Category Archives: House Public Education Committee

A-F fix takes center stage in House Public Education

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider more than two dozen bills. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing with more discussion of House Bill (HB) 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to the public school system. Huberty announced that the much-anticipated committee substitute should be posted this week.

The committee heard extensive testimony over the last two weeks regarding how to structure $200 million allocated for hardship grants to ease the burden primarily on schools facing the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. Huberty indicated $125 million would be allocated the first year, and $75 million the second year. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the subcommittee on Educator Quality, explained districts taxing at the max level will get larger prorated grants under the program. Grants could be no larger than the actual amount of the lost ASATR funding, or exceed ten percent of the overall grant.

Huberty added that House budget writers have identified $250 million of additional funds to bring the overall price tag of HB 21 to $1.9 billion. The chairman suggested those funds could be focused toward CTE, computer technology and bilingual education. Huberty concluded by stating his intention to finalize committee substitute language this week and hold a vote on the bill next week. ATPE continues to support HB 21 as an important step toward larger reform of the school finance system.

HB 1776 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees public education funding, would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine. Ashby argued the current U.S. history end-of-course exam is overly burdensome both for students and teachers. According to the fiscal note, the change would save an estimated $2 million through the biennium ending in August 2019.

HB 22 is Chairman Huberty’s answer to addressing some of the unintended consequences of the “A through F” accountability system. In short, the legislation would collapse the number of domains from five to three and eliminate the overall letter grade for schools and districts. The bill would also add a wide variety of additional performance indicators intended to decrease the reliance on standardized test data, and draw distinctions between “D” and “F” ratings – with particular regard to the accompanying accountability triggers.

Calling the system “flawed,” Huberty suggested HB 22 would move the emphasis away from standardized tests and factors influenced heavily by economic disparities. The bill is the product of collaboration between committee members, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath and school administrators. The fiscal note estimates HB 22 would cost $4.5 million over the next biennium, and $3.5 million the following biennium.

The legislation would further delay implementation by another school year. Commissioner Morath told the committee that the legislation fixes “unintended mathematical consequences,” and said the additional time is needed to model changes and write new rules. Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that letter grades fail to adequately capture performance, and were never intended to be part of the five-domain accountability system created by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Responding to concern raised by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) over the elimination of the overall grade, Huberty said “A through F” came with numerous problems. The scheme replaces the current pass/fail accountability system, under which 94 percent of schools are listed as meeting performance expectations. Under “A through F,” many schools and districts received poor grades despite being recognized by the state for outstanding performance during the same year.

“I’m tired of listening to rhetoric about our failing schools,” said Huberty, who suggested lawmakers should focus instead on finding and fixing issues leading to problems. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) agreed “A through F” doesn’t provide a “true picture” of what’s happening within public schools and local communities, and praised the bill as an important step toward improvement.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 22, pointing out that several states have recently repealed “A through F” systems over the same concerns. While grateful for the inclusion of a teacher quality component, ATPE advocated for ensuring value-added metrics (VAM) are not used for teacher quality measurement. ATPE also advocated for a statutory requirement that the commissioner include a panel of stakeholders, including parents and campus-level educators, in the rulemaking and implementation process. Additionally, ATPE advocated for adding a layer of simplistic language that is more descriptive than a single letter, and which would let parents know what each rating is telling them about their particular school.

Acknowledging the need to fix the shortcomings of “A through F,” Huberty told the committee, “We cannot go home without getting this done.” The chairman encouraged interested parties to continue to engage on HB 22, with a goal of finalizing a committee substitute before next week’s hearing.

HB 1336 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law. Leach pointed out policymakers don’t know how much the state is asking local districts to spend indirectly in order to administer tests. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 145 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of “A through F.” Supporters of HB 145 argue that empirical methods should be used to assess the differences in achievement for African-American males as a demographic group, with the goal of closing performance gaps and ending the reliance on anecdotal information. The fiscal note anticipates a cost of $273,000 the first year and $257,000 each subsequent year for the employment of two additional TEA positions to track the data.

HB 61 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system. Guillen argued the bill would give districts an incentive to encourage special education students to advance.

HB 79 by Rep. Guillen would eliminate the cap the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments, as opposed to standard assessments. The bill would further prohibit using the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments for performance, compliance or accountability purposes. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1500 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1057 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1174 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 988 and HB 989 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create a pilot program to develop a portfolio method to assess student performance. HB 988 would create a program for grades three through eight and HB 989 would create a program for high school students. González explained balancing standardized test results with holistic measures would yield a much more useful and accurate picture of student performance. ATPE supports both of these bills.

HB 1650 by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) would allow a student who passes a dual credit course on U.S. history to skip the U.S. history end-of-course exam. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 795 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would require a committee appointed by the education commissioner to review any challenge to academic or financial accountability ratings raised by a school district or charter school, regardless of the issue. A successful challenge raised under this legislation would allow charter schools facing charter revocation due to unacceptable academic or financial accountability ratings to stop the clock on the proceedings under the current “three strikes” law.

HB 1993 by state Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) would require the education commissioner to adopt procedures to identify nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instruments as additional alternative assessment instruments that may be used to evaluate student achievement under “A through F.” The bill would further require the commissioner to apply for federal waivers to allow for multiple instruments for assessing students in the same grade. According to the fiscal note, HB 1993 would cost the state an additional $1.6 million per year.

HB 3607 by Rep. King would eliminate end-of-course exams for high school students. It would also require the commissioner to identify a procedure for districts to select the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) or a nationally recognized norm-referenced exam, such as the SAT or ACT, as the assessment instrument to be administered to students in grade 11. According to the fiscal note, HB 3607 would save the state $2.5 million per year.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. Acknowledging the laudable goal of reducing high-stakes testing, Exter noted that norm-referenced tests are not appropriate for accountability purposes because they are designed so that results will fall along a bell curve. ATPE warned against allowing districts to use multiple assessment instruments. Currently, the only benefit of a statewide testing system is data comparability, which is lost when districts use different tests. ATPE also advocated for educators to have a stronger role helping vet out test deficiencies at the agency level.

HB 1731 by Rep. King (R-Canadian) would exclude students who leave a residential treatment facility and fail to enroll in a nearby school from the calculation of those schools’ dropout rates, provided those students would not otherwise be enrolled there. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 515 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would eliminate writing and social studies assessments and require only end-of-course assessments in reading, math and science as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writing assessment has long been criticized, and VanDeaver argued HB 515 could help reduce overtesting. Agency staff suggested that eliminating writing assessments could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal guidelines, which could potentially result in a financial penalty. Staff suggested the conflict might be ameliorated by removing writing from the state’s English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) guidelines. The fiscal note estimates HB 515 would save the state $23 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2263 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would no longer require campus intervention teams to continue to work with “improvement required” campuses until two years after performance standards are met. Agency staff testified that the process was “resource intensive, without providing much feedback.” Staff suggested that resources may be better spent at the front end of the intervention process, and districts would be able to determine whether additional help is needed to keep campuses from regressing.

HB 3828 by Chairman Huberty would adjust the triggers for commissioner action for failing schools to include those “rated unacceptable” and confine criteria to the “school progress” domain of the “A through F” system. The bill would modify the commissioner’s power to oversee turnaround plans and curtail the commissioner’s power to manage failing districts and require district workshops. Importantly, the bill requires a written turnaround plan with the agency and clear guidelines for implementation. After listening to public testimony, Huberty committed to work on a committee substitute for future consideration.

HB 789 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would allow Highland Park ISD to modify the cut score for an examination for acceleration, placing the limit at 90 percent, rather than 80 percent. Meyer explained that some students who passed with an 80 percent score struggled after advancing.

HB 546 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would also limit state-required assessment instruments to assessments required by federal law. The fiscal note estimates a $2.9 million savings over the biennium. Noting that the language of HB 546 is wholly contained within HB 515 by Rep. VanDeaver, Rep. Deshotel pulled his bill from consideration in favor of supporting HB 515. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 657 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARC) committee of a student who participates in special education to promote a special education student to the next grade level after failing an assessment just once, provided that the committee determines the student has made significant progress in the measurable academic goals contained in the student’s individualized education program. Bernal explained that the passing rate for special education students on state assessments is roughly 30 percent, and scores usually do not improve after the third administration. Rather than subjecting students to multiple unnecessary examinations, Bernal argued parents and educators should be allowed flexibility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3104 by Rep. VanDeaver would require the TEA to adopt or develop exams in English Language Arts (ELA) for grades four and seven and at the end of English I and English II, instead of writing. The bill’s committee substitute would create a one-year pilot program to allow districts and charter schools to choose their own assessment instruments for writing and required to report their results. The fiscal note anticipates HB 3104 would save the state $7.5 million each year.

After listening to testimony on HB 3104, Chairman Huberty briefly paused to read a message from his son’s English teacher pointing out that the STAAR end-of-course assessment is approaching next week. The teacher reported students are stressed, even with her words of encouragement. Regardless of the test results, the teacher said, she’s proud at work they’ve done.

“The teachers are trying, but we’re not arming them with the ability to do their jobs,” Huberty concluded.

HB 3075 by Chairman Huberty would exclude students detained in a juvenile detention facility and educated by a public charter school from the computation of dropout and completion rates for charter school accountability purposes. Huberty explained public schools are already exempt, and HB 3075 would allow the same rule to apply to charters.

All of the above bills were left pending. The committee voted out a number of previously heard bills during a break in Tuesday’s testimony. Members unanimously approved the following:

  • HB 1645, which would allow students to get a varsity letter for participating in the Special Olympics.
  • HB 728, which would create an advanced computer science course to satisfy the third math or science credit.
  • HB 367, which would allow schools to assign a nonprofit to distribute leftover food to hungry students.
  • HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • HB 1270, which would allow excused absences for students to visit a military recruiting facility in the same way they are currently allowed to visit a college or university.
  • HB 264, which would update the information and public outreach materials for HB 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and extend the time period required for reporting.
  • HB 136, which would add CTE and workforce training to the mission of public education.
  • HB 357, which would allow the children of first responders eligible for Star of Texas awards to receive free prekindergarten services.

Those bills will next head to the Calendars Committee to await a date for consideration before the full Texas House of Representatives. Before adjourning, Huberty referred the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality: HB 1799, HB 1869, HB 1918, HB 2209, HB 3769 and SB 7.

Huberty reiterated his intent to vote on a substitute for HB 21 next week. The next meeting will feature a variety of bills, including more legislation affecting charter schools.

House subcommittee takes up educator quality bills

The House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality held its first meeting on Monday. Chaired by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), the committee includes Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Present for Monday’s meeting, Reps. King, Meyer and VanDeaver considered a half dozen bills related to teachers.

HB 333 by Rep. Meyer addresses improper relationships between educators and students. Meyer’s bill expands the law to prohibit romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state.

In the same vein, HB 218 by state Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) increases the reporting requirements related to improper relationships between educators and students. Such incidents involve less than 0.1 percent of Texas teachers, but just one is too many. ATPE is committed to being a part of the solution and has worked with several lawmakers on legislation to address this issue.

Like similar bills, HB 218 prohibits romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state. Administrators who fail to report alleged incidents of improper relationships would face a misdemeanor charge, which could be upgraded to a state jail felony if the administrator is found to have intentionally tried to conceal an alleged incident.

The bill would further require an educator to surrender their certification if they accept deferred adjudication for an improper relationship with a student. Schools would be required to have new hires sign a pre-employment affidavit disclosing any accusations, charges, or convictions for an improper relationship with a student, and employees who assist someone who has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor with obtaining school employment could have their certificates suspended or revoked. The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) subpoena power would be expanded to allow the commissioner to summon witnesses of alleged incidents of misconduct.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified on the bill, stating concern that the requirement to disclose potentially false accusations would have a chilling effect on the career prospects of unfairly accused educators.

Like most bills relating to improper relationships between educators and students, HB 218 would mandate continuing education in understanding appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students. It would also require districts to adopt written electronic communication policies designed to prevent improper communications between school employees and students.

HB 1469 by state Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Coldspring) would allow open-enrollment charter schools to hire a teacher without a baccalaureate degree for a noncore academic career and technical education course if they have experience in the related field and receive at least 20 hours of classroom management training.

HB 972 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 816 by House Public Education Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor program for new teachers in Texas. Texas has a history of successful, if short-lived, mentor programs that have reduced teacher attrition and improved student performance. Studies have shown up to half of educators leave the profession within the first five years, and teacher attrition costs Texas between $200 million and $500 million each year.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 816, pointing out the success of prior initiatives dating back to the 1990s. The Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS) was a $12 million pilot program launched in 1999, which provided support, training, assessment, and $400 per year stipends for roughly 2,000 program participants. Eighty-eight percent of teachers returned after the first year, well over the 81 percent state average for non-TxBESS teachers. After the second year, 98 percent of that cohort continued to teach. Principals reported TxBESS improved teacher performance, with minority teachers and high school teachers showing the most improvement. Funding for TxBESS expired in 2002.

In 2006, the Texas Legislature created the Beginning Teacher Induction and Mentoring (BTIM) program with an initial $15 million per year appropriation. Mentor teachers received up to $750 per year stipends, and districts reported 30 percent increases is new teacher retention. Funding for BTIM expired in 2012.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature commissioned a study on mentoring by the Teacher Mentoring Advisory Committee (MAC). The committee released its final report in 2015, and HB 816 seeks to implement its recommendations.

Bernal’s bill would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note, HB 816 would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. Bernal suggested the estimate was actually too low, and indicated he anticipates higher participation than the fiscal note assumed.

HB 1255 by state Rep. VanDeaver would remove the $450 cap on subsidized teacher training awarded under the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program. VanDeaver stated removing the cap could allow TEA to structure incentives to boost participation in underserved parts of the state. The bill carries a fiscal note indicating a cost of $2.3 million over the biennium. VanDeaver argued the estimate is inaccurate, since the bill would simply grant flexibility to spend existing funding, as opposed to mandating new funding. ATPE supports this bill.

All Monday’s bills were left pending.

House Public Education reviews grab bag of school bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider a score of bills touching a variety of subjects. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing by referring the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian): HB 49, HB 218, HB 331, HB 333, HB 460, HB 816, HB 972, HB 1255, HB 1403, HB 1469 and HB 1485.

The day’s testimony began with HB 1291 by state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), which would add “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS would include the study of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 639 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would authorize districts to obtain health benefit plan, liability or auto insurance for partner businesses and students participating in CTE programs. Anderson suggested insurance is important in the event of accidents related to CTE instruction.

HB 1645 by state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require school districts that offer varsity letters to adopt a policy that allows students to earn a letter for participating in a Special Olympics event. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 69 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

HB 264 by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require TEA to continue until 2020 providing outreach materials to districts required under Section 28.015, Education Code, regarding public school curriculum changes under House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. The section includes explanations of the basic career and college readiness components of each endorsement, requirements to gain automatic college admission, and financial aid requirements for the TEXAS grant and the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program. The section is currently set to expire September 1, 2018.

HB 452 by state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would require report cards to include the number of students in each class. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 728 by state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would create an advanced computer science program that would satisfy the curriculum requirements for a third math or science credit.

HB 1270 by state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) would allow schools to excuse student absences for the purpose of visiting a military recruitment center. A similar provision currently allows for excused absences to visit a college or university campus.

HB 136 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include a CTE objective under the public education objectives enumerated in Section 4.001(b), Education Code. The text would read, “Objective 11: The State Board of Education, the agency, and the commissioner shall assist school districts and charter schools in providing career and technology education and effective workforce training opportunities to students.”

HB 1389 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. The bill would result in smaller class sizes for schools that are currently over the limit, but would not carry a significant fiscal impact to the state budget. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 710 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would extend free half-day prekindergarten to full-day for the same set of eligible students. Research has shown early childhood education improves student learning through the elementary grades, leading to improved educational outcomes overall. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost $1.6 billion over the 2018-2019 biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 620 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would allow districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and require instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. This would allow districts more flexibility in scheduling, provide additional time to prepare for first semester assessments, and allow for earlier summer release. No fiscal impact to the state is anticipated. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, pointing out that current restrictions can be burdensome when it comes to predictably and adequately allocating instruction time.

HB 729 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would integrate character traits instruction into the TEKS, and require a center for education research to study the effects of character traits instruction on student attendance and disciplinary problems. Bohac suggested emphasizing positive character traits would improve school performance overall. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in favor of the bill, noting that statewide standards would eliminate the patchwork implementation of character traits instruction.

HB 404 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) would create higher education curriculum review teams charged with reviewing changes to the TEKS. Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appoints TEKS review committees composed largely of K-12 teachers, as well as up to seven “experts” as defined by board rules. This bill would define a process and expert panel with at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the relevant subject or a doctorate in education. The panel would be selected the Higher Education Coordinating Board and higher education commissioner, which would insulate the experts from the appearance of political influence. The bill would also protect the panel’s recommendations by setting a two-thirds vote threshold for SBOE.

Rep. Anchia described the bill as “a work in progress.” ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in favor of the bill, and advocated for ensuring that K-12 educators have a meaningful impact on the process as well. Recently, SBOE has taken steps to improve its TEKS review process, and ATPE supports a collaborative effort to codify improvements in statute in order to ensure the success of future reviews.

HB 539 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. According to TEA, roughly 12,000 students, about 0.3 percent of the state’s total enrollment, are currently enrolled in the virtual school network. Approximately 63,500 military dependents are enrolled in grades three through twelve. The Legislative Budget Board assumes 0.5 percent, or 318 students, would enroll in the virtual school network. Based on that, the fiscal note assumes the change would cost an additional $5.3 million – which Chairman Huberty and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) disputed, suggesting the expense was overstated.

HB 367 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. Some schools already do this, but this bill would guarantee that right in statute and give rulemaking authority to the commissioner of education. No significant fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.

HB 357 by Chairman Huberty would extend free prekindergarten eligibility to the children of anyone eligible for the Star of Texas Award for police, firefighters and emergency medical first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. According to the fiscal note, no significant impact on the budget is expected. ATPE supports this bill.

All those bills were left pending.

The board unanimously approved HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state. The bill will head to the House floor next.

The committee also resumed consideration of HB 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to public education. Huberty warned that without HB 21, the budget would effectively fund $140 less per pupil and there would be no plan for dealing with the expiration of ASATR.

Noting he has had numerous meetings with stakeholders, Huberty suggested hardship grants for districts losing ASATR could be stair-stepped. Additional transportation funding could be capped at five percent of the total spend, Chapter 41 districts at 15 percent and ASATR at 80 percent, or $100 million in 2018 and $60 million in 2019. Discussing whether lawmakers should offer more or less flexibility regarding grant fund allocation, TEA recommended erring on the side of being more prescriptive in order to provide clear direction.

For the 327 school districts whose property taxes are maxed out at $1.17, the committee entertained testimony suggesting raising the yield on “copper pennies.” It’s important to note that the more the state spends on public education in general, the less school districts will be forced to rely on local homeowners for funding. In other words, real property tax relief – not the bumper sticker kind, but meaningful relief – begins with putting more state money into public education.

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Huberty signaled his intent to vote on a committee substitute at next Tuesday’s hearing. That meeting will focus on bills dealing with public school accountability, including “A though F.”

Texas House committee begins school finance discussion

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss school finance legislation, including the House’s priority school finance bill announced Monday by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston). Underscoring the issue’s importance to the House, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) greeted committee members shortly before the hearing began.

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) expresses support to House Public Education Committee members taking up priority school finance legislation

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) expresses support to House Public Education Committee members taking up priority school finance legislation

Unveiled Monday, House Bill 21 would be funded by a budget rider that would allow the basic allotment to be increased to $5,350 from $5,140 per student. The bill is anticipated to create new transportation funding at $125 per student through the basic allotment that would be open to recapture districts. HB 21 would roll both the high school allotment and the additional state aid for non-professional staff into the basic allotment. The bill would lower recapture by approximately $163 million in 2018 and $192 million in 2019, and create a hardship grant to assist districts that will lose money once ASATR expires. Additionally, HB 21 would add a 0.1 weight for students with dyslexia and repeal a hold harmless for districts identified as Chapter 41 in 1993. Model runs were posted Monday for 2018 and 2019.

With a fiscal note of $1.6 billion over the biennium, Huberty described the bill Tuesday as a “big lift.” If passed, it would mark the first time in decades that the Texas Legislature meaningfully addressed the school finance system without the threat of a court order.

Seven other bills were slated for hearing before HB 21. The first, HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state.

HB 1245 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would allow students to take CTE courses beginning in the eighth grade. By extending weighted funding to the middle school level from the high school level, the bill carries a fiscal note estimating expenses to the state of $39.7 million in 2018 and $50.6 million in 2019.

HB 395 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include technology applications courses, such as computer science, in weighted funding for CTE courses. The bill as filed carries a fiscal note of $21 million in 2018 and $23.7 million in 2019, but Bell suggested the committee substitute delaying implementation could result in no fiscal impact in 2018. Supporters testified the inclusion would eliminate confusion and provide districts slightly more room and flexibility in their budgeting.

HB 186 by vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a study regarding the costs of educating educationally disadvantaged students and students of limited English proficiency. The study would determine whether the compensatory allotment and bilingual education allotment provide adequate funding to accomplish their intended purposes, and if not, how much additional funding is needed. Bernal argued Tuesday that the weights for each have not been adjusted since the 1980s, and achievement gaps remain between 18 percent and 27 percent.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, citing research confirming the importance of investing adequate resources in order to achieve the best educational outcomes for both groups. ATPE expressed a desire to work with the committee to take steps toward increasing the weights this session.

HB 587 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would create a new technology applications course allotment weighted at the same 1.35 multiplier as the CTE allotment. The bill is aimed to accomplish the same goal as HB 395 by Bell, and carries a similar fiscal note estimating a cost of $44.7 million over the biennium.

HB 883 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would raise the adjusted basic allotment multiplier for CTE to 1.60 from 1.35. King explained funding has not caught up with expanded options for CTE courses and increasing technology expenses. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost the state an estimated $950 million over the biennium.

Huberty laid out HB 21 with a reference to the recent school finance lawsuit that reached the Texas Supreme Court, which upheld the current system despite heavily criticizing it. Regardless of the lawsuit, Huberty said, “Texans know that now is the time to help our students.”

After years of roughly splitting the cost of public education with local taxpayers, the state’s share of funding has dropped precipitously in recent years, and will sink to 39 percent in 2019 if nothing is done. Legislative budget writers have taken advantage of rising property values to decrease state spending. That means local taxpayers have shouldered an increasingly outsized share of the burden through increasingly burdensome property taxes.

Huberty explained HB 21 will reduce the need for higher property taxes and begin to reduce the amount of money taxpayers have to send away for recapture. The chairman described the hardship provision grant as a “glidepath” for districts that will lose ASATR funding. The grant would be capped at $100 million per school year for the state.

“We can’t fix the entire school finance system this year, but we can start trying,” Huberty said.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 21, emphasizing it is a “first step” in a more sweeping reform. ATPE advocated in favor of including language to study the weights, as well as increasing support for educators, particularly in terms of health care. ATPE recommended finding ways to increase funding for some of the larger statewide programs established in statute, such as pre-K and bilingual education, and cautioned against potential unintended consequences stemming from the changes to transportation funding.

After hearing several hours of testimony, Huberty notified the committee his intention to take the day’s recommendations under advisement and present a committee substitute at next week’s hearing, at which point HB 21 could be taken up for a vote.

The last bill of the day focused on extending ASATR. With ASATR scheduled to expire this year, HB 811 by King (R-Canadian) would extend ASATR through 2021 at an estimated cost of $402 million over the next two years. The funding would benefit some 160 school districts that continue to receive varying levels of funding, many of which warn of serious financial problems once the funding runs out.

All bills were left pending. The committee will resume discussion of school finance and other bills next Tuesday, when possible action is expected.

Huberty leads House committee in school finance talks, dismisses vouchers

The Texas House Public Education Committee met today, Feb. 28, to take up the weighty subject of school finance, which is a priority item for House leadership under Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). The lengthy hearing featured invited testimony from 24 witnesses, including state agencies, school districts and organizations focused on school finance.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

Dan Huberty

To kick off the hearing, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) rattled off a number of statistics related to public education.

The state added 69,175 students in fiscal year 2016, and is projected to add 75,824 students in 2017 and another 81,796 students in 2018. Out of 320 charters awarded by the state, 176 remain active while 144 have closed. A total of 241,336 students are enrolled in charter schools and 228,774 are enrolled in private schools.

Of the state’s 1,024 public school districts, 241 paid recapture for 2015. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) estimates 229 will pay recapture for 2016, and the number is expected to increase to 264 by 2019. In fiscal year 2016, 249 districts received Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) at a cost of $340 million. If ASATR is allowed to remain in effect, TEA estimates 156 districts would receive payments in fiscal year 2018 at a cost of $200-250 million.

A total of 156 bills have been referred to the House Public Education Committee thus far this session, and the committee anticipates receiving another 131 bills that have been filed and are awaiting referral. The House budget, House Bill (HB) 1, includes $44 billion in all funds for the Foundation School Program (FSP) for fiscal year 2017-18, including a $1.5 billion increase in public education funding contingent upon school finance reform.

Huberty at Tribune interview 02-28-17Before presiding over today’s committee hearing, Chairman Huberty participated in an early morning discussion hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. There, Huberty told Texas Tribune executive director Evan Smith that school finance reform could take two to three sessions to complete. He also confirmed the Senate’s voucher proposals are dead in the House. Huberty pointed out that Texas already has robust “school choice” in the form of charters, magnet schools, public school transfers, and other options. The chairman emphasized that handing out public tax dollars to private ventures without any accountability is at odds with conservative principles.

Committee testimony began Tuesday afternoon with a brief rundown of the laws and legal decisions impacting public education funding. For example, the Cost of Education Index (CEI) has not been significantly changed since 1990. Of critical relevance to school finance discussions, the Texas Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax. TEA general counsel Von Byer testified that while the state can rely on local property taxes to help fund schools, it can’t set up a system where the state directly controls that property tax.

House leaders have wisely pointed out the see-saw relationship between state and local funding for schools. As the share of public education funding provided by the state has steadily declined over the years, local property taxes have risen in order to make up the difference. Chairman Huberty repeatedly pointed out that meaningful property tax relief is necessarily contingent upon the state taking the burden back from local districts.

The majority of testimony focused on districts representing a variety of financial challenges. The committee heard from Dallas ISD, which is about to enter recapture while facing a concurrent drop in enrollment. The state’s largest district, Houston ISD, faces a looming $160 million recapture payment, despite serving a historically impoverished student population. The district has already cut $40 million of that from classrooms, including cuts to teachers, tutoring programs, nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors.

Houston ISD recommended the committee increase the basic allotment, count full-day pre-K students in weighted average daily attendance (WADA), restore the transportation allotment for all Chapter 41 districts, include the homestead exemption in the school funding formula, and allow districts a mechanism to reattach real property detached by TEA in order to meet wealth equalization requirements.

Austin ISD, which is scheduled to pay the state’s largest recapture payment of $536 million next year, noted that the state relies on district recapture payments to reduce its funding responsibility by $2 billion. As property values and inflationary costs increase, the state – not districts – benefits. Austin ISD suggested lawmakers tie property value increases to an increase in the basic allotment, update the CEI, allow Chapter 41 districts to receive the transportation allotment, include full-day pre-K in WADA, and increase the number of “golden pennies” of taxing capacity exempt from recapture available for local districts.

Other district administrators testified regarding the myriad issues facing public schools, including rapid growth that in many cases outpaces available facilities funding, growing populations of students with special needs and English Language Learners, and an increasing proportion of low-income students locked in generational poverty.

HPE02-28-17Representing fast-growth school districts, Denton ISD superintendent Jamie Wilson recommended increasing funding under the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), as well as options to provide more flexibility when it comes to setting local tax rates. The South Texas Association of Schools advised against structural changes to the school finance system, but encouraged lawmakers to allocate the additional $1.5 billion under HB 1 toward the basic allotment and commit to educational cost studies during the interim.

KIPP Public Charter Schools co-founder Mike Feinberg testified that public charter schools receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools, which is often offset by fundraising, financing, or both. Feinberg fielded questions regarding student due process, the accuracy of much-touted wait list numbers, and the state’s liability for charters that have accessed bonds backed by public tax dollars. Huberty notably inquired how quickly charters would be able to expand if additional facilities funding were made available, and hinted at a role for future charters focused on special needs populations.

Gary VanDeaver

Gary VanDeaver

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) inquired several times as to the effect on state funding if a student who is new to Texas were to choose a charter school as opposed to a traditional public school. The question received varying answers, with witnesses noting that funding levels vary from district to district.

Among those working on an overall plan to simplify the system, Ray Freeman with the Equity Center outlined a proposal to stabilize and streamline funding through a single-sentence formula. Pursuant to a system overhaul, Freeman indicated lawmakers may desire a transition plan funded through a budget line item.

Vice-chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) noted that as demographics shift and wealth inequality deepens, the “average student” of today looks different from that of years past. More than half of Texas students are Hispanic and 59 percent are economically disadvantaged. Considering these changes, Bernal suggested lawmakers may want to reassess some funding methods based on certain special populations in favor of reorienting the system as a whole.

The hearing concluded with testimony from organizations whose advocacy is not limited to the public education realm. Huberty sharply questioned a representative from the pro-voucher Texas Public Policy Foundation over why voucher supporters oppose any accountability for public tax dollars diverted to private institutions.

The committee will begin considering specific school finance-related legislation when it meets next Tuesday, March 7. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

House education committee discusses voucher proposals the Senate is expected to push

The House Public Education Committee met for its final meeting before session earlier this week. The interim hearing was focused on its charge to study “school choice,” and marked what is likely to be the last public hearing for two of the committee’s members, Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) and Chairman Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

The term school choice encompasses a broad spectrum of options, including magnet schools, in-district charter campuses, open enrollment charter schools, other specialized campuses, and open enrollment policies. All of these exist within the public school context. However, in this case, the committee used the hearing to focus on analyzing the effects of the two voucher programs likely to be pursued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the upper chamber in the upcoming session.


In related news, Lieutenant Governor Patrick laid out his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities today before business leaders in Dallas. Patrick called “school choice” a top priority, vowing to continue to fight session after session for his “school choice” agenda, an agenda that includes vouchers. Read more about Patrick’s education priorities in tomorrow’s weekly wrap-up.


The committee heard from two panels of invited witnesses. The first panel was made up primarily of proponents of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships, both forms of vouchers or neo-vouchers. The second invited panel, which represented voucher opponents, was comprised of outgoing SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, the head of Pastors for Texas Children Charlie Johnson, and a lead researcher with the National Education Policy Center, Luis Huerta.

With near unanimity both Republican and Democratic committee members questioned, challenged, and ultimately signaled their rejection of the proposals voucher proponents put forward. The reasons brought forward by concerned committee members varied, but the conclusion was all the same: Texas has plenty to build upon within the public education system and they don’t need nor want a state-created, state-run school voucher program.

In a growing twist these legislators are finding support in their opposition to vouchers from what many would consider an unlikely source. At least half a dozen home-school parents were on hand to voice their opinions during public testimony, and they uniformly stated that they were opposed to a state voucher program, including ESAs. One mother put it best in an exchange between herself and Chairman Aycock when she acknowledged that home-school parents don’t want government dollars, they “just want to be left alone.”

For those interested in viewing the full hearing for more information, archived footage can be found here.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 29, 2016

It’s been a big news week for ATPE, and here’s a recap of current education stories we’re closely following:


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundWe are approaching two important elections during the month of May. First, the local uniform election date is May 7, followed by the May 24 election date for primary runoffs.

Early voting began this week and runs through May 3 for the first local election date. Many local school board races are on the May 7 ballot around the state, along with special elections in House Districts 120 and 139.

The next election will be the runoff election for party primaries in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote on March 1. Early voting for that May 24 runoff election will begin on May 16. Use our 2016 Races search page to find and view candidates’ profiles. New information has been added recently to several runoff candidates’ profiles. How do you know if there’s a runoff in which you can vote next month? Don’t miss our recent blog post on runoffs with lists of all the runoff candidates and tips on who is eligible to vote in a primary runoff election.


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelATPE filed a petition against the commissioner of education on Monday challenging his newly adopted rules to implement T-TESS as the state’s new recommended appraisal system. As we’ve been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the new rules were published last week in the Texas Register and are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2016, unless legal challenges by ATPE and other groups delay the roll-out of the new system.

Read our T-TESS blog post from Monday, which includes background information on ATPE’s legal challenge and why we take issue with aspects of the T-TESS rules. Also, be sure to check out our new T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org, where you’ll find details on the T-TESS design, history of the changes, links to news articles, and additional resources.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing earlier this week on proposed rules implementing the state’s new law providing for Districts of Innovation. Part of 2015′s House Bill 1842, we’ve been reporting on how the law allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws found in the Texas Education Code (TEC). School districts that claim the waivers could operate in virtually the same manner as a charter school.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at Monday’s public hearing, raising concerns about unintended consequences in school districts that seek blanket waivers from all the statutes that are exemptible under the new law. He also pointed out districts could likely try to exempt themselves from aspects of the state’s school finance system, which would create “chaos” in how public schools are funded. Monty urged the commissioner to place additional safeguards into the rules to ensure that districts adopting innovation plans make their intentions clear to stakeholders who will be affected by them, including students, educators, and parents. Read more about the hearing in Monty’s blog post from Tuesday, and also check out ATPE’s quick video interview with him about innovation districts.

TEA is also accepting public written comments on the proposed rules. Submit your input by Monday, May 2, using the TEA website where you can view the commissioner’s proposed rules.


Next week, the House Public Education Committee will hold an interim hearing. The committee will meet on Tuesday in a joint hearing with the House Committee on Economic & Small Business Development. The committees will discuss partnerships between institutions of higher education, public schools, and the workforce that promote college and career readiness. The committee will hear both invited and public testimony. ATPE will be at the hearing and will report on any developments. The hearing begins at 10:00AM and can be watched live here.

Texas House committees receive interim charges

IMG_8509Yesterday, Texas House Speaker Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) released his list of interim charges for House committees to study before the 2017 legislative session. The education-related charges include studying “ways to increase parental choice in education,” funding for school facilities and other needs, post-secondary readiness, and the risks of “inappropriate teacher-student relationships.” Payroll deduction for professional association dues will be studied by at least one House committee. The House Appropriations committee will study several issues that affect educators, including paying for programs that are funded outside the Foundation School Program addressing retired educators’ costs of living and health care needs. Similarly, the House Committee on Pensions will look at factors relating to the solvency of pension programs such as TRS.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) already issued interim charges to Senate committees back in October. As we reported here on our blog, the upper chamber’s interim charges call for the Senate Education Committee to study such issues as school choice and expanding charter schools. Additionally, Patrick has directed the Senate Committee on State Affairs to study the controversial payroll deduction issue.

View the full list of House interim charges here. Excerpts are posted below.

House Public Education Committee Interim Charges

1. Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Cost of Education Index (CEI). Determine if other mechanisms or methodologies could better achieve the intended purpose of this public school finance driver. Make recommendations for improvements or elimination of the CEI.

2. Evaluate the current state of school district facility needs and debt. Determine what constraints or limitations exist across the state, particularly in communities experiencing rapid growth, to fund facilities at the local level. Examine state laws, rules and best practice models for facility efficiency and long term taxpayer savings. Review the current facility funding programs, the Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA) and the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA), to address school districts’ facility needs and provide property tax relief.

3. Examine the accessibility to broadband services for schools, libraries, and institutions of higher education. Study the feasibility and affordability of providing scalable broadband to schools and other public institutions. Research federal and state funding opportunities to support increased access to broadband. Review innovative efforts by school districts to integrate technology in the classroom. Explore ways to enhance high-tech digital learning opportunities in the classroom to improve student achievement and fulfill future workforce demands.

4. Review current policies and rules to protect students from inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Examine efforts by the Texas Education Agency, school districts, law enforcement and the courts to investigate and prosecute educators for criminal conduct. Recommend needed improvements to promote student safety, including examining current criminal penalties, superintendent reporting requirements, teacher certification sanctions and the documentation provided in school district separation agreements. Review school employee training and educational efforts to promote student safety.

5. Examine partnerships between higher education institutions, public school districts, and workforce that promote postsecondary readiness. Provide coordination recommendations to ensure vocational, career, and technical education programs are more accessible. Determine the most effective ways to invest in these partnerships and programs to direct at-risk students to stable career paths. Examine current rules and laws limiting employers from providing meaningful internships, apprenticeships, and other opportunities. Consider new methods to finance workforce training programs and associated assets in high schools and postsecondary schools, including ways to reduce or eliminate these costs and options to incentivize businesses to invest in training equipment for schools. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Economic & Small Business Development)

6. Review the state’s current education policies and initiatives regarding middle grades. Make recommendations to ensure a comprehensive, research-based state strategy for preparing students at the middle grades for high school retention, success, and postsecondary readiness. This review should include an examination of school-based strategies and best practices that encourage at-risk youth to finish school.

7. Review current public education programs that address the needs of high performing students. Identify the adequacy of these programs statewide in meeting the needs of this specific student group and explore additional means to promote high quality programs designed to meet the educational needs of these students. Study ways to increase the recognition of the performance of higher performing students on test-based and non-test based measures. Examine whether the current and proposed state accountability systems adequately promote districts’ addressing the needs of students across the performance spectrum, including those students significantly outperforming their peers. Recommend whether the academic performance of high achieving students should be specifically addressed as a separate indicator in the accountability system.

8. Study ways to increase parental choice in education, and review the successes and failures of school choice programs in other states. Examine the benefits and costs of implementing such a program in Texas. Recommend whether an expansion of school choice in Texas is needed, and suggest ways to ensure that any school receiving public support is held accountable for its academic and financial performance.

9. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementing of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature, specifically including HB 4, HB 743, HB 2205, and SB 149. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

House Appropriations Committee Interim Charges

1. Evaluate potential fiscal policy challenges or economic disruptions in the 2016-17 biennium, including the long-term impact of price declines in oil and natural gas on the Texas economy and any fiscal implications for the state budget. Examine options to mitigate the risk of unexpected downturns in state revenue. Examine further progress made during the 84th legislative session to reduce reliance on general revenue dedicated accounts for budget certification. Recommend new or alternative methods to further reduce reliance on dedicated accounts for budget certification purposes and maximize usage of dedicated funds for their intended purposes. Examine other accounts and funding streams utilized by state agencies and institutions of higher education for opportunities to further increase budget transparency.

2. Develop recommendations to codify the Strategic Fiscal Review process. Conduct additional Strategic Fiscal Reviews of selected state agencies to further examine and assess agency performance, and ensure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively.

3. Examine Texas constitutional spending limits compared to limits utilized in other states, evaluate their effectiveness in maintaining fiscal discipline, and recommend potential modifications, if needed.

4. Evaluate deferred maintenance and physical plant needs of state buildings. Evaluate the appropriate funding mechanisms and timing that should be used to address the ongoing maintenance needs of state assets.

5. Monitor the accumulation of available funds within the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), particularly in light of the passage of HB 903 (84R). Determine the accuracy of prior ESF revenue predictions, the feasibility of long-term projections for the fund, and the effectiveness of proposed investments strategies utilized by the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Study the impact, if any, on the state’s credit rating when the ESF is utilized at various thresholds including usage for one-time expenses versus recurring costs. Examine potential limits in utilizing the ESF for specific uses, such as addressing unfunded liabilities or retiring state debt.

6. Monitor the implementation of HB 9 (84R) and study updated projections towards actuarial soundness of the Employees Retirement System. Examine issues and costs associated with granting cost of living adjustments or “13th Checks” to retired state employees and teachers.

7. Monitor the implementation of HB 2 (84R) as it pertains to the short-term funding provided to TRS-Care. Evaluate additional methods to address the health care needs of retired teachers in light of the current health insurance market, including the feasibility and costs associated with retired teachers not eligible for Medicare remaining on a school district’s health care plan until Medicare eligible.

8. Monitor the ongoing implementation of SB 20 (84R) and Article IX, Sec. 7.12 of the General Appropriations Act, HB 1 (84R). Study trends in state contracting as developed by the Legislative Budget Board and recommend new and/or modified strategies to ensure all contracting is executed in a transparent and judicious manner.

9. Review hospital reimbursement methodologies, including supplemental payments and the Medicaid add-on payments directed by HB 1 (84R) for safety-net and trauma facilities. In the review, include reimbursement methodologies for rural and children’s hospitals. Also, monitor the extension of the Texas Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement 1115 waiver.

10. Review the Texas Medicaid programs providing long-term services and support to adults or children with medical, physical, or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Study reimbursement methodologies, the historical appropriated slot allocation compared to the actual fill rate, the procedure of releasing slots to providers, and the impact and timeline of carving services into Medicaid managed care. Identify potential obstacles for the delivery of community long-term services and support, including the availability of community care workers. Make any needed recommendations to improve community long-term services and supports.

11. Study the trauma system in the State of Texas, including financing, service delivery, planning, and coordination among Emergency Medical Services providers, Trauma Services Area Regional Advisory Councils, The Emergency Medical Task Force, and hospitals. Determine strengths and weaknesses including challenges for rural areas of the state. Make recommendations to reduce any duplicated services, improve the coordination of services, and advance the delivery of trauma services in Texas. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Public Health)

12. Examine the historical growth of the Texas Medicaid program, including factors affecting caseload and cost trends. Review legislative or policy initiatives created to detect or deter waste, fraud and abuse; to reduce cost; or improve the quality of healthcare in the Texas Medicaid program. Evaluate the effectiveness of, and identify savings associated with, these initiatives.

13. Conduct a review of current public education programs administered by the Texas Education Agency that are funded outside of the Foundation School Program. Make recommendations to increase, decrease, or eliminate programs based on measurable performance and effectiveness.

14. Conduct a review of current funding formulas for community colleges. Specifically, focus on the elements of the instructional funding structure created by the 83rd Legislature: core operations, student success points, and contact hour funding and also the adequacy of state funding to sustain community colleges in light of the variance in resources available to individual colleges. Make recommendations for possible changes to the funding structure of community colleges or changes in the levels of current funding given the future workforce and higher educational needs of the state. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Higher Education)

15. Examine the formulas used to fund institutions of higher education. Study the initial development of the formulas and the underlying assumptions used. Make recommendations for new discipline weights, if necessary, evaluating any discrepancies in formula funding for the same program offered at different types of institutions and the inclusion of new medical schools on general academic campuses.

16. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Department of Public Safety’s use of funds appropriated during the 84th legislative session for border security operations. Examine existing data and reporting on border security metrics, and recommend improvements to ensure the availability of accurate information in considering sustaining or increasing border security funds.

17. Review historic funding levels and methods of financing for the state parks system. Study recent legislative enactments including the General Appropriations Act (84R), HB 158 (84R), and SB 1366 (84R) to determine the effect of the significant increase in funding, specifically capital program funding, on parks across the state.

18. Study the various methods of funding the state’s transportation network including recent legislative enactments such as Proposition 1 (83(3)) and Proposition 7 (84R). Review the current budget structure for the Texas Department of Transportation as it relates to transportation funding categories and make recommendations for future allocations to accurately address the transportation needs in the state.

19. Monitor the performance of state agencies and institutions, including operating budgets, plans to carry out legislative initiatives, planned budget reductions (if directed), caseload projections, performance measure attainment, implementation of all rider provisions, and any other matter affecting the fiscal condition of the agencies and the state. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

House Committee on Pensions Interim Charges

1. Study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. Analyze assumed rates of return on investments, structures among asset classes, long-term and shorter-term investment goals, and make appropriate recommendations to ensure the investment structure of public pension funds are meeting fiduciary responsibilities.

2. Examine Texas pension funds’ compliance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Financial Reporting Statements 67 and 68, and identify the effect the reporting requirements are having on the state’s pension systems.

3. Examine the immediate and long-term fiscal impact to the state of the unfunded liabilities for the Law Enforcement and Custodial Officer Supplemental Retirement Fund (LECOS) as part of the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS). Make appropriate legislative recommendations.

4. Examine the fiscal and policy impacts of structural reforms that would increase state public pension plans’ ability to achieve and maintain actuarial soundness. Evaluate the feasibility, costs, and benefits of utilizing one-time funding increases to reduce or eliminate unfunded liabilities.

5. Evaluate the investment performance benchmarks utilized by the state’s pension funds and the impact portfolio diversification and short- and long-term market assumptions have had on achieving expected investment returns. Analyze the fee structure and investment strategy for various investment classes to ensure the costs are reasonable and competitive versus other large public and private pension trust funds.

6. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementing of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

Of note, the interim charges issued to the House Committee on State Affairs also call for study of the payroll deduction issue that was the subject of highly contentious legislation earlier this year. The specific charge to that committee is as follows: “Examine payroll deductions from state or political subdivision employees for the purpose of labor organization membership dues or fees as well as charitable organization and nonprofit contributions. Determine if this process is an appropriate use of public funds.”

The interim charges issued to the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues exhibit some overlap with education concerns. They include a charge to “examine evidence-based practices around early education and parenting support and education programs;” a charge to “make recommendations to increase community and regional options and strengthen community services to reduce commitments to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department;” and another charge to “review juvenile justice penalties and sanctions determined by or disallowed by age of the juvenile.”

TTVStay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as interim committee hearings convene in both the House and Senate to examine these issues.

Legislative Update: Budget inches closer to completion, payroll deduction bill to be heard, and more

We’re a dozen days away from sine die. Read today’s latest updates on several bills of interest to the public education community.

State budget

Legislative leaders appear ready to vote on a budget compromise, which has been held up for a while because of conflicting views on how to cut taxes. Today, May 20, the conference committee for HB 1, the state appropriations bill, is meeting and is expected to begin taking votes on an agreement for the budget. Earlier today, the Senate Finance Committee also voted to approve a bill, HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), that permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The vote reflects the reported budget compromise in which the House would get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate would get some of the property tax relief it has sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal, while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, though, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate may have finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a highly controversial bill to eliminate educators’ ability to use payroll deduction for payment of their association dues, is going to be heard by the House State Affairs Committee tomorrow, May 21. ATPE will be testifying against the bill. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill failed, as we reported yesterday. Today the House agreed to let the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing that will take place at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The committee only has until Saturday to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill. The co-authors of SB 1968 are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R).

Read more about our opposition to the bill here.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-supported bills pertaining to suicide prevention training for educators are still on the move. Today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), which passed the House convincingly on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3. The Senate has already passed a similar measure, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), by a vote of 29 to 1. In addition to expanding the training available to educators, both bills would honor the memory of Jonathan Childers, who was the son of ATPE member and Fairfield ISD coach Kevin Childers. The family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News.

Educator preparation

Earlier today, May 20, the Senate Committee on Higher Education heard and voted out two bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. One bill, which ATPE supports, is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R). The bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. HB 1300 was unanimously approved by the committee today.

The committee also heard HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). ATPE supported HB 2205 in the House but testified against a substitute version of the bill in this morning’s hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including language taken from Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s HB 2566 that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes the new version of Crownover’s bill that would lower the standards for entrance into the profession. Current law requires candidates for educator certification to meet a minimum GPA requirement of 2.75, although the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has not yet implemented that requirement. There have been legislative proposals this session to reduce the minimum GPA requirement back to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The committee unanimously voted to approve the committee substitute for HB 2205 today.

House Public Education Committee actions

On Tuesday, May 19, the House Public Education Committee heard often contentious testimony on a pair of proposals to deregulate certain schools that are low-rated under the state’s accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against both bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R): SB 14 expanding the state’s existing parent trigger laws and SB 1241 to create “innovation zone” schools. Exter warned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated. He also noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favor, such as making elementary class sizes larger. Both bills were left pending for the time being.

As we reported yesterday, the House Public Education Committee has one last hearing planned for tomorrow, May 21, and the chairman announced on the House floor today which bills will be heard. The list includes SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to place video surveillance equipment in self-contained classrooms for students in special education programs. Also on the agenda is SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), which gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. The other bills on tomorrow’s committee agenda are SB 33 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) relating to the offense of hazing; SB 811 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) to provide non-English speaking parents with a translated copy of their students’ individualized education programs; SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) pertaining to courses offered at Houston-area school districts by certain public junior colleges; and SB 1494 by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D) to help homeless students with college applications and facilitating course credit and records transfers.

Senate Education Committee actions

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard 11 House bills, including HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements, and HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relating to student testing and curriculum standards. Both of those bills were voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making them more likely to pass. The committee also listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The Senate passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62. That bill remains pending.

Today, in addition to the suicide prevention training bill, the committee heard testimony on a couple more testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. The bills are pending.

The Senate Education Committee has one more meeting scheduled tomorrow, May 21, to vote out remaining bills that are pending and hear three House bills that Chairman Larry Taylor has referred to as “meaty.” The committee will hear two high-profile bills by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R): HB 1842 relates to interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools, while HB 2804 is the accountability overhaul that includes “A through F” accountability ratings for school campuses, which ATPE opposes. The committee will also consider HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to TEKS and instructional materials.

Updates on other bills

There have been no new developments on the governor’s emergency bill to increase funding for pre-Kindergarten programs. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) has been sitting on the House’s “Items Eligible” calendar for more than a week now after getting approved by the House and Senate in different formats. The House will either accept the Senate’s changes to the bill, refer HB 4 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions, or allow the pre-K bill to die on the House calendar if time runs out.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), has been taken off the Senate Intent Calendar this week. Having been previously juggled on and off the calendar, the bill has struggled to to gain adequate support for a floor hearing on account of its hefty fiscal note and heavy opposition to the bill by stakeholders, including ATPE. Taylor has another bill, SB 1897 dealing with the expansion of charter and virtual schools, that remains pending in the House, but the House Public Education Committee has not set that bill for a hearing with time running out.

Among other bills that also appear stalled – we hope – for the remainder of the session are SB 4, the private school voucher tax credit bill filed by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) and pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), and a bill backed by Texans for Education Reform to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose these harmful bills.

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding the use of epi-pens in schools to treat anaphylaxis will be headed to the governor’s desk soon. After the House passed an amended version of the Senate’s bill, the Senate voted on Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill. The vote was 24 to 7, with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against the motion.


Tune in tomorrow for another update here on our blog, and check out @TeachtheVote on Twitter in the meantime for additional reporting from our ATPE lobbyists.

Legislative Update: A flurry of activity this week as session winds down

We are now 13 days away from the end of this legislative session, and numerous education bills remain pending. Much of the attention is focused this week on House committees that have more restrictive deadlines than the Senate for consideration of bills. Specifically, this Saturday is the last day that House committees may report out Senate bills in order to keep them alive in the legislative process. That means a very busy week of hearings as the clock winds down on the 84th legislative session.

Today both the Senate Education and House Public Education committees are meeting to hear major bills with more hearings anticipated this week. First, the Senate Education Committee is hearing the following bills today:

  • HB 767        Smith | et al.          SP: Hinojosa
    Relating to cardiac assessments of participants in extracurricular athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.
  • HB 771        Deshotel                SP: Creighton
    Relating to funding for the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.
  • HB 1170       Farney | et al.         SP: Lucio
    Relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1474       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Eltife
    Relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund and payment of the instructional materials allotment.
  • HB 1559       Parker | et al.         SP: Taylor, Larry
    Relating to public school Internet website information concerning local programs and services available to assist homeless students.
  • HB 1706       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Burton
    Relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 1786       Dutton                  SP: Campbell
    Relating to the transfer of driver and traffic safety education from the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Public Safety to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation; changing the amounts of certain fees; amending a provision subject to a criminal penalty.
  • HB 2349       Aycock                  SP: Kolkhorst
    Relating to public school assessment, performance standards, and course requirements.
  • HB 2610       King, Ken | et al.      SP: Taylor, Larry
    Relating to the minimum number of minutes of instruction for students to be provided by public school districts and the scheduling of the last day of school for students by public school districts.
  • HB 2660       Howard | et al.         SP: Watson
    Relating to Foundation School Program funding for students enrolled in an optional flexible school day program.
  • HB 3106       Huberty | et al.        SP: Creighton
    Relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.

The Senate Education Committee will also meet tomorrow, May 19, and Thursday, May 20, to hear additional bills. Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee agenda includes suicide prevention training legislation that ATPE has requested this session and some fairly high-profile bills relating to student testing. Here is the full agenda for Wednesday:

  • HB 731        Lucio III               SP: Lucio
    Relating to a pilot program under the foundation school program for funding prekindergarten programs provided by certain school districts with early high school graduation programs.
  • HB 743        Huberty | et al.        SP: Seliger
    Relating to the essential knowledge and skills of the required public school curriculum and to certain state-adopted or state-developed assessment instruments for public school students.
  • HB 1164       VanDeaver | et al.      SP: Garcia
    Relating to the assessment of public school students in writing and English language arts.
  • HB 1171       Farney | et al.         SP: Lucio
    Relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 2186       Cook | et al.           SP: Campbell
    Relating to suicide prevention training for certain educators and other employees of a school district.
  • HB 2251       Anchia                  SP: Hancock
    Relating to an established schedule of payments from the foundation school fund of the yearly entitlement of certain open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 2593       Price                   SP: Seliger
    Relating to the sparsity adjustment for certain school districts under the Foundation School Program.
  • HB 3987       Farney | et al.         SP: Garcia
    Relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

For Thursday, the Senate Education Committee is currently slated to hear just one bill, but it’s a very significant one: HB 2804 is the accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A through F” accountability grades. ATPE opposes the bill, which the House passed late last week.

Meanwhile, the House Public Education Committee today is hearing several bills, including some controversial proposals backed by Texans for Education Reform (TER) to deregulate certain low-performing schools and subject them to alternative management. Those include Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 expanding the state’s existing parent trigger laws and SB 1241 to create “innovation zone” schools. ATPE opposes these bills. Other bills on the committee’s agenda today include the following:

  • SB 13         Perry | et al.
    Relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual credit courses and the development of public outreach materials.
  • SB 14         Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to empowering the parents of students to petition for the reconstitution, repurposing, alternative management, or closure of low-performing public school campuses.
  • SB 107        Whitmire | et al.
    Relating to the designation of campus behavior coordinators to serve at public school campuses and issues to be considered when removing a student from class.
  • SB 168        Uresti
    Relating to temporary waiver of superintendent certification for employment of public school district superintendents.
  • SB 382        Uresti
    Relating to public school educator continuing education credit for instruction on the use of an automated external defibrillator.
  • SB 471        Rodríguez | et al.
    Relating to reviews and investigations conducted by the Texas Education Agency.
  • SB 945        Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to funding under the public school finance system for a school district with a compressed tax rate below the state maximum compressed tax rate.
  • SB 968        West
    Relating to a prescription drug misuse awareness component of the health curriculum used in public schools
  • SB 1200       Taylor, Larry | et al.
    Relating to the creation of a commission to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability.
  • SB 1241       Taylor, Larry
    Relating to authority of school districts, home-rule school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools to establish innovation zones and the authority of school districts to obtain designation as districts of innovation.
  • SB 1309       Menéndez
    Relating to eligibility requirements for issuance of a teaching certificate to an applicant who holds a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor teaching certification.
  • SB 1896       Taylor, Larry
    Relating to providing public school students tutorials through the state virtual school network for end-of-course assessment instruments required for graduation.
  • SB 2062       Watson | et al.
    Relating to authorizing certain charter holders to provide combined services for certain adult and high school dropout recovery programs.

Also this week, a couple of bills dealing with educator preparation and certification are set to be heard by the Senate Committee on Higher Education. The committee will meet tomorrow morning, May 20, to hear several bills including HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) and HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). Click here to learn more about these two bills in our blog post from last week. Another educator preparation bill, SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), remains pending in the House Public Education Committee and could still be voted out. ATPE has opposed that bill since it would lower the standards for entrance into an educator preparation program.

Another bill of great interest to educators is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees the payroll deduction option for paying their association dues. ATPE opposes the bill, which has already passed the Senate and been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs. An attempt was made today to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill tomorrow. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed. While the House State Affairs Committee will not be holding a public hearing on the bill, that does not prevent the measure from being voted upon without testimony. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates this week as the deadline approaches.