Category Archives: Funding

State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

The State Board of Education is meeting this week while the Texas Legislature is session. Across the street from the Capitol inside the Texas Education Agency (TEA) building, the board began its week-long meeting Tuesday morning with public testimony on proposed changes to the science TEKS.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

Some creationism supporters took issue with the changes proposed after first reading earlier this year. Biology teachers on the curriculum writing committee have proposed changes they explained would streamline the TEKS and focus on grade-level appropriate discussion. Creationism supporters argued Tuesday that the changes watered down criticism of evolution, and asked the board to retain proposed language to require students to “evaluate” various subjects related to evolution. Physics and chemistry teachers also recommended more mundane tweaks to their respective TEKS.

Wednesday began with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner informed the board of upcoming changes to the STAAR confidential student report card (CSR), aimed to make the report more parent-friendly and easy to understand. The report will now contain student lexile levels for the current year and over a student’s academic history. The report will include information for parents regarding how to help improve a child’s reading level, as well as guidance regarding how to maximize the impact of parent-teacher conferences. The agency has also changed terminology to replace the terms for Level I through Level III standards with “does not meet grade level,” “approaching grade level,” “meets grade level,” and “masters grade level.” These changes have already been adopted in rule and will be reflected in report cards due out in June.

Commissioner Morath also announced TEA is readying a new website that will allow parents to see every STAAR question their student was asked, along with what they answered and what other students answered, compared to the correct answer. This website is expected to roll out in mid- to late June. The agency is also working on a separate site for teachers and administrators. The separate website would help teachers and administrators unpack and understand the streamlined English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS. The site will feature sample assessment questions and is intended to help teachers understand vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum standards, as well as distinguish the meaning of verbs used in the TEKS insofar as how they affect instruction. The agency plans to activate the site in advance of the school year in which the TEKS are scheduled to go into effect.

The commissioner responded to questions from the board regarding the rollout of the “A through F” accountability standards passed by the Texas Legislature last session. House Bill 22, which would pare down the five domains to three and eliminate the overall grade, has passed out of the House Public Education Committee this session and is expected to be up for debate on the House floor within the next two to three weeks. At this point, Morath indicated he has participated in at least 70 stakeholder meetings regarding rulemaking for the version of A through F currently undergoing implementation. Some changes have been suggested to specific components, such as the calculation of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level and adjustments for children of military families and those who are absent due to illness.

As far as legislative priorities, both the House and Senate budget proposals include $25 million requested by the agency to access matching funds for rural broadband internet. Other priorities for which TEA is seeking funding in either one or both chambers include math innovation zones, high-quality pre-K, additional staff to investigate inappropriate student-teacher relationships, IT support for the Texas Student Data System (TSDS) to facilitate additional automation, cybersecurity enhancements to safeguard student data and funding to allow the STAAR test to be released annually as opposed to every three years.

On Wednesday, the board resumed discussion on second reading of the science TEKS. After hearing testimony the day before, the board unanimously adopted an amendment adding compromise language to a key section of the biology TEKS dealing with evolution. The amendment changed “evaluate” to “examine” scientific explanations for the origin of DNA. The board also adopted an amendment that would delay implementation of the streamlined science TEKS to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The board completed discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS for elementary and middle school Wednesday evening, approving amendments on second reading before adjourning.

Breaking up into committees Thursday morning, the board’s committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) heard an update to the bond guarantee program (BGP). As of February 28, roughly $70 billion of the program’s $100 billion capacity had been allocated. After setting aside $5 billion as required, roughly $24 billion remained available to back school bonds with the PSF. Last year, the board voted to increase the multiplier used to calculate the amount available to charter schools, which resulted in increasing that amount from $165 million to $510 million.

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) questioned staff regarding HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), which would use the PSF to guarantee school lease-purchase agreements through the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA). Staff advised that current law likely allows for the PSF to be encumbered to guarantee short-term commercial debt, and debt under this program would likely be cumbersome on the TPFA. The bill was voted out of the House Public Education Committee during a formal hearing Thursday afternoon at the Texas Capitol.

After Thursday’s committee meetings, SBOE’s committee of the full board gathered to take up discussion of the English and Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language TEKS for high school on first reading.

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.

 

Texans in Congress support federal voucher bills as Trump continues privatization push

United States Capitol BuildingIt probably comes as no surprise to Texans that federal voucher bills are being filed in the U.S. Congress after President Donald Trump campaigned on a $20 billion voucher plan promise. He continued to promote such a plan last night during his first speech to Congress. However, Texans might be surprised to learn that some of their elected representatives are jumping on board as supporters of these pieces of legislation.

Texan serves as original co-sponsor on House voucher bill

A bill termed the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was filed in the U.S. House recently with Texas Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. H.R. 610 would create a federal voucher program and repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was most recently amended by and is commonly referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Instead, the Department of Education’s (ED) authority would be limited to awarding block grants to states that legalize vouchers and follow the federal voucher program requirements.

The “Choices in Education Act” voucher would work like this:

  • ED would distribute block grants to qualified states.
  • States would distribute that money to districts based on the number of eligible school children within each district.
  • Districts would be responsible for distributing a portion of their funds to parents who choose to enroll their child in a private school or home-school their child. The amount distributed would be equal to the per-student federal funding in each state. Districts would be responsible for distributing funding in a way that ensures money is spent on “appropriate educational expenses.”

Both Texas senators co-sponsor Senate voucher bill

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has a voucher bill (S. 235) called the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or the CHOICE Act. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have signed on as cosponsors.

The “Choice Act” has three parts:

  1. The bill would expand eligibility for the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the federally funded voucher program that distributes funding to students in the District of Columbia only.
  2. The bill would make funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) portable, meaning qualified students could take their portion to the private or public school of their choice. It would also provide states seed money for establishing a special education voucher program.
  3. The bill would create the Military Scholarship Program, allowing students living on military bases to use a voucher at the private or public school of their choice. Students would be eligible for the combined cost of tuition, fees, and transportation, with an $8,000 cap for elementary students and $12,000 for secondary students.

White House continues push but offers no details

The White HouseLast night during his prime time speech to a joint session of Congress, his first time to address the body, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for vouchers and called on Congress to pass a bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He didn’t offer additional details on such a plan, adding that ”families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

It has been reported that the White House is considering a tax credit scholarship approach, something neither of the above bills would offer. Again, details on the type of federal tax credit scholarship President Trump might be considering have not been released. (Check out an example of a tax credit scholarship in our post on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill being considered here in Texas.) In short, tax credit scholarships give taxpaying entities or individuals a break on their taxes in exchange for donations to a voucher fund. The fund is then used to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools or to fund a home-school education. During his campaign, President Trump campaigned on a promise to redirect $20 billion dollars in federal spending to a voucher program.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can alert their federal representatives of their opinions on these and other federal voucher bills by logging on to Advocacy Central.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 24, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from ATPE:


Sen Ed Teacher MisconductThe Senate Education Committee met yesterday to look at two educator misconduct bills involving inappropriate relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified in support of the bills.

Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) and SB 653 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, an act sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” The bills would also require more ongoing education for educators on the subject, add reporting requirements for principals, require that schools develop an electronic communication policy, and further penalize associated misconduct.

In her testimony, Kuhlmann highlighted the importance of ongoing education, beginning in educator preparation programs and continuing throughout educators’ careers, and the work ATPE does to educate both future and active educators about maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships with students. While she reminded Senators that an extremely small percentage of educators in Texas account for such misconduct, she stated that ATPE knows one incident is too many and is committed to being a part of the solution.

Discussion during the hearing did raise the need for some additional clarity with regard to certain language in the bill. For more, watch an archived recording of the hearing here.

 


HPE02-21-17The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the session on Tuesday, taking invited testimony only. The committee announced plans for upcoming hearings on school finance, to be followed by an examination of accountability, including the controversial “A through F” labeling system that was adopted last session for campuses. Read more about Tuesday’s hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Girl showing bank notesATPE weighed in this week on discussions for education-related items in the state budget. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Article III Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Monday. In addition to school finance and the need to fund pre-Kindergarten programs, Exter also discuss the looming problem of healthcare affordability for education employees. The Teacher Retirement System board of trustees is also gathering this week to discuss similar issues. Read more in Exter’s most recent blog post for Teach the Vote.

 


FU5A8792_SB13hearing-crop1The fight to protect educators’ voices continues at the Texas Capitol, where ATPE continues to monitor two anti-teacher bills that would restrict educators’ control over their own paychecks while protecting other groups of public employees.

After forceful testimony in opposition by ATPE members, the Senate State Affairs Committee nonetheless advanced Senate Bill 13 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) last week by a vote that split along party lines. Sens. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined Huffman voting in favor of the bill. Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who expressed concern earlier in the week over the bill’s unequal treatment of educators, was absent for health reasons and unable to vote. Due to Senate rules, the earliest SB 13 is likely to be heard on the Senate floor is March 10.

On the other side of the Capitol, the companion House Bill 510 by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) was referred to the House State Affairs Committee, where the payroll deduction bill was unable to gain the traction needed to advance last session. No hearings have been scheduled so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is critical that ATPE members continue to contact your legislators through Advocacy Central and voice your opposition to both SB 13 and HB 510. The best way to fight these teacher-bashing bills is to join us March 5 and 6 for ATPE at the Capitol Day and visit your legislators in person!

 


Today is the last day to submit input to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. For more information and historical context on the topic, revisit ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here. The survey can be accessed here.

 


Next week, stay tuned to Teach the Vote for the latest updates from the 85th legislative session, as well as the upcoming March 3 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will also have an article about new efforts at the federal level to fund private school vouchers. We’re also gearing up for our lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on March 5-6, 2017. ATPE members can find the complete schedule and updates on the event here.

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House committee hears from ATPE, others on education funding challenges

Dollar fanThe House Appropriations committee began meetings this week for its subcommittees assigned to work on various parts of the Texas state budget. This includes the Article III Subcommittee, which covers education funding and began taking testimony on Monday, Feb. 20. The subcommittee’s first day agenda involved looking at funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), including the Foundation School Program; the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including both pension and health insurance funds; the state schools for the visually impaired and the deaf, the Windham School District; and community and junior colleges.

After the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the budget documents on TEA and the Foundation School Program, the committee heard from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath began by thanking the committee and restating his dedication to the goal of improving student outcomes for all students. The commissioner then laid out his agency’s priorities beginning with ensuring and improving teacher quality as the “most important in-school factor” in a student’s education outcomes. Next, Morath addressed the agency’s second key priority to promote a strong foundation in reading and math, and spoke about the affect of achieving this goal on closing the achievement grant. To facilitate this goal, the commissioner talked about continuing to push for expanding high quality pre-K. He also promoted TEA’s goal to scale the math innovation zones program statewide. The agency’s third priority is to connect K-12 education to higher education and career opportunities. The next priority is to improve struggling schools, Morath explained. He reported that TEA is working to do this through systemic system-wide improvements. In addition to budget items tied to the agency’s larger priorities, Morath also addressed specific targeted budget requests like funding the E-rate match to complete the build-out of statewide broadband access.

Early Childhood EducationThe Commissioner was well received by the subcommittee. The majority of questions to the commissioner from committee members tended to focus on supporting pre-K. In responding to an offshoot of this questioning, the commissioner indicated that the State Board for Educator Certification will likely institute a new certificate for grades EC-3 that would be more focused on early childhood education.

Later in the hearing, the committee heard from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Guthrie gave brief remarks about the overall performance of the TRS trust fund before turning to the more pressing issue of the billion dollar shortfall in the TRS-Care fund. He impressed upon the committee that TRS has done everything it can do internally to control costs without legislative action. On TRS-Care the plan laid out to the House budget committee would include a “shared pain” approach where the state would cover half of the cost of the shortfall, retirees would cover 25 percent of the costs, and districts and active teachers would each cover 12.5 percent of the cost. While this plan is more generous than what has already been laid out in the Senate, it still puts additional pressure on active teachers, many of whom are drowning in the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Additionally, the strategy laid out did not contemplate changing the state paid formula for TRS-Care, which is currently set at 1 percent of payroll for all school districts statewide. The TRS board of directors is also meeting this week.

After hearing from LBB and invited witnesses, the Article III subcommittee took public testimony, including testimony from ATPE. Our testimony focused on the need to address active teacher health care costs through additional state funding, not just a denigration of benefits; the benefits of closing the education gap early in a student’s career thorough pre-K; and finally the need to address equity through more appropriately funding students based on their needs, individually and at the campus level.

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.)

Education investment: The key to real tax relief

Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document.If there’s one thing most Texans can agree on, it’s that property taxes are too dang high.

What gets dicey is trying to sort through the myriad schemes put forth in the last few years by state lawmakers trying to cut local taxes over which they have little direct control. They’ve proposed tweaks to the rollback rate, increased the homestead exemption, and filed bills targeting local appraisal districts. That’s a lot of work by a lot of smart people you’ve sent to Austin with your tax dollars.

So.

Does your tax bill look any better?

In 2013, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ranked Texas as having the 15th highest per capita property tax in the country. Despite our high property taxes, Texas ranks 45th in overall K-12 education spending and 49th in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, according to our performance on the “Quality Counts” state report card from Education Week.

Why is that?

Speaking to a joint hearing of the House Public Education and Appropriations Committees in September 2016, outgoing Appropriations Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton), put it simply. “The burden is shifting to the locals,” he said.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, local school spending, as approved by local voters and their elected school boards, increased 34 percent from 2008 to 2015. During the same period, the amount the state spent on local schools increased by just 4.8 percent.

The school finance relationship is like a see-saw, with state funds on one side and local tax dollars on the other. When state spending goes down, local school districts have to raise taxes in order to fund services at the same level. This year, the state will pay 38 percent of the cost to fund schools, while the burden that falls to local property owners will be 52 percent.

Under the state’s recapture rules for maintaining equity in our school finance system, those local taxes you pay are also tied to school districts all over the state. That means in cities with high property values such as Austin and now Houston, a significant chunk of local property tax revenue must be shipped out of town to help fulfill the state’s obligation to maintain funding equity in other districts.

The total amount of transfers under recapture – commonly referred to by some as “Robin Hood” – has grown to $2 billion, with Austin ISD accounting for $583 million of recaptured funds in 2016. The math works out to 28 percent of statewide recapture falling on the shoulders of local taxpayers in Austin alone.

This week, the House and Senate each submitted their proposals for the 2018-19 state budget, and financial wonks are still crunching the numbers to determine whether either plan would effectively fund school services at current levels. Both claim to do so.

What we do know is that in the House plan, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has proposed an additional $1.5 billion boost in education funding “contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system.”

If legislators are serious about reducing local property taxes, this is where it starts. It’s simple math.

Back to the see-saw: The only way to achieve meaningful property tax relief is for the state to assume more responsibility for the share of school funding it has passed on to you through local property taxes. Any other proposals you hear – and you will hear plenty – are empty measures meant to delay your outrage over your property tax bill for another two years.

In a December 2016 column, The Texas Tribune’s executive editor Ross Ramsey concluded, “Had the state kept its share of school funding constant for the past 10 years, voters might not be griping about rising property taxes.”

Tired of griping? Then let’s get serious. By boosting state investment along with taking a real shot at reforming the school finance system, the House is on the right track. We’ll find out if the rest of the legislature is serious as well.

Both chambers release versions of proposed Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed yesterday that Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) will continue to serve as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 85th legislative session. Upon her reappointment, Sen. Nelson filed the Senate’s budget bill, Senate Bill 1.  SB 1 spends $103.6 billion in state revenue over the next two years, which is $1.3 billion less than the Comptroller’s 2018 and 2019 revenue projection.

The Senate issued a press release highlighting the fact that the budget includes “$2.65 billion to cover enrollment growth in public schools and $32 million more for high-quality pre-k programs.” This is $86 million less than the additional $118 million that would be needed to extend current pre-k funding to cover both years of the upcoming biennium.

Girl showing bank notesAs filed, SB 1 represents a continuation of current school funding formulas. However, according to the Senate press release, Nelson calls  “making sure the school finance system better meets the needs of students” a critical decision to be made by lawmakers this session.

Other specific items outlined in the budget per the SB 1 press release include:

  • $1 billion to address state hospital and mental health facility needs;
  • $63 million to clear the waitlist for community mental health services;
  • $20 million for a program to help veterans dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues;
  • $260 million to improve Child Protective Services;
  • $25 million for high caliber bulletproof vests for Texas law enforcement officers;
  • $800 million for border security measures approved last session; and
  • A 1.5 percent across-the-board spending reduction for all expenditures not related to public education.

The Senate press release on SB 1 can be found here.

On the House side, Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named which representative will replace former Rep. John Otto (R – Dayton) as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Otto did not seek re-election in 2016. Still, the House did release its version of a plan for the base budget yesterday, too. The Speaker’s press release touts the House budget plan as one that “puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.”

The House budget proposal:

  • Funds enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years;
  • Includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system; and
  • Includes $108.9 billion in general revenue.

The Speaker’s press release can be found here.

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

The 85th legislative session began this week. Here are highlights from the week:


Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.

Failing grade wrinkledOne thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.

The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.

We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.

Related: Check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s Jan. 12, 2017 editorial in the Austin American-Statesman about vouchers and why running public education like a business is a bad idea.

 


As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.

On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundEarlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.

As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”

 


The United States Capitol building

The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.

Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.

While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.

 


Monty testifying at a TEA hearingAs we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.

 


 

ESAs: A bad deal for students in need

NO VOUCHERSEarlier this month, I participated in a debate on the political TV show Capital Tonight about school vouchers. Hosted by Karina Kling and featuring opposing guest Randan Steinhauser, who heads the pro-voucher group Texans for Education Opportunity, the show focused specifically on the topic of education savings accounts (ESAs). During the show I touched on the problem ESAs pose to students with special education needs. Unfortunately there is no way to fully respond to such a complex issue in a 30-second response, so let’s take a closer look here on our blog.

How exactly do ESAs work?

An education savings account is literally a bank account set up for an individual student into which the state puts money for a parent to purchase private education services. The amount of money that goes into the account is a percentage of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure based on state and local funds. The base number does not account for federal dollars or charitable dollars. Additionally, the base number does not account for student weights, meaning it does not reflect what the student accepting the voucher would have actually been entitled to under the public school formulas. While there is no bill language yet filed, the numbers that have been most talked about by proponents of the voucher suggest that a Texas ESA would entitle a student who is neither a special education student nor on free or reduced lunch 70% of the statewide average per student expenditure. A student who is on free or reduced lunch but not receiving special education services would receive 90% of the statewide average per student expenditure, while students identified as needing special education services would receive 100% of the statewide average per student expenditure under ideas being floated.

On the surface, it sounds like special education students come out pretty well under this scenario,. But the truth is that students in every category of students would get far less funding than they would if they attended a public school.

At only 70 percent, it’s easy to see that the student who isn’t entitled to either a free or reduced lunch or special education services is getting a significant reduction in what they would receive under the public school formulas (an amount that is already in the bottom 10% of per pupil expenditures nationwide). However, students who are entitled to the free or reduced lunch program or special education services would also be getting significantly less under this proposal, perhaps even to a greater degree than their peers entitled to 70% – here’s how. The combined effect of student weights, federal funding, charitable funding, and federal special education law creates a scenario where students on free and reduced lunch and students identified as needing special education services draw down far more individual funding through the public system than the statewide average per pupil expenditure that would be used to calculate an ESA.

For students receiving a free or reduced lunch, in addition to only receiving 90% of what is an already underfunded average, they would also lose the benefit of the compensatory education weight. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, they likewise lose the effect of federal Title I funding. Federal funding, which is not included in calculating the statewide average per pupil expenditure, makes up about 10% of the total education funding in Texas, which may not sound like much on a per pupil basis. However, federal dollars are not distributed evenly to all students; rather, they are highly concentrated on children of poverty. Additional, there are federal provisions that preclude the state from using federal dollars to supplant state dollars.

The result is that schools serving kids on the free and reduced lunch program, children of poverty, are getting significant federal dollars in addition to state and local dollars to spend educating those children. We have made these expenditure choices as a society because research very clearly shows that these kids need additional programs, which cost additional dollars, in order to successfully receive a quality education. ESAs, and vouchers in general, do not account for this funding, and children on an ESA voucher would simply lose this funding.

The loss for children receiving special education services is potentially even more dramatic. Kids who have been identified as needing special education services can have some of the highest student weights – as much as 500 percent of what the average student in a Texas school district receives. But it is the effect of federal law with regard to special education students and the loss of those rights under an ESA voucher program that is potentially the most troubling issue. Both the courts and federal statute require public schools to provide students identified as needing special education services a free and appropriate public education. Essentially what that mandate boils down to is a requirement that districts spend whatever is necessary to provide the services these children need to be able to learn. This spending requirement is really separate from the amount of funding districts receive for these students. In fact, most districts currently spend substantially more on special education services than the amount of money they receive from the state funding formulas to provide those services, despite the current special education weights. All of that is to say that special education students frequently have far more than 100% of the statewide average per pupil funding through the public school system under current law, which is clearly more than they would receive under an ESA voucher.

A bad choice can be worse than no choice.

The ESA voucher proponent I was debating on the show pointed out that an ESA is a school choice option and that parents who don’t believe it’s the better choice for their student don’t have to take it. While that is strictly speaking true, it’s a choice with some harsh consequences that many parents may not fully realize until it’s too late. Two universal features of ESA legislation have been the requirement to waive your rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and your right to attend a public school during the year in which you receive ESA funds. What this means for all voucher recipients is that if they take a voucher and then find that what they can buy with it doesn’t in fact meet their needs they will have to sit out of the public school system for an entire year, potentially a real and permanent setback in a child’s education. This is of particular concern in the context of special education. The ESA program allows parents to purchase piecemeal services, which are often very expensive, much more than the average per pupil expenditure. Unlike the public education system that is required to provide a comprehensive program of general education and special education/therapeutic services for an entire school year regardless of overall individual cost, if a parent spends all their ESA funding on ad hoc therapeutic expenses, they will not receive additional state dollars or logistical/administrative assistance to provide for the academic component of their child’s education or even continued therapeutic services should they run out of funding before the next school year.

There are some genuine areas of needed improvement in the delivery of special education services and identification of students with special needs, but dramatically underfunding these or any, students through an ESA voucher program and encouraging parents to relieve their sometimes justified frustrations by giving up their child’s legal right to a free and appropriate education and simply going it alone is not the answer.

Related: If you live in the Austin viewing area and subscribe to TWC-Spectrum cable, you can watch a rebroadcast of this episode of Capital Tonight on Dec. 19, 2016. Also, check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s recent op-ed article about private school vouchers here.