the states with the highest poverty rates.

Texas’s high rate of uninsured translates to a heavier uncompensated care burden on local hospitals, which often try and recoup that cost through local property taxes. Underscoring the link between educational attainment and better pay, Dunkelberg warned that Texas must invest in education “to minimize massive public expenditures on undesirable outcomes.”

Dunkelberg concluded by acknowledging that, like businesses, the Texas Legislature is often under pressure to reduce costs now rather than down the line. Yet if the state is to ever see long-term savings, it must invest on the front end with education.

Next, Martin Winchester with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) testified with regard to teacher recruiting and retention.

“We do not believe by any means it is all about the pay,” said Winchester. Rather, Winchester suggested working conditions, such as adequate classroom support and opportunities to grow and advance in the profession, are the top factors.

Working group leader Todd Williams pondered why starting teachers in Texas are paid the same salary, regardless of whether they received 1,500 hours of classroom training or 15 hours. Winchester indicated that TEA Commissioner Mike Morath would support allowing educators from more rigorous certification programs to “skip a level” on the pay scale, and noted that first-year teachers from alternative certification programs quit at a much higher rate due to a lack of preparation.

While lauding the ideas discussed by TEA, state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), who serves as vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, chided the agency for proposing policies at certain points while avoiding policy discussions at other points.

Kate Rogers with the Holdsworth Center was the last to testify, and spoke about strategic talent management. Rogers stressed the importance of coaching for both teachers and administrators, and emphasized that teachers need more non-instructional time in order to develop better lesson plans and participate in development activities such as coaching and mentoring. According to Rogers, teachers in the U.S. spend more of their time on direct classroom instruction than teachers in any other developed nation, which leaves them without enough time to do other critical activities needed to improve over time.

Williams concluded the meeting by laying out the next few steps for the working group, and proposed July or August as the target window for a preliminary report. No further meetings are currently scheduled.