Category Archives: federal

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 23, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867We’re less than a month away from a 30-day special session ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott. Passing sunset legislation to keep a handful of agencies from going out of business during the interim will be the first order a business, after attempts to pass such a bill during the regular session fell victim to a battle of wills over ideological issues. Gov. Abbott has laid out 19 additional issues for lawmakers to consider during the special session, with signs that even more topics could be added to the agenda as we move closer to the start date. The governor’s wish list, featuring a number of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s questionable “priorities” from the regular session, includes regulating local school bathroom policies, funding private school vouchers, mandating that school districts come up with their own funds for a teacher pay raise, tinkering with teachers’ employment and due process rights, and prohibiting educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary membership dues to professional associations like ATPE.

Aside from the need to deal with the agency sunset matters that were allowed to falter during the regular session, the governor’s declaring this particular score of issues as being “extraordinary” and urgent enough to warrant spending a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money to debate is a decision that has left many scratching their heads. Arguably the most important priority that did not get addressed during the regular session was school finance reform, but that issue has barely registered as a blip on the governor’s special session radar. Abbott made it clear during his recent press conference that he intends merely for the legislature to appoint a commission to study the issue over the next two years. Many lawmakers, especially in the House, have indicated that they do not share the governor’s views on the urgency of spending another month arguing about such petty concerns as how local bathroom policies are written and how educators spend their own hard-earned money.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

ATPE weighed in on the merits of the special session plans this week in an opinion piece written by Executive Director Gary Godsey and published by The Texas Tribune on its TribTalk website. Godsey explained that the founders of our state government gave governors the ability to call special sessions “under ‘extraordinary occasions.’ Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors. Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.” Read the full piece republished on our blog here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1With the renewed attacks on public schools and hardworking educators that are anticipated in the new few weeks, it is important for educators to stay engaged and share their input with legislators. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their own lawmakers about protecting educators’ rights, properly funding the needs of our public (not private) education system, and preserving local control. The special session will convene on July 18.

 


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

The SBOE hears from Commissioner Mike Morath at the board’s June 2017 meeting.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been in attendance to report on all the action.

As Mark reported for our blog on Tuesday, the board began its meeting hearing from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and learning about legislative revisions to the state’s “A through F” accountability system and the recent roll-out of new STAAR report cards by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Much of the SBOE’s work this week has been centered around revisions to the curriculum standards for English and Spanish language arts and reading. The board also looked at its process for TEKS revisions, as Mark described on Wednesday. Appointing board members to serve on a new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee was also on the agenda this week. On Thursday, Mark reported that SBOE committees took a closer look at education bills passed by the 85th Texas Legislature this year and considered impacts on the Permanent School Fund. It was also reported this week that the fund surpassed its investment benchmarks and hit the $32 billion mark for the first time.

For a wrap-up of this week’s SBOE action, check out Mark’s latest blog post here.

 


ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

This week, a group of ATPE leaders and staff traveled to Washington, DC to discuss federal education concerns. ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner were joined by Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann and Monty Exter. David Pore, ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist, arranged meetings for the team with several key officials in the nation’s capital.

The team had a jam-packed schedule of more than 20 meetings this week, visiting with both the U.S. House and Senate committees that cover K-12 education issues, staff of the U.S. Department of Education, and a sizable chunk of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE’s representatives primarily focused the discussions on three issue areas: the repeal and replacement of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that limits many educators’ access to Social Security benefits; implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and troubling signs that the country’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing for privatization of the public education system.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

One of the first meetings our team conducted this week was with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chair of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brady has been working with ATPE and other stakeholder groups on a bill that will repeal the current WEP and replace it with a much fairer system. During the meeting, he told ATPE Vice Present Carl Garner that he is looking forward to reintroducing his legislation and that when he does so, he expects it to move through Congress quickly.

Overall the visiting ATPE team reported that they received a very positive reception to our message during their many visits with lawmakers and staff. Executive Director Gary Godsey called it the most productive trip to Washington he’s taken since joining the organization. For more highlights of the Washington trip, check out ATPE’s Facebook page.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

 


 

 

Federal Update: Trump budget proposal, new ESSA guidelines for state plans

President Donald Trump released his 2018 federal budget proposal today, which would cut funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by $9 billion and invest significant dollars into vouchers, charter school expansion, and portability funding. The budget proposal comes a week after Congress voted to scrap Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability rules and days after ED released its new guidance for states to use while designing their ESSA plans.

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

The President’s budget blueprint proposes to cut funding for ED by 13%, reducing its budget from the current level of $68 billion to $59 billion. Cuts to those programs come in various areas affecting both K-12 and higher education funding. Congress will consider the proposal as they negotiate the budget they are tasked with writing.

Dollar banknotes heapThe budget proposal entirely cuts a program aimed at recruiting, supporting, and training educators. That program, which primarily focuses on educators in high-needs schools, totals $2.4 billion. The 1st Century Community Learning Centers program that totals $1.2 billion and provides funding for before-school, after-school, and summer enrichment programs would also be gutted. Other programs seeing significant cuts would include Federal Work-Study, TRIO, and GEAR UP (the latter two both support disadvantaged students in becoming college ready).

“The 2018 Budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs,” opening lines of the ED section of the blueprint read.

In the case of President Trump’s budget, school choice means charter school expansion, portability funding, and vouchers, and, although no specifics are offered, the $1.4 billion dedicated in 2018 would ramp up to an annual total of $20 billion (a number then candidate Trump touted on the campaign trail) over the course of an unspecified time. The budget also estimates that funding for these projects will hit $100 billion when state and local matching funds are included. Trump campaigned on a plan that would “favor” states with private school choice and charter laws.

Specifically, President Trump’s proposal provides a $168 million increase in funding for charter schools, $250 million that would go toward a new (but undefined) private school choice program, and a $1 billion increase to Title I funding that would all be dedicated to portability within public schools, a term commonly used to refer to the idea of Title I money following the child to the school of their choice (rather than focusing the money on schools with the most need). ATPE wrote a letter to members of Congress in 2015 that touched on portability funding. Title I portability was being considered at the time but didn’t pass.

One thing the budget outlined by the White House doesn’t touch is funding for educating students with disabilities. While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains vastly underfunded, President Trump’s budget maintains its funding level at around $13 billion. IDEA was passed by Congress with the promise to give states 40 percent of the cost required to educate children with disabilities. However, the federal share has fallen significantly short for decades; it now sits around 16 percent.

(I have a little more here on the federal budget process as a whole. The post is from 2015 and also offers a look back at how a budget proposal under President Obama and the Congressional budgeting process compared.)

New ESSA guidance on state plans

A few days before President Trump released his budget proposal, ED released a new guideline document for states to use as they develop their state plans required under ESSA. The guidelines replace a similar document issued by the Obama administration late last year, which was aligned to the accountability rule Congress scrapped last week. The new guidelines align only with what is written in ESSA, since the now obsolete rule has no teeth and ED cannot replace it unless Congress writes a new law that gives the department the new authority.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeUltimately, states have more flexibility with regard to designing their plans. That includes offering summative accountability scores for districts, which ATPE argued against in comments to the Obama administration. Texas enacted an “A through F” grading system for schools last legislative session and there are bills in the current legislature that aim to tweak the system prior to its going into effect next school year. Despite the lack of requirement from the federal government and the fact that several states have abandoned their own versions of the letter grading system, Texas does not seem poised to scrap the “A through F” grading aspect of the law.

States must still submit their ESSA state plans by April 3 for review and by September 18 for approval. The Texas Education Agency has yet to share its ESSA plan.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 10, 2017

We’re gearing up for a big hearing on an anti-educator bill next week at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s more news for you to know:

 


The Senate Committee on State Affairs is set to hear Senate Bill 13 on Monday, Feb. 13. The bill by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who also chairs the committee, would ban educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues, while protecting other public employees’ rights to do the same for their association or union membership dues.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor have prioritized passing a bill to end payroll deduction for what they misleadingly refer to as a use of “taxpayer resources to collect union dues.” ATPE has pointed out that no taxpayer resources are required for the processing of dues deductions. We’ve also shown that the bills being pushed forward, Huffman’s SB 13 and the identical House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Hills), actually punish many educators who join non-union groups while protecting the right of other public employees to continue to deduct their dues, even for unions.

STOP2In a press release issued by ATPE this week, Executive Director Gary Godsey highlighted the political motive behind the bills: “If fewer educators are able to join a professional organization, it will be harder for groups like ATPE to fight back when lawmakers try to privatize Texas public schools or cut teachers’ pay and benefits.” ATPE is urging educators who are concerned about this attempt to shut down their future advocacy efforts on behalf of the education profession and the students they serve to contact their legislators. Several ATPE members plan to attend Monday’s hearing and visit legislative offices that day to share their opposition to SB 13.

“The legislators supporting these bills are trying to shut teachers up, and we won’t stand for it,” said ATPE’s Godsey. “How teachers spend their paycheck should be their decision and theirs alone.”

 


Members of the Texas House of Representatives received their committee assignments this week for the 85th legislative session. Two of the most important committees for education-related concerns – the House Committees on Appropriations and Public Education – have new leaders as a result of the retirement of legislators who chaired those committees before. Read more about which legislators will be playing pivotal roles this session in steering education-related bills through the legislative process.

 


The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday in an unprecedented cabinet confirmation that required Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie breaking vote. Senators were literally split on her confirmation; two Republican Senators joined all Democrats in opposing her nomination, which resulted in a 50-50 tie. Vice President Pence’s favorable vote sealed her confirmation. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports on the vote and shares ATPE’s response here.

On the other side of the Capitol that same day, the U.S. House voted to overturn two Obama administration regulations dealing with accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and teacher preparation, respectively. ATPE’s Kuhlmann has reported on the release of both regulations (accountability here and teacher preparation here) and mentioned the uncertain future of many recently finalized regulations under the new Congress and Trump administration. These measures must still get through the U.S. Senate before going to President Trump’s desk for a signature, but should they, newly confirmed Secretary DeVos would oversee the implementation of any new regulations

 


NO VOUCHERSStop us if you’ve heard this one. Among Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th legislative session is enacting private school vouchers. His signature voucher legislation for 2017 is Senate Bill 3, being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who also chairs a Senate Education Committee stacked with voucher proponents. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offers an in-depth look at what’s in SB 3, how voucher funds could be used under the Senate’s proposal, and the many opportunities for perverse results. Learn more in this blog post.

 


Senate confirms Betsy DeVos with help from Vice President

The U.S. Senate voted today to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. Senators were literally split on her nomination, a 50-50 tie. The anticipated scenario meant Vice President Mike Pence was on hand to break the tie, and his favorable vote sealed her confirmation.

Two Republican senators announced last week that they would vote against DeVos, which meant just one more Republican senator needed to join Democrats in opposing her nomination in order to block her confirmation. Despite reports that Senate offices were flooded with messages from constituents and despite targeted communication efforts aimed at a few seemingly sympathetic Senate Republicans, no additional “no” vote was identified. Interestingly, today was the first time the Vice President has broken a tie vote for a cabinet nominee.

ATPE weighed in on DeVos’s confirmation once it was final. In a statement to the press, I shared our intent to work collaboratively with DeVos and our hope that she “will focus her energy on supporting the only school system that supports all children — the public school system.” We will continue to work in conjunction with our federal relations team to ensure the voice of Texas educators and ATPE members is heard in Washington.

Final DeVos confirmation vote anticipated Monday

The nomination of Betsy DeVos to become the U.S. Secretary of Education advanced to the Senate floor this week. The full Senate is expected to take a final vote on her nomination Monday.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced her nomination out of committee Tuesday on a party line vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposing the advancement of her nomination out of committee. Two Republicans expressed uncertainty during the committee but ultimately voted in favor at that time; they later said they will oppose her nomination on the Senate floor. Without an additional identified “no’ vote, this creates a tie vote, with 50 senators expected to vote for her nomination and 50 expected to vote against. Under that scenario, the Vice President breaks the tie, meaning DeVos would seek confirmation through the help of Vice President Mike Pence.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1All reports still suggest that Texas’s two senators are poised to vote in favor of her nomination. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told CNN this morning that concerns over DeVos were not fair, adding, “If people think our public education system is perfect, then I guess they don’t think we need to have any changes or any choices for students and their families,” he said. “I certainly think we do.” ATPE members can still log on to Advocacy Central to express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos by writing, calling, or contacting their Texas senators via social media.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee is quickly pressing forward on something seen as a huge opportunity under the Trump Administration: vouchers. The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing this week entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers was Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. He advocated for “private school choice” and encouraged the federal government to leave accountability up to states. The full hearing can be viewed here.

DeVos nomination heads to Senate floor while opposition votes grow

 

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the Senate floor on Tuesday. The 12-11 vote broke down on party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed to the vote. However, two Republicans expressed some indecision during the hearing and later confirmed they’ll vote against her nomination on the Senate floor.

E

The partisan breakdown over the nomination of Betsy DeVos has been on display since her confirmation hearing. The vote this week was no exception. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continued to express his support for the nominee and denied a request from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to delay the vote. Alexander called DeVos the “most questioned” education secretary in Senate history, which again had Murray pointing to the fact that this nominee is different from previous education secretaries and more time is needed in order to adequately vet the nominee.

This time, however, Alexander didn’t seem to have the full backing of all of his Republican colleagues on the committee. Two Republican Senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), expressed uncertainty with regard to their position on DeVos’s nomination. Both ultimately advanced the nomination to the Senate floor, but acknowledged the nominee had not yet earned their full support.

Today, both Republican senators announced that they have decided to oppose DeVos’s nomination when a vote is taken on the Senate floor. This is a big development as now only one additional Republican would need to join Democrats in opposing DeVos in order to block her confirmation. A simple majority on the Senate floor is all that is needed to confirm DeVos.

Opposition has grown since DeVos fumbled her confirmation hearing and calls to Senate offices have increased. The opposition has expressed serious concerns over DeVos’s credentials, lack of commitment to public education, understanding of federal law, and financial connections and contributions, among others. Murray asked for Tuesday’s committee vote on the nominee to be delayed in order to have more time to review DeVos’s responses to questions senators were not given time to ask during her confirmation hearing. Answers to most of the follow-up questions asked of DeVos can be found here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will now have a chance to vote on Betsy DeVos when her confirmation vote hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write, call, or contact their senators via social media and express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos. A date for the final vote has not been set.

Related Content: The U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education will meet tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017) for a hearing entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers is Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. Read more about the hearing and access to information to view the hearing live here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 27, 2017

Here are this week’s news highlights and a preview of education-related happenings next week:


office binders draft billAmid all the bills that will be filed for this session, the only one that the 85th Texas Legislature must pass is the state budget for the next two years. Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate last week revealed early plans for a new state budget, but the Senate was quick to convene hearings this week to flesh out the details for its proposal, housed in Senate Bill (SB) 1. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended those hearings and testified Tuesday on behalf of ATPE. Read his blog post to learn more about the budget hearings, along with a joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and a Senate Finance work group on school finance that took place today. For the latest developments, you can also follow @TeachtheVote or any of our individual lobbyists on Twitter.

 


President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee the U.S. Education Department (ED) continues to rankle educators and concerned parents nationwide. Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire tapped to become the next Secretary of Education, is now the subject of a deluge of calls and letters to Capitol Hill.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been writing about the confirmation process, including a confirmation hearing last week before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee that did not go smoothly for DeVos. Many Democrats in the Senate have publicly announced their intentions to vote against confirming DeVos, largely due to concerns about her lack of public education experience, her outspoken advocacy for privatization, and concerns about conflicts of interest revealed during a required ethics review.From all indications, however, DeVos continues to enjoy the support of the Republican majority.

The HELP committee is scheduled to take a vote on DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31, after which the full Senate will weigh in on her confirmation. ATPE members who would like to communicate with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos are encouraged to use our simple tools at Advocacy Central (member login is required). Sample phone scripts and email messages are provided for your convenience. Learn more here.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that the State Board of Education (SBOE) will meet next week in Austin, where two new members will be sworn in alongside those reelected in November.

Georgina C. Pérez (D-El Paso) and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) will be the two new faces on the board. ATPE had a chance to visit with each at an orientation meeting before the holiday break. Pérez is a retired teacher, and has many former students on staff. A lifelong El Paso resident, Pérez runs an organization that builds libraries in poor communities. Ellis is a former school board member, and fills the seat previously held by Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). Ellis is an Aggie dad and chiropractor. Both freshmen expressed hope for a productive year on the board.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

Members Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio), Donna Bahorich  (R-Houston), Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson) and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) won reelection to the body. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Bahorich to chair the 15-member board. Resuming her role as chair effective February 1, her new term will expire February 1, 2019. The board will elect a vice-chair and secretary and assign committees after Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.

The board’s agenda next week will include a public hearing and first reading vote on curriculum standards (TEKS) for English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading, as well as a hearing and first reading vote on efforts to streamline the science TEKS. The board will also discuss the schedule and instructional materials to be included in Proclamation 2019.

Any fireworks next week are likely to stem from public testimony on the science TEKS. At the November 2016 meeting, members of the committees assigned to review the TEKS shared their findings and recommendations with the board. Science teachers charged with studying the biology TEKS recommended removing a handful of passages related to evolutionary science over concerns about mastery and grade level appropriateness. Some viewed those passages as encouraging discussion of creationism. At the moment, it’s unclear how the changes in board membership could affect the final vote on the proposed edits.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on next week’s SBOE meetings.

 


NO VOUCHERS

This week saw private school vouchers dominate the discussion in and around the pink dome in Austin.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed private and charter school supporters bused to the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to promote National School Choice Week. The “school choice” verbiage is being used to market a variety of voucher programs this session, most notably education savings accounts (ESAs) and tax credit scholarships.

The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, hosted a legislative briefing and press conference Monday to break down what’s actually being proposed under the school choice slogan. Voucher programs threaten to remove more resources from a school finance system that is already critically underfunded. According to data compiled by Governing, Texas ranked 42 out of 50 states in per-pupil spending in 2014. The state spent $8,593 per student in 2014 dollars, $2,416 below the national average of $11,009.

As reported last week on our Teach the Vote blog, Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) fall into the tax credit scholarship category. Those bills have already been filed, but we’re still awaiting what is expected to be Lt. Gov. Patrick’s signature voucher proposal, likely in the form of an ESA. Senate Bill (SB) 3 has been reserved for the school voucher bill that will be one of Patrick’s top three priorities this session.

The House budget has proposed adding $1.5 billion in public school funding pending meaningful school finance reform, and has shown little appetite for a voucher program that would divert limited public tax dollars to private businesses. On Tuesday, Patrick demanded the House allow an “up or down vote” on vouchers this session. The lieutenant governor could roll out his preferred voucher bill as early as next week. Stay tuned for updates.

 


Today, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote a blog post for Teach the Vote about the status of a politically motivated effort to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. The House Committee on State Affairs has released a new report on the issue after studying it during the interim. The report highlights arguments on both sides of the debate and concludes that legislators should carefully consider such input and, in particular, which groups would be affected by a bill to eliminate payroll deduction options.

Bills now pending in the 85th legislative session would prohibit school district employees from using payroll deduction for association dues – even dues paid to groups like ATPE that support the right to work and are not union-affiliated. At the same time, the bills (SB 13 and HB 510) would ensure that other public employees such as police officers and firefighters could continue to pay union dues via payroll deduction. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees makes it all the more obvious that the sponsors of these bills are really trying to stifle advocacy efforts within the school community.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Read more about ways you can help protect educators’ right to use payroll deduction in today’s blog post, and if you’re an ATPE member, please be sure to check out our additional resources on the payroll deduction bills and communication tools at Advocacy Central.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenThere’s only one week left for ATPE members to sign up for ATPE at the Capitol, happening March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Friday, Feb. 3 is the deadline for housing, registration, and applications for financial incentives. ATPE members won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear from legislative leaders and interact directly with their own lawmakers about the education issues taking center stage this legislative session. Register, view schedule updates, and find all other details here. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central and the registration page for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Outcry against DeVos continues amid majority support from U.S. Senate

Educators, parents and other stakeholders continue to express concern over Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos and her qualifications to the lead the U.S. Department of Education. Especially since her nomination hearing held last week, concerns are growing regarding DeVos’s lack of commitment to public education, meaningful experience in public schools, and credentials to become the next Education Secretary. U.S. Senate Democrats aren’t letting up, but the latest reports continue to indicate she has wide support among Republicans, meaning her confirmation is in sight.

After pressing hard for a delay of the vote to advance DeVos’s nomination to the full Senate (the final step in the process to confirmation), Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee got a small win over the weekend. They had requested the delay in order to have more time to review the Office of Government Ethics report that found 102 potential conflicts of interest DeVos would have on the job (she’s agreed to divest from the companies and investments of concern) and to give her more time to answer additional questions they were unable to ask during her confirmation hearing. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ultimately granted the delay, pushing it to Jan. 31, but he and many of his Republican colleagues remain vocal in support of the nominee.

That does not seem to be the case when considering the outcry from educators, parents, and the public, which has exploded since the hearing. As we reported last week, DeVos showed a lack of understanding for some federal education laws, namely the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She also failed to commit to protecting funding for public schools, wouldn’t agree that equal and rigorous accountability should follow tax dollars, and didn’t indicate a belief that federal laws protecting and supporting students should extend to any school where public money was transferred.

Despite all of that, in a publication this week, Chairman Alexander again called DeVos’s positions “well within the mainstream” of the public’s views on education. He compared the 837 follow-up questions for DeVos to the roughly 50 submitted by Republicans for each of the two previous secretaries nominated by President Obama. And in an exchange on the Senate floor with HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman Alexander said Democrats and DeVos’s opponents are “grasping for straws.” Ranking Member Murray countered: “it’s our job to ask [cabinet nominees] tough questions.”

Democrats have also maintained that the two previous Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and John B. King, had established records in education. DeVos, on the other hand, has no professional experience in public schools, has never attended public schools, and has never enrolled her children in public schools.

The reality of DeVos’s nomination is that she seems to have a clear path to confirmation. Republicans support her nomination and make up a majority on both the HELP Committee and in the full Senate. Still, as the opposition to her nomination grows, advocates for public education have seen some small wins so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas’s two Senators do not sit on the HELP committee, but they will vote on confirmation when it hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz regarding their position on DeVos’s confirmation.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 20, 2017

Here are education news highlights for this Inauguration Day edition of our wrap-up:


 

President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.

The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.

As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.

A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.

Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.

In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.

 


Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.

Dollar fanThe House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.

 


The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.

ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.

CPS square logoRelated: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.

 


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.

For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenFinally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website here.

DeVos confirmation hearing fuels concerns

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced her confirmation hearing yesterday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee. The hearing, which was scheduled for late-in-the-day and allowed for each senator to ask only one five-minute round of questions, hardly resulted in a serious vetting of DeVos’s credentials and policy positions, but still provided a look at the potential-next-secretary’s agenda.

HELP committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing with praise for DeVos, pointing to her efforts to expand charter schools and push vouchers in states throughout the country, which he called “mainstream” ideas in public education policy. With his Republican colleagues largely in agreement and Democrats pressing her on concerns about her record, the hearing became a partisan debate that failed to offer specifics on many major education policy issues. In fact, while the hearing offered some perspective on the agenda DeVos would support, it was what she wouldn’t or, in some cases, couldn’t answer that offers the most perspective.

DeVos often turned to some version of the response “I look forward to working with you on that” when answering questions. She used the reply to dig in on her support for vouchers, dodging a question from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding whether she would promise to prevent funding cuts to public education or privatization of the system. She also leaned on the reply when asked about universal childcare for working families and whether all schools receiving federal funding (think vouchers) should be required to report instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying.

DeVos similarly failed to state whether all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, instead diverting to the lack of apples-to-apples accountability standards traditional public schools and charter schools currently face.

Another regularly asserted answer by DeVos was that certain education policy issues are better left to states, a response that raised eyebrows when she was asked whether all schools receiving federal money should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal law is the nation’s second largest federal education program and distributes about $13 billion in funding to states. When DeVos later admitted that she “may have confused” the law, one senator and many following the hearing expressed concern over her lack of familiarity. In another exchange, DeVos had trouble deciphering the difference between student growth and student proficiency when using tests to measure student performance.

Democrats on the committee advocated strongly for an additional round of questioning, an opportunity afforded to senators vetting cabinet picks in other committees, but the request was denied by Chairman Alexander who reminded committee members that the same process was used for several previous education secretaries as they faced confirmation. Still, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that those picks had been individuals with established credentials in education, unlike DeVos.

Per the chairman’s instructions, senators have until Thursday evening to submit any additional questions to DeVos in writing. She committed to attempting to answer those questions prior to the committee’s vote on her nomination, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Committee members were assured that the vote would only take place if the final Office of Government Ethics letter is sent to the committee by this Friday, giving senators time for review the relevant information about potential conflicts of interest.

Despite the above, DeVos has the support of Republicans, which is enough to garner the simple majority needed for her to sail through confirmation in both the HELP committee and on the floor of the Senate. If confirmed, she will take the reins of the Department of Education having no professional experience in our public schools, never attended public schools, and never enrolled her children in public schools.