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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 13, 2017

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

House Public Education hears Harvey costs

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday in Austin to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the disastrous hurricane that wrecked Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to investigate the costs and potential actions the state could take to aid recovery efforts.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

“We need to understand what you need,” Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told superintendents preparing to testify at Monday’s meeting. As of today, all but two of the school districts affected by the storm have reopened, but Port Aransas ISD and Aransas Pass ISD remain closed.

The committee first heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Nine districts closed for four weeks or more as a result of the storm, which affected some 1.4 million students. More than 100 schools became emergency shelters during the storm, and the commissioner credited educators with countless “acts of heroism” that saved thousands of lives.

“I think we can all be proud of educators in Texas,” Morath told the committee.

Morath detailed the agency’s efforts to aid district, including creating a website that operates similar to a “wedding registry.” Impacted districts can list needed supplies, such as instructional materials, which can be viewed by other districts interested in making donations.

Four districts have applied for accelerated funding as a result of increased enrollment due to students transferring from storm-affected districts. Morath explained that this is a cash-flow issue which will not have a negative impact on the state budget. However the commissioner has exercised emergency authority to hold districts losing students harmless from funding losses. The measure is expected to cost $250 million in additional state funding, along with $150 million in waived recapture payments, for a total cost of $400 million.

The commissioner noted that lagging appraisals mean affected homeowners are still scheduled to pay the same property taxes this year as if the storm had never occurred, and will not see any reduction in property values until next year. Notwithstanding that, property tax collections could decrease if homeowners abandon or sell their homes. This could have a negative impact on the ability of districts to cover existing bond payments.

Districts receive state formula funding based on expected property tax revenues, which means a rapid decline in actual collections will result in less funding than budgeted. Districts will be able to request reappraisal of property values in order to offset these losses through higher state aid or lower recapture payments, but there will be a lag until the 2018-2019 school year. Chairman Huberty pressed TEA to run reappraisals for all affected districts, which Commissioner Morath agreed to try and provide within the next few weeks.

Chapter 42 districts, which serve 74 percent of students affected by the storm, can only receive additional funding if the commissioner declares there will be a surplus in foundation school program (FSP) funds at the end of the fiscal biennium. Morath cautioned this could create a significant supplemental appropriation requirement when the 86th Texas Legislature meets in January 2019, and suggested TEA could be in a position to determine the existence of any actual surplus in six months. The dilemma sparked earnest discussion among committee members who fought to pass legislation in 2017 to reform the school finance system.

“We’re going to have to have a meaningful conversation sooner, rather than later,” said Huberty.

The state also anticipates spending an additional $266 million as students made homeless by the storm qualify for new categories of weighted funding that the state is obligated to cover. This includes additional enrollment in programs for which homelessness is a qualifying factor, such as pre-Kindergarten.

Morath noted some educator candidates faced State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) paperwork deadlines during the storm, and lamented that he did not have authority to provide waivers or exemptions from SBEC requirements.

Following the commissioner, five panels of school superintendents testified regarding the costs incurred by their individual districts. Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said more than 1,000 students remain displaced by the storm, and has had many students enroll from other districts. The district already faces $16 million in losses, including $8.5 million for a single school that did not have flood insurance, and will have to dip into its reserves to cover this cost.

Houston ISD Chief Financial Officer Dr. Rene Barajas said more than 200 campuses were impacted by the hurricane, 75 of which were severely damaged. Six elementary schools remain unopened, affecting some 5,000 children. Some of those campuses could require full replacement. Dr. Barajas called $78 million “a very conservative estimate” for the district’s total cost. Barajas suggested the state keep property values frozen for the next two years in order to protect formula funding for Houston and other Chapter 41 districts. According to Dr. Barajas, the district anticipates reappraising property values would have a negative budget impact.

Chairman Huberty also pressed TEA to assist children who newly qualified for free lunches. The committee did not address how the storm may affect school accountability scores, and whether certain state assessments should be delayed. The chairman suggested the committee is prepared to consider accountability at a future meeting in the next two to three weeks.

TEA approves ADA adjustments for Harvey districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Monday that Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has exercised his authority to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey,” said Commissioner Morath. “This one-time adjustment is meant to bring some certainty for the remainder of this school year as school leaders face a number of major financial decisions following this devastating storm.”

“Many Texas schools have suffered setbacks following Hurricane Harvey, but Texas is committed to ensuring that our students continue to receive the best education possible,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement provided by TEA. “I commend Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency for their efforts to get our students back on track and helping ease the burdens on school districts impacted by the storm. We will continue to work diligently to limit disruption in education while our schools and communities continue to recover and rebuild.”

Under the current school finance system, ADA is a critical component used to determine the level of state funding to which each district is entitled. Many districts lost students as a result of widespread displacement caused by the storm. The resulting decline in ADA means these districts would likely face the loss of state funding or increased recapture rates. The adjustment authorized by Commissioner Morath is intended to prevent major decreases in state funding to these districts during the 2017-2018 school year.

This one-time adjustment applies to eligible districts within the 60 counties listed under Governor Abbott’s state disaster declaration. Eligible districts and charter schools within the Harvey disaster zone must also meet the following criteria:

  • The school district or charter school has had damage to at least one campus which has resulted in a disruption of instruction lasting two or more weeks, OR
  • The school district or charter school had instructional facilities that were closed for the nine or 10 hurricane related waiver days; AND
  • The school district or charter school must complete the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas Worksheet by Oct. 27, 2017.

Additional factors will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In September, the agency promised districts and charters would continue to receive full payments based on their individual Legislative Payment Estimates (LPE). Under the adjustment, according to the TEA, “The commissioner will hold affected districts and charters harmless to a projected ADA number calculated using a three-year average trend from the 2014–2015 through 2016–2017 school years, unless this projection is both 15% higher and 100 ADA higher than the 2017-2018 LPE projections. In the latter case, 2017-2018 LPE will be used.  This calculation is included in the attached spreadsheet.”

“The Texas House wants to make sure that schools are not punished for enrollment declines caused by Harvey,” said Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). “This decision will provide funding certainty for schools as they continue to cope with Harvey’s aftermath and as legislators look closely at other ways the storm affected public education. I want to thank Commissioner Morath for listening to the concerns raised by House members on behalf of their constituents.”

The agency also released a full list of school districts affected by the hurricane. On the same day, the agency announced additional funding to help provide transportation for students displaced by the storm. More information regarding ADA adjustments can be found on the TEA website. The commissioner has also authorized waivers for missed schools days as a result of Harvey.

House weighs Harvey’s cost to government, schools

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

The House Appropriations Committee met Monday at the University of Houston to discuss the state’s response to Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend in August. The hearing was held in response to interim charges relating to the storm announced by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Committee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) opened the meeting with a moment of silence for victims of the deadly mass shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas. Houston was the site of Hurricane Harvey’s second landfall, and saw billions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure. The storm first came ashore near Corpus Christi, and Chairman Zerwas announced that the committee would hold future hearings in the Coastal Bend as well.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

Chairman Zerwas said legislature may need to act to ensure that infrastructure is strong and is rebuilt quickly in the wake of the storm.  When it comes to using the state’s rainy day fund, Zerwas said, “I can’t think of any other type of event” that would be as well qualified for tapping the $11 billion account. The chairman qualified his remarks by adding that before taking action, lawmakers must know what expenses the state will be responsible for and how to leverage federal funds.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was the first local official to testify before the committee. Turner noted that 27 trillion gallons of water fell on the region, and congratulated first responders for doing an “exemplary job” during and immediately following the hurricane. Turner called the storm “indiscriminate,” and announced he has tapped retired Shell president Marvin E. Odum as the city’s chief recovery officer.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston’s top two priorities are debris removal and housing. On housing, Turner said his administration is particularly sensitive to seniors, people will special needs and low-income communities. The mayor testified thousands of people are still living in damaged homes that are in need of assistance.

Turner, who served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee before running for Houston mayor, walked the committee through a detailed breakdown of the city’s costs. The city has received a 90/10 federal match for the cost of debris removal. With the total for debris removal estimated at around $260 million, the city’s share will total roughly $26 million. Working at an “aggressive” pace, the first of three debris removal passes is estimated to be completed within the next couple of weeks. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of emergency and first responder services for the 60 days following the storm, after which the split will also be 90/10. The same match will apply to costs associated with parks and public spaces.

Houston carries a $100 million insurance policy for damage to buildings. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused the city to file a record $33 million claim. The claim for Hurricane Harvey is anticipated to be north of $175 million.

“The insurance is gone,” said Turner. The city is responsible for a $15 million deductible under its current policy, and will need $10 million to reinsure buildings against another hurricane. Turner explained that these costs, added to the city’s $26 million share for debris removal, were covered by $50 million in state funds unlocked by Governor Greg Abbott on Friday.

“I appreciate what the governor did, and I want to thank him,” said Turner, who added that the funds will prevent the need to ask for a local tax rate hike. Turner warned that other federal matches will still incur local costs, and the city must earnestly pursue costly flood mitigation projects to prevent further catastrophe.

Among those are three bayou projects that are shovel ready and awaiting federal money, which Turner testified could have saved thousands of homes. Other projects include $311 million to expand bayou capacity, $400 million for a reservoir in West Houston and a number of detention basins, including a $25-$30 million project to convert an unused golf course into a reservoir capable of holding more water than the Astrodome. Experts have long warned that a hurricane hitting Galveston Bay could wipe out the Port of Houston, and Turner suggested spending $12 billion for the “Ike Dike” or coastal spine would be a frugal investment compared to Hurricane Harvey’s $180 billion estimated cost.

The city has already exhausted its own $20 million economic stabilization fund. Turner emphasized that until money from the state rainy day fund is made available, state agencies should waive administrative fees for federal funds. In addition, Turner suggested lawmakers could tap state Fund 5000. A portion of the dedicated fund’s revenue comes from solid waste disposal and tipping fees, and the mayor argued $133 million from the fund could be made available for recovery efforts in Houston.

Concluding his remarks, Turner emphasized the role of Houston as the state’s economic heart. Urging lawmakers to consider ways to assist, Turner cautioned, “If you stop the engine of this city, you will stop the movement of this state.”

Up next, Harris County Judge Ed Emmitt called attention to the 2.5 million county residents outside of Houston proper. The county costs include $110 million for debris removal. The hurricane damaged 55 county buildings, 19 of which cannot be reopened. The county’s criminal justice center is among the buildings unable to be reopened, which altogether present the county with a $220 million loss. County workers must inspect 190 roads and bridges, as well as 900 traffic signals, at an additional cost of $220 million.

Buyouts for destroyed homes are expected to top $6 billion dollars, and public health costs, such as mosquito spraying, will tally around $7 million. Judge Emmett said that the completion of critical flood control projects already on the books will also be in the billions, and local taxpayers will likely be asked to approve a billion dollar bond package as a result of the disaster. Emmitt concluded that the strain on local governments responsible for storm recovery illustrates the folly of recent legislation that would have made it more difficult for counties to raise property taxes.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, appointed by Gov. Abbott to chair the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, opened his remarks by reading a letter from the governor commending local, state and national leaders for their response efforts. Four weeks into the job, Sharp described the commission’s role as finding ways to cut red tape and acting as the main point of contact for coordinating the state’s response. That said, Sharp reminded the committee that individual mayors and county judges hold sole executive authority during a disaster, and the commission is limited to offering advice and facilitating their requests.

Sharp emphasized the importance of counties filing federal paperwork before spending local dollars in order to ensure that federal funds are delivered. Following its recovery work, the commission will produce a report with future recommendations. Responding to Turner’s testimony, Sharp argued that the state does not take an administrative fee from federal disaster funds. Instead, Sharp characterized the money state agencies receive as a separate disbursement from the federal government.

After Sharp, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified that the full cost to the state won’t be known for several more months, or possibly years. The state will be able to meet its cash flow needs, but will see a short-term loss in economic output as a result of factories and businesses being knocked out by the storm. Despite this, the state expects a subsequent bump in GDP as a result of the recovery. Regarding state procurement efforts, Hegar raised a concern with the inability of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff to provide assurances that specific contract terms and conditions meet FEMA requirements for reimbursement. The comptroller also chided the legislature for failing to pass legislation Hegar suggested that would have invested a portion of the rainy day fund, which Hegar argued could have yielded several hundred million additional dollars for recovery efforts. Importantly, Hegar warned that public education costs could be the most significant area of exposure facing the state.

The committee also heard from top staff at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Commissioner Charles Smith fielded a number of pointed questions regarding staff losses, budget cuts and the rollout of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Commissioner Smith pushed back against criticism of the agency’s response to Harvey levied by former staff in a report by the Texas Tribune. Smith estimated a total cost to the agency of $1.3 billion.

Staff from HHSC testified that the commission is working with Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure additional counselors are available to go into schools to serve children displaced or affected by the storm, but could not say how many counselors are currently involved or how schools were informed of the additional resources.

Legislative Budget Board (LBB) staff briefed the committee on the state’s spending flexibility through budget execution, which Gov. Abbott had earlier suggested could be utilized to cover recovery costs without immediately tapping the rainy day fund. Funding can be transferred between executive agencies, as well as from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2018. Agencies are required to notify LBB of transfers, but do not need the board’s permission. Currently, most of the HHSC resources transferred for recovery efforts have been redirected from funds set aside for Medicaid.

With regard to the debate over administrative fees, LBB staff indicated that not all agencies receive fees in the same way. Staff volunteered to look into whether administrative fees waived by state agencies would be able to pass through to city governments or be forfeited back to the federal government. Board staff also confirmed Fund 5000 could be utilized for disaster response, and could be accessed without a legislative appropriation through a budget rider that allows the governor to utilize certain dedicated funds for disaster relief with the approval of the comptroller and LBB.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd told the committee Hurricane Harvey is expected to be an $18.5 billion FEMA event. Some 845,000 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance, of which 305,000 have been processed for a current total of $857 million in FEMA funds. Like Mayor Turner, Chief Kidd listed debris removal and housing as the state’s most immediate concerns. In contrast, Chief Kidd testified that administrative fees are drawn down separately and on top of approved federal disaster funds and are used by state agencies to pay for compliance monitoring. Kidd contended that if the state were to waive administrative fees, no additional money would go to local governments and agencies would ask the legislature to pay for compliance monitoring.

The committee also heard from representatives of the Texas Military Forces and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Executive Director James Bass from TxDOT testified the state incurred about $125 million in damage to roadways alone. Bass said Texas is not in danger of having to compete with Florida, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma, for federal highway dollars.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath reiterated the comptroller’s warning that the public education system could face significant costs related to the hurricane. The commissioner again commended educators for “unbridled and remarkable acts of heroism” during the chaos, pointing out that many chose to go to work saving lives while their own homes were underwater. As of now, all school systems have reopened except for Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Aransas County ISDs. Progress notwithstanding, Morath said there are still students who are unaccounted for in a formal educational setting following the storm. Truancy laws remain in place, and Morath said it’s “too soon to tell” how the storm will affect dropout rates. Many districts have extended the school day or begun offering Saturday school in order to make up missed instructional time.

Morath presented the committee with an itemized list of nine major cost centers. Initially, districts receiving students displaced by the storm would normally not see the additional funding accompanying those students until the following year. Fortunately, Morath said the agency is able to shift funding sooner in order to accommodate those districts. Second, Morath said the agency could hold harmless districts losing substantial numbers of students by adjusting the average daily attendance (ADA) for those districts at a cost of roughly $400 million.

The commissioner also highlighted the worrying fiscal impact on districts in which the local property tax base is negatively impacted by the storm. Because the school finance system is based on lagging property tax collections, Morath suggested districts may not see the full impact until 2020. Morath noted the bifurcated maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S) funding streams create additional complications, and argued action should be taken to mitigate districts’ losses.

The storm has also had a large impact on facilities. Schools will need to be repaired or replaced, and the legislature will likely be faced with a decision regarding how much to appropriate to districts that have exhausted insurance and federal funds. The storm has also caused many students to become homeless or qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The additional weighted funding carried by these categories is expected to cost the state $266 million. Newly homeless students will also qualify for pre-Kindergarten programs. Other costs associated with absorbing displaced students include additional transportation and mental health services, and districts will face costs for monitoring compliance with regard to federal emergency funds.

Responding to a question from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) regarding whether it is correct that the STAAR test will proceed without changes to the administration schedule, Morath answered, “Not entirely.” Morath explained a survey has been sent to affected districts, and indicated a decision whether to delay testing for displaced students has not yet been reached.  The commissioner also suggested affected schools labeled “improvement required” may receive a “bye” year for accountability purposes.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to hold additional meetings to discuss the ongoing recovery. The House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet October 12 in Austin to focus in-depth on Hurricane Harvey’s effects on the public school system.

Commissioner: 1.4 million students affected by Harvey

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its September meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner Mike Morath regarding the agency’s response to Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

The commissioner described the storm that smashed into the Coastal Bend as a category four hurricane as “pretty nasty.” More than 1.4 million students (roughly 1 in 4) attend school in one of the 58 counties designated under Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) state disaster declaration.

According to the agency, a majority of those districts have reopened or will soon reopen. Districts facing longer delays include Ingleside, Taft, Aransas County, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas in Education Service Center (ESC) Region 2 (Corpus Christi). In Region 3 (Victoria), Refugio ISD remains closed and Woodsboro ISD could possibly reopen by September 18. Houston ISD in Region 4 is implementing a rolling start for campuses, and Sheldon ISD is looking to reopen September 18. Finally, eight districts in Region 5 (Beaumont) are still determining potential start dates.

Commissioner Morath said the agency has been “feverishly busy” trying to support affected districts and charters, noting the invaluable role played by the education service centers play. The commissioner has conducted daily “war room” sessions with agency staff, and waived a number of state education laws under the agency’s purview. Those include a waiver for missed instructional days, adjustments for average daily attendance (ADA), submitting crisis code data and changing the PEIMS school-start window, reducing the minimum days of service and extending various deadlines. The commissioner has met with superintendents in Houston and is scheduled to meet with superintendents in Corpus Christi, Victoria and Beaumont.

Morath called Governor Abbott’s recovery efforts “quite remarkable,” and credited the governor with negotiating fund matching that would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 90 percent of recovery costs, leaving local districts responsible for the remaining ten percent. Between FEMA funds and insurance, the commissioner suggested districts and charters should be able to cover recovery costs without any additional money out of pocket. That said, Morath noted the storm “was not without cost,” and praised those who contributed “many small acts of heroism” to save lives in immediate aftermath.

In Houston, Morath said 35-40 schools quickly became makeshift shelters for storm victims. Many educators became first responders, including a Spring Branch teacher and ATPE member who joined the “Cajun Navy” rescue efforts. Praising the work of educators, Morath said, “What we saw was public service on an epic scale.”

The agency has set up a hotline (512-463-9603) for parents who aren’t sure what to do with their children after being displaced by the storm. Additionally, staff advised the board that approximately 340 individuals were scheduled to take the high school equivalency exam but were prevented from doing so due to the storm. Because board rules do not allow the state to provide refunds, the agency has asked test vendors to waive the administrative fee for those retaking the test. Agency staff advised that this would accomplish the same goal without requiring the board to amend rules.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) noted that the College Board is waiving SAT fees for those affected by the storm. Cargill also raised a question about how the storm would affect the schedule for STAAR test administration. The commissioner indicated that the agency is unable to alter the schedule, therefore the STAAR will be administered according to the normal timeline.

Responding to a question from Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth), Morath indicated that the agency has broad authority to tap additional funds in response to a national disaster. Such a move could be done with or without dipping into the economic stabilization fund (ESF), often called the “rainy day fund.” Morath suggested tapping emergency funds could be done without the need for a special session, although it could present legislators with budget challenges in the next legislative session.

Following the commissioner’s update, the board reviewed statutory changes from bills passed during the 85th legislative session, including legislation consolidating the instructional materials allotment into the instructional materials and technology allotment and ordering the creation of an instructional materials web portal. The legislature also expanded the board’s authority to approve or decline to endorse textbooks based upon suitability for the subject and grade level.

Members breezed through a new vendor’s proposal for a Mexican-American studies textbook, after a previous vendor’s offering generated controversy and resulted in the board declining to endorse the book. The board opened up discussions on aligning the education code to accommodate new courses created in statute by the 85th Texas Legislature, including advanced computer science, cybersecurity, and interaction with law enforcement officers. Prompted by an individual who spoke during public testimony, members engaged in a spirited discussion about the relative merits of personal financial literacy and economics. Some members indicated they would be open to a future discussion that would ponder placing more emphasis on personal financial literacy than on economics – which is among the courses eligible for college credit.

The governor signed legislation in May that removes sequencing requirements for English and math. Senate Bill (SB) 826 eliminated the requirement that advanced English and math courses be taken only after the completion of English I, English II, English III, Algebra I and geometry as appropriate. The legislature also passed legislation that will allow certain computer science courses to satisfy the requirement for students to take a language other than English. The board devoted significant discussion time Wednesday contemplating how to credit computer science courses that may satisfy either a language or a math requirement, and whether such courses should be allowed to count as satisfying both requirements. The board will face several such decisions over the next few months as it determines specifically how to enact certain legislative changes.

The board heard from representatives from the International Baccalaureate program Wednesday afternoon who voiced concern about a lack of PEIMS codes for IB courses. The conversation will continue over the next few meetings in which the board will likely undertake a deeper dive into IB coursework.

The meeting concluded with an update on the review process for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Members received an updated cycle for review and revision, and a recommendation from agency staff that the board delay the upcoming social studies TEKS review by one meeting in order to accommodate those who may have been affected by the storm.

 

How you can assist Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Much of Texas, especially Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, continues to deal with the disastrous results of Hurricane Harvey. With ongoing emergency conditions across large parts of the state, many of our members in less affected areas are asking how they can help.

AFFECTED AREAS

Thousands of students, faculty and staff are expected to be displaced in Houston, which continues to experience catastrophic flooding and rescue operations. There will be a need for school uniforms, school supplies, and financial donations in HISD. District staff is organizing recovery and relief efforts at this early stage. Surrounding districts will likely face similar challenges.

The Red Cross is operating emergency shelters and is distributing truckloads of supplies across affected areas. Information on where to find a shelter, reconnect with loved ones, and obtain relief can be found by following this link to the Red Cross website. General information regarding emergency shelters for those evacuating disaster areas can be obtained by calling 2-1-1.

NORTH TEXAS

Dallas County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster member Trusted World is accepting donations and volunteers for the Hurricane Harvey Donation Drive. Supplies needed include:

  • New underwear and socks (all sizes)
  • Non-Perishable food
  • Toiletries
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby diapers, wipes and formula

Donations can be dropped off Monday between 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm at 15660 Dallas Parkway. More details can be found by following this link to their website.

CENTRAL TEXAS

According to Austin Eater, several Austin bars and restaurants are collecting money or sending partial sales proceeds to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The city of San Antonio is collecting non-perishable food, baby food, water, new or packaged clothing and hygiene items. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg posted a list of donation drop locations to Twitter:

 

STATEWIDE Providing financial assistance through the Red Cross is quick and easy:

      • Text “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a $10 donation
      • Call 1 (800) RED-CROSS
      • Visit www.redcross.org

The Houston Press has compiled a list of food banks, which can also accept monetary donations as well as foodstuffs: 

Houston Food Bank
832-369-9390   
www.houstonfoodbank.org

Galveston Food Bank
409-945-4232 
www.galvestoncountyfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria) 
361-578-0591 
www.victoriafoodbank.org

Closed Friday

Corpus Christi Food Bank
361-887-6291
www.foodbankcc.com

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont) 
409-839-8777 
www.setxfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr) 
956-682-8101 
www.foodbankrgv.com

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)
979-779-3663 
www.bvfb.org

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)
512-282-2111
www.centraltexasfoodbank.org

San Antonio Food Bank
210-337-3663
www.safoodbank.org

Houston Texans NFL star J.J. Watt launched a YouCaring Houston Flood Relief campaign which has raised more than $460,000 of its $500,000 goal. Watt announced the fund in an Instagram post: 


Donations can also be made to the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Texas Diaper Bank, Samaritan’s Purse, North American Mission Board/Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and SPCA of Texas. Texas Monthly has a list of additional aid organizations in this article on Hurricane Harvey aid.

Texas House approves Senate’s school funding plan, adjourns sine die

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingThis evening, the Texas House of Representatives reluctantly voted to accept the Senate’s version of a school funding bill that will provide some short-term relief for schools, students, and educators. The vote was 94-46 on the motion to concur with Senate amendments, which will send House Bill (HB) 21 to the governor’s desk. The Senate’s version stripped out much of the $1.8 billion sought by the House under an original version authored by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). As finally passed, the bill will provide hardship grants for schools losing ASATR funding; new grant programs to help students with autism, dyslexia, and related disorders; and a one-time infusion of funds to offset healthcare cost increases for retired educators.

The Senate, in recess at the time of the House’s decision to adjourn, will be back on the floor tonight and will have an opportunity to consider Senate Bill 1, a property tax bill that came back from the House with amendments. The Senate will have the option of concurring with the House amendments to SB 1, sending that bill also to the governor, or accepting no legislation on property taxes. Aside from the medical licensing legislation that necessitated the special session in the first place, Gov. Greg Abbott has listed property tax reform as his top priority for the special session that is now coming to a close. ATPE and others emphasized throughout the special session that the best way for lawmakers to provide local homeowners with property tax relief would be to overhaul the school finance system and increase the state’s share of the funding burden. Now a state commission will study the issue of school finance for two more years and make recommendations to the 86th legislature in 2019.

ATPE issued a press statement about the passage of HB 21 and the conclusion of the special session here. We are grateful for the work of legislative leaders to try to advance meaningful reforms to our school finance system that would benefit all students, as well as increases in pay and benefits for our hardworking educators. We are disappointed that the House leadership’s visionary plans for longer-term school finance changes were rejected, but we greatly appreciate the additional short-term aid that will flow to some schools, retired educators, and students during the next two years.

ATPE also thanks lawmakers for rejecting several discriminatory and unnecessary bills that were advanced by some during this special session. We are very pleased that legislators listened to the education community and rejected measures that attempted to silence educators in retaliation for their being politically active and bills seeking once again to divert public money to unregulated private schools.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 11, 2017

We’re heading into the last weekend of the special session, and many bills are still in play. Here’s the latest from the ATPE lobby team:


Senate Ed 08-11-17Today the Senate Education Committee has been hearing House Bill 21, a school finance bill authored by Rep. Dan Huberty. Senate committee chairman Larry Taylor has proposed a complete substitute for the bill, and the Senate’s changes are not sitting well with the scores of educators and education groups that supported the House version of the bill. As approved by the House, HB 21 would have injected $1.8 billion in new funds for public education, but senators have balked at the hefty price tag. The Senate’s version reduces funding by $1.5 billion, provides hardship grants for some districts facing the loss of ASATR funds this year, and offers new funding for charter schools to apply toward the cost of facilities or any other uses. A similar proposal to fund charter school facilities was stripped out of the House version of the bill a couple weeks ago after representatives objected to it.

As several witnesses who previously supported HB 21 testified neutrally or against the bill during today’s committee hearing, Chairman Taylor emphasized that he has spoken to Chairman Huberty about the bill and that both chambers are committed to continuing to negotiate language for the bill. The Senate committee expects to approve the measure today, sending it to the full Senate for a floor vote as early as tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 12. The Senate committee substitute version of HB 21 does not include private school vouchers, bathroom regulations, or any of the other highly controversial ideas that many thought might make it into the bill; however, there is still time for senators to offer up floor amendments containing any number of objectionable proposals.

Assuming that the House will not accept the Senate’s version of the bill, it is likely that HB 21 would be sent to a conference committee made up of senators and representatives to try to iron out a compromise.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee advanced a handful of bills relating to teacher pay. Check out the latest blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter for the rundown on this legislation, including a proposal originally favored by Gov. Greg Abbott to establish a merit pay system for teachers who earn advanced credentials. With only a few days left in the special session, it remains unclear whether any of these bills will remain alive. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for the very latest.

 


In case you missed it, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann wrote last week about the state’s draft plan for compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Texas Education Agency is accepting public comments on the draft plan until Aug. 29.

 


 

Dan Patrick’s Texas Senate plows ahead

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

In a matter of days, the Texas Senate, under the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, plowed through Governor Greg Abbott’s special session priorities on education. The blitz began late last week and continued through the wee hours of this morning, when several more contentious education items were granted final approval. The pieces of legislation now head to the Texas House, where the lower chamber began work with a significantly different focus: on a meaningful approach to fixing the state’s broken school finance system and state-funded, sustainable options for increasing teacher pay and the state’s contributions to retirees.

The Senate worked until 2am this morning, passing a voucher proposal that was paired with needed funding for certain school districts and facilities funding for charter schools; a prohibition on educators’ ability to utilize payroll deduction to pay professional association dues; a teacher pay bonus bill that includes one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care; a “bathroom bill” that would dictate related local school policies; and not a fix, but another commission to study school finance. Here’s more:

SB 19: teacher bonus & TRS-Care

After spending a significant amount of time yesterday debating Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority legislation regarding the use of bathrooms in public schools, among other public spaces, the chamber moved on to several other pieces of legislation affecting public schools, students and educators. It started with its teacher pay bill, SB 19, authored by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The bill was originally marketed by its author and the Lt. Gov. as a teacher pay raise, but ATPE, among others, pushed back against that notion when it was heard in committee over the weekend.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in the Texas Senate.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter told members of the committee that educators appreciated two portions of the bill, the state-funded bonus for teachers and the needed one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care, but he expressed opposition to the piece termed a “teacher pay raise,” which wasn’t state-funded and required school districts to “re-prioritize” funding. ATPE State Secretary and Abilene educator Tonja Gray also testified on the bill in committee, telling members: “I don’t want a pay raise on the backs of my students.” She explained that in an environment where Texas schools are already underfunded, an unfunded mandate to provide teacher pay raises would result in cuts to valuable programs or educators.

When the bill hit the full Senate floor for debate, the empty pay raise portion was removed and the bill was passed out of the chamber with overwhelming support. Senator Nelson, as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Finance who writes and passes the state’s biennial budget, assured educators that she will prioritize a pay raise next session. ATPE looks forward to working with her to deliver on that promise to educators in 2019 as the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, and we will continue to fight on behalf of educators for a state-funded, sustainable, and meaningful pay raise. The House has its own versions of bills to address teacher pay and retiree benefits that are already on the move.

Related, the Senate also hosted a hearing over the weekend to consider proposals to fund a teacher pay raise in the next legislative session. ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to the proposals, saying that “ATPE believes the legislature should pivot its focus on teacher pay to developing plans for long-term investments that do not come out of existing money already dedicated to public schools.” Both proposals received initial skepticism and one was in the process of being written as it was heard in committee. Both were left pending in committee and may stay there since the Senate removed the unfunded pay raise from its teacher pay bill.

SB 7: prohibition on payroll deduction for educators

A mere hour after praising educators endlessly as senators worked to approve the teacher pay bill on the floor of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick turned the chamber’s attention to SB7, the bill by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) that selectively targets educators in an attempt to silence their collective voice. Unlike the teacher pay bill, which received no attention during the regular session, the bill to eliminate educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction to pay voluntary professional association dues has been a priority of the Lt. Gov. and Texas Senate for years now.

G3 testimony B&CDuring both the committee hearing and as the bill was debated on the floor of the full Senate, the discriminatory, purely political, and completely unnecessary nature of the bill was highlighted once again. ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey testified to the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce that educators feel “besieged, besmirched and really like they’re second class citizens.” Testifier after testifier pushed back against the proponents’  rhetoric about busting unions and glass claims about eliminating associated costs to government. Educators, police officers, fire fighters, and many other public servant employees showed up to prove that this bill isn’t wanted by anyone, aside from a couple of heavily funded special interest groups that have made it their top priority to silence educators, which they see as too effective at fighting harmful policies like vouchers.

During floor debate, more truths emerged. Senator Hughes shared Governor Abbott’s promise to veto any bill that includes first responders, a status of employment he and others deem superior to educators and other public servants like CPS workers and correctional officers. Amidst questioning on why the bill picks winners and losers, Senator Hughes finally admitted that some people “don’t like the advocacy of labor unions,” acknowledging that the bill is about silencing the advocacy efforts of the public employees targeted under the bill, which amounts primarily to educators. And as all involved continued to push back against the lie that payroll deduction for association dues costs the state, the bill author could only say that he wants to get the government out of the process for the targeted professions only.

Democratic members of the Senate offered amendments to exempt educators under the bill, broaden the definition of first responder to include educators, null the targeted prohibition until associated costs can be identified, delay the legislation’s enacting date to give the targeted labor organizations more time to adjust, and more, but Senator Hughes rejected them all and the bill remained unchanged. The bill passed the Senate with support from all Republicans, except for one, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). He joined the Democratic members of the Senate to stand with educators in opposition. During the regular session, a nearly identical bill was sent to the House where it received no attention during the regular session. The House version of that bill died in committee and the Senate bill never received a hearing once it made it over. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the special session version of this legislatio.

SB 2: special education voucher & certain school funding

NO VOUCHERSFirst up in the Senate was SB 2, the voucher bill authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Paired with the $10,000 voucher for special education students was continued ASATR funding for certain schools that stress the funding is necessary. The bill also contains $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a grant program termed the ”educational expense assistance program” for public school special education students to access up to $500.

The voucher portion of the bill is, this time, in the form of a “tax credit scholarship.” Certain entities could receive tax credits in return for contributions made to the voucher program. Students with special needs could then access vouchers to pay for private school tuition. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expressed ATPE’s concerns with the voucher portion of the proposal, saying that we should be focused on fixing things for special education students within public schools, rather than offering them money to go elsewhere. Tax credit scholarships, like all vouchers, are guilty of funneling public tax dollars out of the public school system. Offering tax credits to corporations will lower the general revenue Texas earns through taxes, and unless funds are raised elsewhere, cuts will have to be made in order to cover the deficit.

ATPE also encouraged legislators to take up the issues of ASATR and facilities funding independent of the politically charged voucher proposal. The Senate pressed ahead with the combined voucher and funding proposal, instead, and SB 2 passed the chamber 19-12. Two Republicans voted against the proposal, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and one Democrat supported the bill, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville). The bill heads to the House where the chamber took several overwhelming votes to reject vouchers during the regular session.

SB 16: commission to study school finance

The Senate also began with work on school finance, but unlike the House that is working on a bill to fix the system, the Senate bill would create a commission to further study school finance in Texas. SB16 is authored by Senator Larry Taylor, who filed a permanent fix supported by ATPE during the regular session. However, he chose not to advance that bill during the regular session, instead altering the House’s school finance bill by adding his voucher proposal. In the special session, he maintains that more studying of school finance should be done prior to passing a fix to the system. ATPE submitted written testimony that said it is time for legislators to act on school finance. We also encouraged the legislature to include educators on any commission that passes.

When SB 16 was debated on the Senate floor Monday, legislators agreed with our request to add an educator and amended the bill to include an active or retired educator to the commission. The chamber passed the legislation unanimously and sent it to the House where more extensive work to fix school finance is underway.

SB 3: bathrooms

The Senate chamber spent the better part of yesterday debating SB 3 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). After hours of testimony in committee and hours of debate on the Senate floor only days later, the Senate advanced the proposal, 21-10, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville), voting to advance the legislation. Speaker of the House Joe Straus has sided with business and school districts and made his feelings on the legislation fairly clear, saying he just doesn’t think it is needed legislation. The House offered a bathroom proposal limited to public schools that it was willing to advance during the regular session, but it did not receive the seal of approval from the Senate.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is important that members of the legislature hear from you on these issues deemed priorities by Governor Abbott. ATPE is encouraging all members to visit Advocacy Central to send a message to state legislators about these proposals as they continue to make their way through the process during the special session. Tell them to focus on meaningful pay and benefits for your profession and adequate school funding for your local schools. Let them know that vouchers and targeted prohibitions on payroll deductions for educators are distractions from the real issues faced by Texas public school children. You can also utilize the resource to thank your individual senators who voted with public education and educators!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 14, 2017

Here is your weekly education news wrap-up, the special session preview edition:

 


ATPE and other public education allies are sponsoring a pro-public education rally on Monday, July 17 at the Capitol! The rally will begin at 1:30pm, bringing together educators, parents, students, and all public education advocates to rally in support of Texas public education ahead of the special session.

Rally

ATPE’s own Gary Godsey will speak at the rally alongside several other guest speakers and live entertainment. Join us to show support for public education as we head into a special session that features calls for vouchers, dismantling of educators’ rights, and other potentially troubling public education bills. Help us show lawmakers that public education needs their support! Show up and wear your red for public ed! We look forward to seeing you there.

 


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out his vision for satisfying Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session call to give all teachers a $1000 pay raise, or require districts to give all teachers a pay raise. Based on his press conference yesterday, it seems Patrick mostly agrees that the best approach to a teacher pay raise is to require it within existing school budgets and money dedicated to public education.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was at the Capitol for the press conference and has more on Patrick’s teacher pay raise plan as well as a plan to provide a bonus to retirees. More on the press conference can be read in this Austin American Statesman article where ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter gives additional perspective and in this KXAN Austin story featuring an ATPE member and Mesquite, Texas educator.

 


Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

Despite efforts by educators and some lawmakers to clarify the rampant misinformation regarding the reasons for banning payroll deduction for educators, proponents continue to spread these lies in an effort to deflect from what’s really behind the purely political effort: silencing educators’ collective voice. ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey sets the record straight this week in an editorial featured in the Houston Chronicle.

“This legislation aims to specifically deny teachers the ability to voluntarily deduct membership fees directly from their paychecks,” Godsey said, “with the hope that reducing convenience and security will lead to fewer teachers joining groups that advocate inside the Texas Capitol for classrooms and children.”

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Check out and retweet this video for more on the truth about payroll deduction. ATPE members can also visit Advocacy Central 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. We also encourage educators and other stakeholders to contact their legislators on the other education issues on the special session agenda. Legislators need to hear from you!