Category Archives: special education

SBOE committee update: Dyslexia, CPE changes

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning. Members of the Committee on Instruction considered a number of items related to students with dyslexia. The first involves amending current administrative rules to strengthen the evaluation procedure used in determining whether a student has dyslexia, as well as providing more information to parents regarding the process and evaluator credentials.

Texas SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting April 12, 2018.

Additionally, members of the committee heard testimony regarding potential changes to the Dyslexia Handbook. Revisions are being considered in order to implement provisions of House Bill (HB) 1886, which aimed to improve early identification and support for students with dyslexia and related disorders. Much of the public testimony regarded the value of highly trained educators and therapists as well as well-crafted programs, and noted the reason for shortages in these areas often revolves around insufficient funding.

Parents noted that many rural schools are understaffed, and dyslexia teachers may pay for training themselves. One witness, a Section 504 Coordinator from Frisco ISD, suggested the handbook not forget the importance of identifying older students who may have missed being identified as dyslexic, often as a result of high-level performance or transferring from out-of-state schools. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff indicated work is being done with stakeholder committees to prepare revisions in time for the board to vote at their September meeting. Changes would be effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

The Committee on School Initiatives meanwhile turned its attention to educator certification and continuing professional education (CPE). The committee advanced a rule change passed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would require educator preparation programs to do a better job of informing candidates who may be ineligible to gain certification for a variety of reasons.

Members also advanced a SBEC rule change resulting from Senate Bill (SB) 7, SB 1839, and SB 179, which added CPE requirements regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, digital literacy, and grief and trauma training, respectively. While the original rule required educators to regularly select from a list of CPE topics not to exceed 25 percent in any one particular subject, the new rule will require educators to allocate their CPE hours so that every subject is covered.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss public feedback on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and several SBOE members are expected to attend in addition to those already on the committee. Check back with TeachTheVote.org for updates from this meeting.

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

TEA seeking public input on special education plan

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday it is accepting public comments on the draft strategic plan for special education through noon, April 18.

As reported previously at Teach the Vote, the agency released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response last month to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking additional input on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release last month, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.

The TEA will aggregate feedback and send a final version of the special education improvement plan to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education by April 23, 2018.

TEA releases draft of special education corrective actions

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released an initial draft plan Thursday in response to an order from the U.S. Department of Education to implement corrective actions to ensure all special education students receive the supports guaranteed under federal law. The federal action comes in response to the denial of special education services to Texas children resulting from a de facto “cap” maintained by the agency, which was uncovered by a Houston Chronicle investigation.

Governor Greg Abbott ordered the initial draft ready by the end of the week, and the full text of the initial draft of the corrective action plan can be viewed on the TEA website. The proposed portions of the most interest to teachers include a professional development component and possible future changes to certification requirements.

Specifically, the plan explains, “TEA will create and execute on statewide professional development for all educators (general education, special education, and others), structured initially as a training institute for teachers around the state, and to include ongoing follow up. The content of this professional development will include elements both for inclusive practices and instructional techniques as well as broader identification and related Child Find practices. The content development will be informed by the perspectives of educators, special education students, and field experts. All participants will be required to demonstrate content proficiency and implementation before being noted as having participated in the full program.”

The section on certification is included in an appendix listing additional measures, which states, “TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.”

The initial proposal lays out four main corrective actions:

Corrective Action One

Documentation that the State’s system of general supervision requires that each ISD identifies, locates, and evaluates all children suspected of having a disability who need special education and related services, in accordance with section 612(a)(3) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.111, and makes FAPE available to all eligible children with disabilities in accordance with section 612(a)(1) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.101.

Under this section, TEA will hire additional staff to audit schools both on-site and remotely once every three to six years. The new Review and Support Team will have unrestricted access to staff and students, the ability to make scheduled and unannounced campus visits and the ability to conduct confidential interviews. According to the plan, “The purpose will be to have an authentic understanding of the district’s strengths and areas of growth, to make fast corrections and link districts to strong technical support options.” Additionally, TEA will explore incorporating students with disabilities and special education educators as reviewers.

Corrective Action Two

A plan and timeline by which TEA will ensure that each ISD will (i) identify, locate, and evaluate children enrolled in the ISD who should have been referred for an initial evaluation under the IDEA, and (ii) require IEP Teams to consider, on an individual basis, whether additional services are needed for children previously suspected of having a disability who should have been referred for an initial evaluation and were later found eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA, taking into consideration supports and services previously provided to the child.

Here, TEA discusses plans to hire a third-party contractor to conduct outreach. According to the text, “The cost of identifying and conducting assessments for students suspected of having a disability has always been the responsibility of the district, which will continue.” Districts will also be required to provide compensatory services to students found to have needed services who did not receive them. Districts will also be responsible for this cost, though TEA is proposing a five-year, $25 million fund to help some of them.

Corrective Action Three

A plan and timeline by which TEA will provide guidance to ISD staff in the State, including all general and special education teachers, necessary to ensure that ISDs (i) ensure that supports provided to struggling learners in the general education environment through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program are not used to delay or deny a child’s right to an initial evaluation for special education and related services under the IDEA; (ii) are provided information to share with the parents of children suspected of having a disability that describes the differences between RTI, the State dyslexia program, Section 504, and the IDEA, including how and when school staff and parents of children suspected of having a disability may request interventions and/or services under these programs; and (iii) disseminate such information to staff and the parents of children suspected of having a disability enrolled in the ISD’s schools, consistent with 34 CFR §300.503(c) .

Under this section, TEA will contract a vendor to create resource materials intended to explain the applicable laws to parents. This section includes the professional development component mentioned previously.

Corrective Action Four

A plan and timeline by which TEA will monitor ISDs’ implementation of the IDEA requirements described above when struggling learners suspected of having a disability and needing special education and related services under the IDEA are receiving services and supports through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program.

Here, TEA discusses the creation of a Special Education Escalation Team to offer technical assistance and intensive monitoring. The team will initially focus on districts with the highest self-reported ratio of missed identifications, then serve as an escalation pathway for the Review and Support Team.

The plan also lists the following actions in addition to the plan’s four core components:

  • Given TEA’s prior actions to expand its special education support team by 39 FTEs statewide, TEA will begin staff training across the agency so that all TEA staff provide consistent responses to stakeholders. These trainings will occur quarterly.
  • TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.
  • TEA is restructuring grant agreements with Educational Service Centers (ESCs) to be outcomes-oriented. Further, as part of the grant requirements, there will be close document review and approval of all ESC materials to ensure guidance in the field remains clear.
  • TEA is moving forward with the posting and hiring of a Special Education Director.

The agency has been ordered to seek input from stakeholders, including parents and educators, which will be collected through an online survey available on the TEA website January 23. The agency will accept public comment on this draft plan through February 18, 2018, after which a new Proposed Plan will be released on or around March 1. Public comments on this plan will be accepted through March 31. The agency expects to submit a Final State Corrective Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Education on or around April 18, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 12, 2018

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news higlights:


The Texas education community was rocked this week by federal officials announcing that Texas violated laws by failing to provide adequate evaluation of and services to students with disabilities. The findings concluded a lengthy investigation in which federal officials visited Texas schools, interviewed parents and educators, and reviewed documentation about how students with special needs were identified and treated.

One of the issues at the center of the investigation was evidence that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had either explicitly or tacitly compelled districts to keep the percentage of their students receiving special education services below a cap of 8.5 percent. ATPE supported legislation, Senate Bill 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), that was passed last year to end the practice.

Gov. Greg Abbott responded to this week’s announcement by directing Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to craft a plan within seven days to reform the system and make recommendations for any needed legislative changes. Abbott also angered many educators by stating in a press release that school districts had been at fault. The governor accused school district administrators of a “dereliction of duty,” prompting rebuttals from the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education and other groups who noted that school district officials had merely been following the instructions and requirements given to them by TEA.

Read more about federal investigation findings in this republished post from The Texas Tribune.

 


ATPE has issued a response to one state senator’s complaints about efforts to improve voter turnout in school communities. As we reported before the holidays, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for guidance on whether it is legal for groups like ATPE and the Texas Educators Vote coalition to work with school districts on programs to encourage and make it easier for educators and eligible students to vote. Bettencourt has complained about school boards adopting a coalition-drafted resolution supporting a culture of voting in Texas public schools; school administrators encouraging teachers to vote; and school districts providing transportation to the polls.

Today, ATPE joined other education-related groups who have written to the attorney general in response to Sen. Bettencourt’s misleading claims about our nonpartisan Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts. Read the letter from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday to Attorney General Paxton here.

 


In response to changes sought by the federal government, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials earlier this week submitted a revised plan for state compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Learn more about the adjustments proposed by state officials, many of which relate to the state’s accountability system and implementation of state law changes made last legislative session, in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


The 2018 Texas primary elections are now less than six weeks away, with early voting scheduled to begin on Feb. 20. Have you checked out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote? Our profiles of candidates running for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor include links to campaign websites, notes on significant endorsements made by other groups, legislative incumbents’ voting records, and responses to our candidate survey. If your area candidates have not yet responded to our survey, ask them to participate! For additional information, contact the ATPE Governmental Relations team at government@atpe.org.

 


A commission created by lawmakers of the 85th Texas Legislature to study the issue of school finance is scheduled to hold its first meeting January 23 in Austin. Tacked onto House Bill (HB) 21 during the August special session, the 13-member commission is tasked with making recommendations for the improvement of the public school finance system, including:

  1. The purpose of the public school finance system and the relationship between state and local funding in that system
  2. The appropriate levels of local maintenance and operations and interest and sinking fund tax effort necessary to implement a public school finance system that complies with the requirements under the Texas Constitution
  3. Policy changes to the public school finance system necessary to adjust for student demographics and the geographic diversity in the state

The commission is composed of members appointed by the governor, speaker of the Texas House, lieutenant governor, and chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Board Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) appointed SBOE Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) to serve on the commission. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) appointed former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister to chair the commission. The governor also appointed Todd Williams, who serves as education policy advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, former state Rep. Elvira Reyna, and Galena Park ISD teacher and ATPE member Melissa Martin.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) named Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), and Pflugerville ISD superintendent Doug Killian. House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) appointed House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Educator Quality Subcommittee Chair Ken King (R-Canadian), and Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson.

The commission must report its recommendations by December 31, 2018.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Feds say Texas illegally failed to educate students with disabilities

  • by Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
  • Jan. 11, 2018

Vanessa Tijerina addresses the panel about her 13-year-old special needs child who has been denied special education for 4 years on December 13, 2016. U.S. Department of Education officials held a meeting in Edinburg on their tour of Texas to hear community members’ experiences with special education, continuing an investigation of whether Texas is capping services for students with disabilities. Photo by Eddie Seal/The Texas Tribune.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded Thursday that Texas violated federal law by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate public education.

After interviews and monitoring visits with parents, school administrators and state officials, the federal investigation found that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized some school districts to deny services to eligible students.

It also told TEA that it needs to take several corrective actions, including producing documentation that the state is properly monitoring school districts’ evaluations for special education, developing a plan and timeline for TEA to ensure that each school district will evaluate students previously denied needed services and creating a plan and timeline for TEA to provide guidance to educators on how to identify and educate students with disabilities.

“Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act],” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a statement Thursday. “I’ve worked directly with TEA Commissioner [Mike] Morath on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency’s efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA.

“While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential.”

In response to the report, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Morath demanding that TEA prepare an initial plan to reform special education within the next seven days, with the input of parents, advocates and educators. He also demanded TEA develop legislative recommendations to help ensure districts comply with federal and state special education laws.

Legislators passed a law in May prohibiting Texas from capping special education services. Special education advocates and parents had lobbied for a number of smaller reform bills during the session, few of which passed.

“Federal officials have provided no definitive timeline for action by TEA, but parents and students across our state cannot continue waiting for change,” Abbott wrote. “I am directing you to take immediate steps to prepare an initial corrective action plan draft within the next seven days.”

In a statement Thursday, Morath said he will continue to increase training and support for educators on educating students with disabilities.

“We have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the last year,” he said. “I am committing today that there will be more.”

The federal investigation was prompted by a series of reports from the Houston Chronicle alleging TEA had denied needed special education services to thousands of students with disabilities across the state. Texas provides special education to a small percentage of students compared to other states. That number has gone up from 8.5 percent in 2015-16 to 8.8 percent last school year, according to TEA’s statewide academic performance report.

TEA has denied all allegations that it capped services for students.

The report comes more than a year after federal officials traveled to five Texas cities in December 2016 and heard parents tell numerous stories about educators who had not been properly trained on what services they were legally required to provide students with disabilities. The agency also collected more than 400 public written comments from those who could not attend a meeting in person.

Federal officials returned to Texas last February to tour selected school districts for a firsthand look at local special education data and policies.

The report Thursday confirmed the complaints of many the parents who spoke out at those meetings. It said:

  • TEA was more likely to monitor and intervene in school districts with higher rates of students in special education, creating a statewide system that incentivized denying services to eligible students. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer.
  • According to internal reports reviewed by federal officials, administrators at multiple districts worked to decrease the percentage of students identified for special education services — even though there was no evidence to indicate those actions were necessary.
  • School administrators provided some students suspected of having disabilities with intensive academic support as a way of delaying or refusing to evaluate them for necessary federally funded special education services. Teachers and staff did not understand how to deploy this support in a way that complied with federal law.
  • Texas has a policy to only provide federally funded services to students with dyslexia if those students also have another disability. That violates federal law, the report said, since it denies some eligible students federally funded special education services. School districts were found to be inconsistent in how they interpreted and carried out this state policy.
  • Many school district staff members said they saw evaluation for federally funded special education services as a “last resort” for students who were struggling to learn. They did not understand that students could receive these services in both special education and general education classrooms.

The agency’s attempts to address some of these problems in the last several months collapsed recently after it awarded a contract to overhaul special education to a company with a short track record without letting other firms bid for the job. After parents of students with disabilities argued the contract was poorly thought out, Morath terminated it — with $2.2 million in federal funding already spent for services rendered. The agency is now conducting an internal review of its contracting processes.

Texas now lacks both a special education director and a long-term plan for overhauling special education, leaving parents and advocates frustrated and concerned.

Reference Material

USDE special education monitoring visit letter

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/01/11/federal-special-education-monitoring-report/.

 

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: March 24, 2017

It’s time for our weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE’s Governmental Relations team:


This week the Senate Education Committee approved a sweeping voucher bill that would provide corporate tax credits to help fund private education and allow parents to receive public tax dollars to be used for private or home school expenses. Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature to pass.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying

On Tuesday, March 21, the committee spent 10 hours listening to witnesses on both sides of the voucher debate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against SB 3. Read more about the hearing and our testimony in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. The SB 3 hearing had originally been scheduled for the previous week during which many public school educators and students would have been on spring break. Fearing that a larger contingency of pro-public education witnesses would come to the hearing to testify against SB 3, the hearing was postponed to this Tuesday instead.

The Senate Education Committee met again Thursday, March 23, to vote on pending bills, including SB 3. Chairman Taylor shared a new committee substitute version of the bill, which modified the language in an effort to reduce the bill’s massive fiscal note. The new version tightens up qualifications for some providers of education services such as tutoring that could be funded via the bill; removes automatic funding increases for the corporate tax credits, and changes the Education Savings Account (ESA) program to give parents access to an online payment portal instead of a debit card. While the switch to an online portal could make it less likely for parents to use ESA funds for illegitimate purposes, it also creates a potential new hurdle for rural or low-income parents with limited internet access. The committee voted to send the new substitute version of SB 3 to the full Senate by a vote of 7 to 3.

Sens. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Royce West (D-Dallas), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) voted against SB 3 after expressing concerns about the voucher bill. Sen. West pressed representatives of the Legislative Budget Board for details on the bill’s negative fiscal impact to the state. Sen. Seliger observed that SB 3 would most likely have the largest fiscal note of any bill approved by a Senate committee other than the Finance committee, which hears budget bills. Seliger went on to raise alarms about the lack of accountability provisions for private entities that would benefit from the voucher money and the likelihood that SB 3 would lead to state funds being spent on indoctrinating students through religious institutions.

The only Democrat on the committee who voted for SB 3 was the vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville). He was joined by Chairman Taylor and Sens. Van Taylor (R-Plano), Bob Hall (R-Canton), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) was not present during the committee’s vote.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchers

It is not clear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to bring SB 3 up for a floor vote in the near future, which requires three-fifths of senators present to agree to hear the bill. We encourage ATPE members to keep contacting their senators about opposing SB 3 and other bad bills such as the legislation to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction. Find sample messages and other communication tools at Advocacy Central.

Related: Other bills getting a favorable vote from the Senate Education Committee yesterday were SB 579 by Sen. Van Taylor regarding the use of epi-pens in private schools, SB 826 by Chairman Larry Taylor dealing with the sequencing of high school math and English courses, and a committee substitute to SB 490 by Sen. Lucio that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus.

 


While the Senate Education Committee devoted its attention this week almost entirely to the private school voucher bill, the House Public Education Committee and its Subcommittee on Educator Quality heard a number of bills this week dealing with issues such as testing and accountability,  educator misconduct, and improving school finance.

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ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying

First, the subcommittee met on Monday, March 20, to hear bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the benefits of mentoring for new teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified at the hearing and penned a blog post this week summarizing the discussions. The subcommittee will meet again on Monday, March 27, to hear additional bills on educator misconduct, including SB 7 that has already passed the Senate.

On Tuesday, March 21, the full House Public Education Committee conducted a hearing that was almost as long as the Senate’s voucher hearing, but the House committee discussed some two dozen bills, most relating to state standardized testing and how schools are rated under our accountability system. Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 22 was the most high-profile bill heard, and ATPE testified for the bill. Check out this blog post from Mark Wiggins for complete details on the hearing, including a list of smaller bills that were voted out favorably.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is turning its attention to charter schools with a hearing Tuesday, March 28, mostly on bills pertaining to funding, facilities, and authorization of charters. The committee will also hear additional testimony on Chairman Huberty’s school finance reform bill, HB 21, for which a committee substitute is expected to be released next week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for updates.

 


Save Texas Schools rally 2017Tomorrow, March 25, is the Save Texas Schools rally at the Texas State Capitol. Supporters of public education are encouraged to attend the event that starts at 10 a.m. and will feature appearances by legislators, remarks by Superintendent John Kuhn who also spoke during ATPE at the Capitol, and student performances. Visit savetxschools.org for more information.

 


This week the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved SB 1, the state budget bill. The full Senate is expected to debate the budget on the floor next Tuesday. For details on the Senate’s proposal for funding state services during the next two years, read this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelIn national news this week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark ruling in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which focused attention on how school districts must accommodate students with disabilities under federal law. The lawsuit was brought by the family of a student with autism who felt that the public school’s individualized education program (IEP) did not meet the student’s needs and wanted funding for private education instead. At issue was the extent to which an IEP must produce educational benefits for the student in order for the school district to be considered compliant with the law.

The unanimous SCOTUS ruling is expected to spur school districts to do more for students with disabilities, but the decision was also newsworthy because of the fact that it overturns prior lower court rulings, including one 10th Circuit appellate decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, now going through U.S. Senate confirmation for a seat on the nation’s highest court.

ATPE will have more on the ruling and what it means for special education programs in public schools next week on our blog.

 


Don’t forget to following us on Twitter for the latest updates!

 

Guest post: Special education issues facing the 85th legislature

Janna_TCASE_Nov16_cropped

Janna Lilly

by Janna Lilly, Director of Govermental Relations
Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE)

Special education issues are once again expected to be hot topics in the upcoming Texas Legislative Session including vouchers, special education identification, and (yes, again) cameras.

Vouchers

The lieutenant governor has been very vocal that passing voucher legislation is one of his key priorities. TCASE opposes subsidizing private schools with public funds through vouchers or voucher-like programs such as taxpayer savings plans or scholarship credits. Vouchers are particularly harmful for students with disabilities. Private schools are not required to accept or even appropriately serve students with disabilities. Private schools are not required provide the legal protections mandated by federal and state laws to protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities.

Special education identification

Currently the state’s Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) gives districts a grade or performance level based on an 8.5 percent standard that has come under recent scrutiny in the media. As a result, at least one bill has already been filed to prohibit the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from evaluating districts based on their percentage of students with disabilities.

TCASE recommends TEA continue to provide districts with identification data in PBMAS, but remove the 8.5 percent standard and the corresponding performance level assignment. This would provide necessary information to the state and districts without the reality or perception of a punitive system.

While there are a multitude of state systems designed to gather data on special education, minimal statewide data systems exist to identify the often extensive interventions provided with general education supports only. TCASE recommends the agency develop further statewide data systems to acknowledge these efforts and identify the potential impact on student growth and achievement.

Cameras

Senate Bill (SB) 507 passed last session requiring cameras in certain special education classrooms. The TEA asked the Texas Attorney General (AG) for clarification on several pieces of the law. The AG issued his opinion strictly interpreting the bill, primarily saying one request means cameras must be installed in all eligible classrooms across the district regardless of the bill’s authors stating their intent was that one request applied to one classroom. The AG told lawmakers they would need to change the bill in the next session if they meant something different from what was passed. Lawmakers are drafting bills expected to address some of the concerns including clarifying that one request triggers a camera in a single classroom versus the entire district. Currently, some districts are installing cameras in single classrooms, while some are reporting installing cameras or equipment in all eligible classrooms. Districts are also reporting significant costs associated with the law’s six-month archiving requirement. Community advocates are expected to want some changes of their own, like expanding venues for disagreement beyond the school board including potentially even the ability to file suit. TCASE believes the bill’s current grievance remedies are sufficient, one request should apply to one classroom, and that next legislative session should appropriate funds to cover this unfunded mandate.

Updates from the Texas Education Agency

Several news reports and announcements came out this week from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Here’s a rundown:

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The big news concerning TEA this week continues to be the agency’s arbitrary cap on students receiving special education services; a story first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. In response to attention from the U.S. Department of Education, TEA sent a letter to the department insisting the agency “has never set a cap, limit or policy on the number or percent of students that school districts can, or should, serve in special education.” The agency argued schools had simply misunderstood policy relating to the state’s reporting system for special education services.

“The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false,” an agency staffer wrote to federal regulators. “Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”

“The Education Department will carefully review the state’s response and, after the review is concluded, determine appropriate next steps,” a department spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday.

The agency has nonetheless vowed to stop enforcing the 8.5 percent “target.” The decision comes after Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing the concerns of the Texas House of Representatives over school districts excluding eligible children from special education services in order to comply.

SUPERINTENDENTS ORDERED TO SCHOOL

Superintendents and school board members from eleven districts have been ordered to attend a class on how to fix their problematic schools. The districts include Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, all of which contained several campuses designated as “improvement required” in the 2016 TEA accountability ratings.

Districts are required to submit turnaround plans for schools that fail to meet minimum standards for two consecutive years. It’s up to the education commissioner whether to approve those plans, and in the event they’re disapproved, the commissioner can replace the entire board or shut down the school.

According to the agency, the eleven districts in question submitted plans the commissioner deemed insufficient to fix their problems. The order for district officers to attend a two-day training session marks a clear crackdown, and appears in keeping with Commissioner Morath’s initial promise to get tough on failing schools.

Read more in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog this week.

TITLE I REWARD SCHOOLS

Earlier this week, the agency identified 300 “Title I Reward Schools” as part of the conditions for the state’s waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Title I campuses are those which serve at least 40 percent low-income students, and the rewards are broken down by “High-Performing” and “High-Progress” schools.

The agency defines a high-performance reward school as “a Title I school with distinctions based on reading and math performance. In addition, at the high school level, a reward school is a Title I school with the highest graduation rates.” A high-progress school is defined as “a Title I school in the top 25 percent in annual improvement; and/or a school in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps based on system safeguards.”

The distinction is given to both public schools and charter schools. The full 2015-16 list is available here.

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE REPORTS

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The agency released preliminary 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) on Thursday. Part of TEA’s statutory reporting responsibility, TAPR “combine academic performance, financial reports, and information about students, staff, and programs for each campus and district in Texas.”

The preliminary statewide numbers indicate 62 percent of STAAR takers in all grades “met or exceeded progress” in all subjects, while 17 percent “exceeded progress.” Students posted a 95.7 percent attendance rate and 2.1 percent high school dropout rate for the 2014-15 school year. The Class of 2015 graduated 89 percent of students, up from 88 percent graduated by the Class of 2014. Roughly 68 percent of 2015 graduates took the SAT or ACT, and scored an average of 1394 and 20.6, respectively. Of students who graduated with the Class of 2014, 57.5 percent enrolled in a Texas institutional of higher education.

Broken down by demographics, Texas’ 5.3 million students are 52.2 percent Hispanic, 28.5 percent White, 12.6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. A total of 59 percent are economically disadvantaged, 18.5 percent are English language learners (ELL) and 50.1 percent are considered “at risk.”

Texas schools employ around 347,000 teachers, with an average of 10.9 years of experience. The average teacher’s salary is $51.891, with the average beginning teacher earning $45,507 and teachers with more than 20 years earning just over $60,000.

Statewide, regional, district and campus-level reports are available via the TEA website. Districts are allowed to appeal their preliminary ratings, and final ratings are scheduled to be released by December 2, 2016.

From The Texas Tribune: Speaker Joe Straus calls for immediate special education overhaul

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. Alana Rocha / The Texas Tribune

House Speaker Joe Straus urged the Texas Education Agency Wednesday to immediately overhaul its system for identifying students in need of special education services.

Straus sent a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday to suspend or adjust its use of a TEA benchmark related to how many special education students schools can serve. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation determined Texas schools had arbitrarily denied tens of thousands of students special education services to comply with a TEA benchmark that only 8.5 percent of students get special education services. TEA officials told the Chronicle that the 8.5 percent guideline was not used as a cap to keep disabled students out of special education.

“It will be a priority for the Texas House to make special education services available to all students who need them, while also ensuring that schools do not identify students for special education when it isn’t appropriate,” Straus’ letter reads. “The House will work with TEA to find the right balance. But in the meantime, students should not be denied the services they need.”