Category Archives: interim charges

From The Texas Tribune: Will Texas school finance panel tell schools to do more with less? Some members think it’s predetermined

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
March 16, 2018

Justice Scott Brister, chairman of the Commission on Public School Finance, listens to a commission member at the panel’s second meeting Feb. 8, 2018. Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune.

A state panel responsible for proposing improvements to Texas’ embattled public school finance system is facing criticism from an unexpected source: some of its own members, who say the panel’s hearings seem geared toward a predetermined outcome of making schools do more with their current funding.

Texas school districts have repeatedly sued the state over the past few decades, arguing it hasn’t provided enough money to ensure public school students an adequate education. During the 2017 session, lawmakers failed to make immediate changes to how the state allocates money to public schools — and instead agreed to create a 13-member commission to undertake a longer-term study.

That panel, which includes appointees from House Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and the State Board of Education, has held four hearings since it was assembled in January. Its next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

In those hearings, some commission members argue, presentations by experts have been skewed toward making the case that schools do not necessarily need more money to produce better outcomes for students.

“There’s a steady stream of presenters … trying to convince us that there’s enough money in the system and that adding more will not show results — that districts are essentially spending the money incorrectly,” said State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, one of four members appointed by Straus.

He said the commission has also heard from school leaders with innovative ideas, such as how to keep the best teachers at the most challenging schools and how to use full-day pre-K to get students at an academic baseline early in life.

“Those two things without question cannot be funded or sustained with the current funding levels we have,” Bernal said. “Even the districts that piloted it said they were about to run out of money.”

But the panel’s chair, Scott Brister, disagreed that the hearings were staged for any predetermined outcomes. He said the Texas Education Agency’s staff has worked to bring experts who can provide a framework for how school finance works and what an adequate education looks like.

“You’ve got to figure out what you would like the schools to look like before you figure out whether you need more money or less money or where that money’s going to come from,” said Brister, a former state Supreme Court justice. Appointed to the commission by Abbott, Brister was the sole justice to dissent in a 2005 lawsuit brought by school districts claiming the school finance system was inadequate and inefficient. The court ruled in favor of the districts and forced lawmakers to overhaul the funding system.

“I’m not interested in spending more money and getting no change. What’s the point of that?” Brister said this week. “The Constitution requires school districts to be free and efficient. … Surely it means you don’t waste money on stuff that doesn’t work and doesn’t make a difference. That’s one of our constitutional standards. We have to consider it.”

Over the past decade, the state has decreased its share of public education funding, allowing rising local property taxes to make up the difference. Currently, less than 40 percent of school funding comes from the state, while local property taxes pay for more than half. In 2011, lawmakers cut more than $5 billion from schools to close a budget deficit and never completely restored the money.

Texans will have their first, and potentially only, chance on Monday to publicly address the commission. Texas school leaders and public education advocates are expected to spend several hours, if not the whole day, testifying that they want the state to invest more money in public schools, instead of relying on local property tax revenue, and that they cannot educate students on the budget they have.

“Only after you get past that question [of adequate funding] do you get to talk about how to spend that funding,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators, who plans to testify Monday. Exter said he sees three different groups on the commission: one that wants to increase funding to public schools, another that believes public schools are important but that increasing funding isn’t feasible, and a third that wants to defund public schools.

“My argument is that you haven’t funded us enough to get better outcomes,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, a member of the commission and chief financial officer of Austin ISD.

According to the TEA, Austin’s school district is expected to pay the state $545 million this school year to help subsidize poorer school districts, through a function of the school finance system nicknamed “Robin Hood.” Austin ISD has the highest Robin Hood payment in the state and has gone through several rounds of budget cuts over the last few years.

Johnson, who was appointed to the commission by Straus, agreed that the commission hearings seem to be skewed toward efficiency: “They want more for the same amount of resources.”

During the inaugural commission hearing in January, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch showed members a chart of 2011 student state test scores for school districts mapped against the amount of money those districts spent.

“There is a pattern here, but the pattern is not based on how much money is available,” he said. “In fact, the school district that performs the best is the school district that gets $2,000 less per student than the average funding.”

He suggested the state look into why certain school districts do better with less funding, and why others do worse with more. “Scholars and education experts are divided on the extent to which there is a demonstrable correlation between educational expenditures and the quality of education. The thing that matters is student outcomes,” based on test scores or high school graduation rates, he said.

Johnson and fellow commission member Doug Killian, the superintendent of Pflugerville ISD, pushed back on Enoch’s chart, pointing out the data was outdated and not comprehensive.

Chandra Villanueva, policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the commission should be trying to ask what schools need to educate students, instead of asking what they can do with existing resources. “Let the Legislature decide if they want to raise taxes or shift other priorities in the budget,” she said. “I don’t think the [commission] should prematurely tie their hands.”

The commission will split into three subcommittees to brainstorm recommendations to the Legislature at the end of the year on where the state should get revenue to fund public schools, how it should overhaul existing formulas to allocate funding more equitably, and what it should expect its public school students to achieve. Each subcommittee will get to decide whether and how to include the public in its discussions, according to Brister.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican chairing the panel’s revenue subcommittee, said it’s too early to say what those recommendations will look like.

“We’ve been drinking from the fire hose on public policy. I haven’t had any discussions with anybody yet to step back and get out of the line of fire and see where we are now. For me personally, I’m still in listening mode,” he said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Center for Public Policy Priorities have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at


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Your chance to talk to the school finance commission!

If you’re a regular Teach the Vote reader (as you should be!), you’ve probably been following our updates from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Now’s your chance to participate!

The commission was created as part of HB 21, which passed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill was a consolation prize to public education supporters disappointed with the Texas Senate’s decision to kill a school finance reform bill containing $1.5 billion in additional public school funding for the 2018-2019 budget biennium.

The commission’s titular purpose is to discuss and make recommendations for how to improve the state’s “lawful but awful” school finance system. The first few meetings have focused on broad issues such as demographics, funding, educator retention, and charter schools. While some of the invited witnesses – including ATPE executive director Gary Godsey – have provided important perspectives, the commission has also served as a forum for outside actors with a financial interest in promoting vouchers and other schemes that would weaken the public school system.

Members of the public will now get the chance to address the 13-member commission at the upcoming March 19 meeting. This will likely be the only time educators, parents, students, and other community members will be allowed to speak their minds in front of this group.

The commission will present its recommendations to the governor and legislature at the end of the year. These recommendations may include everything from how much to pay teachers to how many students can be assigned to a single classroom, or whether taxpayer dollars should be transferred from the public school system to subsidize private school tuition. Details of the meeting are as follows:

Texas Commission on Public School Finance

Monday, March 19, 2018 – 9:00 a.m.

William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104

1701 N. Congress Avenue, Austin TX

The commission will hear from invited witnesses before opening testimony to members of the public. Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. A sign-up sheet will be posted on the commission’s webpage two days prior to the meeting. Sign-up sheets will also be available at the meeting. Those who are unable to attend the meeting can e-mail their comments to The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide a livestream of the meeting that can be viewed here on Monday.

This meeting is expected to last well into the evening, but it is important that educators provide input. Consider that the state currently contributes just 38 percent of the cost for educating our students, down from a roughly 50-50 split a decade ago. As state lawmakers have gradually decreased the share the state chips in, school districts have been forced to increasingly rely on local property taxes to make up the difference. At the same time, some lawmakers are openly discussing ways to remove even more money from the system through vouchers and other forms of privatization. Here are some questions to think about when crafting your message if you plan to testify before the commission:

  1. What resources do you need to meet your students’ needs?
  2. What sorts of programs, benefits, or incentives would help attract and retain quality teachers?
  3. How would you explain the importance of making sure education dollars are spent on our public schools and not funneled out to private entities or used for other non-education purposes?
  4. Are you also a homeowner who pays property taxes? Increasing the state’s share of education funding to at least 50 percent would place less burden on school districts to raise local property taxes in order to keep their schools operating. How might this change help you as a taxpayer while also meeting the needs of our public schools?

There are plenty of resources available if you’d like to do your own research. You can search numerous articles here at Teach the Vote covering the entire universe of public education issues. You can also check out good primers such as this one by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. ATPE members who are considering testifying are also invited to contact our lobby team for any additional guidance.

We hope you take the time to stop by the meeting to testify or e-mail comments if you’re unable to make it. Let’s make sure our teacher voice is heard loud and clear!


House panel report includes education recommendations

On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness released its formal report containing recommendations for ensuring Texas remains the nation’s most desirable destination for relocating or opening up new businesses.

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) formed the committee in October 2017 in response to concerns that the 85th Texas Legislature pursued a number of legislative proposals that resulted in Texas dropping precipitously in the rankings of America’s Top States for Business.

“Texas has long enjoyed a booming economy and staggering job growth. Our economic strength has been predicated on a number of factors: high oil prices, geography, the tax and regulatory environment within the state, and the can-do attitude of millions of Texans,” Straus explained when he announced the committee. “However, there are forces, if left unchecked, that could derail the success our state has enjoyed.”

The committee conducted several hearings and weighed testimony from 42 prominent and influential witnesses from the business, law enforcement and local communities. The committee documented several findings related to education. Most notably, the report underscored the important role public schools play in ensuring the educated workforce necessary to sustain businesses operating in today’s economy. The following passage is taken directly from the committee’s report:

Public education teaches students basic skills before entering the workforce and fosters innovation. Policymakers must deal with school finance, examining not just the amount of money allocated for education, but how we distribute it — and how we can better incentivize public educators and institutions. The governor’s recently proposed 2.5 percent cap on property tax revenue will be detrimental to school funding since school districts receive 40 to 60 percent of property taxes across the state. The Texas House passed a 6 percent cap during the 85th Legislature, but the measure was killed by the Senate; this new proposal will severely reduce school resources unless more funding is appropriated by the legislature.

House Bill 21 of the 85th Legislature would have increased the state’s share of school funding and reduced the need for higher property taxes — easing the burden on homeowners — but the legislation died after being altered by the Senate. After all, how can the challenges facing the future competitiveness of the state’s workforce be addressed if Texas turns its back on its public school system, or does not address its method for allocating resources to public schools?

The importance of local control for school districts was stressed with the explanation that local control granted from the state is important for hiring staff and providing a safe campus for students. Educators want their graduates to meet the specific needs of where their district is located, which makes local control imperative for creating curriculum and making decisions about how to meet those needs. Testimony also demonstrated the need for presenting high school students with information about technical programs, rather than only promoting four-year universities. Public schools must address the needs of students with disabilities, but programs to help them transition to the workplace and speech, occupational and physical therapies are consistently underfunded.

Based upon these observations, the committee included a number of proposals specifically related to public education. From the report:

Recommendation: The legislature must prioritize funding for public education that is regularly adjusted to account for growth in population and inflation. Policymakers should closely examine the effectiveness of public education expenditures to ensure that dollars are used to maximize student success, and ensure the state’s academic accountability system increases the performance of schools and students.

  • In response to declines in state tax revenue, the 82nd Legislature reduced entitlement funding for public education by $5.4 billion. While subsequent legislatures have increased funding for public education, the majority of funds have been used only to cover costs created by the growth in the number of students.
  • Adjusted for increases in population and inflation, state spending on public education has decreased by nearly 16 percent since 2008. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of students who are classified as “economically disadvantaged” and are therefore more expensive to educate.
  • As the majority of new funding provided by the legislature simply addresses population growth, there have been few opportunities to invest in programs that have proven to increase academic achievement — such as technical career education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM courses, dual-credit offerings, and bilingual education.
  • As the state’s share of public education funding has declined, the burden on local property taxes and recapture payments has grown, eliminating any opportunity for local property tax rates to be reduced. About 54 percent of all property taxes paid in Texas are collected by school districts. Therefore, the fastest and most effective way to reduce the property-tax burden is for the state to pay more of the cost of public education.
  • Many of the school finance formula weights and allotments — such as the Cost of Education Index or Transportation Allotment — have not been updated or adjusted for the effects of population and inflation in more than two decades. Increases in state funding should be tied to regular adjustment of these weights, combined with the elimination of funding elements that are inefficient or no longer represent the diverse needs of Texas’ public education system.
  • The legislature must increase funding for special education programs and Early Childhood Intervention programs so that children with disabilities can successfully enter pre-kindergarten programs, while also providing more reliable funding for programs that help students with disabilities transition to the workplace.

Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) submitted the report Tuesday. It will be presented to the 86th Texas Legislature, which is scheduled to meet in January 2019. You read the full report here, courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

School finance commission studies funding in second meeting

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met for the second time Thursday in Austin, and began by voting State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) as vice-chairman. Justice Scott Brister, the commission chairman, outlined the working groups and expressed his intention to announce assignments by the next meeting.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting February 8, 2018.

Justice Brister announced upcoming meetings of the commission will be held February 22 and March 7. Members of the public will be able to testify before the commission at a meeting to be held March 19. These meetings will focus on successful programs across the state that are improving student results, payment for teachers, teacher recruiting and retention, and closing the gaps between demographic and income groups, among other things.

Brister invited members of the public to submit comments regarding the commission to Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) recommended the board consider the public use of tax dollars for charter schools, and whether there is an oversaturation of charters in areas where traditional public schools are already doing a good job.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath opened the day’s testimony with a presentation casting skepticism on the correlation between per-student funding and student performance from district to district. Morath nonetheless acknowledged that money does matter, and the picture could look very different from campus to campus within a district. Sen. West voiced interest in seeing the correlation between funding and performance and the campus level. House Public Education Committee Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) pointed out that comparisons using all dollars does not track how much spending actually makes it to the classroom.

Todd Williams, the education advisor for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, pointed out that more than half of Texas students are classified as economically disadvantaged, and emphasized that finding a way to improve the performance of economically disadvantaged students is the single most impactful means of improving student performance as a whole. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson noted that larger districts, which educate majority of Texas students, have a variety of unique funding needs, and countered that increasing funding would in fact have an impact on student outcomes.

Thursday’s agenda featured a panel of witnesses to discuss school finance trends. First up was TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who summarized the key revenue inputs to the school finance formula. These include the basic allotment, which comes from the Permanent School Fund (PSF), as well as local property taxes for maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S). Most revenue growth has come from local property tax collections, which have increase as a result of rising property values. Conley Johnson suggested that efforts should be made to make local taxpayers more aware of the impact recapture payments have on their contributions to local school funding.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), a persistent advocate for private school vouchers, stated his intent that with regard to the commission’s exploration of school finance factors, “What gets measured, gets fixed.” Sen. Bettencourt made multiple requests for data excluding I&S funding, which is used to service bonds used for the construction of new facilities as districts grow. Those who argue public schools already receive either enough or too much funding have recently begun to argue that I&S funding should not be included in data that show state funding for public schools has steadily decreased over time. The state’s share of public school funding has fallen from around fifty percent to just 38 percent of the total burden. The education budget approved by the 85th Texas Legislature spent around $2 billion less in state funds – choosing to shift that money onto local taxpayers as a result of rising property values.

Mathew Chingos, director of the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Program, compared Texas scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test to those of other states, and found that Texas performs relatively well in reading and math. According to Urban Institute’s analysis, Texas continues to lag average nationwide per-pupil spending, and poor students tend to receive $730 less local funding on average than non-poor students. That gap is narrowed when state and federal funding is incorporated. Chingos testified that district property wealth isn’t always indicative of student need, and median household income doesn’t necessarily correlate with per-student property wealth. He also pointed out district-level funding is not school-level funding, and districts may distribute resources in ways that either reinforce or counter state priorities. Chingos testified that research has shown that while it may not be the top driver, money does correlate with improved outcomes, and scatter charts previously used to question that correlation are somewhat problematic due to the complexity of school finance formulas.

Zahava Stadler, manager of policy and research for EdBuild, testified that Texas relies primarily on a student-based funding formula, but in a way that doesn’t fully realize the advantages of student-based funding. For example, Texas’ labyrinthine funding formulas don’t prove a simple and transparent expectation of funding for a given student. Morever, the local funding responsibility is not based upon clearly defined and uniform factors. Texas adjusts for economically disadvantaged students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch by funding them at an additional 20 percent for compensatory education services. According to EdBuild, parallel weights in other states range from five percent to 97 percent. Similarly, Texas funds English language learners (ELLs) at an additional ten percent, while parallel weights in other states range from 20 to 60 percent. The vast majority of Texas students fall into one or both of these categories.

Representing the Education Commission of the States, Michael Griffith and Emily Parker recommended align the school funding system to desired student outcomes. The system should be reviewed periodically to ensure it is aligned with student achievement goals. Lori Taylor from the Mosbacher Institute at Texas A&M University concluded the day’s testimony. Professor Taylor suggested cost estimates for educating economically disadvantaged students are so varied at least in part because student poverty is not well measured or uniformly defined. The kind of poverty felt by students in Houston may be very different from the kind of poverty felt by students in rural Texas. Cost estimates for ELLs are likewise varied due to factors such as age, native language and home environment. Taylor concluded that teacher quality is more impactful than class size when allocating spending, and districts could achieve higher performance with current levels of funding by replicating the best practices of high performing peers.

Responding to a question from Member Ellis, Professor Taylor suggested that the current Cost of Education Index (CEI) multiplier could be updated to within a range of 30 and 40 percent. The CEI is a core component of the current school finance system, but hasn’t been updated in decades.

School finance commission holds first meeting

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance held its first meeting Tuesday in Austin following its creation as part of House Bill (HB) 21, which was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s first special session. Justice Scott Brister, who was appointed chair of the commission by Gov. Greg Abbott, opened the meeting by reading a letter from the governor.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting January 23, 2018.

In the letter, Gov. Abbott stated three goals for the commission: To change the “defective” structure of school finance, foster innovation in public education, and explore alternatives to the property tax.

In his own opening remarks, Brister suggested the new federal tax law passed in December will increase the pressure to cut property taxes as a result of the elimination of federal income tax deductions for state and local property taxes, which have generally been useful to the owners of more expensive homes who itemize their taxes. The opening remarks quickly illustrated a divide between those seeking a holistic reform and improved outcomes versus those solely focused on cutting property taxes.

House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) expressed disappointment that the House and Senate were unable to move the ball forward on school finance reform last session and emphasized the fact that school finance reform and property tax relief go hand in hand. Noting that fixing the system is lawmakers’ responsibility, Chairman Huberty expressed hope that the commission will result in meaningful progress.

Brister announced the commission will subdivide into working groups on specific topics. Future meetings will largely be restricted to invited testimony only, although at least one future meeting will be open to testimony from members of the public.

Tuesday’s first witness was Justice Craig T. Enoch, invited to testify on the subject of a school finance legal framework. In his dissenting opinion from the school finance lawsuit known as Neely v. West Orange Cove CISD in 2005, Justice Enoch expressly advocated for school privatization. On Tuesday, Enoch immediately raised questions over whether the amount of spending on public schools correlates with outcomes – a viewpoint at odds with the vast majority of research. Justice Enoch concluded that lawmakers should move away from using property taxes as the baseline funding mechanism.

Next, state demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter addressed the student population in Texas. According to new population estimates, Texas is home to more than 28 million people. The state has added more than three million people over the past seven years, representing a 12 percent growth in population. Within the state, residents are migrating away from rural counties and urban cores and into the suburban rings. The school-age population continues to grow, as does the number of children living in poverty. Significant percentages of students in the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and the large urban cores do not speak English at home. Hispanic children represent the largest and fastest-growing ethnicity of children under the age of 18.

The final subject heading involved educational outcomes and featured testimony from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Commissioner Raymund Paredes, and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Andres Alcantar. Morath said the TEA maintains a “split focus on inputs versus outcomes,” highlighting the emphasis on “access” to a quality education and the ability of students to “achieve” their potentials. The commissioner explained the state wants graduates who are prepared to be engaged citizens and who are prepared to be productive. These outcomes are evaluated based upon high school graduation rates; college, career or military readiness (CCM-R); college completion; and employment. The main measurement tool is the STAAR test. Student poverty continues to rise, and currently 59 percent of Texas students are economically disadvantaged. Morath indicated poverty is the primary driver behind most poor performance issues, and he noted that prekindergarten has shown to significantly boost outcomes for economically disadvantaged students and English language learners (ELLs).

After a brief lunch break, Morath’s presentation suggested that across-the-board pay raises and improving class-size ratios by hiring additional teachers would have limited effects on improving student outcomes, while concluding that tying increased teacher pay to performance would yield the most significant improvements. Todd Williams, education advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, suggested schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students may need to offer better pay to attract the caliber of educators necessary to achieve positive change. Morath also defended the state’s “A through F” accountability system as a way to identify and replicate high performing schools.

Commissioner Paredes joined Morath in listing poverty and a lack of early childhood education as primary obstacles to student success. Paredes also seemed to make the case for teacher performance pay, citing a study that concluded paying the state’s top teachers $130,000 per year would cost less than remedial programs for students who arrive at college unprepared.

The commission will meet next on Thursday, February 8.


House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • 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 Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane 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.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.


Senators hear from commissioner, Houston education stakeholders on hurricane impact

The Texas Senate Education Committee met yesterday, Nov. 6, on the University of Houston campus to address interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey and hear from area education stakeholders on the effects of the devastating storm. Senators heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and representatives of school districts and charter schools, education service centers, and property tax appraisal districts.

The committee met to address two interim charges aimed at assessing the impact of Hurricane Harvey on school finance and better understanding needs related to the recovery efforts currently underway. Commissioner Morath presented information on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the storm and general data regarding its impact to affected schools and districts. The presentation included widely discussed statistics: 1.4 million students were directly impacted by the storm; another half a million were at schools impacted by the storm; all school districts have now reopened to varying degrees and did so on varying timelines; and over 100 school facilities were converted to shelters.

The Commissioner also discussed the effect of the storm on districts’ budgets and mentioned the agency’s efforts with regard to the Hurricane Harvey Task Force on School Mental Health Supports. Topics of discussion regarding budget impacts and next steps included: the strain placed on districts due to the lag in FEMA reimbursements from the federal government; the impact to districts without property reappraisal; the trouble faced by districts that don’t qualify for comprehensive facility insurance coverage; and the fact that six districts have requested an advance of funding due to costs related to higher enrollment.

The invited stakeholders who followed the Commissioner went into greater and more personal detail on the issues raised by the commissioner. For example, Aransas Pass ISD, which is among the most impacted of districts, still hasn’t accounted for approximately 300 of its students and is still working toward a path forward for the extreme damage suffered by its facilities. The district, like many affected districts, has altered the minutes in each school day to accommodate for the missed class time after the storm. It is also in the process of developing a plan to address an expected funding gap caused by a slow lag time in FEMA reimbursement and an uncertainty with regard to state gap or additional funding. The district superintendent testified that the plan could include a loss of 14 teachers and additional staff.

Most of the superintendents present at Monday’s hearing requested a “hold harmless” measure on accountability for schools and students affected by the storm, highlighting the extreme distress their students and communities are already under. The commissioner and Chairman Larry Taylor seemed less inclined to grant the waiver. Commissioner Morath reported that 140 affected-districts (a majority of those impacted) said testing schedules should not be changed due to Hurricane Harvey, and Chairman Taylor maintained that accountability exists for a reason; Taylor said he didn’t know what districts would do if they were told accountability was waived, saying, for example, that while the vast majority of teachers are in it for the right reasons, some may take it as an opportunity to not teach.

Committees are expected to make recommendations for the next legislature on interim charges issued by the lieutenant governor. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more from the committee on Hurricane Harvey related topics and other interim charges.

Lt. Gov. Patrick issues Senate interim charges

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released another round of interim charges today. Today’s list, a list of issues he expects Senate committees to study and make recommendations on ahead of the 86th Legislature beginning in 2019, includes charges directed at the Senate Education Committee and a few other committees relevant to public education.

Patrick’s education charges predictably include a nod to vouchers, an issue he has long supported, and one on teacher compensation, which received a lot of special session buzz but ultimately went nowhere. Perhaps somewhat more surprising, the Senate State Affairs Committee was not assigned the task of studying the use of payroll deduction for paying professional association dues. Patrick and Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who chairs the committee, have made prohibiting the practice for educators while protecting it as an option for other public employees a top priority. The committee was, however, assigned the task of studying public pension systems in Texas. The charge reads:

  • Pensions: Examine and assess public pension systems in Texas. Specifically, review and assess (1) the different types of retirement plans; (2) the actuarial assumptions used by retirement systems to value their liabilities and the consequences of amending those assumptions; (3) retirement systems’ investment practices and performance; and (4) the adequacy of financial disclosures including asset returns and fees. Make recommendations to ensure public pension system retirees’ benefits are preserved and protected.

The full list of interim charges assigned to the Senate Education Committee are as follows (this list does not include Senate interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey):

  • Teacher Compensation: Study current local, state, and/or national compensation strategies for classroom teachers and make recommendations to elevate the teaching profession as well as comprehensive policies to attract, retain, and reward teachers.
  • Mandate Relief/Innovation: Review, modify, or abolish chapters of the education code. Specifically, study cost-drivers, unnecessary mandates, reduction/elimination of inefficiencies, focus on policies or opportunities targeted to improving student outcomes, and better utilization of taxpayer resources.
  • Classroom Conduct and Teacher Support: Examine current student discipline mandates in code, study best practice models to reduce classroom discipline issues, and provide direct support for students and classroom teachers.
  • Expand High Quality Education Opportunities: Examine highquality campus/programs in Texas and other states and make recommendations on incentives to expand high-performing campuses and programs. Review should include but not be limited to: program and course variety, unique public school models, transfer or open-enrollment policies within a district, collaboration between districts or public charters, online learning, and whether children with special educational needs, children of military families, and student populations in chronically high poverty areas should have additional options to meet their unique educational needs.
  • Virtual Education in the 21st Century Classroom: Review the Texas Virtual School Network (TVSN) and recommend methods of updating and improving the system to boost online virtual education.
  • Dual Credit: Review dual credit opportunities throughout the state, examining the impact of HB 505 (84th Legislature) on students in particular. Look at the outcomes of statewide studies completed in Texas regarding dual credit, and examine the current rigor of dual credit courses, as well as how to improve advising for students in dual credit. (JOINT CHARGE with HIGHER EDUCATION)
  • Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 85th Legislature, relevant agencies, and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation including:
    • State matching of the federal E-rate program (SB 1),
    • Improper relationships between educators and students and reporting of educator misconduct (SB 7), Establishment of a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) and workforce pathways (SB 22),
    • A prohibition of a monitoring system performance indicator based solely on the number or percentage of students receiving special education service (SB 160),
    • A school district contracting to partner with an open-enrollment charter school to operate a district campus (SB 1882).

The Senate interim charges released to date can be found here, here, and here (Hurricane Harvey specific).

Speaker Straus releases House interim charges

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) released interim charges Monday for the Texas House of Representatives. Interim charges are customarily issued between legislative sessions, and outline the work to be done by lawmakers before they meet again. Speaker Straus issued more than 230 charges Monday, focusing largely on Hurricane Harvey.

“This is an opportunity for the Legislature to better understand the impact of the storm, to evaluate the response of state agencies and to prepare for future disasters,” Straus said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Hurricane Harvey will impact just about every major issue in the next legislative session, and the House should be fully prepared for that moment.”

The Speaker also created a new Select Committee on Opioids and Substance abuse, to be chaired by state Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Vice-Chair Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso). The charges include directing lawmakers to examine Harvey-related funding, both from the state and federal government. The Speaker ordered the Committee on Appropriations to continue to study the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), which is commonly referred to as the “rainy day fund,” with a focus on strategies to generate additional revenue for state obligations without compromising the fund’s intended purpose.

The Appropriations Committee is also ordered to study the sustainability of TRS-Care, which remains underfunded by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars after the House successfully spearheaded stopgap legislation during the 85th Texas Legislature that kept the program from disappearing completely. The charge directs lawmakers to consider options for funding TRS-Care, especially as it pertains to contributions being based on active employee payroll rather than the cost of health care, which has increased more quickly than state funding.

The Higher Education Committee and Public Education Subcommittee on Teacher Quality are jointly charged with reviewing current data available to the public about Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and making recommendations to ensure the data is transparent, user-friendly, and actionable. The committees are ordered to review the current EPP accountability system and recommend any new indicators or changes, including evaluating the ability of programs to meet the workforce needs of school districts by preparing teachers for high-needs areas, and determine ways to measure the effectiveness of teachers prepared by individual programs. For traditional EPP programs, the committees are asked to make recommendations on how to more fully involve boards of regents in an effort to elevate the importance of teacher preparation within our state institutions. Finally, they are asked to examine current joint partnerships between EPPs and public schools to meet regional workforce needs, and make recommendations on how to scale these partnerships.

Speaker Straus issued eight charges to the Public Education Committee. The first three were issued last month as part of a set of Harvey-specific interim charges:

1. Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Hurricane 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. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

2. 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 Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

3. Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane 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. (Issued on September 14, 2017)

4. Review current state mechanisms for identifying and rewarding educators through state-level strategies. Examine how providing additional funding to enhance compensation in districts facing a shortage of experienced, highly rated teachers would affect retention and teacher quality, in addition to whether it would encourage teachers to provide additional services through extracurricular activities, tutoring, and mentoring.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Review the charter school system in Texas. Determine if changes are needed in the granting, renewal, or revocation of charter schools, including the timeline for expansions and notification of expansions to surrounding districts. Review the educational outcomes of students in charter schools compared to those in traditional schools, and to what extent schools participate in the alternative accountability system. Monitor the implementation of facilities funding for charter schools. Consider differences in state funding for charter schools compared to their surrounding districts and the impact on the state budget. Consider admissions policies for charters, including appropriate data collection to assess demand for additional charter enrollment, compliance with access by students with disabilities and the effect of exclusions of students with criminal or disciplinary histories. Consider differences in charter and district contributions to the Teacher Retirement System on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

8. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee will also specifically include: H.B. 21 (85R), H.B. 22 (85R), and S.B. 179 (85R).

The full list of House interim charges can be viewed by following this link.

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

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

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing in two weeks to consider and make recommendations on responses to issues facing Texas public schools as a result of Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. The hearing will be held at the University of Houston on Monday, Nov. 6, at 10 am, and will focus on (1) changes to the Texas Education Code to improve recovery efforts and (2) adjustments to school finance calculations or laws that might better address issues resulting from student displacement.

Last week the House Public Education Committee held its own hearing to address Hurricane Harvey, and several other committees in both the House and Senate have conducted related hearings. Senate Education Committee meetings are typically webcast live here. Check back for more on this hearing and other Harvey related updates in the coming weeks.


Early vote pic from EANext week begins the early voting window for the Nov. 7 election, featuring proposed constitutional amendments and other local ballot measures. ATPE has published a number of voting resources to help you prepare for the upcoming election, along with the critical primary elections that will be taking place in Texas in March 2018. Check it out in our post for the ATPE blog here.


ATPE's Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

ATPE’s Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

This week, ATPE representatives attended the annual conference of the Coalition of Independent Education Associations (CIEA). The annual event, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee this year, brings together staff members and volunteer leaders from non-union-affiliated educator associations around the country. Conference attendees have opportunities to network and share ideas about topics such as membership recruitment and services, legal and legislative advocacy, and best practices for marketing and communications.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday were presenters at the conference, joined by ATPE State President Carl Garner and ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand.


Retirement planning written on a notepad.Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) held its fourth annual symposium on Texas pension plans this week. ATPE has been a member of the TSR coalition and has held a seat on the TSR board as one of the primary advocates for maintaining the health of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). TRS is the state’s largest defined-benefit pension plan.

The symposium was held in Austin on Thursday, Oct. 19, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and provided this summary. The event kicked off with pension consultant Ronnie Jung, former TRS executive director, and investment professional Will Harrell of Robert Harrell, Inc. discussing how to effectively evaluate pension plans.

Next former House Pensions Committee Chairwoman Vicki Truitt moderated a panel that included current state representatives and members of the House Pensions committee Roberto Alonzo and Justin Rodriguez, as well as Houston City Controller Chris Brown. The three of them talked about state and local political issues surrounding the operations and funding of the state’s many public pension systems.

The third presentation was by Phillip Ashley from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts on an innovative approach to funding pension plans using the earning potential of the state’s rainy day fund.

Finally Maura Powers of the American Federation and State, County, and Municipal Employees and Angela Melina-Raab a former adjunct professor of ERISA law at U.T. School of Law spoke about legislation that is being pushed in 26 states and was filed in Texas during the 85th regular session to provide a state-run pension-style plan for private sector employees.

You can watch archived footage of the event at