Category Archives: House Public Education Committee

House committee discusses school security issues

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

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

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

House Public Education Committee meeting June 27, 2018.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Committee on Appropriations

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

Committee on Public Education

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

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

Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence

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

Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 


 

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

 


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

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

 


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

ATPE educator talks ed prep with state lawmakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House committee looks at testing, special ed issues

The House Committee on Public Education met Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to testing and special education. The interim charges are assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and are generally composed of a detailed list of topics for each standing committee to research and discuss before the next legislative session. The following charges were on Thursday’s agenda:

  • Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

After updating the committee on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the Santa Fe school shooting and recent STAAR test glitches, Commissioner Mike Morath began his testimony by summarizing the overall design of the STAAR test and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) upon which tests are based. Morath pointed to one idea, splitting the STAAR test into sections to allow more flexible scheduling, that he suggested may require legislative guidance before ordering further agency research.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 24, 2018.

Members of the committee raised questions about the writing test, in particular with regard to grading methods. Morath indicated that a writing program created as a result of legislation by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) has yielded useful information, and noted that additional appropriation to continue the program would be a positive step.

Rep. VanDeaver asked Morath how much money could be saved by eliminating standardized tests that are required by the state, but not by federal law. House Bill (HB) 515 filed by VanDeaver during the 2017 legislative session would have eliminated tests not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and was estimated to result in a savings of $7 million. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Other invited testimony included a panel of superintendents who testified to the overreliance on standardized tests for everything from student advancement to school accountability. Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis asked the committee to consider eliminating a single summative assessment at the end of the year in favor of multiple formative assessments and reducing the number of assessed standards. Doug Williams, Superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD, voiced support for dividing the STAAR into sections, ongoing diagnostic assessments, and making substantial changes to the writing portion of the exam. Part of the panel discussion touched on allowing teachers to directly grade writing exams, in other to provide better feedback and analysis.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the committee on the specificity of the TEKS, teaching versus testing, and corollary applications to the teacher pipeline. Other public testimony focused on portfolio assessments, such as rubrics developed by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

After a brief break, the committee turned its focus to special education. TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn walked members through the corrective action plan prepared by the agency to address the de facto cap on special education enrollment that resulted in a federal rebuke. Schwinn emphasized that current and future guidance indicates students with dyslexia should not be arbitrarily confined to Section 504 programs, but may qualify for special education services depending on the individual.

A number of advocacy organizations were invited to testify regarding the agency’s actions. Among the concerns raised by special education advocates was the timeline for implementation. Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities presented the dichotomy between progress at the policy level and frustration felt by parents looking for meaningful results. Masey also noted there hasn’t exactly been a surge in special education enrollment after the cap was lifted. Heather Sheffield with Decoding Dyslexia suggested policymakers explore a way to enforce the Dyslexia Handbook developed by TEA.

Additionally, advocates asked for per-pupil funding for dyslexia, as well as having adequate instructional time and funding for both training and staffing. One advocate testified that training alone for a special education teacher can top $5,000. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter thanked the committee for the work done last session to address the cap, as well as funding weights for special education. Exter drew the committee’s attention to districts’ ability to provide external services already. While therapeutic and educational services are both available, the primary focus of special education should be on educational services, and any therapeutic services covered by district or state funds should be in furtherance of the educational objectives.

Commissioner update on Santa Fe shooting, STAAR glitches

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) opened Thursday’s interim meeting of the House Committee on Public Education by acknowledging the tragic school shooting in the town of Santa Fe, south of Houston. The chairman invited Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath to update the committee on the agency’s response to date.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addressing House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

Morath indicated that the agenda is providing attendance waivers and working to secure federal school violence funds for Santa Fe ISD. The commissioner is participating in a series of roundtable discussions on school shootings hosted this week by Gov. Greg Abbott, and testified that he is evaluating ideas raised in these discussions to determine which are actionable. While some ideas could be implemented by the agency, others would require legislative action.

“The challenges are legion,” said Morath, noting that Texas is home to some 8,600 school campuses.

Elaborating on the school violence funds available from the U.S. Department of Education through Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants, Morath said Broward County Florida, the site of the Parkland school shooting, received roughly a million dollars. Any additional federal funding would likely require a congressional appropriation.

Asked by Chair Huberty to explain the delay in information reaching Santa Fe High School parents on the day of the shooting, Morath explained medical reporting on casualties and the process of investigating and securing the premises both took time. Morath pointed out the response included 12 law enforcement agencies, and suggested more interdisciplinary drills could be helpful.

Wrapping up the discussion, Huberty indicated that he has been involved in talks with other state leaders to develop a joint effort to address school shootings next session.

Huberty also asked the commissioner to update the committee on the most recent glitch during STAAR test administration. Morath said the latest involved 29,000 mostly special education students who were taking the test online. A subcontractor for ETS, the test administrator, was performing a “bug fix” that resulted in servers dramatically slowing down. The agency is issuing a letter to administrators regarding the problem and is waiving School Success Initiative (SSI) requirements for Fifth grade students affected by the glitch. These 29,000 students will be factored out of local and district accountability unless including them would raise campus and district scores.

Huberty point out this is the second year in the past three to see problems under the ETS contract. Morath testified the agency has levied a $100,000 fine against ETS and will rebid the contract beginning in June.

Public Education committee looks at A-F implementation

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday for an interim hearing on the implementation of school finance, accountability, and bullying legislation, in addition to an update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez kicked off testimony with an update on money given out as part of a two-year hardship grant program under House Bill (HB) 21, as well as additional facilities funding for charter schools. Associate Commissioner Monica Martinez provided a briefing on new autism and dyslexia grant programs under the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that the hardship grants as well as the autism and dyslexia grant programs will expire without additional legislation. Additionally, the bill contained a one-time payment into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

House Public Education Committee interim hearing April 18, 2018.

A representative from Houston ISD testified that the district faces a $150 budget deficit this year and a projected $320 million deficit in the next fiscal year due to the district entering recapture. The district submitted a number of recommendations, including increasing funding weights for bilingual, English as a second language (ESL), and special education students, restoring the state’s share of funding to 50 percent, increasing transportation funding, and doing away with the recapture system.

A number of witnesses testified with respect to the hardship grants, warning that some small districts could face closure without further action to extend the grants or create an alternative source of revenue.

Lopez next updated the committee on the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 179, or “David’s Law,” which addresses bullying and cyberbullying. The law requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a website with resources for school districts. Huberty noted that more work must be done to inform districts, students, and parents of the various provisions of the new law.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath provided another update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system. A total of 60 counties fell under the governor’s disaster proclamation, and 1.5 million students were in an affected school district. Morath noted that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been an important source of long-term recovery funds, the agency has been slow in making funds available.

The agency has launched a variety of mental health services, and provided accountability flexibility to affected districts. This includes waivers from 5th and 8th grade math and reading exams for all students affected by the storm. At the school and district level, the agency collected information regarding full and partial facility closures or relocations, student displacement, and staff displacement. According to Morath, at least 112,000 students were displaced statewide. Those three sets of data will be used to develop a rule to determine whether an accountability rating is issued to a particular school. Morath indicated a proposed rule will be published in the Texas Register sometime in early June, and the number of exempt schools could number over a thousand.

Morath suggested the final rule for Harvey-affected schools will be “substantially more generous” than the rule developed following Hurricane Ike in 2008. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) told Morath she would like to see a rule that provides for entire districts to be exempt from accountability ratings as well, though Morath offered no indication whether the agency is inclined to move in that direction. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) asked TEA to help develop recommendations for additional revenue sources for public education. Chairman Huberty warned TEA to leave that work to legislators.

The storm caused some $970 million worth of damage to public schools. Morath estimated lawmakers would be faced with the need to pass a supplemental appropriation to cover an associated decline in maintenance and operations (M&O) property values of roughly $500 million to $1 billion.

Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones testified about the storm’s devastating impact on the state’s largest school district, and the associated financial difficulties. The district asked for a one-year accountability pause, such as was provided after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, for all schools in a county that fell under the governor’s disaster declaration. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) asked how the district’s ten worst-performing schools were impacted, all of which are labeled “improvement required” under the current state accountability system and face imminent sanctions. The district indicated those schools sustained damage as well, and contended that a pause would not prevent those schools from being subject to potential TEA takeover, since a decision on each of those schools is required by April 24.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on HB 22, which made changes to the forthcoming “A through F” accountability system. TEA released a framework of the new system last week. Morath summarized that framework, and testified that cut points are being based upon last year’s performance and will be set for the next five years. District A-F ratings will be released in August, while individual campuses will continue to be labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campus A-F ratings will be released in August 2019.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that the local accountability system provided by HB 22 could be promising. Under the first domain, Chambers suggested changing the weights for STAAR; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR); and graduation rates from 40/40/20 under the current framework to a more even 33/33/33 or 35/35/30. Chambers also lamented the lack of indicators other than STAAR for grades three through eight under the new system, which represents a regression from the previous system.

Chambers asked that a greater weight under the CCMR indicator be given to students who complete a concurrent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses. Critically, Chambers cautioned that policymakers will be disappointed with the results of any accountability system until resources are aligned with what is asked of students and schools.

Spring Branch ISD Executive Director of Accountability and Research Keith Haffey similarly testified to the complete reliance on STAAR at the elementary level, and suggested considering additional metrics. One such metric could credit schools that fully transition English language learners (ELLs) to English. Additionally, one of the flaws of the new system is that the scoring limits credit given to students who take college pathway assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, which acts as a disincentive for districts to offer these valuable exams. Huberty engaged Morath and Chambers in a conversation regarding the feasibility of providing a state appropriation to cover the cost of providing these assessments.

Dee Carney, an associate with school finance firm Moak, Casey and Associates, introduced model runs under the new accountability system. According to the models, most schools are unlikely to earn an “A” rating under the first domain. Carney testified that the additional of non-test indicators helps raise scores. The remainder of the day’s testimony largely focused on the system’s heavy reliance on the STAAR test.

House Public Education hears Harvey costs

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday in Austin to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the disastrous hurricane that wrecked Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to investigate the costs and potential actions the state could take to aid recovery efforts.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

“We need to understand what you need,” Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told superintendents preparing to testify at Monday’s meeting. As of today, all but two of the school districts affected by the storm have reopened, but Port Aransas ISD and Aransas Pass ISD remain closed.

The committee first heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Nine districts closed for four weeks or more as a result of the storm, which affected some 1.4 million students. More than 100 schools became emergency shelters during the storm, and the commissioner credited educators with countless “acts of heroism” that saved thousands of lives.

“I think we can all be proud of educators in Texas,” Morath told the committee.

Morath detailed the agency’s efforts to aid district, including creating a website that operates similar to a “wedding registry.” Impacted districts can list needed supplies, such as instructional materials, which can be viewed by other districts interested in making donations.

Four districts have applied for accelerated funding as a result of increased enrollment due to students transferring from storm-affected districts. Morath explained that this is a cash-flow issue which will not have a negative impact on the state budget. However the commissioner has exercised emergency authority to hold districts losing students harmless from funding losses. The measure is expected to cost $250 million in additional state funding, along with $150 million in waived recapture payments, for a total cost of $400 million.

The commissioner noted that lagging appraisals mean affected homeowners are still scheduled to pay the same property taxes this year as if the storm had never occurred, and will not see any reduction in property values until next year. Notwithstanding that, property tax collections could decrease if homeowners abandon or sell their homes. This could have a negative impact on the ability of districts to cover existing bond payments.

Districts receive state formula funding based on expected property tax revenues, which means a rapid decline in actual collections will result in less funding than budgeted. Districts will be able to request reappraisal of property values in order to offset these losses through higher state aid or lower recapture payments, but there will be a lag until the 2018-2019 school year. Chairman Huberty pressed TEA to run reappraisals for all affected districts, which Commissioner Morath agreed to try and provide within the next few weeks.

Chapter 42 districts, which serve 74 percent of students affected by the storm, can only receive additional funding if the commissioner declares there will be a surplus in foundation school program (FSP) funds at the end of the fiscal biennium. Morath cautioned this could create a significant supplemental appropriation requirement when the 86th Texas Legislature meets in January 2019, and suggested TEA could be in a position to determine the existence of any actual surplus in six months. The dilemma sparked earnest discussion among committee members who fought to pass legislation in 2017 to reform the school finance system.

“We’re going to have to have a meaningful conversation sooner, rather than later,” said Huberty.

The state also anticipates spending an additional $266 million as students made homeless by the storm qualify for new categories of weighted funding that the state is obligated to cover. This includes additional enrollment in programs for which homelessness is a qualifying factor, such as pre-Kindergarten.

Morath noted some educator candidates faced State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) paperwork deadlines during the storm, and lamented that he did not have authority to provide waivers or exemptions from SBEC requirements.

Following the commissioner, five panels of school superintendents testified regarding the costs incurred by their individual districts. Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said more than 1,000 students remain displaced by the storm, and has had many students enroll from other districts. The district already faces $16 million in losses, including $8.5 million for a single school that did not have flood insurance, and will have to dip into its reserves to cover this cost.

Houston ISD Chief Financial Officer Dr. Rene Barajas said more than 200 campuses were impacted by the hurricane, 75 of which were severely damaged. Six elementary schools remain unopened, affecting some 5,000 children. Some of those campuses could require full replacement. Dr. Barajas called $78 million “a very conservative estimate” for the district’s total cost. Barajas suggested the state keep property values frozen for the next two years in order to protect formula funding for Houston and other Chapter 41 districts. According to Dr. Barajas, the district anticipates reappraising property values would have a negative budget impact.

Chairman Huberty also pressed TEA to assist children who newly qualified for free lunches. The committee did not address how the storm may affect school accountability scores, and whether certain state assessments should be delayed. The chairman suggested the committee is prepared to consider accountability at a future meeting in the next two to three weeks.

Speaker Straus issues interim charges on Hurricane Harvey

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued five interim charges today related to Hurricane Harvey. He tasked three House committees, including the House Committee on Public Education, with studying issues related to the recent hurricane as well as preparations for future natural disasters. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) plans to hold a public hearing on the charges in the coming weeks.

The five interim charges:

  • Committee on Appropriations: Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
  • Committee on Public Education: Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.
  • Committee on Public Education: Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Committee on Public Education: Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.
  • Committee on Natural Resources: Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

Speaker Straus plans to release a full list of interim charges, which will include additional charges related to Hurricane Harvey, in the next couple of months. His full press release on the announcement can be read here.

House Public Education Committee winds down in busy special session

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Over the two days, they considered a dozen bills and voted three out of committee. Many of the bills considered were outside the scope of the Governor’s call outlining the subjects to be considered during the special session. But as Chairman Dan Huberty relayed to one testifier, the committee had heard bills addressing everything on the call that was assigned to the House Public Education Committee, and any additional bills they heard were those filed that addressed real issues public schools in our state are facing. Huberty expressed that his committee was a serious one and would take any opportunity given to them to further the important policy discussions facing Texas students and schools.

In addition to other issues, the committee discussed bills dealing with aspects of school finance, including the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) being phased out soon, and teacher merit pay programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified on one such merit pay plan, House Bill (HB) 354 by Rep. Jason Villalba. Exter commented that, while underfunded, the underlying formula the bill proposed to fund districts whose teachers agreed to participate in a local merit pay plan was a potentially promising way to fund a future merit pay system should stakeholders be able to agree on the parameters of the merit pay proposal itself.

The committee voted out three bills Wednesday morning. Committee members moved HB 198 by Rep. Travis Clardy after Chairman Huberty offered a complete committee substitute for the bill that as originally filed has the backing of the governor’s office. The committee’s new substitute version took the bill from being a TEA commissioner-developed merit pay plan to a commission that will study teacher compensation. The commission would include six legislators, six stakeholders; including two classroom teachers, and the commissioner of education or his designee. The Committee also moved HB 378, a final attempt by Representative Ken King to negotiate a deal that extends ASATR funding to districts that will be hit hardest by the scheduled conclusion of this 2006 “hold harmless” provision. Finally, the committee moved SB 16 by Sen. Larry Taylor, which calls for a commission to study school finance. Before moving Chairman Taylor’s bill, the committee substituted it with the language from HB 191 by Rep. Phil King, which also calls for a Commission on School finance but proposes a slightly different composition of committee members.

These hearings likely mark the last regular hearings for the House Public Education Committee during the current special session.

House Public Education sets focus on school finance

The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the special session Monday at the Texas Capitol. After championing public education during the regular session, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) made clear that the committee will continue to devote its time to real solutions to public education issues, beginning with school finance.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting July 24, 2017.

HB 21 by Chairman Huberty remains House leadership’s priority school finance bill, and the refiled special session version contains a few changes from the engrossed version approved by the Texas House during the regular session. The current bill would roll the transportation and high school allotments into the basic allotment, which would increase by $375 to $5,140 from $4,765, and would increase the guaranteed level of state support for interest and sinking (I&S) funding. HB 21 would create a weighted allotment for students with dyslexia or related disorders and increase the weight for the bilingual allotment. The legislation adds $25 million in charter school funding and would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment over a five year period. It includes $159 in hardship assistance grants for districts that are scheduled to lose funding under additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR).

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 21, pointing out that the committee’s decision to focus on meaningful school finance solutions sends a strong message that the Texas House continues to put children first. ATPE supported HB 21 during the regular session as well.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty is identical to HB 23 filed during the regular session, which would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 61 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would grant school districts required to reduce their wealth per student the ability to count their transportation allotment against the total amount of attendance credits the districts is required to purchase.

HB 62 by Rep. Hinojosa would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to reduce the taxable value of property of a school district that provided social security coverage for district employees before January 1, 2017, by a percentage of value equal to the percentage of the district’s required contribution for social security coverage.

HB 194 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would gradually increase the small-sized district adjustment under the Foundation School Program over a five year period and eliminates the bracketing to districts that contain at least 300 square miles. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 197 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would increase the weight for the bilingual education allotment to .25 from .1. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 234 by Vice-chair Bernal would increase the weight for the compensatory education allotment to .25 from .2. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 258 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would increase the basic allotment by $1,075 and increase weighted funding for bilingual education and students with disabilities. It would also eliminate the high school allotment and increase the guaranteed level of funding per cent of tax effort. Additionally, HB 258 would order a study of the funding weights and a review of the state’s school finance system following each legislative session. ATPE supports this bill.

All bills were left pending Monday. The committee is scheduled to convene Tuesday morning to discuss additional legislation.