Category Archives: interim charges

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).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!