Category Archives: Press Coverage

From The Texas Tribune: Hey, Texplainer: Does the Texas lottery fully fund public education?

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017. Photo by John Jordan

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017.
Photo by John Jordan

Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Lynne Springer. Send us your questions about Texas politics and policy by emailing texplainer@texastribune.org or through texastribune.org/texplainer. 

Hey, Texplainer: The lottery is supposed to fund education — that was stated at the get-go. Why is lottery money being used for other things?

When they were trying to sell the lottery to voters more than 25 years ago, political candidates left many Texans with the impression that 100 percent of the money earned from the lottery would go toward education and that the lottery might generate enough money to pay for all public education.

Neither is true.

Through a constitutional amendment, voters approved the creation of the Texas Lottery in November 1991. Between 1992 and 1997, $4 million from lottery ticket sales and unclaimed prizes went toward the state’s general revenue fund — meaning it could be used for any state expense.

It wasn’t until after 1997 that Texas schools became a specific beneficiary of the money.

The breakdown of how that money is distributed now looks like this, according to the Texas Lottery Commission website:

  • 63 percent is paid to lottery winners
  • 27.1 percent funds Texas education through the Foundation School Fund
  • 5.4 percent goes toward retailer commissions
  • 4 percent goes to the lottery for administrative costs
  • The remainder, about 0.4 percent, funds the Veterans Assistance Program and other state programs

The commission announced in September 2016 that it had earned more than $5 billion in sales for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“This is the first time in our history that we have generated more than $5 billion in sales,” Gary Grief, the lottery’s executive director, said in a news release. “We are excited to celebrate the extraordinary growth we have achieved and proud to make our largest contributions ever to both Texas public schools and veterans’ programs.”

Of that $5 billion, roughly $1.3 billion was allotted to the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency. The money is used for expenses such as teacher salaries, bilingual education and special education. TEA officials said the Foundation School Program should be thought of “as a huge pot of money” with lottery revenue being just one contributor to the pot.

In 2015, the Legislature budgeted $48.4 billion in state funds for public education over two years, which included $2.4 billion that the lottery contributed to the state’s foundation school account.

According to the Texas Lottery’s website, the lottery has contributed $20 billion to the Foundation School Fund since 1997. But TEA officials say there’s no telling which Texas school districts receive lottery funding.

The bottom line: The money earned by the Texas Lottery has never been fully dedicated to Texas education. Since 1997, a percentage of lottery revenue has gone toward funding the state’s public schools, but not all of it.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/07/07/hey-texplainer-does-lottery-fully-fund-public-education/.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: The political play behind Gov. Abbott’s call for $1,000 teacher pay raises

What’s an unfunded mandate look like? Is that when the state tells school districts to give teachers at $1,000 pay raise and doesn’t send the money to cover it?

The $120 million Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed from the state budget isn’t going to be enough to cover the teacher pay raises he says he wants the Legislature to approve during the coming special session, which is another way of saying that the state isn’t going to pay for it. That means local property taxpayers would have to cover the tab if lawmakers “give” each of the state’s 353,805 public school teachers another $1,000 per year.

It will take some serious salesmanship to move this proposal. It’s more than a question of where the money will come from, although that’s a perfectly good question. It’s not exactly clear where the money would go if the state could round up the money to spend.

Texas lawmakers have been steadily cutting the state’s share of public education costs for a decade. They started this cycle of school finance with the state paying about 45 percent, the federal government paying about 10 percent and local school districts paying the remaining 45 percent. The feds are still covering their dime, but the state’s share has slipped to 38 percent and the local share — the share that’s financed by that notoriously unpopular property tax — has risen to 52 percent.

That pattern hasn’t stopped, by the way: During the regular legislative session that ended on Memorial Day, state lawmakers approved a new two-year budget that spends less state money per public school student than the last budget. At the same time, those same lawmakers are shocked — shocked! — at the way property taxes are going up.

Add to those costs the idea of paying for $1,000 teacher pay raises and having the local districts paying for the hikes ordered by the state.

Read that again, while pretending your neighbors have elected you to the local school board: The state government is cutting its share of the cost of running your schools, ordering you to raise teacher pay and hollering at you for raising taxes. Thank you for your service!

An optimist might say that the school finance item on the governor’s special-session wish list could pry open the treasury enough to also pay for teacher raises, but that proposal is tangled up with another of Abbott’s requests: a voucher program for special-needs kids.

Yet there is much more to all of this than an unfunded $1,000 pay raise for teachers. The raises would average $1,000, but they wouldn’t necessarily be across-the-board hikes. Aides to and allies of the governor have been shopping around a merit pay plan that would base the size of teacher pay raises on teacher performance.

“It is a holistic change to how teachers would be compensated,” says state Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican who heads the House Public Education Committee. “My initial reaction was, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’”

Whatever you think about that, it’s a lot to bite off in a 30-day special session. Other issues on the governor’s agenda —school finance, using public money for private schools, regulating which kids use which restrooms — were all debated earlier this year. Hearings were held. Some will argue that those issues have been examined enough to justify the quick consideration a special session allows. That’s not the case with teacher pay — although school’s out, so they’d be certain to hear from teachers.

“This is a year’s worth of work that needs to be done — it’s a heavy lift in a special session,” Huberty says. “Is this a horrible idea? I don’t think anybody knows yet.”

The governor’s crew has a lot of arguments stacked up: College students don’t see teaching as rewarding, top teachers are leaving the profession, students do better with better teachers and Dallas schools — where Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath was previously on the school board — had good results with merit-based pay raises.

Their arguments against the current payroll system center on lousy public school student performance on third- and fourth-grade reading tests, eighth-grade science tests and end-of-course algebra 1 exams; on low passing scores on SAT/ACT tests used by most colleges to assess student readiness; on the numbers of students who need remedial classes when they get to college; and so on.

It’s a start, but closing an argument on something as fundamental as teacher pay in 30 days — especially when it’s not part of a fresh debate from the regular session — is asking a lot of a Legislature busy with more familiar but similarly difficult issues.

Lawmakers have 19 legislative priorities aside from the pay raises. Still, they have 30 days. What could go wrong?

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/30/analysis-political-play-behind-gov-abbotts-call-1000-teacher-pay-raise/.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: House education leaders won’t budge on school finance, private school choice

Reps. Dan Huberty, Diego Bernal and Gary VanDeaver discuss the past legislative session and the upcoming special session at a conference of the Texas Association of School Administrators in Austin on June 25, 2017. Photo by Austin Price/The Texas Tribune

Reps. Dan Huberty, Diego Bernal and Gary VanDeaver discuss the past legislative session and the upcoming special session at a conference of the Texas Association of School Administrators in Austin on June 25, 2017. Photo by Austin Price/The Texas Tribune

The top House education leader said Sunday that “private school choice” is still dead in the lower chamber.

“We only voted six times against it in the House,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty said. ”There’s nothing more offensive as a parent of a special-needs child than to tell me what I think I need. I’m prepared to have that discussion again. I don’t think [the Senate is] going to like it — because now I’m pissed off.”

Huberty, R-Houston, told a crowd of school administrators at a panel at the University of Texas at Austin that he plans to restart the conversation on school finance in the July-August special session after the Senate and House hit a stalemate on the issue late during the regular session. Huberty’s bill pumping $1.5 billion into public schools died after the Senate appended a “private school choice” measure, opposed by the House.

Huberty was joined by Education Committee Vice Chairman Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and committee member Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, on a panel hosted by the Texas Association of School Administrators, where they said they didn’t plan to give in to the Senate on the contentious bill subsidizing private school tuition for kids with special needs.

Gov. Greg Abbott has called legislators back to Austin for a July-August special session to tackle a hefty 20-item agenda that includes several public education issues that the Senate and House could not agree on during the legislative session. Huberty, Bernal and VanDeaver on Sunday refused to budge politically from where they stood on major education issues during the regular session.

“I pretty much stand where I stood then,” VanDeaver said.

Educators argue private school choice saps money from the public school system, while proponents say it offers low-income parents choices beyond the limited scope of the public education system.

That position could put the representatives in private school choice advocates’ crosshairs as they gear up for re-election in 2018. Huberty, already a target of efforts to unseat him in the next Republican primary, called it an “onslaught” against public education.

VanDeaver said educators have two options: They can give in to the Senate’s attempts to attach school finance and private school choice, or they can vote against legislators who want those issues linked.

“If you don’t stick up for yourselves in a real way … we are going to lose,” Bernal added.

Abbott put several public education bills on the special session agenda, to be addressed only after the Senate passes crucial “sunset” bills that would keep several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, operating during the next budget cycle.

Huberty said providing public schools with additional revenue is the only way to decrease local property taxes, another priority of the governor on the agenda for special session. “I’m planning on filing a property tax bill that will address school finance,” he said.

Educators have argued school districts must push for higher taxes because the state is underfunding public schools.

Huberty said he did not know if he would re-file the exact same piece of school finance legislation the House passed in the spring. That bill simplified the formulas for funding public schools and injected $1.5 billion into public schools, in part by using a budget trick to defer a payment to public schools until 2019.

Huberty said the Legislature could still fund the bill by using that mechanism. “If there’s no money, I get it,” he said. “But we got a mechanism set up to be able to deal with it.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/25/texas-reps-education/.

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.

From TribTalk: Special session will be more bad news for teachers and public schools

Bayless Elementary teacher Holly Guillmen identifies and explains the use of the contents of the Waterwise home water conservation kit provided to students by the High Plains Underground Water District in Lubbock, Texas, Oct. 17, 2012. Photo by Jerod Foster

 

There’s a truism in Texas politics: Little good happens in Austin after May.

That’s why our founders assigned the Texas Legislature only one task – to pass a state budget – and limited their ability to meet to just 140 days every other year.

As a failsafe in the event of catastrophe, the founders entrusted the governor with the power to call legislators back under “extraordinary occasions.” Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors.

Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.

We’ve just wrapped up one of the most bitter and divisive legislative sessions in recent memory. Friendships were strained, and the good of the state took a backseat to questionable “priorities” outlined by our radio host-turned-lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

Yet thanks to the refusal of Texas House members to abandon the voters who sent them to Austin, some of the worst proposals never came to fruition. For example, lawmakers said no to vouchers for unregulated private schools because most Texans oppose spending tax dollars that way and want the state to support our existing public schools. Over and over, House members voted against subsidizing exclusive private tuition in places like Dallas with taxes collected from hardworking families in rural communities like Lubbock.

Also, the House offered improvements to the “A through F” accountability system and a $1.6 billion increase in education funding that the Senate turned down in favor of pursuing Lt. Gov. Patrick’s pet causes. Angered by the failure of his potty police and other crusades, Patrick even held a medical board sunset bill hostage at the end of the session, and now he has received his wish to force a special session.

Those hoping Gov. Greg Abbott would ignore the partisan cries and focus instead on truly “extraordinary” government needs in this upcoming called session are disappointed.

Announcing what promises to be the mother of all special sessions, the governor began by teasing a teacher pay raise – but refusing to fund it. ATPE supports increased pay, but without appropriations for school districts that will be forced to accommodate this, it’s hard to see the governor’s proposal as anything other than an unfunded mandate intended to soften the blow of other unnecessary anti-teacher and anti-public education legislation on the special session call.

This 30-day, taxpayer-funded special session will reopen angry fights over vouchers and other bad bills that failed to pass during the 140-day regular session. They include a shameful attack on teachers that would curtail their ability to voluntarily join professional associations like ATPE by using payroll deduction for membership fees. Falsely marketed as an attack on unions and a way to save taxpayer resources, the legislation actually protects Abbott’s and Patrick’s favored unions — police, firefighters, and first responders — while singling out teachers to strip them of the rights enjoyed by other public employees.

Imagine that: Telling teachers they can’t be trusted with their own paychecks while reaching into all our wallets to fund another crack at their own pet political projects.

This special session outline is a slap in the face to teachers and public schools at a time when they are being asked to do more with less. The founders knew what they were doing. Texans should be wary of what happens in Austin after the regular session adjourns in May.

It won’t be good for many of us.

Gary Godsey, Executive director, Association of Texas Professional Educators

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This post was original published by The Texas Tribune for its TribTalk website at https://www.tribtalk.org/2017/06/21/special-session-will-be-more-bad-news-for-teachers-and-public-schools/.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate passes private school choice bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Texas senators spent hours on Thursday questioning how a “private school choice” bill would hold private schools accountable or help students with disabilities before voting to give it final passage, 18-13.

They voted out a floor substitute of Senate Bill 3 that limits the scope of the two public programs proposed to subsidize private school tuition. The version passed by the upper chamber would limit eligibility for the programs to students who have attended a public school for at least a year, prevent incoming kindergarteners from participating and would exclude counties with populations under 285,000 from participating unless 5 percent of registered voters petition the county for access.

The changes seemed directed to appeal to rural legislators with constituents who have fewer options for public schools and to those with concerns about the state costs of a major subsidy program.

“Basically, what we’ve done with this floor substitute is narrow it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the bill. “We didn’t add things. We took things away.”

Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Joan Huffman of Houston and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill along with almost every Democrat. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the lone Democratic vote in favor.

SB 3 would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The first program, education savings accounts, would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The current version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, so that a family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate. (The previous version of the bill would have allowed families of any income to participate in the education savings account program.)

The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations. The current version of the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year, instead of $100 million in the previous version.

The current version would also require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services.

Taylor said the bill in its current form would save $55.3 million by 2022 because under the program, the state would be paying just 75 percent of the cost to educate each public school student who decides to take a tuition subsidy for a private school. Only students already enrolled in public schools would be able to access the program, meaning the state would be paying less for each student who moved from public to private school, he said.

Left-leaning policy organization Center for Public Policy Priorities released its own fiscal analysis on Thursday showing the bill would cost the Texas public school system more than $500 million per year.

“As many senators mentioned today by citing CPPP’s analysis, Senate Bill 3 is still undeniably the wrong solution for Texas kids because it would drain state dollars from already under-funded public schools,” executive director Ann Beeson said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system.”

In calculations for previous versions of the bill, the Legislative Budget Board estimated a cost to the state of between $90 million and $330 million; Taylor did not release the new fiscal note to the Senate before taking up the bill.

Most of the almost four-hour debate revolved around whether private schools would be held to state standards and whether the bill would actually help students with disabilities.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, offered up an amendment to require private schools to be held accountable to the state’s A-F rating system, which will soon be in place for public schools. Taylor argued parents would leave any private school that was not working for them, representing a strong accountability system outside of the state.

“I understand Sen. Taylor saying accountability is with the parents,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re not getting to the core of what people would like to see when it comes to these types of programs.” Taylor rejected his amendment, and it failed 13-18 in a subsequent vote.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully amended the bill to require letters be sent to parents who take the subsidies for private schools, letting them know private schools are not required to serve their students with disabilities under federal law. Taylor agreed to that change.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die.

Read more Tribune coverage here:

  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.
  • In a 7-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.
  • Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee debate on private school subsidies lasted more than seven hours and saw experts on both sides arguing they knew best how to educate black and Latino Texas students.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/30/senate-school-choice-bill/.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
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From KUT: Texas Education Groups Encourage More Students, Teachers to Vote

By  & NOV. 1, 2016

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz chatted with six Reagan Early College High School students as they gathered at the ACC Highland Mall campus’ early voting center on Monday afternoon to cast their ballots on their way to class. The students are among 1,963 young adults in AISD schools that are age 18 or older this month.

“I can say that it’s important to vote, and people are going to say ‘That’s an old guy, right?’” Cruz said to the students. “But, if they hear you saying it, I think it’s a different message. Don’t you think?”

The students, who take classes at ACC through their high school, recorded a video with Cruz while standing outside the polling place to encourage other students their age to go to the polls. The video is part of a concerted effort Cruz’s office has made this fall to educate students at AISD schools about the importance of exercising their right to vote. The superintendent’s office plans to share the video on the AISD Twitter account and Facebook page to reach students in a new way.

“In all of our high schools, we have individuals who help students and families understand about voting. It’s something we’ve done for many years,” Cruz said. “This is to use different mediums that students are used to now. It’s just another approach to get the word out.”

Reagan Early College High School Academic Director, Jesse De La Huerta, says many students find the voting process intimidating

“Every time I talk to students who are becoming of-age to vote, it’s scary. They’re like, ‘What if I don’t know what to do? What about this? What about that?’” De La Huerta said.

Teachers at Reagan quell students’ concerns about voting by answering these questions in government classes at Reagan, De La Huerta says. They enthusiastically accepted the challenge from the superintendent’s office this year to talk more to their students about the importance of voting, he said.

AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz poses with students outside of ACC’s Highland Mall campus during an AISD voter awareness event.
CREDIT MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR. / KUT

 

But education groups across the state say teachers also need encouragement to vote, and they want school district superintendents to create a culture of voting on campuses – an effort called Texas Educators Vote.

“When people vote, they often have an issue in mind and it’s not usually education,” said Laura Yeager, the director of Texas Educators Vote. “These are educators who vote and then they often get to school and say, ‘Gee, why aren’t they funding our schools?’ and ‘Why am I only teaching testing?’ and ‘Why are all these things happening?’ And we’re trying to link the issue that’s important to them with their vote.”

The group includes the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Rural Education Association and others. Yeager says she and some others got the idea after the last legislative session.

“We were bemoaning how hard it was to get good public education passed, but we had done a pretty good job stopping some bad legislation,” she said. The idea, Yeager adds, is to educate teachers and hope that education trickles down to students and other school employees.

“We can get them to research and think about who actually supports public education,” she said. “Get them educated, and then encourage the culture of voting for students, educators, bus drivers and custodians and, really, everyone working in Texas public schools. Maybe we’d get to elect people that really did support public schools.”

The group doesn’t endorse any candidates, but encourages teachers to educate themselves on who is running and their views. They also suggest schools provide incentives to teachers to vote through school-wide contests or mini prizes for those who wear an “I Voted” sticker.

“You could go down in history, you could be that person who says later, ‘I voted for the first female,’ if that’s the case, or whatever the case may be,” De La Huerta said.

Last month, Austin School Board trustees approved a resolution to encourage Texas educators to vote.

While this message seems to be inspiring at least some students at Reagan, they may have to do a little digging to figure out how to vote on their own. Celeste Vasquez, one of the students featured in the video, said she used the internet to figure out how to register to vote.

“My government teacher talked to me somewhat about the procedure, but mostly about the importance of voting,” she said. “I pretty much learned how to do all the other stuff on my own through websites. I figured out step by step what I needed to do, one step at a time.”

This story was produced by KUT in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum. It was originally published by KUT and reprinted with permission. View the original article and listen to audio here.

From The Texas Tribune: Eleven Texas school boards ordered to the classroom

 
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Houston ISD trustees admonish TEA for delaying campus turnaround plan implementation. Graphic by Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune

The superintendents and elected school boards of 11 Texas districts — including Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth — have been ordered by the state education agency to attend two-day training programs to learn how to fix their failing schools.

Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill sent letters to the 11 school boards Oct. 10 saying they need additional governance training because their districts submitted unsatisfactory plans for turning around floundering campuses. All 11 superintendents and boards have agreed to the training, with several members expressing frustration about what they saw as an unfair and vague request.

The letters were sent about two months after TEA released 2016 accountability ratings showing that 467 campuses statewide — including 42 in the targeted districts — were labeled “improvement required,” a decrease from 603 campuses last year. The notices were sent to Brazosport, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hearne, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Nacogdoches, Tyler and Waco.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has promised to crack down on low-performing schools and to halve the number of failing schools over the next five years.

State law requires districts to submit detailed plans in the spring to fix problems at schools labeled “improvement required” for two or more consecutive years. The districts are supposed to include parents and the community in drafting the proposed fixes.

Morath has the final say on approving the plans — by mid-to -late June, according to a TEA timeline — so districts can start implementing them the following school year.

But for the 11 school districts, that implementation will have to wait until board trustees and superintendents attend a two-day, 24-hour governance training session.

In the letters, Crabill said he wasn’t sure the plans the districts submitted would address problems — including low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and poor college readiness — within two years. The training sessions will help trustees identify and fix weaknesses in their plans, the letter said.

 

If Morath decides not to approve a plan, he can replace the board of trustees, replace the principal of a school or shut the school down completely, Crabill wrote.

Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees told Crabill it will likely vote to attend the training. But it also admonished the agency for leaving little time to actually turn around its schools. The commissioner said he would respond to the plans in June, and now may not approve them until trainings are completed in December.

“Our ability to make significant changes to the plans for these seven schools at this date may be somewhat limited,” the Houston board wrote Oct. 25. “Since TEA has missed its own published deadline for responding to the turnaround plans by four months, we ask that you provide us with specific concerns that TEA may have with the plans for these seven schools, so that we may begin considering how to make any appropriate adjustments in a way that will cause the least disruption during the school year.”

At an Oct. 27 Dallas Independent School District board meeting, a few trustees said the request for training was too vague.

“While I don’t have a problem with training, I do have a problem with a demand that I implement what it is we are going to be trained on, when I don’t even know what it is,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “We need to know the specifics of what is wrong. We need to know specifics about the training. We need to know specifics of why these eight schools.”

The commissioner did approve campus turnaround plans in other districts around the state, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said. She could not say what the difference was between those plans and the ones the commissioner flagged.

After receiving a flood of questions from district officials across the state, Crabill included a few key explanations in a follow up email to all 11 superintendents. He slashed the training from four days to two, after trustees said it was too hard for them to fit into their schedules. He presented six different dates and locations for the training, in Kilgore, Waco, Fort Worth, Midland, El Paso and Houston, on weekdays and weekends between Nov. 9 and Dec. 17.

All trustees and superintendents from all 11 boards must attend the entire workshop, Crabill said.

“This is a team event so just like in other team events, the whole team has to win together. Completion means that all trustees and the superintendent were present at the same workshop for the entirety of the workshop,” Crabill wrote.

Though all 11 boards have agreed to attend the training, it is not clear whether all trustees will show up.

A veteran Lubbock board trustee said he voted yes to the resolution agreeing to training – but now he’s not sure whether he will actually attend. He called the demand for governance training “unprecedented” in his 14 years on the board.

He said he is not sure whether he can get away from his day job for two 12-hour days. Districts have to cover the cost of any travel required for board members to attend the training session.

TEA does not have a plan in place in case board members don’t show up, Callahan said. “So far, TEA is receiving confirmation that board members will attend and complete the training. As a result, discussions on failure to participate have not been necessary,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Any talk of penalties is premature.”

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday outlined plans to crack down harder on chronically low-performing schools, saying he wants to cut in half the number of them that end up on the state’s failing list over the next five years.
  • More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/02/tea-demands-district-training-delays-turnarounds/.