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Finance commission working group talks expenditures

Members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s working group on expenditures met Tuesday morning at the Texas Capitol. The working group is lead by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Other members of the working group are commission chair Justice Scott Brister, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

Texas Commission of Public School Finance working group on expenditures meeting March 20, 2018.

The working group met for the first time the day after all 13 members of the commission met Monday for the body’s first and likely only day of public testimony. At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Justice Brister indicated the purpose of the working group is to make proposals for the full commission to consider. Huberty then began the commission by outlining a number of potential vehicles to increase school funding, such as increasing the basic allotment, creating a “silver penny” that deals with recapture issues, and adjusting the funding formulas.

Chairman Huberty drew the group’s attention to a reform bill proposed by former House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock that would have represented a $3 billion funding boost through an increase to the basic allotment, elimination of the cost of education index (CEI), and addressing additional state aid for tax relief (ASATR). Huberty also noted that the House passed a $1.8 billion school finance reform bill last session. That legislation was killed by the Texas Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Representatives from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and Texas Education Agency (TEA) led off Tuesday’s testimony with a high-level overview of the Foundation School Program (FSP), which is the state’s system for funding public schools. Chairman Huberty asked LBB staff directly what the state’s share of school formula funding is, according to the state’s accountants. Staff from LBB answered the state provides 38 percent of education funding – a number Sen. Taylor repeatedly tried to dispute on Monday. Huberty emphasized the importance of members agreeing upon a number from which to begin constructive conversations about the budget.

Huberty and Sen. West pointedly questioned LBB why it has failed to update the CEI since 1991. Staff from LBB explained they were unable to reproduce the methodology used in 1991, despite an attempt to do so in the 2000s. Dr. Ellis suggested the commission should consider what an updated CEI or similar index might look like before weighing whether to eliminate it. The working group also sought clarification regarding the functions of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA), the high school allotment, and the transportation allotment. Sen. West suggested the working group add addressing the transportation allotment’s function in Chapter 41 districts, which are subject to “Robin Hood” recapture, to its to-do list. The group also asked about weights for special education and compensatory education, with a view to incorporating weighted funding for dyslexia and autism.

A representative from the Texas Association of School Business Officers (TASBO) suggested commissioning a working group comprised of veteran school district CFOs and their associated curriculum counterparts to assess whether the state’s various funding programs are accomplishing their intended objectives. A Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) member testified that money matters, and funding levels make it increasingly difficult for districts to do their jobs. Members also heard from representatives from the Fast Growth School Coalition and the Equity Center, he latter of whom offered plan for simplifying the school finance formula. A charter school representative refuted the suggestion that schools could pay teachers higher salaries if they simply reprioritized their budgets. Huberty noted the claim that charter schools receive less funding than traditional public schools is “just not true,” and warned charter operators to change their talking points.

The working group’s next meeting is expected to be conducted via conference call, and a third meeting will be scheduled in person to follow up.

Finance commissioners get earful from public

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Monday for the fifth time, kicking off what is expected to be the only meeting during which members of the general public will be given the opportunity to speak to the 13-member body.

Roughly 50 invited witnesses were scheduled to speak before the commission opened up for public testimony Monday. Invited witnesses were allocated five minutes each, while members of the public were given three minutes each.

Former House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock was the first invited witness to testify, and called for eliminating the outdated cost of education index (CEI). Aycock also suggested funding charter schools based on the allotment given to their constituent feeder campuses as opposed to the current practice of allocating funding based upon the state average. Former House Public Education subcommittee chair Paul Colbert emphasized that money does indeed matter when it comes to funding public schools.

Chandra Villanueva, Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, urged the commission to study the actual cost of funding public education. Villanueva noted that the Perot Commission, which studied Texas school finance in the 1980s, considered how much it would cost to fund the ideal Texas school.

The majority of invited witnesses were comprised of traditional public education stakeholders, including representatives from educator organizations, administrators, school board members and business interests. By and large, these stakeholders pointed out that money is important in public education, and argued for the state to resume its fair share of the burden of funding local schools after years of gradually dumping the lion’s share of funding responsibility into the laps of local taxpayers. This view saw vigorous pushback from state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on March 19, 2018.

When public testimony opened up Monday afternoon, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter pointed out new polling data that show Texans agree money is important in public education and that the state should pay its fair share. Exter testified there are multiple realistic pathways to get the state’s share up to 50 percent from the current 38 percent. It could do so through increases to the sales tax, expanding the tax base, eliminating some of the roughly $30 billion of “corporate welfare” built into the state tax system, or some combination thereof. To wit, Exter suggested lawmakers could get to fifty percent by adding one penny of sales tax, combined with a small expansion of the tax base and eliminating some corporate welfare.

During public testimony, parents and teachers expressed nearly uniform dissatisfaction with the current level of school funding – often delivering heated lectures to members of the commission. Many echoed the opinion that the state should spend more on public education in order to take pressure off of local taxpayers who are currently saddled with the majority of the burden of funding public schools. Public testimony is expected to last well into the night. The commission working group on expenditures, which is chaired by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning at the Texas Capitol.

Poll: Texans support more school funding

Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) and public education advocates unveil new polling data.

On the same day members of the general public will be allowed to testify before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, education advocates unveiled new polling data indicating a broad, bipartisan majority of Texans believe the state should spend more money on public schools.

A study by a prominent GOP polling firm commissioned by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) surveyed 501 registered voters between January 20 and 23. It found:

  • Initially, 67 percent of Texans favor the state increasing its share of dollars going to education in order to provide property tax relief for local taxpayers. After hearing more about it, 71 percent favor increasing the state share in order to provide property tax relief.
  • 81 percent of Texans favor a requirement that local education tax dollars sent to the state must be used for public education, and not used to fill other budget shortfalls or fund other programs. After hearing more about the issue, 86 percent favor this requirement.
  • 54 percent of Texans favor increasing the state’s share of public education dollars from the current 38 percent to 50 percent. After hearing more about the issue, 68 percent favor increasing the state’s share.

Lewisville ISD school board member Kristi Hassett said, “The state’s financial contribution has declined significantly over most of the last six to eight years, leaving local taxpayers to should a disproportionate amount of the burden. It’s time for the state to step up and increase funding for public education.” More poll results can be found here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 30, 2017

Here’s your Independence Day weekend edition of ATPE’s weekly advocacy wrap-up:


ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

With a special session slated to begin on July 18, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been rounding up authors for his ambitious 20-item legislative agenda, which includes a number of high-profile education issues. Yesterday, the governor announced which pair of lawmakers will be carrying his preferred legislation to prohibit educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. They are freshman Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), and Gov. Abbott thanked them in a press release yesterday for agreeing to carry the so-called “union dues” legislation.

Sen. Hughes said in the governor’s press release that “taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for collecting their dues,” lending his voice to those in the Republican party who have tried to mislead voters into believing that taxpayer dollars are being spent as a result of educators’ payroll deduction choices. The governor and lieutenant governor have made repeated references to the notion of taxpayer resources being spent in order to process public employees’ payments to professional associations like ATPE, despite overwhelming evidence that the practice does not result in any additional costs to the state, school districts, or taxpayers. In fact, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who carried the same anti-educator legislation during the recent regular session, openly debunked the myth about wasted taxpayer resources during her committee’s hearing of Senate Bill 13 back in February. Those facts haven’t kept Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick from repeating their well-rehearsed lines about taxpayer resources and trying desperately to gin up support for these anti-educator bills that they will once again push during the special session. Now, unfortunately, we can add Sen. Hughes and Rep. Isaac to the list of lawmakers jumping on that same fact-challenged bandwagon to try to silence the voices of educators. For his part, Rep. Isaac was similarly quoted in the governor’s press release yesterday as saying, “It’s long past time to end the outdated practice of using taxpayer-funded resources to collect dues for private organizations.”

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopAttacksATPE will continue to fight efforts to take away educators’ right to use payroll deduction in the manner they choose for spending their own hard-earned dollars. We encourage ATPE members to visit Advocacy Central and use our tools to send a message to state legislators about this needless attack on educators who choose to join professional organizations that advocate for them and for our public schools.

In similar session preparation news, it has also been reported this week that Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) will be the designated authors for private school voucher legislation during the special session. Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, was the author of Senate Bill 3 during the regular session, the signature voucher bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as one of his top three priorities. Simmons also carried voucher legislation during the regular session and tried unsuccessfully to get the House to consider including vouchers for students with special needs in its major school finance bill.

Related: For more coverage of the education topics that will be considered during the upcoming special session, check out two recent articles from The Texas Tribune republished with permission on our blog:


ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

As we reported on our blog last week, ATPE state officers and lobbyists traveled to Washington, DC to meet with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and others about improving educators’ Social Security benefits. Brady has spearheaded recent efforts to replace the Windfall Elimination Provision, an offset in federal law that causes many Texas educators and other public servants to see their retirement benefits reduced.

While those efforts to change the federal law are ongoing, we’ve got information about some new tools that can help educators better predict how their Social Security benefits could be affected by such offsets. Check out our blog post with details about the new Social Security benefit calculators from the federal government that will help you learn the extent to which your payments will be reduced by the WEP or the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

In other retirement news this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) is considering changing its eligibility rules for providers of certain financial products. The rules pertain to 403(b) investment products, which many educators use to supplement their savings for retirement in addition to receiving a TRS pension. TRS staff hosted an informal conference this week to gather feedback on the rules from interested stakeholders. For more on the potential 403(b) rule changes, read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.



ATPE is joining with other education allies on Monday, July 17, to help sponsor a pro-public education rally at the Texas State Capitol. The event is slated to begin at 1:30 pm and will feature guest speakers and live entertainment. Educators, parents, students, and all backers of our public schools are encouraged to attend and show their support for public education on the eve of the special session that we know will feature many troubling bills to defund our public schools, take away educators’ benefits, and dilute local control. We’ll be providing additional details about the rally during the next two weeks. For additional information in the meantime, check out this post from the rally organizers on Facebook.


ATPE wishes you a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Boys Holding Sparklers

House Public Education committee advances flurry of bills

The House Public Education Committee gaveled in Tuesday to hear more than 30 bills on the agenda. Led by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), the committee also voted out the following bills:

House Public Education committee meets April 11, 2017

House Public Education committee meeting April 11, 2017

  • HB 467, which would adjust the language regarding the capacity available to charter holders under the bond guarantee program to back bonds with the Permanent School Fund (PSF).
  • HB 713, which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle.
  • HB 743, which would allow a social worker to provide services to students and families in a school district, collaborating with school administrators in order to enhance students’ learning environments. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2051, which would raise the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $1,000 from $250.
  • HB 1081, which would add renovated or repurposed facilities and leased facilities to the New Instructional Facility Allotment (NIFA) under the FSP.
  • HB 1720, which would require schools to provide parental notice if a child is found with lice. Furthermore, school officials would be required to notify the parents of every child in the same classroom as a student found with lice.
  • HB 2205, which would require school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
  • HB 3157, which would modify eye exam rules to allow students to be screened using photoscreening.
  • HB 1342, which would require elementary and high school students to receive mandatory annual sex abuse training “to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, and reduce child pregnancy.”
  • HB 2130, which would order a study on the impact of the statewide assessment program on students in special education.
  • HB 2442, which would change “minutes of instruction” to “minutes of operation” for the purposes of determining the length of each school day.
  • HB 1076, which would revisit the timing of mandatory spinal screenings.
  • HB 1776, which would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine.

The hearing began with HB 1152 by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), which would require a successful voter referendum before a board of trustees is allowed to change the name of a school district. The bill was filed after some Houston residents expressed disappointment with recent name changes.

HB 2616 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would make it more difficult to suspend a student in a grade level below grade four, as well as create positive behavior and early detection and prevention programs for students experiencing disciplinary problems. According to the fiscal note, HB 2616 would require TEA hire an additional FTE at cost of about $122,000 per year. Rep. Giddings argued that too many children are being removed from school at a young age, which contributes to the “school to prison pipeline.”

HB 1585 by state Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) would require a district include student input in the local instructional plan process. Rep. Murphy suggested that such a change would encourage more young people to participate in civics.

HB 3106 by state Rep. Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston) would grant financial assistance to a school district to which an unacceptable school district is annexed. Rep. Faircloth explained districts forced to annex a neighboring unacceptable district must often resort to raising local taxes in order to absorb the incoming schools. According to the fiscal note, HB 3106 would cost the state $10.1 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2019. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2185 by state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) would specify that immunity from liability and suit of an open-enrollment charter school is not waived unless immunity is expressly waived in statute. The bill would treat open-enrollment charters the same as traditional public schools for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance and development. HB 2185 would also exempt open-enrollment charter schools from the requirement to pay impact fees. Krause argued the changes would bring charter schools more in line with policies regarding traditional public school districts.

HB 545 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would require principals to allow “patriotic societies” such as Boy Scouts to speak to students about membership at the beginning of the school year.

HB 1540 by state Rep. Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) would add the importance of quickly selecting a major or field of study into the list of post-secondary education information required to be provided to high school students.

HB 1114 by state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) would reduce the number of service days required of teachers in a district that anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, while preserving the teacher’s salary. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2729 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) would order the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop an inventory of certifications and credentials that may be earned through high school CTE programs, including certification fees and salary information.

HB 168 by Rep. Lucio would create a voluntary program to recognize licensed before-school and after-school programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 156 by state Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) would establish a pilot program in a certain South Texas high schools for placement of students in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs as an alternative to placement in disciplinary or juvenile justice alternative education programs.

HB 3606 by state Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls) would order the TEA to conduct a survey regarding the number of physical education classes, ratio of students enrolled in PE, average PE class size, etc. Supporters of this bill testified that youth obesity is a national security issue and physical fitness correlates with better classroom performance. Rep. Wilson argued locking specific data points in statute would allow the current health survey to better track long-term trends.

HB 209 by state Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) would require every high school to make voter registration applications available to students and employees. Rep. Canales explained current law already requires schools to make registration forms available, but lack of uniform compliance could be improved by cleaning up the law and streamlining the process. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3476 by Chairman Huberty would require students who are required to take a physical under UIL rules to take an electrocardiogram. Would require one administration before the student’s first year of participation at the high school level and another time before the student’s third year of participation. Would not create a cause of action or liability for a health care professional, district or district employee. Medical representatives opposing the bill’s mandate cautioned that electrocardiogram results cannot be relied upon with 100 percent accuracy. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses. The program would have the authority to issue up to $100 million in bonds or other obligations, which would be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund. According to the fiscal note, the program would require the state to hire an additional employee at a cost of $131,000 per year.

HB 2884 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would expand the requirement for daily physical activity in elementary school from four semesters to six. The bill would add a half credit for health and an additional half credit for physical education to the curriculum requirements for graduation under the foundation high school program. Supporters testified healthier students are better learners, and poor health can put education at risk.

HB 3145 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would require each district’s board of trustees to adopt a school recess policy with a minimum number of minutes. Rep. Deshotel explained studies have shown regular recess periods correlate to better focus in the classroom and higher test scores.

HB 1638 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would order TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop statewide goals for dual credit programs, along with a program to evaluate them.

HB 3024 by state Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) would add chiropractors to the list of those able to determine that a student might have suffered a concussion and should be removed by an interscholastic athletic activity.

HB 3795 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would include a student residing in the boundaries of a school district who is attending an open-enrollment charter school in calculating the district’s WADA. According to the fiscal note, such a change would cost the state roughly $654 million over the next biennium.

HB 2880 by Rep. Dutton would reduce the offense of threatening to exhibit or use a firearm at school to a misdemeanor if the person does not have possession of or immediate access to a firearm. Dutton explained that prosecutors may be hesitant to bring felony charges with lifelong implications against a student who makes a threat without actually possessing a firearm. By creating a misdemeanor charge, Dutton suggested prosecutors could convey the seriousness of the incident without permanently marring a child’s prospects through a felony conviction.

HB 3318 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would require a district of innovation (DOI) to post its innovation plan online and maintain it in public view on the district’s website. Districts of innovation would also be required to reports plans and changes to plans to the TEA for posting on the agency’s website. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3251 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would remove language from statute that makes the adjustment for rapid decline in taxable value of property in a school district subject to appropriation. By guaranteeing the adjustment, the fiscal note estimates HB 3251 would carry a cost of $384 million over the next biennium.

HB 3593 by Vice-chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a new high school cybersecurity program. HB 3593 would merge the technology applications requirement into CTE for the purposes of the foundation high school program. The bill would order the State Board of Education (SBOE) to approve a course in cybersecurity, and allow districts to offer cybersecurity courses without prior approval if they are in partnership with an institute of higher education that offers an undergraduate degree program in the subject. HB 3593 would add computer coding as an acceptable substitute for credits in a language other than English, would add cybersecurity and coding to STEM endorsement categories, and would entitle a teacher to a subsidy if they pass a certification examination related to cybersecurity. The bill would also allow a district to use new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) funds to renovate an existing instructional facility to serve as a dedicated cybersecurity laboratory. According to the fiscal note, HB 3593 would cost roughly $45 million over the next biennium.

HB 2614 by Chairman Huberty would waive the requirement that school districts administer a free nationally norm-referenced preliminary college preparation assessment instrument to students entering high school and students in the 10th grade.

HB 3369 by Chairman Huberty would require additional training and supports for special education teachers and district personnel responsible for determining eligibility for special education programs.

HB 3381 by Chairman Huberty would order the governor to designate a Texas Military Heroes Day in public schools. Would require instruction regarding persons who have served in the armed forces from the community in which the district is located and age-appropriate learning projects at battlefields and gravesites.

HB 1980 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow a transfer student to graduate through an individual graduation committee if they transferred after completing grade 11 in a different state and are unable to comply with curriculum requirements or end-of-course assessment instrument requirements needed for graduation. APTE supports this bill.

HB 2087 by Rep. VanDeaver would protect student data. Specifically, the bill would protect students’ personally identifiable information from being gathered by web sites or providers for targeted advertising.

HB 1593 by Rep. Bohac would add programs and interventions that engage a family in supporting a student’s learning at home to requirements for family engagement strategies. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 895 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would allow for the expansion of full-time virtual school programs by requiring districts pay the cost of full-time virtual schools that were set up after January 1, 2013. Previous legislation capped the growth of additional full-time virtual school programs by confining state funding to those established before 2013.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against HB 895, pointing out the growing body of research that indicates full-time virtual schools provide a poor substitute for brick-and-mortar classroom instruction. The state’s two largest full-time virtual school programs were rated “needs improvement” in 2016, yet continue to serve the vast majority of full-time virtual school students in Texas. As long as full-time virtual school programs continue to fail Texas students, there is no justification for further expansion.

Before adjourning Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman Huberty announced the committee could vote out additional bills as soon as tomorrow.

House education committee discusses voucher proposals the Senate is expected to push

The House Public Education Committee met for its final meeting before session earlier this week. The interim hearing was focused on its charge to study “school choice,” and marked what is likely to be the last public hearing for two of the committee’s members, Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) and Chairman Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

The term school choice encompasses a broad spectrum of options, including magnet schools, in-district charter campuses, open enrollment charter schools, other specialized campuses, and open enrollment policies. All of these exist within the public school context. However, in this case, the committee used the hearing to focus on analyzing the effects of the two voucher programs likely to be pursued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the upper chamber in the upcoming session.

In related news, Lieutenant Governor Patrick laid out his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities today before business leaders in Dallas. Patrick called “school choice” a top priority, vowing to continue to fight session after session for his “school choice” agenda, an agenda that includes vouchers. Read more about Patrick’s education priorities in tomorrow’s weekly wrap-up.

The committee heard from two panels of invited witnesses. The first panel was made up primarily of proponents of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships, both forms of vouchers or neo-vouchers. The second invited panel, which represented voucher opponents, was comprised of outgoing SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, the head of Pastors for Texas Children Charlie Johnson, and a lead researcher with the National Education Policy Center, Luis Huerta.

With near unanimity both Republican and Democratic committee members questioned, challenged, and ultimately signaled their rejection of the proposals voucher proponents put forward. The reasons brought forward by concerned committee members varied, but the conclusion was all the same: Texas has plenty to build upon within the public education system and they don’t need nor want a state-created, state-run school voucher program.

In a growing twist these legislators are finding support in their opposition to vouchers from what many would consider an unlikely source. At least half a dozen home-school parents were on hand to voice their opinions during public testimony, and they uniformly stated that they were opposed to a state voucher program, including ESAs. One mother put it best in an exchange between herself and Chairman Aycock when she acknowledged that home-school parents don’t want government dollars, they “just want to be left alone.”

For those interested in viewing the full hearing for more information, archived footage can be found here.


Recap of Sept. TRS board meeting

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board is meeting in Austin this week for a regularly scheduled meeting. The board will wrap its two day meeting today. Here is a breakdown of the board’s agenda and actions taken so far.

First, the board adopted several policy changes, including changes that will impact current or future beneficiaries.

§ 25.31, relating to Percentage Limits on Compensation Increases
This change impacts a small group of members whose first year of service is a short or partial year (it’s particularly impactful to those who enter the system toward the end of their career). Under the current rule, a partial year of employment creates an artificially low compensation number for the member’s first year. The member is then limited to an increase not to exceed 10% in each subsequent year. Under the new rule, only the year that counts as service credit (approximately five months of service) will be considered with regard to the limit on year-over-year compensation increases for the purposes of calculating the member’s highest five years of compensation.

§ 29.83, relating to Calculation of Amount of Retirement Benefit
This change positively affects a small group of TRS members whose years of service include years in a reciprocal system outside of TRS. By making this change, members who retire before normal retirement age will have a less harsh decrease in their retirement benefits than they otherwise would under the existing rule.

The board also made a change to TRS Active Care, implementing a new rule that allows an employee going from part-time to full-time employment to immediately enroll without waiting for the next open enrollment period. This change benefits both the employee, who is gaining access to state and potentially new district dollars toward their insurance premiums, and the district, who is required under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) to offer coverage to all full-time employees.

On the legislative front, the board is scheduled to hear an update on the system’s legislative priorities during its October meeting. Expect the legislative priorities to focus heavily on TRS health care.

An additional (potentially legislative) issue being watched by TRS staff is a downward shift in the average expected rates of return used by large funds to create their actuarial valuations. Currently TRS assumes that long-term investment returns will average 8%. This number is critically important because it is a huge factor in determining the assumed amount of money available to pay benefits. The ability to pay benefits into the future, or a fund’s unfunded liability, is the primary indicator of a fund’s health. Because assumptions of future investment returns are based on an assumed (not real) number, decreasing the assumed rate of return dramatically decreases future assumed investment returns that can be used to pay for retiree benefits and increases the fund’s unfunded liability. The only way to decrease a fund’s unfunded liability in the face of lower assumed investment returns is to increase member and employer contributions. TRS staff have indicated that they hope to avoid serious discussions on changing the assumed rate of return until after the upcoming legislative session, primarily to avoid drawing attention away from the TRS Care issue, which is currently more pressing.

The technology infrastructure update continues to move forward. To date the TEAM project has provided TRS with improved technical infrastructure, better data, documented business rules, an enhanced financial data hub, and a new website.

The board received a presentation preview of the new site including the following short video produced by TRS. The new website goes live on Monday.

The project timeline for the completion of this project has been extended to ensure that the work is done correctly and that implementation dates align with the school year. Phase 1A and 1B are complete. The remainder of Phase 1 will go live in August of 2017. Phase 1 was initially scheduled to go live this year. Phase 2 which is progressing concurrently to Phase 1 is scheduled to go live by August of 2019, but may be ready by 2018.

Finally, the board heard a fascinating presentation on the causes and effects of Brexit from Brit Harris, Chief Investment Officer of TRS, and Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays. Many of the underlying issues surrounding immigration, income inequality, and the effects of globalization which drove the vote are present in many countries around the world including the U.S.

Senate committees preview controversial education issues they will address in 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-144283240It’s been a busy week in the Texas Capitol for the ATPE Governmental Relations team as the Senate held a handful of big issue hearings in the Senate Education and State Affairs committees. The serving of hot topics included vouchers, districts of innovation (DOI), individual graduation committees, and payroll deduction.

Senate Education Committee

The education committee kicked the week off on Tuesday with an interim charge on access to digital learning opportunities in Texas classrooms. Invited testifiers lauded the advantages of using technology programs in the classroom, discussed ways some districts and education service centers (ESCs) have overcome limited broadband access, and dove into the federal e-rate program. The e-rate program is currently offering a 10 to 1 match for states that seek to expand broadband infrastructure. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, who handled testimony in the Senate this week, encouraged senators to take advantage of the limited-time arrangement offered through the e-rate program. He also reminded the committee that while digital learning is a great tool, it is important to not consider it a panacea, and training and support for teachers, among other things, must be paired in order for it to be effective.

The committee also received an update on the individual graduation committees that were created last session by Senator Kel Seliger’s SB 149. The bill received strong support from both education committees last session and was voted out of each chamber by overwhelming majorities, taking immediate effect after being signed into law by the Governor. The law is set to expire unless the Texas Legislature chooses to renew it in 2017. ATPE expressed support for continuing the committees, recognizing that state standardized tests should not be the only thing that stands between a qualified student and a diploma.

On Wednesday, the committee held a marathon interim hearing covering vouchers, DOI, and a bill that altered the minimum school year standard from days to minutes. ATPE joined other public school advocates in opposition of the voucher charge, which instructs the committee to study “education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs” in other states. Exter stressed to senators our concerns about the funding issues with a voucher proposal, which not only uses public dollars to support non-public schools, but also fails to address the real funding problem: the students who need the most resources are the students most underfunded. Under any form of a voucher, it would still be the lowest-income students receiving the fewest amount of resources; such a plan would only exasperate the problem for most.

Exter also testified on DOI, a new Texas law allowing acceptably-rated districts to opt themselves out of large amounts of the education code. A bipartisan handful of senators (those who were left in the room at the late hour) agreed with Exter’s testimony that raised alarm to the fact that essentially no checks and balances exist under the law and additional transparency should be fostered through the application process.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Also on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on payroll deduction. The committee, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), was given an interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” Sen. Huffman authored a bill last legislative session that would have prohibited most public employers, including school districts, from allowing their staffs to use payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to professional associations such as ATPE. That 2015 bill passed the Senate on a party line vote but died in a House committee. On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee first heard testimony from the State Comptroller’s office about the criteria that must be met for organizations to qualify for payroll deductions through government employers. Following that testimony, representatives from the Texas affiliate of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) both urged the committee to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for dues payments but admitted that there was virtually no cost to the state or taxpayers associated with that practice. The committee then heard testimony from several public employees and representatives of groups that could be affected by payroll deduction legislation. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday testified that public employers’ payroll offices routinely process a host of deductions from their employees’ paychecks, including insurance premiums and voluntary payments to charities and professional associations like ATPE. She emphasized that ATPE is not a labor union and does not engage in collective bargaining, calling efforts to prohibit payroll deduction in our state for hardworking public servants such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters an “unnecessary” and “misdirected” objective.


Meanwhile, the State Board of Education (SBOE) convened a few blocks away to cover an agenda that included its own high profile issue: a controversial proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook. Look for more on the SBOE meeting in Friday’s wrap-up and stay tuned as the House and Senate committees are poised to convene regularly in the upcoming months.

Social Security Update: HR 711 gets delayed

Yesterday the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means was scheduled to hear and vote on H.R. 711, the Equal Protection of Public Servants Act, which proposes to eliminate the existing Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that negatively affects public education employees’ Social Security (SS) benefits. Instead, the author of the bill, Congressman Kevin Brady, pulled the bill from consideration after last-minute opposition from a national organization caused some members of the committee to have concerns.

ATPE has worked alongside the Texas Retired Teachers Association and a large coalition of active and retired employee associations throughout the country to pass H.R. 711 and eliminate the current Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). It is our hope that negotiations will continue and a compromise will be reached, because current retirees deserve the pending benefit increase and future SS recipients deserve to have their benefits calculated fairly under a formula based on their actual work history, instead of facing arbitrary penalties imposed by the current WEP formula.

We will continue our work to advance this legislation and will provide updates as necessary.

Education-related meetings in Washington, D.C. this week

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson will be back from Washington, D.C. tomorrow and will provide a full wrap-up of Tuesday’s big hearing on Social Security. In the meantime, here are updates on other happenings this week in the nation’s capital.

Two additional house hearings were held Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Secretary of Education John King continued his advocacy for President Obama’s education budget proposal before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ education subcommittee. As has been the case in other budget hearings, lawmakers pressed the secretary on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Among other issues, subcommittee members addressed state authority and the role of the federal government under the new law. King reiterated that he would adhere to the law while ensuring states maintain certain standards.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce met to discuss student privacy and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which is due for a rewrite. The committee developed a bipartisan bill to rewrite the law last year, but failed to move the bill as ESSA debate took priority. Leaders are now looking to re-energize the issue in an attempt to get a law passed. The issue is a sticky one as lawmakers attempt to govern the use of student data for research while maintaining student privacy.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Department of Education (ED), a committee tasked with writing rules that will administer parts of ESSA began its work this week. The committee is made up of individuals representing states, school districts, parents, students, teachers, principals, charter schools, paraprofessionals, the civil rights community, Native-American tribes, and the business community.

The committee began its three-day session on Monday with a discussion on “supplement, not supplant,” which is language that says states cannot replace state and local dollars with federal dollars. The language is not new to law, but changes under ESSA require new guidance and clarification. The remainder of the session was focused on assessments. The committee tackled issues such as the definition of nationally recognized state assessments (which states will now be able to use for accountability purposes in place of state high school tests), new language in law allowing computer-adaptive testing, and specifics of required tests for English-language learners, among other things.

This is the first round of negotiated rulemaking pertaining to ESSA. The committee is scheduled to meet again in April and potentially for a third round of meetings. The members of the committee must come to a consensus on the rules covering the issues at hand. If they fail to do so on both or one of the topics, ED will write its own draft rules. ESSA requires that three areas of law go through negotiated rulemaking: assessments, “supplement, not supplant,” and standards. ED has chosen to not initiate negotiated rulemaking on standards at this time. In other areas of the law, such as accountability, ED can proceed under its typical rulemaking process. ED has more information regarding the negotiated rule making process at its ESSA webpages.