Category Archives: Funding

Summary of third-quarter TRS board meeting

TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas held its quarterly board meeting this week in Austin on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. You can watch video of the board meeting here, as well as review the board agenda and board book.

The TRS board received its final update on the TEAM project prior to the upcoming go live date. As we have reported previously on our blog, TEAM is the agency’s ongoing project to update its computer infrastructure and data systems. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie reported that everything continues to be a go for the transition to the new system, which is scheduled to go live on Oct. 2. At the next meeting, the board will receive a report on the transition from the legacy system to the new system and the transition from working on phase one of the TEAM project to working on phase two.

In a subsequent agenda item, Guthrie laid out several of his policy goals for the upcoming year. Included in those Guthrie would like to look into significantly streamlining the retire/rehire rules for educators. There are always pros and cons to any changes made to the retire/rehire rules, and advocacy groups including ATPE will stay closely involved during the process to ensure that the rules produce the best results possible for individual educators while also ensuring the overall health of the retirement fund. Additionally, TRS is set to undertake the process of completing an updated experience study, a process utilizing a third-party vendor to analyze the assumptions TRS uses to determine its actuarial numbers. TRS staff expects to complete the study by February and present findings to the TRS board for discussion at the February board retreat.

ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyConducting an experience study and reconsidering the TRS assumptions, including the assumed rate of return, is a significant action for the TRS board and agency. The assumptions combined with the actual assets on hand are what TRS uses to determine the funding window and overall actuarial soundness of the pension fund. Lowering the assumed rate of return without increasing the contribution rate will significantly increase the funding window, or number of years required to fully cover pension liabilities. Under law the fund cannot be considered actuarially sound if the window is greater than 30 years. Currently the fund is just over the 30 year mark but is trending in the right direction. Lowering the assumed rate of return even slightly will add years, as many as five to 10, to the funding window. TRS’s current assumed rate of return is 8 percent. Despite the fact that TRS has a one-year rate of return at 12.9 percent, a five-year rate of return at 8.9 percent, and a 26-year rate of return at 8.7 percent, there is significant pressure, including political and peer pressure, to lower the investment return assumption. ERS recently underwent a similar process that resulted in that fund’s rate of return being lowered from 8 percent down to 7.5 percent.

Any degradation of TRS’s actuarial soundness will undoubtedly result in new calls from some advocates and state lawmakers who oppose government-funded pensions for TRS to be converted from a defined-benefit pension system into a defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan.

In addition to the meeting of the full TRS board, various sub-committees also met this week. Of particular note, the TRS policy committee made changes to a number of TRS rules, many in response to legislative changes from the 85th legislative session that just went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017. You can review the list of rules affected on the Policy Committee Agenda or take a closer look at the rules in the Policy Committee Book.

Other committees that met this week included the following with links to their materials:

  • TRS Investment Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Risk Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Compensation Committee – Agenda and Book; and
  • TRS Audit Committee – Agenda and Book

The next TRS board meeting will be a one-day meeting on October 27, 2017. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

SBOE wraps quiet September meeting

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

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

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

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

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

TRS adopts retiree healthcare changes, considers 403(b) provider rules

TRS logoATPE lobbyist Monty Exter attended a TRS Board meeting in Austin today. Today’s meeting was rescheduled from last week when it had to be delayed due to Hurricane Harvey. The agenda and board materials for the meeting can be found on the TRS website.

After preliminary housekeeping issues, the board took public comments. TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee engaged the board on the implementation and issus needing to be addressed due to recent legislation which made significant changes to TRS-Care.

After Mr. Lee, multiple industry professionals came to give their comments on TRS’s proposed rule change regarding 403(b) programs. All but one of those offering comments had strong concerns about the effect of the rules on the future availability of a robust cohort of providers for educators to choose. One witness thought the number of companies and products currently in the space was excessive and presented Texas educators with an overly complex and excessively expensive set of options. The board will further consider these rules during an agenda item later today on which we will report afterward for Teach the Vote.

After public comments, the board recognized Howard Goldman for his 24 years of service as TRS Communications Director.

Next the board received an update on the TEAM program. TEAM is the name given to TRS’s work toward updating the agency’s considerable computer infrastructures and data systems. Go live on phase one of the TEAM upgrades is set for October 2, 2017. There are some contingencies based on delays caused by Hurricane Harvey, as the storm may affect as many as 321,705 TRS members.

After the TEAM discussion, Brian Guthrie, TRS Executive Director, gave the board a special session update, including reporting on the passage of House Bill (HB) 21, which included an appropriation of $212 million for TRS-Care. The money appropriated will be used to soften the blow of the increased premiums and deductibles. The board returned to the issue of TRS-Care when it reviewed and adopted the premiums and plan design for TRS-Care, the retiree health benefits program, including the standard plan, the fully insured Medicare Advantage Plans, and the Medicare Part D Plans.

The attached document from TRS staff provides details of the now adopted TRS-Care plan design, how the new plan compares to the current TRS-Care plans, and what the plan would have looked like had HB 21 not passed during the special session. Changes to TRS-Care will not go into effect until Jan 1, 2018.

Following Guthrie’s comments, the board took up the certification of the contributions TRS will receive to fund TRS-ActiveCare. The board voted to certify to the State Comptroller the estimated amount of state contributions to be received by TRS-Active Care for fiscal year 2018. The certification amount totals $795,729,797 which includes $401,129,797 to meet the state contribution rate; $182,600,000 in supplemental funding passed during the regular session; and $212 million passed during the special session via HB 21. The state contribution rate has increased from 1.0% to 1.25% due to the passage of HB 3976 relating to changes for TRS-Care during the regular legislative session earlier this year.

TRS had initially scheduled a Policy Committee meeting to happen concurrently with today’s full board meeting, but that meeting had to be canceled as a result of a lack of quorum of those committee members due to Hurricane Harvey.

Proposed TRS meeting dates for 2018 are Feb. 14-16, April 19-20, June 14-15, July 27, Sept. 20-21, Oct 19, and Dec 13-14

The Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be September 21-22.

TRS to vote on changes to retiree healthcare plan next week

Drugs and MoneyIf you are a retired educator or someone planning to retire soon from the profession, you’ll be interested in next week’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The board will meet Friday, Aug. 25, to discuss and adopt modifications to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retirees.

As we reported on Teach the Vote back in June, TRS recently announced several changes to the design of its healthcare plans after the legislature failed to completely fill a funding shortfall during the regular session. But in response to outcries from educators, legislators convinced Gov. Greg Abbott to add retiree healthcare costs to his call for the special session that ended Tuesday. The legislature passed House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty during special session that will funnel $212 million in additional money to TRS for healthcare.

TRS logoThe attached document from TRS staff provides details on plan changes that TRS board members are expected to adopt next week. Changes to TRS-Care will go into effect on Jan 1, 2018.

From The Texas Tribune: Hey, Texplainer: Does the Texas lottery fully fund public education?

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017. Photo by John Jordan

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017.
Photo by John Jordan

Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Lynne Springer. Send us your questions about Texas politics and policy by emailing texplainer@texastribune.org or through texastribune.org/texplainer. 

Hey, Texplainer: The lottery is supposed to fund education — that was stated at the get-go. Why is lottery money being used for other things?

When they were trying to sell the lottery to voters more than 25 years ago, political candidates left many Texans with the impression that 100 percent of the money earned from the lottery would go toward education and that the lottery might generate enough money to pay for all public education.

Neither is true.

Through a constitutional amendment, voters approved the creation of the Texas Lottery in November 1991. Between 1992 and 1997, $4 million from lottery ticket sales and unclaimed prizes went toward the state’s general revenue fund — meaning it could be used for any state expense.

It wasn’t until after 1997 that Texas schools became a specific beneficiary of the money.

The breakdown of how that money is distributed now looks like this, according to the Texas Lottery Commission website:

  • 63 percent is paid to lottery winners
  • 27.1 percent funds Texas education through the Foundation School Fund
  • 5.4 percent goes toward retailer commissions
  • 4 percent goes to the lottery for administrative costs
  • The remainder, about 0.4 percent, funds the Veterans Assistance Program and other state programs

The commission announced in September 2016 that it had earned more than $5 billion in sales for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“This is the first time in our history that we have generated more than $5 billion in sales,” Gary Grief, the lottery’s executive director, said in a news release. “We are excited to celebrate the extraordinary growth we have achieved and proud to make our largest contributions ever to both Texas public schools and veterans’ programs.”

Of that $5 billion, roughly $1.3 billion was allotted to the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency. The money is used for expenses such as teacher salaries, bilingual education and special education. TEA officials said the Foundation School Program should be thought of “as a huge pot of money” with lottery revenue being just one contributor to the pot.

In 2015, the Legislature budgeted $48.4 billion in state funds for public education over two years, which included $2.4 billion that the lottery contributed to the state’s foundation school account.

According to the Texas Lottery’s website, the lottery has contributed $20 billion to the Foundation School Fund since 1997. But TEA officials say there’s no telling which Texas school districts receive lottery funding.

The bottom line: The money earned by the Texas Lottery has never been fully dedicated to Texas education. Since 1997, a percentage of lottery revenue has gone toward funding the state’s public schools, but not all of it.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/07/07/hey-texplainer-does-lottery-fully-fund-public-education/.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

SBOE reviews bills related to permanent school fund

The State Board of Education (SBOE) broke into committees Thursday, and the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund took a look at legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature.

State Board of Education Committee on School Finance/PSF meeting June 22, 2017.

State Board of Education Committee on School Finance/PSF meeting June 22, 2017.

Effective September 1, 2017, House Bill (HB) 89 prohibits state agency contracts with and investments in companies that boycott Israel. The state comptroller is currently compiling a list of companies that could fall under this category. Agencies would be required to submit a report by January 1 of each year to the legislature and the office of attorney general. This affects the SBOE due to the board’s role in overseeing investments of the Permanent School Fund (PSF).

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) asked whether HB 89 would require the board to scrub hedge fund portfolios. Staff advised that in such cases, the board may not necessarily be required to divest. Staff suggested the board may not be required to comply with HB 89 in the event that doing so would violate the board’s fiduciary responsibility.

Similarly, Senate Bill (SB) 253 relates to companies that engage in business in Sudan or Iran or with terrorist organizations. This legislation does not specifically name SBOE or the PSF, so staff advised that the board is likely unaffected.

SB 1480 phases in a higher capacity for charter schools to access the Bond Guarantee Program (BGP), which guarantees bonds for public and charter schools by backing them with the PSF. This enables public and charter schools to access better interest rates. The total capacity available to charters was $1 billion on January 1, 2017. SB 1480 will increase the total capacity to $5.4 billion over five years, increasing by about 20 percent, roughly $800 million, each year. The SBOE will have to determine the exact percentage of increase each year, beginning in September.

The committee also approved changing the definition of tax collections used to calculate state aid for ad valorem tax credits. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff recommended the change to conform the rules to align with statute. Instead of the current process in which a refund is issued after taxes are collected, the tax credit will be excluded from collection.

The board will conclude its June meeting on Friday.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 28, 2017

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from the ATPE lobbyists:

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

Wiggins_HPE_4-25-17

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


Kuhlmann_SenEd_04-27-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

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.