Category Archives: Senate Education Committee

Senators hear from commissioner, Houston education stakeholders on hurricane impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest from the Texas Senate

Senate Education Committee moves House A-F fix plan

The Senate Education Committee heard a slew of House bills this week, with Chairman Huberty’s (R-Humble) HB 22, his plan to address the problems with the underpinnings of A-F, rising to the top of ATPE’s radar. While ATPE does not support the system to label schools A through F, we recognize that changing the labeling system is not on the table at this time. What could happen, however, are efforts to change some of the underpinnings of the accountability system, and ATPE supports that process as we work to reduce our state’s overreliance on standardized tests. As the bill was heard in committee on Thursday, Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor substituted his own A-F bill, SB 2051 into HB 22. Find out more about the hearing and ATPE’s position on the bill here. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

The full lists of the House bills advanced to the Senate floor this week can be found here and here.

Senate expected to send school finance bill back to House with voucher added

The Senate version of HB 21 is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. Last week the Senate Education Committee heard the school finance bill, but added a special education voucher before passing it out of committee (A refresher on that here.). Another bill eligible to be heard on the Senate floor today is the bill to address TRS-Care, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin). A comprehensive update on that bill can be found here. Follow your ATPE lobby team on twitter for live updates as these bill are debated on the floor of the Senate and check back for Teach the Vote updates.To watch the floor debate on these bills and more, visit the live or archived Senate feeds.

Educator misconduct bill, other bills sent to Governor Abbott

The Senate sent SB 7, the educator misconduct bill, to Governor Abbott this week. SB 7 originated in the Senate as a measure filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). The upper chamber advanced its final version of the bill in early March and sent the legislation to the House. The House passed the measure last week with several amendments added and sent it back to the Senate, which chose to agree to the House amendments rather than take the bill to conference committee and address any differences between the two bodies. Gov. Abbott is expected to sign the legislation into law.

The House also passed SB 826, a bill that loosens sequencing requirements for English and mathematics courses in high school. The bill saw changes in the House, and the Senate will likely decide to accept or deny those changes today prior to sending the bill to the Governor. Another bill that is likely to be sent to the governor this week without changes to bill text is SB 489 by Sen. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville). The ATPE-supported bill adds “e-cigarettes” to the recommended student instruction on preventing tobacco use.

The Senate chose not to concur to the House amendments to SB 179, the bill aimed at curbing bullying and cyber-bullying authored by Senator Menendez (D-San Antonio). The ATPE-supported bill will now go to conference committee where the two chambers will have the opportunity to work out their differences on the bill and develop a measure on which both chambers can agree.

Full Senate advances last-chance Senate bills

A significantly watered down version of SB 610, which originally expanded the virtual school network eligibility to students in kindergarten through 2nd grade (currently, state-sponsored virtual schooling is only available to students in grades 3 through 12), passed the Senate this week. ATPE opposed the legislation based on a number of concerns, including the pedagogical inappropriateness of full-time virtual education for our state’s youngest students and the research calling into question the success of full-time virtual education for a student of any age. In a last ditch effort to move the bill, Senator Huffines changed significantly changed the bill. It passed as a study of such an expansion, and ATPE expects it will support the vast majority of previous studies that seriously question the effectiveness of full-time virtual education.

The chamber also advanced a bill pertaining to educator preparation that ATPE opposes. SB 1963 by Sen. Creighton (R-Conroe) would prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs that train principals, counselors, and librarians (among other non-classroom teacher certification fields) to observe each candidate through at least one face-to-face visit. ATPE supports observations and support for educator preparation candidates that involve immediate feedback and support in real situations. While electronic tools might be great options for supplementing support of candidates, we remain concerned about efforts to roll back standards by SBEC that require at least one face-to-face observation for these candidates.

Senate committee advances House A-F bill with Senate language

The Senate Education Committee met today to hear a list of House bills that included HB 22, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Humble) bill to fix issues that arose from the A-F campus rating system passed last legislative session. As it was heard in the Senate committee today, the bill was amended by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) to substitute the language of his own A-F accountability bill, SB 2051.

Failing grade wrinkledATPE testified on the legislation as we did previously when SB 2051 was heard earlier this month. ATPE remains opposed to labeling schools and districts a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F, because we recognize that doing so only serves to unnecessarily stigmatize the schools and students within them; many other states understand that too and have repealed their previously adopted systems accordingly. However, we recognize that the bills today seek to address problems with the underpinnings of the current accountability system.

ATPE testified on SB 2051 when it was heard in committee last month, and reiterated our input on the language again today. Our suggestions were focused on the addition of a teacher quality measure, inclusion of descriptive language to better communicate what scores under the domains mean, and differentiation between D and F rated schools, which are considered one and the same under current law. ATPE made it clear that a teacher quality measure should not be based on student standardized tests, which would only result in increased reliance on state testing and wouldn’t offer a very holistic picture of a campus or district since the majority of teachers don’t teach STAAR-tested subjects.

ATPE supported language in HB 22 as it made its way through and left the House. We hope much of the work done in that lower chamber will be included in a final bill. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more on action in the Senate Education Committee this busy legislative week.

Inclusive consultation, educator preparation, and a last ditch effort at vouchers

This week was the third to last week of the 85th legislative session. In the Texas Senate, the week marked a significant increase in the number of House measures considered by the chamber and the Senate Education Committee, which included HB 21, or a Senate version of the bill that now includes a special education voucher. The week also included passage of a handful of education related Senate bills out of the full Senate, including the ATPE supported inclusive consultation bill and an educator preparation bill strongly opposed by ATPE.

Senate Education Committee hears House school finance bill, advances A-F fix

The Senate Education Committee heard mostly House bills this week when it met to consider its Tuesday and Thursday agendas. The House version of a fix to school finance, HB 21 by Rep. Huberty (R-Humble), was the most high profile bill heard and got bigger as Chairman Taylor made a last ditch effort to pass vouchers by adding a special education educational savings account (ESA) to the bill. The bill was originally supported by ATPE, but we joined the slew of advocates changing our position to against in light of the voucher addition.

Witness after witness, which included special education parents, teachers, administrators, districts, former educators, and more, spoke against the committee substitute and, more specifically, the eleventh hour addition of vouchers to the important bill. View more on the committee substitute and the hearing here. The committee voted yesterday evening to advance their version of HB 21 to the full Senate by a vote of 7-1; Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) was the lone “no” vote on the committee.

The committee also advanced SB 2051, Chairman Taylor’s (R-Friendswood) approach to fixing issues that surfaced after last session when the legislature passed major changes to the state’s public school accountability system. That law also changed the state’s school rating system to one that labels schools with an A through an F, which ATPE opposed. SB 2051 is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. The House version, HB 22, has made its way to the Senate, but hasn’t moved. Find more ore on SB 2051 here.

ATPE reiterated support in committee for a handful of House bills now moving through the Senate:

  • HB 3563 by Rep. Koop (R-Dallas) would align parental notification requirements regarding public school teacher qualifications with the new federal education law.
  • HB 1569 by Rep. Ashby (R-Lufkin) would require the sharing of certain student records with a school providing educational services if a student resides in a residential treatment facility.
  • HB 1645 by Rep. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require schools to offer a letter to students who participate in a Special Olympics event.
  • HB 2130 by Rep. Roberts (R-Houston) would require a study on the impact state standardized tests have on special education students.
  • HB 657 by Rep. Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow an ARD committee to promote a special education student who failed an exam but met the goals of an individualized education plan.

These bills must still get through the Senate to make it through the legislative process.

Inclusive consultation bill, other ATPE-supported measures get approval from Senate   

SB 1294 by Sen. Buckingham (R-Lakeway) was sent to the House this week after it passed the Senate on a vote of 21-10. The bill would prohibit districts from limiting professional staff eligibility to members of one professional organization when developing certain school district planning and decision-making committees. ATPE is in strong support of the bill, which aligns with our collaborative approach tenet, among others. SB 1294 will foster an approach to planning committees where educators, regardless of their professional association affiliation or lack of affiliation, are at the table working together – an approach that ATPE members believe result in the best policies for schoolchildren.

The full Senate also advanced the following measures supported by ATPE:

  • SB 195 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) was filed in response to a local tragedy and seeks to improve school transportation safety for certain students by allowing districts to use transportation funding to provide transportation and protections to students residing in or forced to walk through high violence neighborhoods.
  • SB 2039 by Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.
  • SB 436 by Sen. Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and SB 748 by Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which would address needs for special education students. (The Senate also advanced SB 529 by Sen. Lucio (D-Brownsville). The bill addresses training and professional development on the “universal design for learning” framework, which aims to prepare educators to teach all students, including those with disabilities, special needs, or behavioral issues.)

These bills now go to the House where they await approval from the lower chamber.

Bill rolling back educator preparation standards gets green light from Senate

An educator certification bill opposed by ATPE and most of the remainder of the public education community, which includes administrators, teachers, university deans, districts, educator quality groups, and more, passed the Senate this week with 20 senators supporting the measure. ATPE opposes the measure because we know that all kids deserve access to a well-trained educator, and we can’t expect educators to achieve excellence in the classroom if they aren’t excellently prepared in the first place. SB 1278 would roll back several standards recently raised at the State Board for Educator Certification, a board of education professionals. The bill is now sent to the House where it must get approval from the body; the bill had a House companion, but it died in committee when it failed to garner the votes necessary prior to the deadline.

House gives approval to ATPE-supported Senate bills

The House powered through their last day to pass House bills on second reading yesterday, and while the calendar included mostly House bills, the occasional Senate bill was substituted and considered. Among the Senate bills passed were three bills supported by ATPE: SB 7, the educator misconduct bill; SB 179, the anti-bullying and cyber-bullying measure referred to as David’s Law; and SB 160, which prohibits the Texas Education Agency from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students receiving special education services. The latter seeks to fix the 8.5% cap on special education services uncovered last year. An update on SB 7 can be found here.

Senate adds voucher to House school finance bill, jeopardizing needed funding

NO VOUCHERSSenate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) added a special education educational savings account (ESA), the newest fad in voucher legislation, to the House’s school finance bill, HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). After adding the bill to today’s Senate Education Committee agenda late yesterday, Chairman Taylor dropped another surprise when he announced this morning that his substitute version of HB 21 would include the special education voucher.

Having originally planned to support the school finance bill in today’s hearing, ATPE joined a slew of education advocates who lined up to change their position on HB 21 from “for” to “against” in light of the new development. ATPE will be testifying before the committee after it reconvenes later today following the Senate’s floor session. This morning, the committee heard from a handful of witnesses before recessing. View video from this morning’s portion of the hearing here; the discussion of HB 21 begins 40 minutes into the archived video file.

Testimony on HB 21 during the morning hearing included remarks from representatives of school districts that now oppose the school finance bill that would otherwise alleviate many problems with recapture and funding. For ATPE and so many others invested in supporting our public schools, vouchers in any form are a bridge too far. The committee also heard compelling testimony from the parent of a student with special needs who said, “I am not okay with ESAs,” citing concerns about giving up protections in federal law and parents being unable to afford the high additional costs of sending their children to specialized private programs that are few and far between in Texas. (Check out her testimony at the 1:30:27 mark on the archived video file.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on ATPE’s testimony later today against HB 21, as well as any action taken by the committee to advance the bill. In the meantime, ATPE urges educators and supporters of public education to contact their legislators and urge them to reject vouchers in any form! What is bad for kids is bad for all kids, and calling vouchers a different name doesn’t change that. ATPE members may visit Advocacy Central to call, tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to representatives and senators on this issue.

Related: View ATPE’s press release on the Senate’s move today to add vouchers to the school finance bill.

This week in the Texas Senate

The Senate wrapped up its work week today after two Senate Education Committee meetings with modest agendas and a number of education bills getting the green light from the full Senate chamber.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee heard a total of twelve bills this week during its regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. ATPE supported three bills: SB 1699, which establishes a framework of available resources for districts and campuses to use when addressing students’ non-academic barriers to learning; SB 927, which would set up a process for reevaluating any students who may have been denied necessary special education services because of the 8.5% cap uncovered last year; and SB 2052, which adjusts the school start date to not before the third (it’s currently set at the fourth) Monday in August and prohibits Districts of Innovation (DOI) districts from opting out of the provision.

ATPE opposed a bill, SB 1963, that would roll back a rule recently adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that requires all educator preparation programs to conduct one in-person, face-to-face observation of all principal, counselor, diagnostician, and other non-classroom teacher candidates.

The committee also passed its first House bill, sending that bill and 13 other Senate bills to the full Senate.

Texas Senate

On the floor of the full Senate this week, several education bills were approved and sent to the House for consideration by the body. ATPE is advocating for a number of the bills:

  • SB 463 by Sen. Seliger (R-Amarillo) is a top priority of ATPE and many other public school advocates. The bill would extend individual graduation committees available to those students who otherwise demonstrate mastery, but fail to pass up to two STAAR exams required for graduation. Read more about the bill here. Senators Konni Burton, Donna Campbell, and Jane Nelson were the only senators to oppose final passage.
  • SB 196 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) would require schools to notify parents if the school does not have a full-time nurse, school counselor, or librarian. The measure ultimately passed 19-12.
  • SB 2144 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) establishes a commission to study school finance in Texas. The bill passed the chamber unanimously. During debate, Chairman Taylor indicated his larger school finance bill, SB 2145, would be debated on the Senate floor next week.
  • SB 1854 by Sen. Uresti (D-San Antonio) would reduce unnecessary paperwork currently required of classroom teachers in schools. Senators Robert Nichols and Van Taylor were the only senators to oppose the bill.
  • SB 179 by Sen. Menendez (D-San Antonio), which aims to prevent and criminalizes school aged bullying and cyberbullying, passed unanimously out of the Senate after substantial changes.

The chamber advanced a few additional bills this week. SB 1839 by Sen. Hughes (R-Mineola), creates an EC-3 certification, gives the Commissioner authority to determine certain out-of-state certification reciprocity standards, and addresses educator preparation data collection. ATPE testifed neutrally on this piece of legislation in committee, sharing that the SBEC is already in the process of thoughtfully considering the best approach to adequately training early childhood teachers. We have also shared that all other certification authority is granted to SBEC, and it makes little sense to parse out reciprocity responsibility to the commissioner instead of the board.

SB 1882 puts into statute a process for schools to partner with a charter campus. Such partnerships already exist in Texas, but the bill would encourage them by granting financial and accountability incentives. ATPE has maintained that if we want to incentivize districts to implement turnaround models or try new approaches, we shouldn’t pick winners and losers by incentivizing one model or approach over others when many other valuable methods exist. The Senate floor debate included the adoption of an amendment advocated for by ATPE that ensures partner charters have been rated acceptable for the three preceding years. The Senate also contemplated an amendment that would have clarified that the district would remain the educators’ employer. However, that amendment lacked support and was pulled from consideration. The bill passed unanimously.

Finally, SB 1883 involves approval and review processes for charter schools. ATPE opposed the bill as originally filed because it removed the State Board of Education from the charter review process and revoked the board’s veto power over charter approvals. The review process issue was altered before the bill passed, but many of ATPE’s additional concerns remain.

The Senate begins its work again next week on Monday afternoon. Stay tuned as we head into the final three weeks of session.

Senate begins work on addressing A-F issues

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeThe House is set to debate its bill aimed at fixing the public school accountability system next week. The bill addresses aspects of accountability that were altered last session by a law that applies a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F to schools and districts. The new rating system is scheduled to go into effect next year, but following the release of preliminary results to districts, appetites for changes to the system have grown. Today the Senate Education Committee took up its bills to address fixes to the new system.

SB 2051 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) takes a broad approach to addressing the accountability system, largely giving the commissioner authority to write the system through rulemaking. Chairman Taylor acknowledged the broad approach during his bill layout and asked stakeholders to offer their thoughts on addressing the system.

ATPE recommended a number of changes including more efforts within the bill to reduce the system’s overreliance on standardized tests, required stakeholder input as TEA writes rules developing or altering the system, and language to differentiate between a D and F rating, which are considered one in the same under current law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann received agreement from committee members on ATPE’s recommendation to add a teacher quality measure to the system, a measure included under the House bill. Kate shared that inputs like average years of teaching experience, the percentage of teachers teaching within their field of certification, and teacher turnover rates can play a valuable role on ensuring qualified teachers are equitably spread across districts.

Commissioner Mike Morath shared information with committee members regarding the current A-F system and the state of public education in Texas. He emphasized TEA efforts to better inform parents and teachers on STAAR test results and other accountability outcomes. He shared that, for the first time, teachers and parents will be able to see how their students performed question by question on the STAAR exam and introduced a new accountability report card design. Senators questioned the overall value of STAAR exam results and highlighted the correlation between struggling schools and schools with high poverty rates. Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) again raised a concern shared by ATPE in opposition to the bill establishing the A-F rating system: the stigmatizing effect of labeling schools D and F is even more inappropriate when those D and F schools are full of the highest concentrations of low income and minority students.

Another issue that garnered significant discussion was the addition of a new layer to the accountability system: students considered to be continually enrolled (or in the district over a longer period of time) would be weighted heavier when calculating the campus and district accountability score than those that are considered mobile or transient. The idea behind the change is that campuses and districts should be held more heavily accountable for those students because they are a truer reflection of the success of a campus or district. Others, however, expressed concerned that weighting students differently in the accountability system could result in some students receiving less support, and, in this case, potentially those students that need the most support.

The bill would remove the inclusion of chronic absenteeism as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. ATPE agrees with many stakeholders that such an indicator is a flawed approach for a number of reasons, some of which can be read in our testimony on SB 1173, another A-F bill heard today that seeks to only address the absenteeism indicator. The bill, filed by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would omit the indicator but redistribute all of the 35% weight currently dedicated to the measure to portions of the accountability system that all utilize STAAR data to measure success. ATPE highlights our concerns with this unintended consequence of increasing reliance on standardized tests in our testimony linked above.

The committee heard a number of additional bills, which can be found on the full agenda. Among the bills advanced to the Senate floor today was SB 1294 by Senator Dawn Buckingham. ATPE strongly supports the legislation aimed at fostering inclusive consultation through certain district decision making and planning processes.

ATPE testifies for bill promoting inclusive consultation

The Senate Education Committee met today to hear a slew of bills covering a variety of topics, but one garnered the most attention from ATPE. Senate Bill (SB) 1294 by Senator Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit districts from limiting professional staff eligibility to members of one professional organization when developing certain school district planning and decision-making committees.

ATPE served as invited testimony, testifying in strong support of the legislation. Ten official ATPE Tenets developed and adopted by ATPE members have guided the association since its inception, and they continue to drive the association’s work today. Tenet number seven speaks to ATPE’s belief in a collaborative approach. It reads:

“ATPE members believe in working with others to advocate positive solutions to education issues facing public education today.”

SB 1294 speaks directly to ATPE’s collaborative tenet. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann told Senators on the committee that ATPE members believe the best policies for Texas public school children result when all educators, regardless of their professional association affiliation or lack of affiliation, are at the table working together.

Two additional ATPE tenets align with SB 1294: support for right-to-work principles and an all-inclusive membership. ATPE does not believe anyone should be forced to join a professional association and appreciates that the bill would not limit eligibility to only professional association members. We also welcome all members of the public education community to join ATPE, because collaboration between types of education professionals is as important as collaboration among teachers of all organization affiliation.

The committee also heard testimony on SB 195 today, and voted the bill out of committee the same day it was heard, an expedited process afforded to few bills. The bill deals with school transportation safety for certain students, allowing districts to use transportation funding to provide transportation and protections to students residing in or forced to walk through high violence neighborhoods. The bill was offered by Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) in response to a tragedy in her district involving the murder of a student. A list of other bills voted out of committee today can be viewed here.

ATPE supported SB 195 as well as two bills involving special education, SB 436 and SB 748. The full committee agenda can be found here. The committee will be back on Thursday to hear a number of measures, which can be found here.

Charter schools, educator certification top Senate Education Committee hearing

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday, April 20, to hear a number of bills pertaining to charter schools, educator training and certification, and more. ATPE weighed in on several measures.

Review, approval, and expansion of open-enrollment charter schools

The committee heard a handful of bills pertaining to charter schools on a number of issues. First up was Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 1883, pertaining to the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE testified against the bill. Our opposition was based on two primary themes: (1) removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible and (2) adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

Charter schools are not governed by an elected board of trustees, as is the case for traditional public school districts, so State Board of Education (SBOE) involvement in the charter applicant approval process is among the few opportunities for elected officials beholden to the Texas taxpayers to offer charter oversight. As was pointed out during the hearing, a recent out-of-state charter applicant that received approval three separate times from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, was then vetoed by SBOE each time based on reasonable concerns about the charter’s inappropriate profiteering in other states. Clearly, SBOE’s involvement plays a valuable role on multiple levels.

SB 1883 also creates new appeal and review processes for charters. The current process for charter approval offers sufficient opportunity for charter applicants to showcase the worth of their application. Further, charter schools and school districts have sufficient time to correct or address data or calculation errors prior to it affecting the entities’ academic or financial accountability ratings. ATPE believes that the additional appeal and review processes provided under Sen. Campbell’s bill are unnecessary and would only result in government waste at TEA, an agency that is already taxed for resources.

ATPE supported a charter bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), SB 2130, which would establish a process for first determining regional need before approving a new charter applicant or charter expansion effort. The bill would require the TEA commissioner to first consider a number of factors aimed at determining whether a current traditional school is sufficiently serving the educational needs of students who live in the district. If it is determined that the existing schools are sufficient to meet those needs, a charter applicant would not be granted approval to establish or expand in the area, a measure that is intended to address over-saturation of charter schools in specific geographic areas.

Early childhood certification, reciprocity for out-of-state certificate holders

SB 1839 by Sen. Brian Hughes (R-Mineola) was originally filed as a measure aimed at improving educator preparation program practices in Texas. It also addressed reciprocity for educators trained and certified in other states or countries seeking to teach upon moving to Texas. Current law requires those our-of-state teachers to pass the relevant Texas certification exam(s) before teaching, unless their out-of-state certification is deemed “at least as rigorous” as a comparable Texas certification. Sen. Hughes’s bill, under the committee substitute presented yesterday, would omit the “at least as rigorous” exception, allowing any teacher certified in another state or country to teach in a Texas classroom upon arrival. ATPE expressed concerns, saying that some standard, be it passing the Texas certification exam or another form of showcasing qualifications, must be in place to ensure teachers entering Texas classrooms meet our state’s standards.

The committee substitute language also adds the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate, which is among one of several avenues the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is currently reviewing in order to ensure early childhood teachers receive the specific instruction needed to best teach early childhood students. ATPE told the committee the thorough review process by SBEC is the best route to address this issue, because many factors play into this certification and SBEC is considering them all, including potential impacts on the supply of certified teachers at other grade levels.

Assessment flexibility, sex trafficking instruction

ATPE offered its support to two additional bills heard during yesterday’s hearing. Sen. Campbell’s SB 1005 would give certain students, those who must still pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to graduate, the opportunity to meet graduation requirements by instead passing the SAT or ACT. ATPE also supported Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) SB 2039, which would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.

The full Senate Education Committee agenda from yesterday can be found here. A list of the bills voted out of the committee during the hearing can be found here. Among the bills advanced by the committee was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) SB 653, which he changed to only address pension revocation for certain individuals formerly employed as educators. Some of his original bill was rolled into the Senate’s priority bill pertaining to educator misconduct, SB 7, which is already moving through the process. ATPE supported both bills when they were previously heard in the Senate Education Committee.

Recapping school finance day in the Senate Education Committee

Piggy bank with glasses and blackboardThe Senate Education Committee met yesterday to hear a number of bills dealing with funding for public schools. Top of the agenda was Chairman Larry Taylor’s (R-Friendswood) version of a bill to fix school finance, a bill that differs in approach from the House’s school finance measure, which has already made it out of committee and is scheduled to be debated on the House floor this afternoon.

Considerable attention has been paid to what the 85th Texas Legislature will do to fix the Texas school finance system since last year when the Texas Supreme Court determined that the system meets minimal constitutional standards but “is undeniably imperfect.” The court called on the legislature to fix the “byzantine” school finance system for Texas students; SB 2145 is Chairman Taylor’s attempt to do just that.

The bill is one developed and promoted by the Equity Center, a research and advocacy organization that exclusively focuses on school finance issues. It would take a more simplistic approach to funding Texas public schools by eliminating the current layers of hold harmless provisions and funding mechanisms not based on educational costs, instead rolling funding through the basic allotment that is based on educational cost drivers. The Equity Center offers a more in depth explanation of the plan here. ATPE supported SB 2145, as well as SB 2144, which creates a commission to study school finance in depth over the interim.

Another bill that garnered a lot of attention in yesterday’s committee hearing was a bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), SB 419, which would extend ASATR funding for an additional six years. ASATR is targeted state school funding set to expire this year. At the same time the legislature required school districts to compress their tax rate in 2006, the state added targeted funding, known as ASATR, as a hold harmless provision to ensure districts and students weren’t hurt by the tax cut. Fewer districts now rely on ASATR funding, but many still depend on it heavily.

The testimony on SB 419 was mixed. Several districts explained why they need ASATR funding to continue operating, often referring to lost resources for hiring teachers. Others argued that the targeted funding reduces overall funding issued through the state funding formulas and that the continued need for ASATR by some districts is a reflection of issues with the overall funding system. ATPE understands both angles, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that while we may need a short term fix to continue ASATR for those who depend upon it, lawmakers also need to focus on an overall fix that reduces the need of ASATR funded districts.

View the full agenda to see the list of bills heard in yesterday’s Senate Education Committee hearing.