Category Archives: Vouchers

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 24, 2017

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


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

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying

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

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

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

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

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchers

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

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

 


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

Wiggins_3-20-17_testimony

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

 


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

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

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

 


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

 

Senate Education Committee hears voucher bill

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 21, to take up Senate Bill (SB) 3, the priority voucher bill of Lt. Gov. Patrick authored by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). As expected, and as has become customary in the committee on voucher legislation, the meeting kicked off with invited testimony from voucher proponents flown in from across the country. The hearing continued for roughly ten hours as witnesses testified and senators asked questions related to the bill and testimony.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against SB 3 on behalf of ATPE, beginning his testimony by pointing to a long standing anti-voucher position in the ATPE Legislative Program that member educators amend and vote on annually. Exter told senators that there is plenty legislators could do to help Texas education, particularly the disadvantaged and minority students that proponents hail as winners under a voucher program, but that establishing a voucher program is not one of them. Rather, the vast majority of disadvantaged students would suffer the most under a voucher program.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

In highlighting only a few options senators could focus on instead of vouchers in order to help poor and minority students, Exter pointed to updating formulas that currently fail to adequately direct money to the kids who need it most and cost the most to educate (such as English language learners and students with special needs), fully funding a bilingual education program, and reinstating support for the math and reading academies that resulted in big educational impacts on students at the bottom of the education gap.

Exter also highlighted the costs associated with vouchers that senators are failing to consider. He told the committee that in addition to the money that will be taken out of the public school system due to student movement to other education options provided to them through vouchers, the much greater cost would come in subsequent years, when children not currently of school age become eligible without having ever stepped foot in the public school system.

Under SB 3l, any child currently of school age must first spend a year in the public school system; if their parents determine the public school doesn’t meet their needs, those students can opt for a voucher. However, children who reach school age in the coming years wouldn’t be required to ever try a public school. Some 600,000 parents currently educate their children in a home or private school setting in Texas, which means many parents would have access to public funds they could use to supplement their child’s non-public education in the future.

The fiscal note, which estimates the impact a bill would have on the state budget, for SB 3 was released yesterday in connection with the hearing. Surprisingly, the number used to calculate the impact was based on merely 25,000 Texas schoolchildren choosing vouchers, resulting in a negative impact to the state of more than $300 million. That is a usage rate of less than one percent, a percentage lower than the usage rates in states that already have vouchers. For instance, it was mentioned during the hearing that Indiana has a usage rate of closer to 3%; at that rate we would be talking about a hit to Texas education funding in the billions, not millions. Using the rate of 5%, the Center for Public Policy Priorities estimates a negative impact of $2 billion to the state coffers.

Yesterday’s voucher hearing took place on the heels of stunning news reports about legislators receiving fake letters in support of SB 3. As reported by our friends at The Texas Tribune, a few rural lawmakers called their constituents who were identified as purported senders of the letters and learned that some of them had no knowledge of the letters being sent in their names and were, in fact, opposed to the voucher legislation.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1The Senate Education committee met until 10 p.m. last night hearing testimony and ultimately left SB 3 pending. The committee meets again Thursday, March 23, to consider pending business. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to senators about SB 3.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersOn Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, a voucher bill by the committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is among the lieutenant governor’s highest priorities to pass this legislative session, and educators are being urged to contact their senators to oppose this bill. ATPE members can use our communication tools at Advocacy Central to quickly message their senators about this bill.

NO VOUCHERSAs reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in a blog post earlier this week, SB 3 has been called a “school voucher on steroids,” because it authorizes both Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for parents to spend on their children’s home or private schooling and tax credit scholarships to pay for private schools. To learn more about the dangers of these two programs, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent analysis of the bill here.

The Senate Education Committee had originally planned to hear SB 3 this week, but the voucher bill was postponed to next Tuesday. During yesterday’s hearing, the committee instead heard testimony on three bills pertaining to reporting on counselors, the use of epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) in private schools, and the sequencing of high school math and English courses. ATPE supported SB 490 that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus, which is aimed at collecting data on counseling in order to better understand the role counselors play on a campus.

 


HPE_03-14-17On Tuesday, March 14, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins in a blog post this week. ATPE weighed in on a number of the bills that included such subjects as curriculum standards, pre-kindergarten programs, and the school start date.

Next week, the committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, March 20, to consider bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the importance of high-quality mentoring for new teachers. The full committee’s hearing on Tuesday, March 21, will cover two dozen bills, including a number of measures aimed at changing the state’s accountability system. The highest profile bill on that list is House Bill (HB) 22 by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) to modify the controversial “A through F” accountability grading system. The committee also plans to resume its discussion of the chairman’s school finance reform bill, HB 21.

 


cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundAlso this week, Congress got its first formal look at President Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget. As expected, the 2018 budget proposal includes significant cuts to education funding as a whole and significant increases to initiatives preferred by the president. Trump’s plan includes an overall $9 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education while a total of $1.4 billion would be added to fund charter school expansion, Title I funding portability, and likely vouchers. Read more about President Trump’s budget proposal as well as the latest developments involving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s most recent federal update blog post.

 


As the both chambers of the 85th Legislature continue to work on their respective budget proposals, the full Senate Finance committee met this week to adopt the suggestions of its subject area work groups, including the Article III work group on public and higher education.

The full Senate Finance Committee cut an additional 276 million net dollars in programmatic and grant funding out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) budget. Those cuts are in addition to programmatic cuts not related to the Foundation School Program (FSP) already found in the Senate’s base budget bill as filed. The largest cuts were a net cut of $140 million from non-formula pre-K funding, $104.6 million out of the Instructional Materials Allotment, and $47.5 million from the New Instructional Facilities Allotment. The cuts to all other programs in TEA’s budget totaled approximately $37 million and included things like substantial cuts to the Math and Reading Academies.

The Senate did add dollars to some TEA programs above its introduced budget. The additions totaled approximately $50 million and included items like $25.2 million for the E-rate program that will draw down a $250 million federal match to provide broadband to school districts currently lacking it; $391,000 on two additional investigators and one support staff member to address cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students investigated by TEA; and $10 million restored to the Student Success Initiative, which had been zeroed out in the introduced budget.

While TEA program and grant funding took the largest cuts ($276 million) this week, TRS got the biggest boost, a net increase of $290 million over the Senate’s introduced bill after additions and cuts. The Senate added $316 million in funding for TRS-Care contingent on the passage of legislation that makes significant structural changes to the retiree healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, the House adopted very few changes to its version of the proposed public education budget this week, but did adopt one very important contingency rider. That rider would allow an additional $1.47 billion of General Revenue to be appropriated to the FSP; for the Basic Allotment to be increased from $5,140 to $5,350; and for implementation of a statutory FSP payment deferral in fiscal year 2019 which reduces the cost of the budget by $1.87 billion. The rider is contingent on the passage of school finance legislation such as Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB 21 plus a bill that would enact the FSP deferral. ATPE has advocated for such a deferral to help address budget deficits this session.

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

Related: Read a recently published op-ed by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, in which he urges lawmakers to consider using the state’s rainy day fund to address imminent education funding needs.

Also check out this Spectrum News story in which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is interviewed about the Senate’s proposed pre-K cuts.

 


In other news this week:

The Texas Senate passed another of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through Senate Bill (SB) 6. The controversial bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts and other governmental entities was approved by a vote of 21-10, despite considerable public opposition to the measure.

Among the flurry of new bills filed just before last Friday’s deadline for lawmakers to submit new legislation were two TRS-related bills that have caused a minor stir on social media. Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) SB 1750 and SB 1751 revive the concept of converting the TRS defined-benefit pension plan in the future to a defined contribution program, more like a 401(k) plan, or a hybrid of the two. The first bill calls only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would authorize TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. At this point, there are no indications that SB 1751 will gain traction this session when lawmakers are much more focused on the funding challenges associated with the TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about the bill this week by Spectrum News.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

The Senate also voted unanimously this week to confirm Donna Bahorich’s continuation as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Bahorich was first elected to the SBOE in 2012, and she has held the role of board chair, a gubernatorial appointment, since 2015. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was also confirmed.

 


Are you following ATPE’s Governmental Relations team on Twitter?

 

Voucher alert: Patrick’s priority bill to be heard Tuesday

NO VOUCHERSUPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that SB 3, originally scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday, March 16, will be heard instead on Tuesday, March 21.

The Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s priority voucher bill authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Thursday Tuesday, March 21, at 9 a.m. The bill has been referred to as a “school voucher on steroids,” because it contains not one, but two forms of vouchers.

The bill sets up two different voucher programs: An education savings account (ESA) and a tax credit scholarship. One funnels public tax dollars through parents while the other allows a private vendor to redirect taxpayer money, but the result is the same. Under both, public tax dollars are sent to private entities without public oversight, transparency, or accountability. (My colleague, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, has a thorough run-down of the bill and both proposed voucher programs here.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE will oppose SB 3, as we do all efforts to privatize public education and redirect needed taxpayer dollars to private or home schools, but your voice must be heard too! ATPE members can log on to Advocacy Central to inform their legislators of their opposition to SB 3 and encourage committee members to vote against the legislation.

Visit the Senate broadcasts page to watch the hearing live on Thursday or search the archived footage for a chance to catch the hearing at a later date. All educators with free time over spring break are encouraged to attend and register their opposition to SB 3!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 3, 2017

ATPE members are heading to Austin this weekend to advocate for their profession. Here’s a look at the current climate for education policy and politics in Texas:


With voucher interest on the rise in Washington, DC, all signs point to public opinion in Texas being mixed, at best, about the idea of privatizing education. More Texans seems to have insurmountable concerns about using public tax dollars to fund private or home schools, whether the objection is the lack of accountability on the part of those entities, the belief that public schools will suffer from a reduction in their funding, or the fear that vouchers will lead to government intrusion into private institutions that have not historically had to worry about being regulated.

This week on our blog, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared information about two voucher bills filed at the federal level. Both the proposed “Choices in Education Act of 2017” (H.R. 610) and the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or CHOICE Act (S. 235) have members of the Texas congressional delegation as cosponsors. Also, President Trump has voiced clear support for funding vouchers at the federal level.

Kuhlmann and Sampley at Tribune 02-28-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann and Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley attended Tuesday’s Texas Tribune interview with Rep. Dan Huberty.

In Texas, however, the outlook for vouchers is darker. On Tuesday, ATPE helped sponsor the Texas Tribune‘s interview with Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Asked about the likelihood of voucher bills being considered this session, Huberty expressed his belief that vouchers are a dead issue on the House side, as noted in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. (Click here for video of the exchange between Huberty and the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.)

Huberty’s remark drew ire from supporters of the so-called “school choice” legislation that both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have prioritized this session. Pro-voucher groups like Texans for Education Opportunity have been using robo-calls and letters to try to urge House members to take a vote this session on vouchers, and now they are hoping to convince the state’s Republican Party to discipline Chairman Huberty over his anti-voucher sentiments.

Also this week, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) held a press conference with a gaggle of other state representatives to tout his House Bill 1335 that would fund vouchers for at-risk students or those with special needs through an Education Savings Account (ESA). That bill has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which Huberty chairs.

The voucher debate is one of several high-profile education issues being discussed today during another event hosted by the Texas Tribune. In Houston, both Chairman Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) are participating in “A Symposium on Public Education,” where their differing views on vouchers are being showcased. Huberty and Taylor will have a chance to debate the issue again on Sunday when the two of them will sit on a panel of legislative leaders speaking during ATPE at the Capitol.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for an update.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The agenda includes a discussion of the possibility of adding a new certificate for teachers of early childhood education. As we reported on our blog recently, the Texas Education Agency solicited input from stakeholders about the idea and will share the results of those surveys at today’s meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there and will have a detailed report for our blog after today’s SBEC meeting.

 


On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee conducted an initial hearing on school finance. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote a summary of the hearing, which featured invited testimony from panelists representing several school districts. The committee will be meeting again next Tuesday, March 7, to hear a handful of bills pertaining to school funding mechanisms. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has also announced that he will introduce a new school finance bill on Monday. Huberty and Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee report that they are working together to craft some ideas for improving the state’s school finance system, but they also concede that it will likely take multiple legislative sessions to solve the current problems.

 


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

This week, the Texas Senate Committee on Nominations had an opportunity to review the performance of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and State Board of Education (SBOE) chairwoman Donna Bahorich. Bachorich is an elected member of the SBOE but has been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the board’s chair. The commissioner is an appointed position.

Chairwoman Bahorich and Commissioner Morath both gave testimony before the Senate Nominations Committee yesterday in support of their respective confirmations. Both were fairly well received by the committee members.

Chairwoman Bahorich in particular, who has chaired the board through one of its least contentious periods in recent memory, received a warm reception with only short positive interactions from the senators and no opposition from public testifiers.

While receiving plenty of support from the committee members, Commissioner Morath drew tougher questions from multiple senators on the new A-F accountability system. Additionally, the commissioner drew much more criticism from the public on issues as diverse as special education, hiring decisions at the Texas Education Agency that he oversees, and his own qualifications and appointment process.

While both nominations were left pending in the committee, there is no indication that either appointee will face any serious opposition in the Senate to getting confirmed this session.

 


ATPE at the Capitol squreSunday and Monday, hundreds of ATPE members are traveling to Austin for ATPE at the Capitol, our biennial political involvement training and lobby day event. Sunday’s agenda includes networking opportunities and training sessions for ATPE members on legislative issues; an opening keynote presentation by Superintendent John Kuhn; and a panel discussion with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) to be moderated by TWC/Spectrum News host Karina Kling. On Monday, ATPE members will visit the Texas State Capitol for meetings with their legislators to discuss issues such as education funding, testing and accountability, privatization, healthcare, and anti-educator bills prohibiting payroll deduction for association dues.

 


 

Texans in Congress support federal voucher bills as Trump continues privatization push

United States Capitol BuildingIt probably comes as no surprise to Texans that federal voucher bills are being filed in the U.S. Congress after President Donald Trump campaigned on a $20 billion voucher plan promise. He continued to promote such a plan last night during his first speech to Congress. However, Texans might be surprised to learn that some of their elected representatives are jumping on board as supporters of these pieces of legislation.

Texan serves as original co-sponsor on House voucher bill

A bill termed the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was filed in the U.S. House recently with Texas Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. H.R. 610 would create a federal voucher program and repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was most recently amended by and is commonly referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Instead, the Department of Education’s (ED) authority would be limited to awarding block grants to states that legalize vouchers and follow the federal voucher program requirements.

The “Choices in Education Act” voucher would work like this:

  • ED would distribute block grants to qualified states.
  • States would distribute that money to districts based on the number of eligible school children within each district.
  • Districts would be responsible for distributing a portion of their funds to parents who choose to enroll their child in a private school or home-school their child. The amount distributed would be equal to the per-student federal funding in each state. Districts would be responsible for distributing funding in a way that ensures money is spent on “appropriate educational expenses.”

Both Texas senators co-sponsor Senate voucher bill

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has a voucher bill (S. 235) called the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or the CHOICE Act. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have signed on as cosponsors.

The “Choice Act” has three parts:

  1. The bill would expand eligibility for the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the federally funded voucher program that distributes funding to students in the District of Columbia only.
  2. The bill would make funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) portable, meaning qualified students could take their portion to the private or public school of their choice. It would also provide states seed money for establishing a special education voucher program.
  3. The bill would create the Military Scholarship Program, allowing students living on military bases to use a voucher at the private or public school of their choice. Students would be eligible for the combined cost of tuition, fees, and transportation, with an $8,000 cap for elementary students and $12,000 for secondary students.

White House continues push but offers no details

The White HouseLast night during his prime time speech to a joint session of Congress, his first time to address the body, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for vouchers and called on Congress to pass a bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He didn’t offer additional details on such a plan, adding that ”families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

It has been reported that the White House is considering a tax credit scholarship approach, something neither of the above bills would offer. Again, details on the type of federal tax credit scholarship President Trump might be considering have not been released. (Check out an example of a tax credit scholarship in our post on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill being considered here in Texas.) In short, tax credit scholarships give taxpaying entities or individuals a break on their taxes in exchange for donations to a voucher fund. The fund is then used to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools or to fund a home-school education. During his campaign, President Trump campaigned on a promise to redirect $20 billion dollars in federal spending to a voucher program.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can alert their federal representatives of their opinions on these and other federal voucher bills by logging on to Advocacy Central.

Huberty leads House committee in school finance talks, dismisses vouchers

The Texas House Public Education Committee met today, Feb. 28, to take up the weighty subject of school finance, which is a priority item for House leadership under Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). The lengthy hearing featured invited testimony from 24 witnesses, including state agencies, school districts and organizations focused on school finance.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

Dan Huberty

To kick off the hearing, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) rattled off a number of statistics related to public education.

The state added 69,175 students in fiscal year 2016, and is projected to add 75,824 students in 2017 and another 81,796 students in 2018. Out of 320 charters awarded by the state, 176 remain active while 144 have closed. A total of 241,336 students are enrolled in charter schools and 228,774 are enrolled in private schools.

Of the state’s 1,024 public school districts, 241 paid recapture for 2015. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) estimates 229 will pay recapture for 2016, and the number is expected to increase to 264 by 2019. In fiscal year 2016, 249 districts received Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) at a cost of $340 million. If ASATR is allowed to remain in effect, TEA estimates 156 districts would receive payments in fiscal year 2018 at a cost of $200-250 million.

A total of 156 bills have been referred to the House Public Education Committee thus far this session, and the committee anticipates receiving another 131 bills that have been filed and are awaiting referral. The House budget, House Bill (HB) 1, includes $44 billion in all funds for the Foundation School Program (FSP) for fiscal year 2017-18, including a $1.5 billion increase in public education funding contingent upon school finance reform.

Huberty at Tribune interview 02-28-17Before presiding over today’s committee hearing, Chairman Huberty participated in an early morning discussion hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. There, Huberty told Texas Tribune executive director Evan Smith that school finance reform could take two to three sessions to complete. He also confirmed the Senate’s voucher proposals are dead in the House. Huberty pointed out that Texas already has robust “school choice” in the form of charters, magnet schools, public school transfers, and other options. The chairman emphasized that handing out public tax dollars to private ventures without any accountability is at odds with conservative principles.

Committee testimony began Tuesday afternoon with a brief rundown of the laws and legal decisions impacting public education funding. For example, the Cost of Education Index (CEI) has not been significantly changed since 1990. Of critical relevance to school finance discussions, the Texas Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax. TEA general counsel Von Byer testified that while the state can rely on local property taxes to help fund schools, it can’t set up a system where the state directly controls that property tax.

House leaders have wisely pointed out the see-saw relationship between state and local funding for schools. As the share of public education funding provided by the state has steadily declined over the years, local property taxes have risen in order to make up the difference. Chairman Huberty repeatedly pointed out that meaningful property tax relief is necessarily contingent upon the state taking the burden back from local districts.

The majority of testimony focused on districts representing a variety of financial challenges. The committee heard from Dallas ISD, which is about to enter recapture while facing a concurrent drop in enrollment. The state’s largest district, Houston ISD, faces a looming $160 million recapture payment, despite serving a historically impoverished student population. The district has already cut $40 million of that from classrooms, including cuts to teachers, tutoring programs, nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors.

Houston ISD recommended the committee increase the basic allotment, count full-day pre-K students in weighted average daily attendance (WADA), restore the transportation allotment for all Chapter 41 districts, include the homestead exemption in the school funding formula, and allow districts a mechanism to reattach real property detached by TEA in order to meet wealth equalization requirements.

Austin ISD, which is scheduled to pay the state’s largest recapture payment of $536 million next year, noted that the state relies on district recapture payments to reduce its funding responsibility by $2 billion. As property values and inflationary costs increase, the state – not districts – benefits. Austin ISD suggested lawmakers tie property value increases to an increase in the basic allotment, update the CEI, allow Chapter 41 districts to receive the transportation allotment, include full-day pre-K in WADA, and increase the number of “golden pennies” of taxing capacity exempt from recapture available for local districts.

Other district administrators testified regarding the myriad issues facing public schools, including rapid growth that in many cases outpaces available facilities funding, growing populations of students with special needs and English Language Learners, and an increasing proportion of low-income students locked in generational poverty.

HPE02-28-17Representing fast-growth school districts, Denton ISD superintendent Jamie Wilson recommended increasing funding under the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), as well as options to provide more flexibility when it comes to setting local tax rates. The South Texas Association of Schools advised against structural changes to the school finance system, but encouraged lawmakers to allocate the additional $1.5 billion under HB 1 toward the basic allotment and commit to educational cost studies during the interim.

KIPP Public Charter Schools co-founder Mike Feinberg testified that public charter schools receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools, which is often offset by fundraising, financing, or both. Feinberg fielded questions regarding student due process, the accuracy of much-touted wait list numbers, and the state’s liability for charters that have accessed bonds backed by public tax dollars. Huberty notably inquired how quickly charters would be able to expand if additional facilities funding were made available, and hinted at a role for future charters focused on special needs populations.

Gary VanDeaver

Gary VanDeaver

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) inquired several times as to the effect on state funding if a student who is new to Texas were to choose a charter school as opposed to a traditional public school. The question received varying answers, with witnesses noting that funding levels vary from district to district.

Among those working on an overall plan to simplify the system, Ray Freeman with the Equity Center outlined a proposal to stabilize and streamline funding through a single-sentence formula. Pursuant to a system overhaul, Freeman indicated lawmakers may desire a transition plan funded through a budget line item.

Vice-chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) noted that as demographics shift and wealth inequality deepens, the “average student” of today looks different from that of years past. More than half of Texas students are Hispanic and 59 percent are economically disadvantaged. Considering these changes, Bernal suggested lawmakers may want to reassess some funding methods based on certain special populations in favor of reorienting the system as a whole.

The hearing concluded with testimony from organizations whose advocacy is not limited to the public education realm. Huberty sharply questioned a representative from the pro-voucher Texas Public Policy Foundation over why voucher supporters oppose any accountability for public tax dollars diverted to private institutions.

The committee will begin considering specific school finance-related legislation when it meets next Tuesday, March 7. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 10, 2017

We’re gearing up for a big hearing on an anti-educator bill next week at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s more news for you to know:

 


The Senate Committee on State Affairs is set to hear Senate Bill 13 on Monday, Feb. 13. The bill by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who also chairs the committee, would ban educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues, while protecting other public employees’ rights to do the same for their association or union membership dues.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor have prioritized passing a bill to end payroll deduction for what they misleadingly refer to as a use of “taxpayer resources to collect union dues.” ATPE has pointed out that no taxpayer resources are required for the processing of dues deductions. We’ve also shown that the bills being pushed forward, Huffman’s SB 13 and the identical House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Hills), actually punish many educators who join non-union groups while protecting the right of other public employees to continue to deduct their dues, even for unions.

STOP2In a press release issued by ATPE this week, Executive Director Gary Godsey highlighted the political motive behind the bills: “If fewer educators are able to join a professional organization, it will be harder for groups like ATPE to fight back when lawmakers try to privatize Texas public schools or cut teachers’ pay and benefits.” ATPE is urging educators who are concerned about this attempt to shut down their future advocacy efforts on behalf of the education profession and the students they serve to contact their legislators. Several ATPE members plan to attend Monday’s hearing and visit legislative offices that day to share their opposition to SB 13.

“The legislators supporting these bills are trying to shut teachers up, and we won’t stand for it,” said ATPE’s Godsey. “How teachers spend their paycheck should be their decision and theirs alone.”

 


Members of the Texas House of Representatives received their committee assignments this week for the 85th legislative session. Two of the most important committees for education-related concerns – the House Committees on Appropriations and Public Education – have new leaders as a result of the retirement of legislators who chaired those committees before. Read more about which legislators will be playing pivotal roles this session in steering education-related bills through the legislative process.

 


The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday in an unprecedented cabinet confirmation that required Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie breaking vote. Senators were literally split on her confirmation; two Republican Senators joined all Democrats in opposing her nomination, which resulted in a 50-50 tie. Vice President Pence’s favorable vote sealed her confirmation. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports on the vote and shares ATPE’s response here.

On the other side of the Capitol that same day, the U.S. House voted to overturn two Obama administration regulations dealing with accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and teacher preparation, respectively. ATPE’s Kuhlmann has reported on the release of both regulations (accountability here and teacher preparation here) and mentioned the uncertain future of many recently finalized regulations under the new Congress and Trump administration. These measures must still get through the U.S. Senate before going to President Trump’s desk for a signature, but should they, newly confirmed Secretary DeVos would oversee the implementation of any new regulations

 


NO VOUCHERSStop us if you’ve heard this one. Among Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th legislative session is enacting private school vouchers. His signature voucher legislation for 2017 is Senate Bill 3, being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who also chairs a Senate Education Committee stacked with voucher proponents. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offers an in-depth look at what’s in SB 3, how voucher funds could be used under the Senate’s proposal, and the many opportunities for perverse results. Learn more in this blog post.

 


Dan Patrick’s voucher bill

Near the beginning of session before senators starting filing their bills, the lieutenant governor routinely reserves a block of the first fifteen to twenty bill numbers for high priorities. This year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reserved numbers one through thirty for his preferred bills. While Lt. Gov. Patrick cannot file bills himself, he works with various senators to carry what are unquestionably his priorities and marks them as such with one of his low bill numbers.

Vouchers have always been a top political priority for Lt. Gov. Patrick. This session, Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) is the state budget bill; SB 2 is the lieutenant governor’s tax relief bill; and third on the list, SB 3, is the lieutenant governor’s voucher bill.

SB 3 contains both an education savings account (ESA) and a tax credit scholarship. While each program funnels public tax dollars to private, non-transparent, and largely unaccountable education settings, making both programs clearly voucher programs, the mechanics of how they shift those dollars are separate and distinct. Here’s a more detailed look at each program contained in SB 3:

Dan Patrick’s ESA program:

The ESA program as proposed in SB 3 would apply to any child who either has been in the public school system during the preceding school year or has never been in the public school system but was born after September 1, 2012. It would give those children access to a bank account from which their parent or guardian can at their discretion pay for “educational expenditures” using a debit card. The amount that a child would receive under the program is dependent on two factors, household income and student disability. Here is an approximate breakdown based on a family of five (two parents, three kids):

  • A family with a household income over $105,118 would receive $5,510 for each eligible child.
  • A family with a household income under $105,118 would receive $6,888 for each eligible child.
  • A child who is eligible to participate in an ISD special education program or has a Section 504 designation would receive $8,266 regardless of household income.

The numbers above are based on a percentage of the average state and local public education funding a child receives in Texas, which is approximately $9,184*. That amount does not include federal funding; nor does it include additional weighted funding a student in the free or reduced price lunch program or a student identified as needing special education services may receive. For reference, the median household income in Texas is $55,653.

In every circumstance, a student receives less funding under an ESA program than the child would receive as a student of a public school.

As stated above in the ESA plan, parents may legally spend entitlement dollars on “educational expenditures.” These would include:

  • Tuition and fees at:
    • an accredited private school (ex. – IQA, Winston School);
    • a postsecondary educational institution; or
    • an online educational course or program (ex. – K-12 Inc.);
  • Textbooks or other instructional materials
    (Under an ESA neither the content nor quality of textbooks or instructional materials is publically vetted as they are for public schools. Here are examples of some texts that could be published using tax dollars under an ESA program for use in a non-public school: Sharia Law, Wicca, Young Earth Science.);
  • Curriculum
    (Much like textbooks, neither the quality nor content of curriculum is vetted under an ESA program. Here is an example of a commercially available curriculum program that could be paid for with public money under an ESA, although it would never be found in a public school - ATI (what is ATI);
  • Fees for classes or other educational services provided by a public school, if the classes or services do not qualify the child to be included in the school ’s average daily attendance;
  • Fees for services provided by a private tutor or teaching service (so vague it could cover almost anything);
  • Fees for educational therapies for a child with a disability;
  • Computer hardware and software and other technological devices, not to exceed in any year 10 percent of the total amount paid to the program participant’s account that year (ex. $551 – $826, multiplied by the number of children with a voucher, toward a new flat screen TV);
  • Fees for a nationally norm-referenced achievement test or examination, an assessment instrument adopted by the agency under Section 39.023, an advanced placement test or similar examination, or any examination related to college or university admission; and
  • Fees for the management of the participant’s account charged by a financial institution.

Swiping Credit CardSome parents will, of course, seek to cash in their student’s entitlement or directly spend the taxpayers’ money on unsanctioned purchases, such as rent, food, or even less scrupulous items. The primary means of deterring financial mismanagement on behalf the parent or guardian, assuming they get caught, is criminal prosecution. Having an incarcerated parent is not typically a precursor to improved academic performance.

The competing plan in SB 3 is a Tax Credit Scholarship.

Dan Patrick’s Tax Credit Scholarship program:

This part of SB 3 would allow an insurance company to redirect tax dollars out of state general revenue and into the coffers of a private vendor, which would then use those dollars to selectively grant scholarships for private schools. The bill also creates the bureaucratic framework under which the vendor would be awarded this lucrative administrative contract from the state.

Under SB 3, the Texas Comptroller would select a single 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity (such as a religious organization or private school operator) to serve as the states “Educational Assistance Organization” (EAO). In exchange for a 10% administrative fee retained on all the money it takes in, the EAO first receives dollars from insurance companies and issues those companies a receipt they can give to the comptroller for a dollar-for-dollar deduction on their taxes, up to half of their total tax bill. The EA then disperses those scholarships directly to private schools in accordance with SB 3. So for every $100 million the EAO takes in, it gets to keep $10 million in administrative fees right off the top. Additionally, the EAO can hold onto the money it collects for up to two years meaning that it could also quite easily invest that money (e.g. in a jumbo CD or other investment that carries virtually no risk) and collect yet another $1 -$3 million in profits off the earnings. All in all, this is a pretty good deal for the vendor that lands the contract.

The initial cap on the Tax Credit program in SB 3 is $100 million, but it would rise to approximately $260 million over the first 10 years and more than a billion dollars within 25 years. At that point, the EAO vendor would be able to draw approximately $130 million off the program annually.

Under the tax credit scholarship plan, the EAO vendor can make two different types of payments:

  • a scholarship payment of either 75 percent of average ADA ($6,888 for 2015-16) or 50 percent of average ADA ($4,592 for 2015-16); or
  • an educational expense assistance (EEA) payment of $500 (this amount increases by 5% each year).

An eligible student may be awarded both a scholarship payment and an educational assistance payment. In order to be eligible a student must meet the following eligibility requirements:

Income: The family’s income cannot exceed double the free or reduced lunch guidelines, which is $105,118 for our family of five.

The student must also:

  • be in foster care;
  • be in institutional care; or
  • have a parent on active duty in the military

Additionally, the student must:

  • have attended public school the preceding year;
  • have never attended public school, but be starting school in Texas for the first time (this could be a kindergarten student, first grader, or out of state/country student); or
  • be the sibling of an eligible student. (This would make students who had been attending a private school but who have a sibling who is eligible under the former bullets also eligible.)

Using 2015-16 numbers, a private school could be awarded a scholarship of $4,592 plus $500 in EEA money for a student from a family of five with an income between $78,839 and $105,118. A private school could be awarded a scholarship of $6,888 plus $500 in EEA money for a student from a family of five earning less than $78,839. Again for reference, the median household income in Texas is $55,653. A public school could be awarded $500 in EEA money for a student from a family earning less than $105,118. However there is no requirement, or even encouragement, in SB 3 to award any money to public school students.

Unlike SB 3′s ESA plan, these tax credit scholarships, don’t go to parents, but rather they go directly from the private EAO to the private school(s). This vendor preference and enhanced level of control have made this the voucher of choice for the Catholic Dioceses of Texas and its network of private religious schools, as well as for the Private School Association of Texas.

What if the Legislature were to pass both provisions of this bill?

NO VOUCHERS

If both of Gov. Patrick’s vouchers were to come to fruition under the current language of SB 3, many students would be eligible to double dip from both programs.

In any scenario, these vouchers are a reckless choice for the 85th legislature to pursue.

* There are many ways to calculate average state and local funding which result in variations in the total.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 3, 2017

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

 


The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to become Secretary of Education. DeVos arguably has been President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick. As proof of just how much disagreement exists over DeVos, Monday’s vote is predicted to come down to a 50-50 split, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a rare tie-breaking vote to confirm the nominee. Read more in this most recent blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central if you’d like to send a message this weekend to U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos. (Member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover all the action. Check out Mark’s latest blog post about new committee assignments for the board members, changes that are in the works to some curriculum standards, charter school finances, and more.

 


For months, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been touting his major private school voucher legislation that will be pushed hard this legislative session. This week we finally got the first look at his signature voucher bill for 2017, which is Senate Bill 3 being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill filed on Monday calls for both corporate tax credit “scholarships” for private schools, as well as education savings accounts (ESAs). The latter would offer a debit card for parents, pre-funded with taxpayer dollars to be used for private school tuition, home school costs, or even college savings.

On more positive note, Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) this week filed a new bill aimed at reducing standardized testing. House Bill 1333 calls for delinking teacher evaluations from student test scores, but the measure would also require Texas to seek a waiver of federal laws that require several tests currently administered to students starting in grade three and moving through the high school grades.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1

Stay tuned next week as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will offer an in-depth look at SB 3 and the voucher debate for our blog. We’ll also have more on the newly filed testing bill, HB 1333. ATPE members can read more about these bills and all our legislative priorities over on Advocacy Central.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Governor Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the 85th Legislature on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for the governor to share his declared “emergency items” earmarked for earliest consideration this session, but no education issues made that list. The governor did still talk about some legislative priorities of his that relate to education.

Gov. Abbott urged lawmakers to work on an overhaul of the beleaguered school finance system and reiterated his strong support for pre-K programs, as long as they are done the “right” way. He also encouraged lawmakers to do something about the small number of teachers who’ve engaged in inappropriate relationships with students and strengthen reporting laws to address school administrations that have allowed some of those individuals to move on to jobs in other districts rather than being excised from the profession permanently.

Unfortunately, the governor also expressed support for private school voucher legislation and praised two lawmakers who have filed bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. Adding his voice to those spreading misinformation about the payroll deduction issue, Gov. Abbott stated, “Taxpayer resources should not be used for that.” ATPE and other groups have pointed out that payroll deduction for association dues produces no cost to taxpayers. State law even specifically authorizes school districts to charge associations like ATPE a fee if any such costs ever did arise.

The governor’s reference to taxpayer burdens that don’t exist is yet another example of the misleading information being spread about these two so-called “union dues” bills. The bills are being pushed mainly by business groups that have complained vociferously about anti-business activities by certain organized labor unions. But the bills filed, Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), have no impact on private businesses whatsoever.

This week, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) signed on as a co-author of Senate Bill 13, joining a handful of other senators backing the bill. The House version includes two co-authors: Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) and Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound).

Both of these bills unfairly target educators for retaliation against their decisions to join professional associations like ATPE. While being touted as “union dues” bills, the measures actually affect groups that aren’t unionized, including ATPE, and they specifically exempt certain other public employees who would continue to benefit from payroll deduction for their union dues. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees highlights the political and discriminatory nature of these bills, which are clearly meant to silence the voices of educators on hot-button issues like private school vouchers, public pension reform, testing and accountability, and labeling public schools as failures.

Educators are urged to send messages to their lawmakers about these harmful payroll deduction bills that are tied directly to other legislative efforts to destroy public education. It’s easy for ATPE members to send a message, call, tweet, or communicate with lawmakers via Facebook using our communication tools at Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE members, today is your last day to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event scheduled for March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Be sure to sign up for our political involvement training and lobby day activities here, and don’t forget to book your hotel rooms and submit any requests for travel incentives by today, too. (ATPE member login is required to register for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Our training event on Sunday, March 5, features an opening keynote address by John Kuhn, presentations by the ATPE lobbyists, and a panel discussion with legislative leaders sharing their perspectives on the issues. Our website includes a schedule for Senate meetings and more details. Check it all out here. We look forward to seeing hundreds of ATPE members next month in Austin!