Category Archives: Legislative Update

Special session update: House rejects amendment targeting payroll deduction; finance negotiations continue

Tomorrow is the last day of the special session that has featured a number of education-related debates. As ATPE’s lobbyists have been reporting here on Teach the Vote and Twitter, the special session agenda directed by Gov. Greg Abbott contained 20 topics, including some directly related to education, such as teacher pay and private school vouchers. ATPE joined with others in the education community to urge lawmakers to use this 30-day special session to address meaningful public education issues, such as advancing school finance improvements and helping educators facing dramatic increases in their healthcare costs.

  • For its part, the Texas House of Representatives has proposed major school finance reforms similar to those developed with stakeholder input during the regular session, and House leaders have recommended making a conservative withdrawal from the state’s robust rainy day fund (Economic Stabilization Fund) to cover short-term needs, including shoring up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators for the upcoming biennium.
  • The Texas Senate has favored smaller one-time investments into the public education system paid for by deferring state payments to Medicaid/CHIP managed care organizations. These proposed deferrals would only increase the already $1.2 billion the next legislature will have to pay back to make Medicaid/CHIP whole during the 2019 legislative session. In addition to under funding Medicaid/CHIP, the Senate proposal fails to make any long-term changes to our state’s school finance system, preferring instead that a commission be appointed to study scraping the current system for two more years. Senators also proposed one-time bonuses for experienced teachers. The Senate, at the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, initially coupled the one-time bonuses with proposed pay raises that would have been funded by school districts through their existing budgets, which the education community strongly rejected.
  • Some of the high-profile issues on the governor’s special session agenda, such as passing state regulations for the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals and enacting a private school voucher program for students with special needs, were quickly advanced by the Senate but gained no traction in the more moderate House. With the final hours ticking down now in this special session, bills remaining in negotiations are primarily those dealing with property tax reform at the local level and a handful of education funding measures, such as helping school districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) monies and decreasing, in part, increased healthcare costs of retired educators, due to legislation passed during the regular session.
  • Late today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released a revised state revenue estimate that shows legislators have more money to spend this special session than originally predicted. The announcement means there is an extra $237 million in general revenue available to be spent, which is a substantial jump from the $41.5 million in the original estimate last month. The “discovery” of the additional money could alleviate conflicts over whether to dip into the state’s rainy day fund or defer Medicaid MCO payments in order to fund remaining special session priorities, including those that are education-related.

Here is an update on recent votes and where the remaining bills stand:

Senate Bill 16: School Finance Commission

Yesterday, Aug. 14, the Texas House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 16, a bill intended to create a commission to study school finance. The bill by Sen. Larry Taylor is a renewed version of a similar measure considered during the regular session. The Senate unanimously approved SB 16 on July 24. The House voted 142-2 to advance its version of the measure yesterday, but not without a lengthy debate and controversy over amendments.

During yesterday’s House floor debate on SB 16, Rep. Bill Zedler offered a floor amendment to require the state to study “the effects” of letting educators voluntarily deduct their association dues from their own paychecks. The paycheck deduction issue, referred to by Gov. Abbott as the “collection of union dues,” has been on the governor’s special session wish list and a topic of much debate. Bills to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues were considered but not approved during both the regular and special sessions, as we have been reporting. Rep. Zedler’s floor amendment was viewed as a last gasp for air to keep the issue at the forefront of legislative discussions for two more years. During the floor debate, Rep. Zedler unabashedly articulated his political motivation for the amendment, complaining that educator associations like ATPE are helping teachers engage in the political process. The Zedler amendment failed by a vote of 49 to 78 after a bipartisan majority of representatives stood up for teachers’ rights, exposed the discriminatory intent of the amendment, and highlighted the fact that payroll deduction has already been studied and has been shown to result in no cost to the state or taxpayers.

ATPE has encouraged its members to thank those representatives who voted against the Zedler amendment on payroll deduction, as well as those who spoke eloquently on behalf of the education community during the debate, such as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R) who highlighted the benefits that ATPE provides its dues-paying members and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R) who called the amendment another form of “teacher discrimination.” Click here to view the breakdown of votes for and against the Zedler amendment, including statements added to the official House journal reflecting votes that were changed or correctedTo watch archived footage of the debate on the Zedler amendment to SB 16, click here and scroll to approximately the 1:43:22 mark during the video playback; debate resumes at the 2:01:00 mark after other amendments were considered.

In the event that SB 16 does not pass, similar language calling for creation of a school finance commission has been added to other bills that remain pending at this late stage.

House Bill 21 and House Bill 30: School Finance

This pair of bills offers another example of where the House and Senate diverge on school finance. The House-approved HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty contemplated an increase of $1.8 billion for public schools, but the Senate has balked at its price tag and method of finance (including use of the rainy day fund). HB 30 is a related bill that provides the source of the appropriation of the funds. Late last night and early this morning, the Senate approved its own version of HB 21, paring the funding down from $1.8 billion to $351 million (plus an additional $212 million for TRS-Care) and relying on the MCO payment deferral as its source. Both versions would provide some relief to districts facing an ASATR funding cliff this year, extra money for TRS-Care, and funds to help students with autism and dyslexia. The Senate’s version is more focused on one-time funding grants, while the House version calls for longer-term changes to the school finance formulas and increasing the basic allotment. Negotiations between House and Senate leaders, as well as the governor’s office, have been taking place around the clock.

Senate Bill 19: TRS-Care and/or Teacher Pay

This bill filed by Sen. Jane Nelson was originally intended to legislate teacher pay raises, but the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was reluctant to provide any state funding for the raises. Instead, the Senate modified the bill to provide a mechanism for one-time bonuses to veteran teachers using MCO payment deferrals, as well as extra money for TRS-Care. The Senate passed this bill on July 25, sending it to the House for consideration. The House Appropriations Committee stripped out the teacher bonus language and approved a version of the bill mirroring the language in HB 20, devoted entirely to helping retired educators with their rising healthcare costs using dollars from the ESF or Rainy Day Fund. The full House is slated to debate SB 19 today, and it’s unclear whether there will be sufficient time for the House and Senate to negotiate a deal before the session ends tomorrow.

Senate Bill 1: Property Taxes

Another bill passed in different versions by the House and Senate would address the ability of local governments to raise taxes. The bill remains stuck in a conference committee this afternoon, where one of the main issues in contention is the rollback rate for elections. Gov. Abbott has called passing property tax legislation his top priority for this special session.

 

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates during the last hours of the special session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

School finance reform bill heads to full House

The House Public Education Committee approved school finance HB 21 Tuesday by a vote of 10-1, with state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) voting in opposition. The committee unanimously approved HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding, and HB 23, which would create an autism grant program. One or more could reach the House floor by Monday.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

Noting concerns raised by some over changes from the regular session version of the bill, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) indicated he would be open to floor amendments to HB 21 restricting charter school funding in the bill to special needs and dropout recovery schools, as well as extending hardship grants to 1993 hold harmless districts.

The committee met Tuesday morning to consider additional bills related to school finance and other subjects. Among those is HB 22 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would extend additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR) funding to certain school districts for an additional biennium.

HB 98 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor teacher program, and is identical to HB 816 filed by Bernal during the regular session. The program would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note for HB 816, the program would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 140 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would allow districts to include full days of attendance for each student who attends full-day prekindergarten. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 178 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend career and technology education (CTE) allotment eligibility to the eighth grade. Currently, only high school programs are eligible for weighted funding through the CTE allotment.

HB 248 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would extend ASATR funding to districts that received ASATR funding for the 2016-2017 school year and operated a campus in a county in which no other district operated a campus. Funding under HB 248 could be counted against the total amount of attendance credits required to be purchased by districts under recapture.

HB 256 by Vice-chair Bernal would modify the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) report on equalized funding elements under the public school finance system. The bill would add a requirement that the LBB adopt rules necessary to enable each student to achieve satisfactory performance on state assessment instruments and include in its report recommendations regarding the equalized funding elements necessary to do so.

Chairman Huberty announced the House could see a long day on the floor next Monday, and the committee will therefore plan to meet again next Tuesday.

ATPE’s Wrap-Up of the 85th Legislature’s Regular Session

ATPE at the Capitol squreWhile navigating challenges both new and familiar, and with the support of our members, ATPE has continued to fight for the rights of educators, teachers, and parents and to fend off threats to public education in the great state of Texas. This year, many ATPE members took swift and decisive action to protect their rights by calling, writing, and visiting members of the legislature (on more than one occasion) to inform their elected officials of the issues most important to Texas educators.

The 85th Legislature’s regular session was long and arduous, but ATPE persisted in keeping public tax dollars out of private institutions—despite strong pushes from some lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, and outside lobbying groups to do the opposite. The Texas House leadership stood with ATPE, the vast of majority of parents, and the education community to fight vouchers and champion improvements to Texas’s school finance system. Both chambers engaged in meaningful conversations about improving school accountability and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing.

Despite the numerous challenges presented during the 85th regular session of 2017, ATPE rose to the occasion and continued on our mission to provide every child equal opportunity to receive an exemplary education. Below are some highlights from this year’s regular legislative session.

Progress on ATPE’s Legislative Priorities for the 85th Legislature

  1. School Funding
  2. TRS and Healthcare
  3. Saving Payroll Deduction
  4. Stopping Privatization
  5. Promoting Educator Quality
  6. Reducing Standardized Testing
  7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions
The ATPE Lobby Team

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team

1. School Funding: ATPE lobbied for dramatic improvements to the state’s school finance system and urged lawmakers to provide the resources necessary to allow every child in Texas access to an exemplary public education.

o  The state budget: Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

While the House and Senate each began this session with their own versions of the budget, the bills were worked out in a conference committee and resulted in the following new state budget for the next two years:

·       Lawmakers allocated fewer state dollars to school districts under this budget, requiring local schools instead to rely more heavily on property taxes just to stay open. The decrease in state funding coupled with the elimination of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) is a one-two punch for districts that are already cash strapped, especially those in rural areas, and some have already stated they will either close or consolidate under this budget. This continues a trend of legislators shifting the burden of paying for public education from the state to the local level, which results in increased upward pressure on local property taxes to make up for the reduction in state funds. Legislators must realize that our outdated school finance formulas need to be reformed, and the state must shoulder its share of the burden if our schools are to meet the demands of rapid growth in population and enrollment.

·        The TRS healthcare program for retirees faced a billion-dollar shortfall going into the next biennium under its existing and inadequate funding mechanism. Lawmakers made modest increases to state and district funding formulas, in addition to providing a relatively small amount of one-time supplemental funding from the state, in exchange for passing a TRS reform bill that shifts the majority of the shortfall to retirees through increased premiums and decreased benefits. In all, SB1 includes $480 million above what previous formula funding called for, made up of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts.

o  School finance reform: House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble)

HB 21 was the first iteration of what Chairman Huberty planned to be a two- or three-session effort to completely overhaul the state’s school funding mechanism. A testament to the volatility of this session, HB 21 began as a school finance bill supported by ATPE and most of the education community. The bill would have increased the basic allotment of funding per student, lowered the recapture rate, created a Hardship Provision Grant to soften the elimination of ASATR funding for several districts, added a formula weight for students with dyslexia, increased the Career and Technology Allotment weight (CTE), and repealed hold harmless provisions in the current law. Coupled with companion legislation in the House’s state budget proposal, HB 21 could have provided as much as $1.9 billion in additional state funding for public education.

However, once the bill passed to the Senate, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, substituted it with language of his own that reduced the additional funding to $530 million and added in a controversial provision for vouchers for students with disabilities. This draining of public tax dollars into private entities through a proposed Educational Savings Account (ESA) voucher caused ATPE and other members of the education community to retract their support of the bill. The Senate passed the voucher-laden version of the bill on a mostly party-line vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), joined with all Republicans to support the bill.

The House refused to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill, and Chairman Huberty called for a conference committee to work out the differences between each chamber’s versions of HB 21. However, over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Chairman Larry Taylor declared the bill dead that same afternoon, refusing to appoint members of the Senate to participate in a conference committee. The Senate ultimately appointed conferees with just hours to spare on the last day of deliberations, but no agreement could be worked out in the few remaining hours, and the school finance bill died.

2. TRS and Healthcare: ATPE helped prevent the passage of bills that would change the defined benefit structure of TRS, raised awareness of the dramatically rising costs of educators’ healthcare programs, and helped secure additional funding for TRS-Care to prevent retired educators from losing their access to healthcare.

o  HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)

As stated above, ATPE entered the 2017 legislative session with a looming crisis for the state’s healthcare program for retired educators. Facing a $1 billion shortfall, TRS-Care was slated to run out of funding during the next biennium without urgent action by the 85th Legislature. Combining $350 million in state funds along with $130 million in support from school districts, the passage of HB 3976 helped secure $480 million in new money budgeted for TRS-Care over the next biennium. In order to maintain coverage, this bill changes the current TRS-Care plan by splitting coverage into two groups based on retirees’ ages. While the enactment of the bill means higher costs for participating retirees, it prevents the worst-case scenario: The collapse of TRS-Care in its entirety. Read a more comprehensive summary of the legislative changes here, and also read here about how the TRS Board of Trustees is now undertaking the rulemaking process to implement the changes called for by lawmakers in greater detail.

o  SB 1750 and SB 1751 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Sen. Bettencourt’s SB 1750 and SB 1751 revived the concept of converting the TRS defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution program in the future, making it more like a 401(k) plan or a hybrid of the two. The first bill called only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would have authorized TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. Bills like this are a common fixture in the sessions preceding when an agency is up for its sunset review. While both bills were referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, neither received a hearing and both proposals died. Additionally, other legislation was passed that will move back the sunset date for TRS to the year 2025.

3. Saving Payroll Deduction: ATPE fought back against anti-educator bills that would do away with payroll deduction for voluntary professional association dues.

o   SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston)

ATPE continued to defend educators’ rights to use voluntary payroll deduction for their association dues and to fight anti-educator bills that do away with that option in an attempt to make it harder for educators to join professional groups like ours. Bills eliminating payroll deduction were identified as priorities of both the governor and lieutenant governor. ATPE members mounted strong opposition, testifying in committee and meeting with individual members of both the House and Senate to demand fair treatment. The Senate version (SB 13) of the so-called “union dues” bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote. In the House, both SB 13 and HB 510 were referred to the Committee on State Affairs but did not receive a hearing and subsequently died there.

4. Stopping Privatization: ATPE helped defeat bills aimed at creating private school voucher programs.

o  SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)

Having made school choice one of his top three legislative priorities this session, Lt. Gov. Patrick used SB 3 as the main vehicle to push for vouchers in the form of both corporate tax credits for donations to private school scholarships and educational savings accounts for parents to use for their children’s private and home school expenses. The bill was voted out of the full Senate after measures were added to make the bill more palatable to rural legislators who were concerned about the impact a major subsidy would have on their districts. SB 3 passed the Senate with the support of 13 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville); the rest of the Senate Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), voted against the bill. While Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is recorded as voting against SB 3, she cast a key vote to enable the bill to come up for consideration on the Senate floor, which paved the way for its passage. Upon being received in the House, the bill was referred to the House Public Education Committee, where it later died.

o  The Senate’s voucher amendment to HB 21

Earlier in the session, the House passed HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty as a school finance reform measure and the policy component intended to guide the additional money allocated to education in the House’s version of the draft budget. As we discussed above, HB 21 was vigorously debated on the House floor and passed to the Senate, where Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) substituted the House version of the bill with his own bill demanding an ESA voucher for students with special needs. The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 and sent it back to the House, which refused to concur with the controversial amendments. Lawmakers were unable to agree to a final bill, and HB 21 died along with all other attempts to pass a private school voucher this session.

o  Record votes on vouchers. The House took multiple noteworthy votes against private school vouchers this session:

·        During the initial debate of SB 1—the budget bill—on the House floor, members voted 104-43 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi), Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), and Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) to prohibit the use of public funds from supporting school choice programs in any form.

·        The House voted against vouchers again upon receiving the Senate’s version of the school finance bill, HB 21. The vote occurred in response to a “motion to instruct” presented by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), a move intended to inform conference committee appointees of the desire of the body they represent while fleshing out the differences between differing bills. Chairman Zerwas filed the motion to urge House members of the conference committee to reject any voucher language in potential compromises on HB 21, and a supermajority of the House agreed. House members voted 101-45 to reject any compromises on HB 21 that would allow for ESAs, tax credit scholarships, or any other form of voucher.

·        Immediately following that vote, members squashed an alternative motion to instruct the conferees to “consider all methods of education choice and financing for special needs students.” The motion, presented by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), failed with members voting 47-89 against it.

o  Related legislation: The “Tim Tebow” Bill, SB 640, by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

Once again, this session ATPE helped prevent the passage of a bill that would force public schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular UIL activities. ATPE members have long opposed the uneven playing field that would be created with allowing the participation of homeschooled students in UIL, since those students are not be held to the same academic and disciplinary standards as public school students.

5. Promoting Educator Quality: ATPE advocated for maintaining high standards for the education profession and a compensation and benefits structure that promotes educator recruitment and retention.

o  SB 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Amended several times over, SB 1839 became the catch-all for bills that had otherwise failed in the legislative process. In its original form, the bill mandated that relevant PEIMS (Public Education Information Management Systems) data be shared with educator preparation programs, gave the commissioner more rulemaking authority with regard to out-of-state certificate holders, and required educator preparation programs to include instruction on digital learning. In the final version signed by the governor, the bill also includes measures to do the following:

·        Prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs to deliver one or more face-to-face support visits for principal, librarian, counselor, and diagnostician candidates during their clinical experience;

·        Create an early childhood through third grade teaching certificate;

·        Require additional professional development for digital learning and teaching methods; and

·        Allow long-term substitute teaching to count in lieu of minimal field-based experience hours required of certain educator candidates before entering the classroom as the teacher-of-record on a probationary certificate. This
language was originally a part of SB 1278, a bill ATPE testified against because it watered down educator preparation standards raised by SBEC during the past year. As that bill made its way through the committee process, much of the SB 1278 content was stripped away; however, this remaining portion was improved and ultimately added to SB 1839.

 

6. Reducing Standardized Testing: ATPE supported bills to reduce the role of standardized test scores in our accountability system for schools, in teacher evaluations, and in high-stakes decisions for students. 

o  SB 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)

During the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2015, ATPE worked with Sen. Seliger to enact legislation that would provide a safe harbor for eligible high school seniors otherwise prevented from graduating due to failure of two or fewer STAAR tests. Enacted by that 2015 law that was set to expire this year, Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) take the student’s entire academic history into account and use that to work a path to graduation. This session, we successfully worked with legislators once more to secure access to IGCs for high school students through 2019 with the passage of SB 463. 

o  HB 657 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

This ATPE-supported legislation allows ARD committees to promote special education students who have failed an exam but have otherwise met the goals of their individual education plans (IEPs). The passage of this bill provides students in special education programs with additional relief from regimented standardized testing. 

o  HB 515 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

What started out as a bill to reduce the number of standardized tests that students are required to take lost much of its strength as amendments were added through the committee process. The bill’s focus was altered, causing it to place an emphasis on replacing state exams for high school social studies with the US Citizenship test, which would have presented problems due to a lack of alignment between the proposed test and the curriculum standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The author of the bill did not concur with Senate amendments when the bill was sent back to the House, and the bill died.

 

o  HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs)

This bill called for a reduction in the number of standardized tests taken by public school students by requiring the state to seek a waiver of federal laws that require certain tests in grades three to 12, and bringing the number of standardized tests for high school students down to the federally required minimum. The bill also called for making test scores a smaller percentage of school accountability calculations and removing standardized test scores as a facet of teacher evaluation. This bill did not make it beyond a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.

7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions: ATPE advocated for limiting, repealing, or adding safeguards to regulatory exemptions that have been granted to some public schools, including Districts of Innovation (DOI).

Several bills were put forth this session with the goal of closing loopholes associated with the advent of Districts of Innovation (DOI). ATPE successfully advocated for a new measure of transparency under DOI:

SB 1566 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Included in SB 1566, an omnibus bill pertaining to district and charter governance, is the requirement that school districts designated a DOI must post and maintain their DOI plan prominently on the school district’s website. A school district now has 15 days upon adoption to post its DOI plan or any revisions to its plan.

However, none of the following DOI bills made it to final passage:

o  HB 972 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas)

This bill would have partly disallowed districts from exempting themselves from teacher certification laws by preventing a district from assigning most students in first through sixth grades to an uncertified teacher for two consecutive years (unless the district gets permission from parents). The bill passed the House but was not given a hearing in the Senate.

o  HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint)

This bill would have removed educator certification from the exemptions available to districts under the DOI law. The bill failed to pass either chamber.

o  HB 1865 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth)

The bill would have removed school start date requirements from the list of eligible DOI exemptions, which would have eliminated a major enticement to districts considering DOI status. A desire to start the school year on an earlier date has been the most typical exemption sought by DOIs statewide. Despite the tourism industry vigorously lobbying in support of this legislation that would preserve a more predictable school calendar, the bill was left pending and eventually died after being heard in the House Public Education Committee.

o  HB 620 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano)

The bill would have allowed districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and would have required instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. HB 620 would have offered schools flexibility and eliminated an incentive to pursue DOI status. Like HB 1865, the bill was left pending and therefore died in the House Public Education Committee.

Other Legislative Victories:

·        ATPE supported changes to the A-F accountability system put in place for campuses last session (HB 22).

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 22 to try to revamp the state’s unpopular A-F accountability grading system for schools and districts. A version of the bill approved by the House had broad support from the education community, but stakeholders were less enthusiastic about changes made to the bill in the Senate. Ultimately, the bill was referred to a conference committee to iron out an agreement, and HB 22 became one of the last bills passed by the 85th Legislature before the clock ran out on the regular session. HB 22 as finally passed collapses the five domains down to three, allows districts to add locally designed aspects of their accountability plans subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education, and pushes back the rollout of the A-F rating system for campuses to August 2019. ATPE successfully advocated to require the rulemaking process include input from teachers. While ATPE is still not a proponent of the A-F system and had argued for eliminating the overall summative grade for schools, we support these changes in the final compromise version of HB 22, which should give districts more leeway and educators an additional opportunity for local input into the design of their schools’ accountability systems.

·        ATPE bolstered efforts to prevent and punish cyberbullying - David’s Law, SB 179, by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).

Expanding on ATPE’s work in prior sessions to help curtail bullying of students, the act now known as David’s Law establishes criminal penalties for those engaged in acts of cyberbullying and requires schools to create secure channels for students to report cyberbullying. 

·        ATPE supported prohibiting the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from basing a school’s performance on the number of students in special education programs – SB 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso).

ATPE supported legislators’ efforts to end the de facto 8.5 percent cap on schools enrolling students in special education services. This legislation prevents TEA from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students they enroll in special education services. 

·       ATPE worked closely with lawmakers to address educator misconduct – SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

One of the first bills signed into law by Gov. Abbott this year, SB 7 aims to address the phenomenon sometimes called “passing the trash,” whereby educators accused of misconduct have been allowed to resign and find work in another school district thanks to lax reporting. Several amendments were added to the original version of this bill, including one to strip certain employees convicted of felony sexual offenses of their TRS pensions, amendments to add parental notification requirements, and an amendment that requires school job applicants to disclose any criminal charges or convictions in a pre-employment affidavit.

ATPE's 2016-17 State Officers

ATPE’s 2016-17 State Officers

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 16, 2017

School is out for the summer, but education news keeps churning; here is your weekly wrap-up:


ThinkstockPhotos-187006771-USCapAs we reported extensively last week, Governor Abbott has called a special session to address 20 anticipated issues, a number of which involve your career, your students, your classrooms, and your schools. After five months of fighting hard and ultimately defeating policies that would establish vouchers in a number of different forms and selectively prohibit educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction, the Governor is now calling legislators back to Austin to reconsider both issues and encouraging them to act on these issues he considers priorities. He wants legislators to consider these policies while also addressing ways to merely study school finance (despite the existence of bills to overhaul and improve the system), give teachers a $1,000 pay raise (that he doesn’t expect the state to put new money towards), and offer administrators more flexibility to hire, fire, and retain teachers (an issue that received little to no discussion during the regular legislative session and on which the Governor has offered no additional information).

Your legislators need to hear from you on all of these special session issues!

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE urges educators and supporters of public education to contact their legislators on all of these issues. Teachers deserve a pay raise, but they deserve a real one – one the state intends to pay for! Students deserve a public school system that is fully funded and not parsed into a system that sends public funds to unaccountable private schools! Educators deserve respect, not to be targeted by policies that seek to suppress their collective voice under the false pretense that payroll deduction costs the state money! ATPE members may visit Advocacy Central to call, tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to representatives and senators on these issues. Your legislators need to hear from you!

Related content: From the Texas Tribune this week, Ross Ramsey offers analysis on another issue added to the special session call: property tax reform. As the legislature sets to again discuss property tax reform, Ramsey warns property owners not to get too excited. “That does not mean your tax bill is going to get any smaller,” he writes. As ATPE has pointed out in the past with a growing chorus of other public education advocates, Ramsey explains how funding public schools at the state level lowers the tax burden on homeowners locally. Read the full piece here.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThis week the U.S. Department of Education (ED) offered initial feedback to three states that have already submitted state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act as the primary federal education law governing education policy for pre-K through grade 12 schools, and each state is required to develop a plan for its own implementation of the new federal law.

States must submit their final ESSA plans to the department later this year, but 13 states took the optional opportunity to submit a draft plan in April and get initial feedback from the feds. The department released its initial input for three of those states on Tuesday, which took many by surprise due to the extensiveness of the response. (The Trump administration has said only that it will follow the letter of the law, repealing several regulations established under the Obama administration and not writing any new regulations to more specifically define elements of the law Congress wrote.)

Delaware was one of the three states that received initial feedback, and one piece might be of interest to Texas as it continues to write its own ESSA plan (since Texas was not one of the 13 states to submit a plan for initial review). Delaware wanted to include student performance on state math, English, science, and social studies tests as a part of its accountability measures to satisfy federal perimeters, but ED responded that Delaware should rethink the addition of social studies and science. Based on this, it seems ED is interpreting ESSA to say that state accountability systems should only utilize math and English tests as indicators. Texas tests students in all four subjects as well, and our state accountability system currently takes the results of all tests into account. As the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to develop Texas’s ESSA plan, this could influence decisions made with regard to including student performance targets in science and social studies.

Further complicating the discussion, Texas lawmakers considered the elimination of certain social studies exams during the 85th regular legislative session, although no such bill passed. Stakeholders and lawmakers alike were ultimately successful in maintaining the exams based on the concern that what isn’t tested, might not remain a focus of classroom learning through textbooks, teaching, etc. How these developments will play into Texas’s ESSA plan remain uncertain.

A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists will be in Washington, D.C. next week meeting with ED officials and members of Congress to discuss ESSA and other issues. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: “Tax relief,” maybe, but no savings for taxpayers

In the midsummer special session, Texas lawmakers will be talking about your rising property taxes again. Don’t get excited: That does not mean your tax bill is going to get any smaller.

by Ross RamseyThe Texas Tribune
June 12, 2017

Photo from The Texas Tribune

Photo from The Texas Tribune

State officials are talking once again about your property taxes. Like you, they hate those taxes. A lot.

But they’re hoping to fool you, once again, into thinking they are going to lower the price of local government and public education.

None of their proposals or their recent actions would do that.

School property taxes are the biggest part of every Texas property owners’ tax bill. They are also the only local property tax that goes up and down primarily because of what happens in Austin.

State officials don’t set your school property tax rate; they just decide how much money local officials are required to raise.

In practice, it amounts to almost the same thing.

If the state spends less money per student, the local districts have to spend more. They get their money from property taxes, so property taxes go up.

And then, state officials complain — alongside property taxpayers across Texas — about rising property taxes.

The current long slide in state funding started in 2007 — right after lawmakers rejiggered the formulas and balanced state and local funding, with each covering 45 percent of the total cost of education and the federal government picking up the remaining 10 percent.

The numbers ten years later: Locals pay 52 percent, the state pays 38 percent and the feds are still at 10 percent.

According to the Texas Supreme Court about a year ago, local property taxes and the system they finance remain constitutional. Lucky for the state that’s not a criminal court, though: Taxpayers clearly feel robbed.

State officials can feel the heat of that ire. But their new budget doesn’t address the school finance problem. They killed legislation that would have put another $1.5 billion into public education — the only bill in the regular session that would have moved school taxes, if only indirectly and only a little bit.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

And their effort to limit growth in property taxes levied by other local governments failed, too. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will put that one on the agenda of the midsummer special session. One version, passed by the Senate and apparently favored by the governor, would have required voter approval for any local property tax increases of more than 5 percent.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

Texas lawmakers have replaced the idea of lowering state taxes with a new one: Complaining alongside taxpayers who want lower taxes. Actually doing something about it has remained out of reach.

They could replace an unpopular tax with a less unpopular one, but they have few options — none of them particularly lucrative. The Texas Lottery was an example of this, and it served mainly to underscore our widespread innumeracy: A surprising number of Texans thought state-run gaming would cover the full cost of public education in Texas. In fact, the Texas games earn the state about $2.5 billion every two years, about as much as taxes on alcoholic beverages and less than half as much as the (also) unpopular business franchise tax. Lawmakers budgeted $41 billion for public education over the next two years; the lottery will cover about 6 percent of that.

They could cut spending, except it has proven nearly impossible to do that in Texas, partly because the state budget is, relatively speaking, pretty tight, and partly because when you get down to it, the programs that would be cut are more popular than the tax cuts that might result.

People want roads and schools and prisons and whatnot, and the political experts who run the government — give them their due for getting into and then remaining in office — have ascertained that it’s more rewarding to keep current programs alive than to cut taxes.

That’s a safe assumption, isn’t it, since they haven’t cut those programs or whittled those taxes?

But state leaders can hear the voters, too, so they’re trying to force local governments to hold the line on taxes. They can’t provide any relief themselves, but maybe they can make someone else do it.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/12/analysis-tax-relief-maybe-no-savings-taxpayers/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 9, 2017

Here’s your latest news wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


IMG_8509On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans for a special session beginning July 18. This “overtime” period for the 85th legislature is needed only because lawmakers failed to pass an important, time-sensitive agency sunset bill that affects the licensing of medical professionals, a failure many are attributing to deliberate stall tactics and the “bill kidnapping” approach taken by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the final week of the regular session. Lawmakers could address the sunset issue within a matter of days and head home to enjoy the dog days of summer with their families, but Abbott is calling on them to take up 19 additional issues during the 30-day special session, which is estimated to cost taxpayers about $1 million.

During the governor’s press conference, he led off his laundry list of topics for the upcoming special session with a surprise announcement that he wants lawmakers to mandate a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers. The catch, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains in this blog post, is that no additional money would be appropriated for the salary increase. Gov. Abbott made it clear that he intends for school districts to find money within their existing budgets to cover the proposed pay raise. For many districts, that would necessitate cuts in some other area, which would very likely be expenditures for staff pay or benefits, such as healthcare programs that are already becoming increasingly hard for educators to afford. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter added in this video for Twitter that potential offsets could include staff layoffs or higher class sizes, depending on each district’s financial circumstances and priorities.

If the governor planned to use this special session as another shot at meaningful school finance reform, then perhaps legislators could find ways to fund a teacher pay raise and other critical needs of our public schools. Unfortunately, the only school finance-related issue on the governor’s call is legislation to appoint a statewide commission to study school finance during the next interim.

Another surprise topic added to the governor’s agenda for the special session is giving districts greater “flexibility” in their hiring and firing decisions. Teacher contract rights have been targeted in prior legislative sessions, but the topic was hardly broached during the 2017 legislative session.

ATPE representatives testified against a bill to eliminate teachers' payroll deduction rights during the regular session.

ATPE representatives testified against an anti-educator bill to eliminate teachers’ payroll deduction rights during the regular session. The contentious issue is being revived for the upcoming special session.

The remaining school-related items in the special session outline are a trio of controversial, highly partisan scorecard issues from bills that failed to garner enough support to pass during the regular session:

  • One is the anti-educator legislation to do away with teachers’ rights to pay their voluntary professional association dues using payroll deduction. In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Abbott revived tired rhetoric from his Jan. 2017 State of the State address that has already been proven false – the claim that taxpayer dollars are being spent to collect “union dues.” We will continue to refute this unfounded claim and fight this harmful, unnecessary measure aimed at silencing educators’ voices by making it more difficult for them to join associations like ATPE.
  • Also on tap for this legislative overtime is yet another push for private school vouchers for students with special needs. With the Texas House of Representatives having already voted multiple times to reject this idea, it is hard to fathom a sudden change of heart that would give this legislation a greater chance of passing during the special session.
  • Lastly, the governor is also asking lawmakers again to try to restrict local school districts’ adoption of policies on bathroom usage. Both chambers passed versions of a bathroom bill during the regular session, but they could not agree on the extent to which the state should infringe on local control over these decisions. In other words, get ready for even more potty talk.

To read the full list of the governor’s priorities for the special session, view ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post here. Also, check out ATPE’s press release, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for new developments.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there. She provided an update in this blog post on the items being discussed today by the board. They include plans to add a new early childhood teaching certificate mandated by the legislature recently, plus how Districts of Innovation are claiming exemptions from certification laws.

 


 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 2, 2017

Texas state legislators have gone home, at least temporarily. When might they return? Here is the latest advocacy news from ATPE:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-144283240On Monday, May 29, the 85th Legislature adjourned sine die, following a 140-day regular session marked by considerable conflict over important and not-so-important issues. The Legislature did reach an agreement on the state’s budget, which was the only bill constitutionally required to pass. However, the House and Senate took decidedly different approaches to their other priorities this session, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote in this blog post on Monday. School finance reforms sought by the House fell victim to a push for private school vouchers by the Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick both made late-session declarations that lawmakers needed to pass a bill regulating public bathroom use by transgender Texans and a bill changing requirements for elections before property tax increases, but neither measure made it beyond the finish line.

Another bill that did not pass was a sunset “safety net” bill designed to keep certain state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, from ceasing to operate during the next two years. The failure of that bill to pass could alone force Gov. Abbott to call a special session, leading to speculation about which other topics might be added to the types of bills that could be considered during a special session. Lt. Gov. Patrick warned during the last week of the regular session that he would be urging the governor to include on any special session call various other “priorities” that the Senate passed but the House did not approve; those could include not only state-mandated bathroom restrictions to which many school districts and business leaders objected, but also private school vouchers and the anti-educator bill that would eliminate payroll deduction for educators’ professional membership dues. All of these were ATPE-opposed bills that were shut down during the regular session, largely thanks to the more moderate, common sense approach of the Texas House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus.

After hinting that he would make an announcement by the end of this week, Gov. Abbott told reporters today not to expect any announcement either today or during the weekend about his calling a special session. Be sure to tune in to Teach the Vote next week and follow us on Twitter for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-docThe Legislature managed to pass important bills to keep the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators afloat for a few more years, and the TRS board of trustees now has responsibility for implementing the changes directed by lawmakers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended today’s meeting of the TRS board and penned a blog post outlining the many changes that will take effect in 2018.

While the legislature passed no major bills pertaining to TRS-ActiveCare this session, the board is taking steps now to mitigate an anticipated shortfall for that program, too. Fortunately, no bills that would negatively affect the TRS pension plan, such as converting the defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution or hybrid design, gained traction this session. Check out Mark’s blog post for more on the legislative changes that will affect TRS and educators’ healthcare.

 


One of the most significant bills approved by the 85th Legislature this year was House Bill 22, aimed at reworking the A-F accountability system for school districts and campuses. On our blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter answers a number of questions about what the bill does and areas in which Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will be tasked with rulemaking and additional interpretation of HB 22. Read Monty’s blog post for more information about changes coming soon to the A-F system.

 


Male lecturer looking at students writing in a classroomYet another topic that garnered significant discussion by the 85th Legislature this year was educator quality. The results were mixed, as ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann analyzed this week for our blog. A high-profile bill to stem educator misconduct and the problem often called “passing the trash” got the approval of lawmakers and has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. For more on that bill and several others relating to educator preparation and certification, check out Kate’s latest blog post here.

 


Next week, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will be meeting on Friday, June 9. We’ll have a report for you on that meeting, plus ongoing analysis of the legislative session that ended this week. ATPE will also bring you up-to-the-minute reporting on any announcements of a special session. As always, you can follow @TeachtheVote and individual members of the ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the most timely news from our team.

17_web_Spotlight_SummitATPE members are also encouraged to register to attend the ATPE Summit, July 10-12 in Austin, where our lobbyists will be presenting an in-person legislative update wrapping up the 85th legislative session and what it means for Texas public education.

 


 

TRS board approves major healthcare changes

TRS logoThe board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas met Friday to make changes to healthcare and retirement following the actions of the 85th Texas Legislature, which adjourned sine die on Monday.

Before delving into plan information, the board approved new contracts with CVS Caremark as the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) administrator for TRS-Care Standard, TRS-Care Part D, and TRS-ActiveCare. Staff then reviewed the two major pieces of legislation that will define healthcare and retirement benefits under TRS moving forward:

Senate Bill (SB) 1

The state budget covered roughly $480 million of the estimated $1 billion shortfall facing TRS-Care by increasing contributions by both the state and school districts, including one-time state supplemental funding of $182.6 million. While this prevented a worst-case scenario for retirees, the balance will unfortunately have to come from higher premiums and benefit reductions.

House Bill (HB) 3976

This bill represents a major structural overhaul of TRS-Care. It establishes two separate plans: A single High Deductible Plan for non-Medicare participants and a Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Plan for Medicare participants.

Under HB 3976, TRS cannot charge a premium during the 2018-2021 plan years to disability retirees who retired as a disability retiree effective on or before January 1, 2017, who are currently receiving disability retirement benefits, and who are not eligible to enroll in Medicare. The bill eliminates the statutory requirement to provide a free healthcare plan for retiree-only coverage, but will provide free generic preventative maintenance medications for enrollees in the high deductible plan. The new program provides an opt-in window for retirees under the age of 65 who choose coverage elsewhere to opt-in to the Medicare Advantage Plan at age 65.

What’s next

On Friday, the board approved the new TRS-Care plans created under HB 3976. From September 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, the agency will maintain the current TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 Plans, such that FY 2017 will be an extended 16-month plan year. Deductibles and out-of-pocket accumulators will not restart on September 1, 2017. The agency plans to maintain current retiree premium contributions by plan, Medicare status, family size, and years of service.

New TRS-Care plans

Non-Medicare participants on the TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 plans will be absorbed into the new TRS-Care Standard Plan. In-network coverage will include a $3,000/$6,000 deductible, $7,150/$14,300 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 80/20% coinsurance. Out of network coverage will include a $6,000/$12,000 deductible, $14,300/$28,600 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 60/40% coinsurance.

Medicare participants will be absorbed into the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part D Plan, which includes a $500 deductible, $3,500 maximum out-of-pocket limit, 95/5% coinsurance, $500 IP hospital copay per stay, $250 OP hospital copay per visit, $65 ER copay, $35 urgent care copay, $5 PCP office visit copay, $10 specialist office visit copay, $0 preventive services copay, $5/$25/$50 retail pharmacy copay, and $15/$70/$125 mail order pharmacy copay.

TRS will make an alternative plan available for certain participants who are Medicare eligible but not enrolled in either Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, or cannot access a provider through the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage Plan.

New premiums are scheduled to take effect January 1, 2018. A non-Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $200, and a Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $146. Premiums for retiree and spouse are $739/$590, retiree and children $433/$504, and retiree and family $1,074/$1,106.

The TRS-Care Medicare Advantage network is a PPO plan network with an out-of-network benefit equivalent to the in-network benefit. Providers do not need to be in network as long as a provider accepts Medicare and agrees to bill Humana, the TRS-Care vendor.

The agency has already begun the first phase of implementation, which involves communicating to participants the changes that will take effect January 1, 2018. These communications will include a monthly e-newsletter, direct mail correspondence, and online information. While these changes will increase the burdens on plan participants, they are estimated to keep TRS-Care positively funded until 2021.

TRS-ActiveCare Changes

The legislature did not pass any legislation affecting TRS-ActiveCare, which is a self-funded program, but the board did make significant plan changes on Friday.

The sole source of funding for TRS-ActiveCare is premiums. The state contributes $75 per month per employee through the school finance formulas, and districts contribute a minimum of $150 per month per employee, with some districts contributing more. Employees contribute the remainder of the projected gross premiums. Funding requirements for the state and districts have not changed since the program’s inception in 2002.

While in much better shape than TRS-Care, TRS-ActiveCare is facing a shortfall of just under $100 million in 2018, which has placed pressure on premiums. The agency’s goal is to balance premium increases against the need to build the fund balance to protect the plan. The target fund balance at the end of FY 2018 is one month of claims, or $158 million. Without plan design changes, staff suggested an average rate increase of 9.9 percent would be required to achieve the target ending fund balance.

With that in mind, the board approved a number of changes based on agency recommendations. Those on the TRS-ActiveCare-Select and TRS-ActiveCare-2 plans will see increased costs associated with out-of-network providers, and will see ER copays increase to $200 from $150. There are no changes planned regarding prescription drug benefits.

These changes will allow for a slightly smaller 8.1 percent average rate increase. TRS-ActiveCare-1HD rates will increase 2.9 percent for employee only, 8.4 percent for employee and spouse, 9.1 percent for employee and children, and 6.9 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare Select rates will increase 6.2 percent for employee only, 10.2 percent for employee and spouse, 7.1 percent for employee and children, and 16.8 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare-2 rates will increase 10.7 percent for employee only, 9.1 percent for employee and spouse, 1.9 percent for employee and children, and 25.5 percent for employee and family.

Other legislative changes

At Thursday’s meeting, executive director Brian Guthrie told board members “we are very pleased” with how the legislative session turned out for TRS. Three key bills related to the system passed within minutes of a crucial deadline late in the session. Debriefing the board, TRS governmental relations director Merita Zoga identified several additional items passed by the legislature related to TRS:

  • HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from contracting with or investing in a company that boycotts Israel.
  • SB 253 adds to the existing divestment statute, prohibiting TRS from investing in companies designated as terrorist organizations.
  • SB 252 prohibits government entities from contracting with companies doing business with Iran, Sudan, or a foreign terrorist organization.
  • SB 7, the teacher misconduct bill, includes language related to TRS. The bill strips the service retirement annuity from a TRS member who is convicted of felony sexual abuse, sexual assault, or improper relationship between educator and student. All or part of the annuity may be awarded instead to an innocent spouse.
  • SB 500 would strip the service retirement annuity of a member of a public retirement system, such as TRS or ERS, if the member is an elected official and is convicted of certain qualifying felonies, including bribery, corruption, perjury, and other offenses related to their official capacity.
  • HB 1428 would allow TRS to act as a mediator in balance billing disputes.

Staff pointed out that the legislature did not pass any bills related to a cost of living adjustment (COLA), TRS-ActiveCare, or pension studies. Other major bills affecting TRS include the following:

SB 1954

This bill allows Optional Retirement Program (ORP)-eligible employees who are not notified properly additional time to elect ORP participation. The proposed bill creates an error correction process for reporting an ORP employee to TRS when the employee is not eligible for TRS. The person would be restored to ORP participation and member, state, and employer contributions related to the incorrect reporting, plus interest, would be paid to the employee’s ORP account. Amounts contributed to TRS that are in excess of participant contributions due to ORP would be refunded to the individual.

SB 1663

SB 1663 provides a number of member friendly benefit and administrative changes. It allows the TRS board to go into executive session to discuss particular investment transactions, strategies, portfolios, and other potential transactions related to private investments if the board determines that deliberating or conferring in an open meeting would have detrimental effect on TRS’s negotiations with third parties or place TRS at a competitive disadvantage in the market. The bill provides TRS with the authority to charge late fees on late reports by reporting entities.

It further allows TRS to add an additional five years of service credit when determining whether an early age reduction is applicable and the amount of the reduction, for a 100 percent joint and survivor annuity payable at the death of an active member. The bill amends current law to provide that disability retirees with less than 10 years of service credit who choose a $150 per month annuity for the number of months of membership to allow their beneficiaries to receive any remaining member contributions as an additional death benefit if the disability retiree dies before the period ends. The bill also moves the TRS sunset review to 2025.

SB 1664

SB 1664 bill provides IRS code compliance, statutory corrections, and member friendly benefit changes. It provides additional time for TRS members to purchase sick and personal leave service credit at retirement and corrects an error referencing the TRS board rather than the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to certify state contributions to the ORP.

SB 1665

This bill continues the use of derivatives and external managers capped at 30 percent of total assets and repeals the sunset dates on the authorities.

Did lawmakers make the grade on updating the accountability system?

skd282694sdcDid lawmakers make the grade on updating the accountability system? You be the judge.

House Bill (HB) 22 by Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) is likely the most broadly impactful piece of education legislation passed this session. It represents a compromise that was crafted by a conference committee of 10 legislators after the House and Senate passed differing versions of the accountability bill. Over the next two years, HB 22 will affect every district, campus, and charter school. Below are questions and answers about how ATPE perceives this latest iteration of the accountability system will work.

Does HB 22 maintain an A-F accountability system?

Yes, despite parents, educators, administrators, board members, students, and a host of other advocacy groups expressing their concerns about moving forward with an A-F accountability system, the Senate, largely at the direction of the Lt Governor, made it clear that no bill eliminating A-F would be allowed to pass.

When does the new bill go into effect?

Having been passed by more than two thirds of each chamber, HB 22 will go into effect as soon as the governor signs it. However, not all portions of the bill are immediately applicable. Most of HB 22’s provisions will first begin to be implemented during the 2017-18 school year, including assignment of district-level A-F ratings.  Campus-level A-F ratings will not be assigned until the 2018-19 school year. However, the commissioner of education will produce a report that will include non-official campus level ratings using 2017-18 data to be turned into the legislature by Jan. 1, 2019.

Is the HB 22 accountability system based on STAAR test scores?

At least in part, yes. To what degree depends largely on how the commissioner writes the administrative rules to implement the new law. HB 22 certainly allows the commissioner to develop a system that is highly dependent on STAAR test data, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels.

What will the new domains be under the state accountability system?

HB 22 calls for a system with three state-level domains, down from five.  The domains include the following:

Student Achievement This domain includes students’ absolute performance on the STAAR test. For high schools, it also includes the following other factors: TSI, AP, and IB tests; completion of dual credit courses; military enlistment; earning an industry certification; being accepted into certain post-secondary industry certification programs; successful completion of a college prep course under TEC 28.014; “successfully [meeting] standards on a composite of indicators that through research indicates the student ’s preparation to enroll and succeed, without remediation, in an entry-level general education course for a baccalaureate degree or associate degree;” graduation rates; successful completion of an OnRamps™ dual enrollment course; and award of an associate’s degree.
School Progress This domain includes student growth as measured by the percentage of students who met the standard for improvement on the STAAR test and an evaluation of performance as compared to similar districts or campuses. It is unclear whether the “performance” being compared is exclusively STAAR performance or if it will be broader.
Closing the Gaps This domain measures the differences for various categories of sub-populations such as racial, socioeconomic, special education, low mobility, and high mobility students. The bill does not specify which differentiated data is too be used for this purpose. Will it be only STAAR data, or will other data be used as well? The statute is also silent on how the sub-populations will be compared. For example, will gaps be compared to similar districts, or will they be compared within individual districts over time to determine if the gaps are closing, widening, or staying about the same?

Note: there is nothing in the statute as changed by HB 22 that would preclude the commissioner from creating a state-level accountability system that evaluates elementary and middle school campuses entirely on different manipulations of STAAR data.

What is a local accountability system?

Under HB 22, a district may create locally developed accountability domains and may use those domains in addition to the domains required by TEA to award district and campus accountability ratings, including overall ratings. Local domains must be assigned an A-F rating, must be valid and reliable, and must be capable of being audited by a third party. The commissioner of education will write administrative rules on the use of local accountability plans, and TEA will have authority to review and approve those plans.

Districts choosing to use a local accountability system are responsible for producing district and campus report cards locally.

How will the summative or overall grade be calculated under the new accountability system?

Each of the three state-level domains will receive a letter grade. At least 30 percent of the summative grade must be based on domain three (Closing the Gaps). The better of the two grades for domain one (Student Achievement) and domain two (School Performance, a/k/a student growth) will make up the remaining calculation for the summative grade, up to 70%. There is an exception, however, if a district or campus receives an F grade on either domain one or domain two; in that case, the highest grade it can receive for that part of the calculation is a B.

In case it’s not immediately clear, much will depend on the commissioner’s rules to implement HB 22. If the commissioner goes with a breakdown of 30% and 70% as contemplated above, the effect will be that a higher grade in domain three can never bring a district’s or campus’ summative grade up a letter; by contrast, a lower grade in domain three would always bring a district’s or campus’ summative grade down a letter. #AintMathFun

If that’s not already complex enough, here is where it gets really tricky. If one or more districts choose to develop one or more local domains to add to their accountability system, the commissioner can, but does not have to, write rules that would allow for up to half of the overall performance rating for that district or campus to be based on the ratings of the local domain(s). That is unless the campus or district would receive a D or an F on the overall performance rating using only the state level domains. The statute is not really clear what overall performance rating the district or campus would receive under that scenario.

How do A-F ratings relate to acceptable and unacceptable performance?

There are several laws in the Texas Education Code that continue to reference either “acceptable” or “unacceptable” performance as triggers for various actions to occur. As opposed to changing all of those references throughout state law, legislators simply benchmarked the new A-F labels to the existing terms.

When A-F was first rolled out, the cut point between acceptable and unacceptable was between grades C and D. In the current accountability system as it exists prior to HB 22, improvement required (IR) constitutes unacceptable performance. IR correlates to an F, not a D, under the A-F system. Because of this, setting unacceptable performance at a D under the new system would represent an expansion of what the state considers unacceptable performance. This would result in spreading state resources for turning around struggling schools among a larger group of campuses and districts, which would take the focus off those with the greatest need for intervention. HB 22 has resolved this issue by resetting the unacceptable cut point at the F rating.

The new A-F labels will coordinate with previous labels as follows:

Acceptable level of performance

A

Exemplary Met Standard
Acceptable level of performance

B

Recognized Met Standard
Acceptable level of performance

C

Acceptable Met Standard
Acceptable level of performance

D

Needs Improvement* Met Standard
Unacceptable level of performance

F

Unacceptable Improvement Required

* This is a new label created by HB 22 that does not correspond to an older system.

What is the difference between a D and F grade under HB 22?

Before HB 22, there was little to no differentiation between getting a D or an F in terms of consequences. Under HB 22, getting a D will no longer trigger the immediate accountability sanctions associated with an unacceptable level of performance. However, there are some requirements attached to this next to lowest ranking.

Year 1 of a D rating in either a single domain or overall The Commissioner shall instruct the district’s board of trustees to develop a local district or campus improvement plan.
Years 2 and beyond with a D rating overall The Commissioner shall implement interventions and sanctions that apply to an unacceptable campus until the district or campus is ranked C or higher on the overall rating.
Years 2 and beyond with better than a D rating overall but a D rating in a single domain The Commissioner shall instruct the district’s board of trustees to develop a local district or campus improvement plan.


How will stakeholders be involved under the new law?

Through multiple, sometimes broad grants of rulemaking authority, the Commissioner has been given a massive amount of latitude in structuring how the new accountability system under HB 22 will actually work. Thanks to amendment language requested by ATPE, this authority will be balanced at least to some degree by a statutory requirement to involve a stakeholder group in those decisions. HB 22 requires that the group must include  school board members, administrators and teachers employed by school districts, parents of students enrolled in school districts, and other interested stakeholders.

 

Additional changes made by HB 22:

Public education grants and mandatory access to transfers

A student at a campus that receives an unacceptable rating in both the student achievement and school progress domains must be allowed to transfer to another campus in the district and will be eligible for public education grant (PEG) funding.

Extra- and co-curricular indicator study

The commissioner shall study the feasibility of including an indicator that accounts for extracurricular and co-curricular student activity. By the year 2022, the commissioner shall either incorporate the indicator into the accountability system or present a feasibility report to the legislature.

Adopting indicators and setting cut scores

The commissioner may adopt indicators for the accountability system or standards (cut scores) at any point during the school year prior to evaluation of the district or campus. In setting the cut score for all indicators yearly, the commissioner shall consult with educators, parents, and business and industry representatives. The standards are to be modified in a way that promotes continuous improvement in student achievement and closing education gaps.

Reporting

Each school year, the commissioner shall provide each school district a document in a simple, accessible format that explains the accountability performance measures, methods, and procedures.

Thanks to language requested by ATPE, the commissioner, in consultation with stakeholders, must also develop language for each domain that clearly describes the district and campus performance on the indicators used to determine those assigned performance ratings.