Category Archives: interim charges

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 https://www.facebook.com/texansr.org/

 


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

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 29, 2017

Happy Friday from ATPE! Here’s a wrap-up of this week’s education news:

 


17-18_web_HurricaneHarveySenate committees will soon be convening interim hearings to discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a series of interim charges related to the hurricane for nine Senate committees, including the Senate Education Committee, to study. Read more about the education-related charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committees are similarly studying hurricane-related issues in response to interim charges issued recently by House Speaker Joe Straus. One such hearing of the House Appropriations Committee will take place Monday in Houston.

 


Texas has finalized its state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). After considering input from ATPE and other stakeholders on a draft ESSA plan released this summer, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) filed its final plan this week with the federal government. Read more about the plan in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationMore than two dozen Texas public schools have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon schools for 2017. The elementary, middle, and high schools receiving the honors were nominated by TEA officials in recognition of their performance on student assessments, and all of the recognized schools have a student population that is at least 25 percent economically disadvantaged. ATPE congratulates the students and staffs of these 26 Blue Ribbon schools located in Texas:

  • Amarillo ISD – Whittier Elementary School
  • Banquete ISD – Banquete Elementary School
  • Birdville ISD – Smithfield Elementary School
  • Dallas ISD – Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Dallas Environmental Science Academy
  • Dallas ISD – Irma Lerma Rangel Women’s Leadership School
  • Edinburg CISD – Austin Elementary School
  • Edinburg CISD – Jefferson Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Green Elementary School
  • El Paso ISD – Silva Health Magnet
  • Galveston ISD – Austin Middle School
  • Gunter ISD – Gunter Elementary School
  • Houston ISD – Eastwood Academy
  • Houston ISD – Lyons Elementary School
  • Jim Ned CISD – Lawn Elementary School
  • Judson ISD – Crestview Elementary School
  • KIPP Houston – KIPP Shine Prep
  • La Porte ISD – Jennie Reid Elementary School
  • Laredo ISD – Hector J. Garcia Early College High School
  • Los Fresnos ISD – Rancho Verde Elementary School
  • Montgomery ISD – Montgomery Intermediate School
  • Oakwood ISD – Oakwood Elementary School
  • San Antonio ISD – Travis Early College High School
  • Whitehouse ISD – Stanton-Smith Elementary School
  • Wylie ISD (Wylie) – RF Hartman Elementary School
  • Ysleta ISD – Valle Verde Early College High School

 


 

Lt. Gov. Patrick releases interim charges on Harvey

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released his list of interim charges pertaining to Hurricane Harvey on Thursday, Sept. 28. The list directs nine Senate committees to study and make recommendations on a total of 25 issues related to the recent disaster.

Two of those charges were sent to the Senate Education Committee, where the committee will be tasked with addressing recovery efforts for the 60 counties with public schools affected by storm (according to the most recent tally released by the Texas Education Agency). The committee will also look at school finance issues as a result of Hurricane Harvey and future response to natural disasters. The Senate Education Committee interim charges are as follows:

  • Assess and make recommendations for state and local K-12 hurricane recovery efforts. Examine the crisis management response of the Texas Education Agency and identify changes to the Education Code that would expedite the state response to school districts and public charter schools in the aftermath of any disaster.
  • Determine the impact on school finance of possible state actions such as, but not limited to, changes to student enrollment calculations or property valuation. Assess student displacement caused by Hurricane Harvey and consider actions the Commissioner of Education may take to adjust attendance levels or calculations in the wake of a disaster. Make recommendations for legislative action including potential changes to the process and timeliness of payments to districts by private insurers, FEMA and the state.

The full list of Senate interim charges can be viewed here. Speaker Straus released the House interim charges on Hurricane Harvey earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on hearings and other news regarding all of the Harvey-related interim charges.

Interim TRS health care study offers grim prognosis

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThe Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature this week. The committee was formed in response to 2015 legislation calling for a review of the health insurance plans administered by TRS and recommendations for reforms that would address financial soundness of the plans, cost and affordability, and access to health care providers.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R) and Rep. Dan Flynn (R) co-chaired the committee, joined by four additional members: Sens. Craig Estes (R) and Jane Nelson (R) and Reps. Trent Ashby (R) and Justin Rodriguez (D). The committee held two public hearings earlier this year, and ATPE gave invited testimony in April urging lawmakers to boost state funding in order to catch up with the increased costs that have been shouldered by educators for many years.

TRS-Care

For TRS-Care, the state’s health care plan for retired educators, the committee observed predictions of “alarming” shortfalls over the next four years with about 20,000 educators retiring each year and the cost of health care steadily increasing. For the 2018-19 biennium, a funding shortfall is predicted between $1.3 and $1.5 billion, and the deficit for 2020-21 could be as much as $4 billion. The report states as follows:

“As there appears to be no end to the rising costs and financial woes of TRS-Care, long-term solutions must be pursued immediately. Providing supplemental funding each biennium to keep TRS-Care solvent is no longer feasible or fiscally responsible. Major plan design and/or funding changes must be sought in the 85th Legislative Session.”

The interim committee report outlines two options for retiree health care, both of which are likely to be controversial. The first is a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) and Medicare Advantage Plan that would provide a defined contribution of $400 per month for non-Medicare eligible retirees into a reimbursement account in lieu of health insurance, forcing them to obtain their own coverage through the public exchange. For Medicare eligible retirees, the only state-sponsored option under this plan would be to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for medical benefits and a Medicare Part D plan for prescription drugs. The second proposal from the committee is a High Deductible (HD) and Medicare Advantage Plan. It features a high deductible ($4,000 in-network) health plan similar to TRS-Care 1 for non-Medicare eligible participants. As with the HRA option, Medicare Advantage and Part D would be the only benefits available to Medicare-eligible participants via TRS if the HD plan is implemented.

Even if such dramatic changes are adopted, the committee expressed lingering doubts in its report about long-term sustainability and a need for increased contributions going forward:

“With health care costs currently at an unsustainable level and continuing to rise, the state cannot continue to provide supplemental appropriations to keep TRS-Care solvent. Additionally, the financial contributions necessary to keep TRS-Care solvent in its current form will only increase infinitely. Therefore, the Committee finds that the HRA and HD Plans discussed previously are the most viable and realistic options to address the financial soundness and sustainability of TRS-Care. However, even if significant changes are implemented under the HRA or HD Plan, the TRS-Care fund would still face a shortfall moving forward, although dramatically less than the expected shortfall of $1.3 to $1.5 billion. Thus, to address long-term funding of the plan, the Legislature will have to review, and possibly modify, the current funding contributions from the state, school districts, and retirees, or continue to provide supplemental appropriations each biennium.”

TRS-ActiveCare

For TRS-ActiveCare, the committee report focuses largely on affordability for actively employed educators, especially in the context of a dramatic rise in premiums. In a state as large and diverse as Texas, there are significant disparities in health care costs depending on geographic location. The committee observed that “employees who reside in lower cost geographic areas are subsidizing those in higher cost areas,” but “attempting to establish premiums based on age and/or geographic location would not achieve plan affordability for all members.”

The interim report details a proposed High Deductible (HD) Health Plan (TRS-ActiveCare1-HD) for school districts with 1,000 or fewer employees, with all other districts being forced out of TRS-ActiveCare and left to find their own alternative health care plans for employees. The remaining eligible districts would have an initial opt-out period before locking in their decision to remain in or out of the state’s plan. TRS-ActiveCare 2, TRS-ActiveCare Select, and HMO options would be eliminated. As recommended by the committee, state and district funding for employees would remain static at $75 and $150 (minimum) respectively. ATPE and other groups have long advocated for lawmakers to increase the state’s $75 monthly contribution, which has not changed since the inception of the program in 2001. The committee unfortunately declined to recommend an increase in the state’s share.

Ultimately, the committee concludes that its proposed HD Plan would be “the most viable and realistic option” for addressing health care affordability for active educators, noting however that more districts would be looking at offering their own health care plans in lieu of the state program. The report advises that school employees should drive decisions about TRS-ActiveCare changes going forward:

“However, if school districts and active public education employees adamantly oppose the proposed changes in the HD Plan to curb the affordability problem, TRS-ActiveCare may continue operating under the current model. The fact is, premiums for all plan options will continue to increase as health care costs rise. Nevertheless, districts and employees may still prefer the stability that TRS provides and the multitude of coverage options. The decision to make significant changes to the plan, or continue in its current form, must ultimately be left to the active public education employees. The employees are in the best position to recognize what is in their best interest and the legislature should support them in any way possible.”

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez was the lone committee member who declined to sign the final report. He wrote in a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus (R), “I do not believe the solution requires a significant shifting of the burden onto our TRS retirees and active public education employees who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to develop the next generation of Texans.” Rodriguez added, “I would hope that any proposed solution… would entail a shared, and meaningful, contribution of state resources.”

Rep. Trent Ashby

Rep. Trent Ashby

Committee member Ashby supplemented the report with his own letter aimed at offering additional insights to active and retired educators concerned about the proposals. First and foremost, he called the report “a starting point” for further discussions on how to proceed. Ashby wrote, “Though the report contains options I do not support, I look forward to the responses of active and retired teachers who have opinions on how we can best provide stable footing for the programs in perpetuity.” Ashby added his own warning that absent changes, “the result could be catastrophic. Without action, TRS-Care will eventually fail altogether.”

ATPE similarly cautions that the long-awaited interim study report is merely a recommendation and that no decisions have been made at this point for the future of TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. The 85th legislature will have ample opportunity to solicit and consider feedback from education stakeholders before and during the 2017 legislative session, and ATPE will be there to weigh in and advocate for the very best options for active and retired educators.

Read the full interim committee report here, which includes a number of attachments. We invite you to share your feedback with us on this critically important ATPE legislative priority. As always, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for further analysis and updates as the legislative session approaches.

Educating children of poverty: policy considerations for this week’s school finance hearings

Starting tomorrow, Sept. 28, the House Public Education and Appropriations committees will spend two days hearing from education stakeholders and finance experts on interim charges related to how Texas funds its public schools. These joint interim hearings come on the heels of a state supreme court ruling that our state’s school finance system is constitutional, albeit deeply flawed, as we have reported here on Teach the Vote.

Girl showing bank notesWhile it is true that money alone doesn’t solve every problem, adequate funding distributed equitably certainly makes dramatic system-wide improvements much more achievable. Is there currently adequate money in the state school system to meet the constitutional requirement for a general diffusion of knowledge? Maybe, maybe not. Is there enough money in the system to ensure a general diffusion of knowledge for all children while also meeting the legislature’s mandates on things like cameras in the classroom, a host of social and safety issues, and the accountability system; and meeting parental expectations to provide value-added offerings such as Latin classes and ever increasing levels of technology? Moreover, is there enough money in our coffers to do these things against the backdrop of our current inequitable method of distribution, which some interests in our state would prefer to maintain? Almost certainly not.

With regard to addressing the many deficiencies of the Texas school finance system, where should state policymakers start? If the goal is to have the most widespread impact on improving student outcomes, they should begin with equity. The U.S. ranks near the bottom among developed nations in terms of the education gap between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) students. Further, Texas ranks in the bottom five among all states in terms of funding gaps between districts based on either wealth or race. In other words, we are one of the worst states in one of the worst countries where equity is concerned.

Many high-performing education systems around the world actually spend less than the U.S. on average per pupil spending. (Note: Texas also spends well below the national average.) However, the way that other nations distribute the education funds they spend is also vastly different. Most, if not all, of these systems recognize that regardless of system-wide funding levels, some children require more — sometimes significantly more — support than their peers to be successfully educated. These children often include those with limited proficiency in their country’s primary language, high mobility rates, learning disorders, and children with a high degree of childhood traumas or adverse childhood experiences.


For related information, read about research on how assessments of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can help educators support and instruct students who are at an increased risk.


Because many of these obstacles to learning tend to be much more prevalent in impoverished populations, poverty tends to be a proxy, though an imperfect one, to identify these populations of at-risk children. (For the purpose of characterizing students in the U.S., poverty is often expressed by admittance into the federal free and reduced lunch program.) High-performing education systems around the world have come to recognize that if student outcomes are to be significantly and positively affected, these kids not only need more support individually, but the need to modify the entire educational environment also becomes exponentially increased when significant numbers of children with these obstacles are concentrated at a single campus. As such, they have organized their school funding systems to provide the educational and non-educational supports these children need, which are supports their peers often don’t need in order to reach the same levels of educational mastery.

In order to most effectively provide for a general diffusion of knowledge to all students, the Texas Legislature should consider increasing the current funding weights such that they more adequately reflect the cost of supporting students across a spectrum of need. Additionally, the legislature should develop a new weight that takes into account the impact of concentrations of high-needs students on a single campus. These recommendations would go a long way in addressing concerns about inter-district equity and insure that discussions around issues such as recapture stay focused on student outcomes. When recapture and hold harmless provisions are considered without also considering student weights, there is a tendency to over-focus on funding changes to individual districts in a way that can be divorced from what student populations look like and how students’ needs may be differentiated from their peers in other districts.

In addition to inter-district equity, the Texas Legislature should also consider how to best address intra-district equity. Legislators should have an in-depth policy discussion about how to best ensure that resources are flowing to campuses within a single district in a truly equitably manner, particularly in large urban and suburban districts. Legislators should consider the pros and cons of impacting district behavior, with regard to significantly prioritizing resources toward campuses with larger concentrations of high-needs students directly through the school finance laws in addition to research-based direct interventions. Currently, we attempt to indirectly encourage districts to prioritize resources through a school accountability system that is largely punitive.

As the House Public Education and Appropriations committees meet on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, we hope legislators will focus on creating a system that best serves all Texas students with the resources available.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Monty_TWC_vouchers_Sept16

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

Duron_CPS_press_Sept16

Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

CPS_press_conf_Sept_16

Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.

 


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.

 


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.

NO VOUCHERS

At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!

 


 

Analysis of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability recommendations

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554As reported on Teach the Vote Last week, the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability has released its final recommendations and considerations for further study. Below are ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s comments on the commission’s recommendations.

Click on each recommendation below to view ATPE’s analysis.

Final Recommendations of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA):

  1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.
  2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.
  3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.
  5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.
  6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.
  7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.
  8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.
  9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258

1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.

Recommendation one, potentially the most sweeping of the commission’s recommendations, breaks down into two main parts: computer adaptive testing (CAT) and a multiple assessment framework. Each part has pros and cons.

As its name suggests, CAT refers to an assessment administered via computer that varies (adapts) as the test taker answers questions. The more questions the tester gets right, the harder subsequent test questions become; the less questions the tester gets right, the easier subsequent test questions become. Unlike a grade level specific proficiency test (such as STAAR) that simply indicates whether or not a student meets grade level proficiency, CAT should give a much clearer picture of where along a broader spectrum a student is performing. These tests are, at least in theory, better for measuring growth and better for more precisely identifying proficiency levels of high-achieving and low-achieving students. Those attributes likely make CAT a superior type of assessment as compared to current STAAR tests, particularly since our accountability system values student growth data. The biggest hurdle (I won’t even call it a con) to moving from STAAR to a CAT is technology infrastructure. Under current test security protocols, which require essentially all students statewide to take a particular test simultaneously, all students would need access to a screen, keyboard, and either the web or a state- (maybe district-) level network, in order to take the assessment.

While the state could lessen the hardware requirement by modifying test security protocols so that kids could take the test in batches (a potential scheduling nightmare that could seriously waste instructional time if not implemented exceedingly well), the networking capacity is a fairly immutable requirement. Thankfully the federal government has solved this problem for us if the state acts quickly. For a short window of time, the federal E-rate program is offering a 9:1 match on state dollars to increase physical network capacity in exactly the way we need to increase ours. So if the state will put in $25 million, the feds will put in $225 million and we can dramatically increase our broadband capacity for underserved communities. This would be a big plus whether or not we move to CATs.

That all sounds great, but CAT is not a panacea. Using CAT does not ensure that the test questions will be written in a fair, direct, or developmentally appropriate way, a major criticism of the current test. CAT, in and of itself, also doesn’t solve the issue of overreliance on a single measurement. Currently the state almost exclusively relies on standardized testing data as a proxy for overall student performance, but such data at best provides a fairly narrow window on student knowledge or ability.

This leads to the second half of the recommendation where the commission recommends using multiple smaller assessments administered closer to the time concepts are actually taught. Those tests would be rolled up into a single summative score as opposed to the one-test-on-one-day model that STAAR currently utilizes. There are definitely potential pros to going with this recommendation, primarily that it would likely decrease the perceived impact of the test and therefore student stress levels. By breaking the assessment process into smaller, more manageable tests and spreading them over the full course of the school year, state standardized assessments could become more normalized, instead of a once-a-year event that students have to psych themselves up for (or psych themselves out about). Smaller tests could also lead to less test fatigue, giving students a better chance at doing their best work on the whole test.

If while reading the last paragraph you were thinking to yourself that this sounds a lot like the pop quizzes and smaller unit tests that teachers have been using to assess student comprehension since before your grandparents were born (i.e. formative testing), you would be right. That teachers should, and almost universally are, already using formative testing as an important part of their instructional practice did not escape the proponents of this recommendation. They feel that this recommendation will reduce the overall amount of testing because it could replace a summative test (STAAR) with a summative result that uses assessments already happening in most classrooms.

There are, unfortunately, three main concerns with this line of thought. To start, is formative assessment data appropriate for deriving summative conclusions? There is at least some indication that the answer to that question is no. The invited expert that testified before the commission cautioned against using formative assessments to draw summative conclusions. Formative assessments, by their nature, are designed to determine where a student is on a particular skill while still inside the learning process. The expectation is that the educator will use the information gleaned from the assessment and continue to perfect the students’ understanding of the skills tested. This is different from a summative assessment where a student is supposed to demonstrate mastery of an already learned skill. This distinction creates potential problems with using formative data for accountability purposes, as the student would not be expected to have attained mastery yet.

Assuming you get past this first concern, you then have to ask whether or not it’s really a benefit to subject these inherently individualized assessments to a state-level standardization process? One of the primary complaints of the current system is separation of teachers and teaching from development and administration of the test. Developing assessments that flow naturally from the curriculum being taught that are also contextually and developmentally appropriate for the class of students being assessed is a skill that must be honed, something the state should be helping teachers do. When you disassociate teaching and testing by removing the teacher from the assessment process, the result is negative from both an assessment and a curriculum stand point. From an assessment standpoint, a standardized test is by its nature less contextually and developmentally individualized to the students actually taking the test. If the goal is to ensure educators have the most accurate information about their students’ acquisition of the skills being taught verses a measure of their students’ ability to cope with a standardized testing instrument as compared to all other students in the state, teacher-developed assessments are preferable. Assessments measuring a standard set of state-determined skills and individualized to the group of students being taught, give students the best opportunity to demonstrate mastery of those skills. Contrarily, standardized tests measure a student’s ability to cope with a testing instrument in addition to the mastery of skills.

Finally, even if you overlook these concerns, the committee did not call for the replacement of STAAR with this system. While the initial recommendation called for replacing STAAR with a new multiple-assessment CAT framework, that language was ultimately removed. The recommendation now reads like more of an addition to STAAR instead of a replacement of it. It’s questionable whether or not we need a massive new statewide standardized assessment system to replace our existing massive statewide standardized assessment system. It is certain that we do not need a new system in addition to the current one.

2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.

Commission recommendation number two is a solid recommendation which addresses the substantial and specific problem of replacing the current, extremely poorly designed, STAAR writing test. The recommendation, which was primarily driven by Chairman Aycock, recognizes that writing is a process-driven, highly individual skill that is not well assessed through an overly standardized process. The evaluation of writing ability should not rely on a testing scheme that produces a work product absent of any meaningful review and revision by the student, nor should a student’s writing evaluation be graded by non-experts using a rubric.

The recommendation will allow districts to develop a process that takes a more comprehensive and holistic look at students’ writing skills. Districts can utilize the professional judgment of credentialed educators to assess the students’ work rather than utilizing low-paid graders with uncertain qualifications that use a rubric to judge student work developed under an inherently flawed process.

3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Allowing the continued streamlining of the TEKS is a fine recommendation, but with no suggestion as to how the SBOE might improve the TEKS writing process, it is also a shallow and somewhat meaningless recommendation. Recommendations on how the SBOE can write deeper, but more manageable TEKS or how the legislature might support the SBOE in this process (this recommendation includes no recommended statutory changes) would be much more beneficial.

There are inherent tensions that need to be addressed in the TEKS writing process. These include the relationship of the length of the standards to the length of the test, the creation of standards that allow for depth and creativity for both students and educators while giving new and inexperienced educators the support they need to teach subject matter they may not be fully versed in yet, and the tension between developing standards that are better for testing (discrete and many) versus teaching (topical and naturally fewer). It would have been preferable if the recommendation called for the SBOE to modify their TEKS writing process, either internally or with legislative direction, to create two documents: one that identifies only the broader areas of essential knowledge, which would be identified as the State Standards, and a separate supporting document with detailed examples of how a practitioner might structure curriculum to cover those broad areas.

4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.

While this recommendation seems appealing and simple, it is in fact a poor substitute for actually perfecting a better TEKS drafting process. Like the one mentioned above, it also happens to be outside of what is allowable under federal law, which requires that a state assess all of its standards in the areas required to be tested.

5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.

Increasing opportunities for students to be exposed to the possibility of pursuing post-secondary education is always a worthwhile goal. The state should fund these test administrations at a greater rate than it already is, and districts should absolutely be rewarded for encouraging as many students as possible to take college entrance exams and for assisting students to perform well on them. 

On a cautionary note legislators should be mindful not to design a system which encourages districts to discourage lower-performing students from taking them. A system which punishes districts for lower SAT/ACT scores or that does not reward districts for increased participation rates would have a negative effect on increasing student access to postsecondary opportunities.

6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.

This recommendation calls for a response of: well, duh. One would certainly hope that the state would align its system with federal requirements, particularly when the new federal law was written with state driven accountability in mind.

7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.

Whether or not attendance rates should be removed from the accountability system simply because nearly all schools are doing an exceedingly good job on the metric is debatable. However, to say that the state can find no “indicators of student achievement [that lead to post-secondary readiness and are] not associated with performance on standardized assessments,” is a shocking statement. 

Clearly the state is willing to recognize that being present in class is an indicator of student achievement that leads to post-secondary readiness. (It is simple loathe to give credit to everyone for accomplishing that measure as it doesn’t produce differentiation, i.e. universal success doesn’t create much of a bell curve). However, despite study after study pointing to the fact that the quality (relevant experience plus innate ability) of a student’s teachers is the single best indicator of a student’s long term academic success, the state/legislature/commissioner/this commission still refuses to hold districts accountable for equitable distribution of quality educators. While such a measure may not be an appropriate metric for campus level accountability ratings, it is certainly applicable and appropriate at both the elementary and secondary levels as part of the district-wide accountability rating.

8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.

In the abstract, emphasizing student growth as a preeminent goal of the education system sounds great and is great. However in reality, it is the nature of the system that high performing students are hard pressed to show exponential growth on a grade level specific minimum standards test. It is equally true that low performing students, while they may or may not show exponential growth, are less likely to show proficiency on the same test. One has to assume that is why the current accountability system allows campuses or districts to pass either domain one or two (proficiency or growth) in addition to both domains three and four to be considered to have met standard. Assuming the commissioner takes this recommendation, it will be interesting to see how he both meaningfully increases the emphasis on growth and maintains the delicate and appropriate balance that is currently being achieved.

On a side note, it is important to continue to recognize that our testing system is not optimized/designed to measure student growth and that using it to do so is somewhat dubious at best.

9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258.

While it should be recognized that these committees are not a substitute for fixing what is broken in the current assessment and accountability system, they should certainly continue to exist, at least while the system continues to be broken and perhaps indefinitely as a valuable student safety net.

 

 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 26, 2016

Here’s a look at some stories that made news this week in the world of Texas education:


ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashTexas’s much-maligned standardized tests were once again the focus of media attention this week. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week that it is imposing harsh financial penalties against the vendor that administers the state’s STAAR tests after a number of problems occurred during test administrations this spring. Also this week, a judge assigned to a lawsuit filed by parents objecting to the STAAR test refused to grant the state’s motion to have that case dismissed. Read more about the latest STAAR-related developments in this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Exter also discussed the testing company fines in an interview with KVUE News, which you can view here.

 


Texas lawmakers involved in the biennial budget-writing process are starting to look more closely at education funding as the 85th legislative session approaches. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended a meeting this week of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the education portion of the state budget. Wednesday’s hearing was a discussion of an interim charge dealing with public education programs that are funded outside the Foundation School Program (FSP). Learn more about the hearing in our blog post from yesterday.

 


ATPE_Logo_Stacked_Tag_ColorATPE members and employees have been showcased in a number of media features this week with the start of a new school year. Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe talked to KEYE TV in Austin about how she engages students using popular “Pokemon Go” characters. Stoebe also joined ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey on Time Warner Cable Austin to discuss how the use of technology in the classroom can also increase opportunities for bullying. They urged educators and parents to talk to children about the risks of cyberbullying, which some lawmakers hope to address in the upcoming legislative session. Also on TWC news, a number of ATPE members contributed to a recent story about how teachers can talk to their students about difficult currrent events, such as problems of racism and violent attacks. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also talked to KSAT about new education laws that are taking effect this school year. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and ATPE on Facebook for coverage of these and other stories about how ATPE members are making a difference in the lives of students.