Category Archives: special education

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.

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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

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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.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 5, 2016

Read highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


On Wednesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee convened for an interim hearing on ideas that might evolve into potential changes to the state’s school finance system. The committee has been tasked with studying an interim charge on “performance-based” funding for public schools, as an alternative to attendance-based funding methods and finance formulas that take into account the instructional needs of students. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing and provided a blog post about it for Teach the Vote this week. Also check out The Texas Observer‘s coverage of the hearing, which includes a quote from Exter and is linked to the blog post from yesterday. The committee has other upcoming interim hearings scheduled to discuss a variety of topics from innovation districts to technology to school choice. Follow our blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments as interim hearings continue.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-92037734Voters in San Antonio’s House District 120 have selected a new state representative to serve the remainder of the unexpired term of former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) who resigned earlier this year. Laura Thompson, running as independent candidate in the special election, defeated Lou Miller (D) in the August 2 runoff by a reported margin of just 50 votes. Thompson will only hold the post for a short period of time during the interim. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) won a primary runoff election earlier this year to become the only candidate on the November 2016 general election ballot vying for the seat in a new term that will begin January 2017.

On Saturday, precinct chairs in Harris County will decide who should replace outgoing Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) in House District 146. Miles was running for re-election unopposed this fall, but now he has been tapped to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis on the ballot for Senate District 13, which is also an unopposed seat. Ellis is giving up that seat with intent to become a county commissioner, as we’ve reported recently. According to the Harris County Democratic Party, candidates with a verified interest in Miles’s House seat include Erica Lee Carter, Larry Blackmon, Valencia L. Williams, Rashad L. Cave, and Shawn Thierry. We’ll report on the precinct chairs’ decision next week on Teach the Vote.

 


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath released an adopted rule this week for implementation of a 2015 law requiring video surveillance of certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. The final rule as adopted includes some changes made in response to public comments. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided details on the revisions in a blog post earlier today.

 


ATPE submitted written input this week to the U.S. Department of Education on its proposed accountability rules implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported Tuesday on our blog, our comments raised concerns about the department’s proposed requirement for summative performance ratings of schools. As with the controversial “A-F” accountability labels that the Texas legislature has already mandated that our state’s schools receive, we have trepidation about states assigning overly simplistic summative ratings to schools that may not always reflect the many complex factors that contribute to a school’s overall performance. Read Kate’s blog post for more on ATPE’s recommendations for more holistic approaches to accountability ratings in the federal rules.

 


Kuhlmann SBEC testimony Aug 2016The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is holding its regular meeting today and welcoming new gubernatorial appointees to the board as we reported last week. Today’s agenda includes proposed changes to disciplinary rules and the Educators’ Code of Ethics to create mandatory minimum sanctions for educators found in possession of, under the influence of, or testing positive for drugs and alcohol on school property. The board is also voting on changes that have been in the works for many months to increase the rigor of educator preparation and ensure that new teachers enter the classroom well-prepared and with the support of experienced mentors and supervisors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is testifying at today’s meeting and will provide an update on the board’s actions.

 


Best of luck to all educators and students heading back to school this month! 

Four children waiting in a row outside the school bus

Final rule for video surveillance of special education classrooms

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has finalized a Commissioner’s Rule implementing Senate Bill 507 in 19 TAC Chapter 103, Health and Safety, Subchapter DD, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings, §103.1301, Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings. The rule will be published in the August 12, 2016 issue of the Texas Register, and will become effective on August 15, 2016.

As we’ve reported on previously (here, and here, for instance), the 2015 bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) mandated that certain classrooms serving students in special education programs be equipped with video surveillance systems, requiring districts to maintain the video footage on file. The agency worked closely with a diverse stakeholder group, including ATPE, in developing the rule. (Read ATPE’s written comments on the original proposed rule here.)

Stakeholder recommendations resulted in several changes to the regulation, including instances where the rule was made less broad or more specific as to which classrooms and classroom educators will be affected by a request for video surveillance under the new mandate. Examples of these changes were often as simple as changing “a” to “the” in some sentences. For example, in the following section the change of this one word narrowed the scope of the bill from any staff member working in a special education setting to only staff members associated with a classroom where a request for a camera had been made:

§103.1301. (b)(2)
Staff member means a teacher, related service provider, paraprofessional, or educational aide assigned to work in the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting. Staff member also includes the principal or an assistant principal of the campus at which the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting is located.

The final rule text can be viewed here. The red double underlines in the document represent changes made from the original rule proposal based on public comments received by the agency.

Note: The agency is still waiting for an Attorney General’s opinion related to notice and implementation time-frames that school districts must comply with under the bill.

Cameras in the classroom: FAQs on Senate Bill 507

In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), sponsored in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D), a bill that requires school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. After the two chambers passed different versions of the bill, a conference committee was appointed to iron out the differences. Eventually, agreed-upon language in the conference committee report was adopted by the Senate by a vote of 21 to 10 and by the House by a vote of 140 to 3. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill into law on June 19.

Since SB 507 was finally passed, ATPE members have asked us a number of questions about the implementation of this new law. Below is additional information compiled by ATPE’s Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services departments to try to address the questions we’ve fielded and to help you understand more about the bill that was adopted and will take effect in 2016.

What prompted SB 507 to be filed?

A small number of high-profile cases involving allegations of intentional abuse of students with special needs, including some who are non-communicative, galvanized a small group of committed parent activists to seek new statutory protections at the state level. A similar bill was filed in 2013 that did not pass.

What does SB 507 do?

SB 507 requires districts to install audio/video monitoring equipment in any self-contained classroom in which special education services are being provided to at least 50 percent of the students for at least 50 percent of the school day. The requirement is triggered in the event that a parent, school board member, or staff member on the campus requests that audio/video monitoring equipment be installed. The bill also requires school districts to store the audio and video recordings for not less than six months and to release the footage to persons specified by the bill. Additionally, the bill specifies that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment and that the commissioner of education shall provide a grant program in the event that excess Foundation School Program funds are available from the state.

Must the school give notice that video monitoring is occurring in the classroom?

Yes, while the statute specifically exempts districts from having to obtain consent from parents before monitoring occurs, it does require that notification be given in writing to both parents and campus staff.

Will there be audio or just video on the recordings?

There will be audio captured on the recordings. Under SB 507, Texas Education Code Section 29.022 (c)(2) requires that the camera equipment be capable of “recording audio from all areas of the classroom or other special education setting.”

Who can request to view the footage and through what process?

The following groups of people may have access to certain footage in certain situations:

  • A school district employee or a parent or guardian of a student who is involved in an incident documented by the recording for which a complaint has been reported to the district, on request of the employee, parent, or guardian, respectively;
  • Appropriate Department of Family and Protective Services personnel as part of an investigation of child abuse or neglect in a school setting under Section 261.406 of the Texas Family Code;
  • A peace officer, a school nurse, a district administrator trained in de-escalation and restraint techniques as provided by commissioner rule, or a human resources staff member designated by the board of trustees of the school district or the governing body of the open-enrollment charter school in response to a complaint or an investigation of district or school personnel or a complaint of abuse committed by a student; or
  • Appropriate agency or State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) personnel or agents as part of an investigation.

The process for requesting access to a recording is not specified in SB 507. However, the bill does grant the commissioner of education rulemaking authority with regard to implementation. Therefore it is likely that the process for requesting access will be part of a commissioner’s rule that is yet to be drafted.

Who will pay for the equipment, monitoring, storage, and other administration required under SB 507?

School districts are required to foot the bill using existing funds. The legislature appropriated no extra dollars to fund SB 507.

The bill does specify that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment. Districts, however, were already able to accept grants and donations for virtually any educational purpose prior to this legislation and did not need statutory authority to receive or spend philanthropic dollars in this way.

The bill also directs the commissioner of education to create a grant program that would be funded in the event and to the degree the state appropriates more money to the Foundation School Program than what districts are owed based on the formulas. If funded, the program would be used to repay some districts for some of the upfront costs of implementing SB 507. There is no way to say how much or even if there will be any funding available for this grant program at this point.

When does SB 507 go into effect?

The bill’s requirement to install video equipment and monitor classrooms under TEC Section 29.022 doesn’t apply until the 2016-17 school year.

The Commissioner’s grant program, should there be any funding for it, would begin in the 2015-16 school year.

Does the bill require video surveillance of life skills and behavior unit classrooms for students in special education programs?

Most likely, yes. Under TEC Section 29.002(a), the bill requires that districts ”place, operate, and maintain one or more video cameras in each self-contained classroom or other special education setting in which a majority of the students in regular attendance are:

(1)  provided special education and related services; and

(2)  assigned to a self-contained classroom or other special education setting for at least 50 percent of the instructional day.”

However, under Section 29.002(k), the commissioner may adopt rules to implement and administer this section, including rules regarding the special education settings to which this section applies. That would likely include a determination on whether life skills and behavior unit classrooms constitute special education settings under SB 507. Stay tuned for updates once the rulemaking process is completed.

Can a parent opt his or her child out of being recorded?

It is very unlikely that a parent would be able to opt not to have his child monitored by video. There is no opt out provision in the statute and no practical way for a school district to comply with the law and ensure access to an unmonitored classroom setting covered by SB 507. Under the bill, a classroom must be monitored by video surveillance even if only a single parent requests it. While it is theoretically possible for a district to set up a classroom designed for only those children of parents who object to video monitoring, it is not really practical and the bill doesn’t require such an accommodation.

What implications does FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) have on viewing a video under SB 507?

There is no way to definitively say at this point whether common situations that would occur under SB 507 would violate the FERPA privacy protections, but likely the bill can be implemented without causing a violation of the federal law.

In any event, it is important to remember that potential FERPA violations caused by SB 507 are ultimately not something that should cause much worry for an individual educator. FERPA very specifically makes the institution (i.e. the school district, in this case) responsible for maintaining confidentiality – not individual educators. The only problem an educator could have is if the educator violates a school district policy with regard to the bill and the district then tries to take negative employment action against the educator; similarly, SBEC could pursue sanctions against an individual educator for violation of a local school district policy.

For those still interested in whether the law might create a violation under FERPA, it is important to distinguish between the legality of making a recording and the legality of showing that recording to a specific individual. Because FERPA regulates disclosure, it is unlikely that requiring districts to create a recording implicates the federal law at all. FERPA only applies when an educational record (in this case the video of the classroom) is shared with someone who is not the maker of the video (i.e. the district).

So the questions that follow are these: What obligations does a school district have when deciding who gets to see the videotape, and what must a district do to redact such a videotape before allowing someone without a legitimate educational purpose or one of the other exceptions written into the regulations to see it? A parent seeing a child, other than his own, in a self-contained special education setting likely establishes that the child is receiving special education services, which might be characterized as a violation of confidentiality. A district could likely avoid this potential violation by only sharing the video after blurring the images of other students. In fact, there are already instances in which school districts have provided video recordings involving students after blurring out the students’ faces to protect their anonymity, ostensibly to avoid any potential FERPA violations.

You can read more about common FERPA questions at this FERPA FAQ posted online by the U.S. Department of Education.

What was ATPE’s official position on SB 507?

As is often the case with high-profile legislation, SB 507 presented both positive and negative implications. After careful consideration of the pros and cons, ATPE chose not to register a formal position for or against the bill as part of official testimony before the House Public Education Committee or Senate Education Committee when those committees considered the bill this legislative session. In fact, no representatives of the state’s major educator groups registered a position for or against this bill. Most of the testimony was provided by parents, educators with particular expertise in special education, and representatives of school districts. SB 507 is likely to have a far greater impact on school districts and school boards, which ATPE does not directly represent, than it is expected to have on individual educators, which make up the majority of our membership.

ATPE certainly agrees with the intent of the bill – to deter classroom violence, aggression, or abuse. Our decisions on how to respond to SB 507 were based in part on how the bill addressed the issue of classroom violence – not whether or not that issue should be addressed. Any level of classroom violence, whether perpetrated by a teacher or student or against a teacher or student, is without question unacceptable and should not be tolerated. A few important questions that must be considered, however, when tackling this issue include these: 1) Is requiring video monitoring of classroom the most efficient and effective way of addressing classroom violence?  2) Does requiring video monitoring do more harm or good on balance?

SB 507 requires that certain classrooms as detailed above be equipped with audio and video monitoring equipment. However, the bill also provides that an area of a monitored room that is used to change a student’s clothing or to facilitate a student using the restroom may not be visually monitored. Even considering that SB 507 requires such “no view” areas, the bill will almost certainly have some deterrent effect on classroom violence. However, it is ATPE’s informed opinion that video surveillance is neither the most efficient nor the most effective means of deterrence. In the vast majority of cases, enhanced educator and administrator training would be less costly and equally effective at decreasing the incidents of classroom violence. Training would also likely have positive spillover effects within the educational environment that cameras do not offer. Likely the most effective deterrent, though not less expensive, would be to require that each self-contained special education setting be staffed by a trained para-professional in addition to the classroom teacher. Many organizations have a policy of requiring two adults to be present with a group of children in order to achieve this exact deterrent effect. Even more than training, this alternative would also provide massive additional benefits to the educational environment that a camera simply can’t provide.

While some educators feel that cameras are a justified expense to promote student and educator safety, other educators feel that SB 507 creates an unnecessary invasion of privacy, implies that they are incapable of performing their jobs in a responsible manner, or perpetuates a myth about widespread child abuse occurring in school settings. However, it’s important for educators to consider that video recordings may be just as likely or even more likely to exonerate them from false accusations as they are likely to result in new allegations of educator misconduct. Having access to an objective record of actual events in the classroom can eliminate “he said/she said” complaints otherwise devoid of hard evidence and can also provide educators with valuable support in instances where educators have been assaulted by students. Additionally, it’s important to remember that school districts have already had authority – even before passage of this bill – to videotape their classrooms. Video cameras are commonly found in school hallways, cafeterias, and other common areas. Cost constraints have been one of the primary reasons that schools have not previously chosen to deploy additional cameras both for security and educational purposes; and concerns about inadequate funding were the primary reason that administrator and school board associations voiced opposition to SB 507 during the legislative session.

Ultimately, ATPE concluded during the legislative session that SB 507, on balance, would not result in vastly greater harm or good than the status quo. The new law is a somewhat expensive diversion of limited education resources (as the state appropriated no additional dollars to fund this very specific mandate), but it will likely have some deterrent effect. The bill does involve a loss of educator (and student) privacy, but it is also likely to exonerate far more educators than it convicts. It was for these reasons that ATPE did not take an official position supporting or opposing the bill but instead worked behind the scenes this session to improve it. Some of the positive changes made to SB 507 included giving educators access to any tape capturing an incident in which they are implicated, as well as giving access to experts trained in proper restraint techniques who can more accurately identify what they are seeing on the video.

We hope that some of the unanswered questions about SB 507 will become clearer after the commissioner of education proposes rules for implementation of the new law. Stay tuned for updates from Teach the Vote when that process occurs.

 

*ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp contributed additional information for this post.