Texas school endowment hits record value

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday that the endowment used to help fund public education in Texas hit a milestone achievement. The Permanent School Fund (PSF) reached its highest-ever value of $41.44 billion as of August 31, up $4.16 over the previous year.

The nation’s largest educational endowment today, the PSF was created in 1854 with a $2 million appropriation by the Texas Legislature. The Constitution of 1876 added certain public lands and all proceeds from the sales of those lands to the fund, and the Submerged Lands Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1953 gave the fund control of mineral rights extending off the Texas coast into the Gulf of Mexico.

The majority of the fund, worth $32.73 billion, is managed by the State Board of Education (SBOE). The remaining $8.7 billion is managed by the General Land Office (GLO) through the School Land Board. The fund is invested in a diverse portfolio of assets and undergoes regular audits and performance reviews. Investment decisions often come before the board’s Committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund.

“The Permanent School Fund is the gift that keeps on giving to Texas schools,” State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich said in a statement provided by the TEA. “With the board’s careful oversight and the continued strong day-to-day administration of the Fund by the Permanent School Fund staff, the Fund will continue to support Texas schools for generations to come.”

“During the 2018-2019 biennium, the Permanent School Fund is projected to distribute $2.5 billion to Texas schools,” SBOE member David Bradley, who chairs the PSF committee, told the TEA. “This is the largest distribution in the Fund’s 163-year history and is $400 million higher than the distribution made in the 2016-2017 biennium.”

The PSF is also used to guarantee bonds by leveraging the fund’s AAA credit rating. Since 1983, the Bond Guarantee Program (BGP) has guaranteed more than $166 billion in bonds without default. In 2011, the Texas Legislature allowed charters to access the BGP. Despite the danger posed by risking taxpayer funds to guarantee loans to charters, which have shown a greater likelihood of financial trouble or default than school districts, the Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2017 to expand the amount of capacity available to charters.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thank you for following us on Teach the Vote. The ATPE Governmental Relations team will be back next week reporting on the latest education news and election updates. In the meantime, we wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!

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

For many of you it’s the start of a holiday vacation. Take a look at this week’s education news highlights as you plan your Thanksgiving week festivities:


ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, Nov. 14, 2017.

Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard from educators working in school districts burdened by Hurricane Harvey. ATPE member Paula Franklin, who lives in Pearland and teaches in Galveston ISD, was one of the invited witnesses who shared concerns about testing and accountability requirements for schools and students affected by the history-making storm.

Read more about Paula’s compelling testimony in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Watch Paula’s testimony beginning at the 23:22 mark on the archived video file from the hearing available here.

 


The Texas Education Agency released final accountability ratings this week for Texas public school districts, campuses, and charter schools. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes in this blog post from Wednesday, these are the last “met standard/improvement required” ratings that school districts will receive before the state’s new “A-through-F” rating system is implemented, as mandated by the Texas legislature.

Did you know that members of the public can share input with TEA about the new A-through-F rating system? In a recent legislative update for members of the Texas Association of Community Schools, our friend Laura Yeager wrote about her experience serving on a parents’ stakeholder committee to advise TEA on the development of the new accountability system. She expressed concern that the agency hasn’t conducted open meetings or adequately solicited feedback from the public about how the adoption of an A-through-F rating system will affect schools, students, educators, and communities. We encourage anyone who would like to share their thoughts on A-through-F to send an email to TEA at feedbackAF@tea.texas.gov.


This week a number of key gubernatorial appointments were announced for education-related boards and committees.

First, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his picks to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission was created as a result of legislation passed during this summer’s special legislative session, after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a comprehensive fix to overhaul the state’s troubled school finance system. Abbott’s appointments to the high-profile commission include ATPE member Melissa Martin. Martin is a career and technology teacher in Galena Park ISD. She joins Abbott’s other appointees, attorney Scott Brister; former state representative Elvira Reyna; and Todd Williams, an education adviser to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Gov. Abbott has tapped Brister to chair the new commission. Other members of the commission include those selected by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: Doug Killian, who serves as superintendent of Pflugerville ISD, and Senators Paul Bettencourt, Larry Taylor, and Royce West.

Also this week, Gov. Abbott revealed his appointments to fill three vacancies on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The new board members are Missouri City attorney Jarvis Hollingsworth; James “Dick” Nance, a retired coach who worked in Pasadena ISD; and Nanette Sissney, a school counselor in Whitesboro ISD. Hollingsworth will also chair the TRS board.

 


Have you noticed some updates to our Teach the Vote website this week? We are officially in candidate mode now, ready to highlight profiles not only for current officeholders, but also candidates running for office in 2018. In the next few days, we’ll be uploading 2017 voting records for current legislators, and we are also inviting candidates to participate in our online candidate survey. These resources are designed to help you learn where candidates stand on public education issues. We’re also excited to announce the addition of candidate profiles for the statewide offices of Texas Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Find candidates on our search page here, and check back frequently as we continue to add more information as we receive it. The candidate filing period for the 2018 elections is now open and will continue through Dec. 11, so you can expect to see some additional names added to our site and survey responses published as we receive them.

Learn more about how you can help shape the future of Texas in the pivotal 2018 elections by visiting our coalition partner website at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

 


 

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TEA releases final accountability ratings before A-F

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the final 2017 academic accountability ratings this week for school districts and campuses. This represents the last time in which districts and campuses will be graded under the “met standard/improvement required” system, which is scheduled to be replaced by the new “A through F” accountability system.

More than 1,200 districts and charters and more than 8,600 campuses were graded. In total, 95.4 percent met standard or met alternative standard, and just 3.5 percent were labeled “improvement required” and subject to potential interventions. A final 1.1 percent of districts and charters were listed as “not rated.”

Just 26 of 1,023 school districts, or 2.5 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” A total of 16 out of 180 charters, or 8.9 percent, were labeled “improvement required.” According to the 2017 numbers, charters were more than three times as likely as districts to fail to meet academic standards.

The new “A through F” accountability rating system is scheduled to go into effect in 2018. Under House Bill (HB) 22, schools will receive grades of A, B, C, D, or F in each of three academic domains, as well as an overall letter grade. Districts and charters will receive their first “A through F” grades beginning with the 2017-18 school year, while campuses will still be graded on the “met standard/improvement required” scale. Individual campuses will begin receiving “A through F” letter grades in the 2018-19 school year.

The agency is still in the process of making rules for the “A through F” system, and ATPE continues to represent educators’ perspectives in discussions with rulemakers regarding the system’s implementation. The full 2017 accountability report for districts, charters and campuses can be found on the TEA website.

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House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.

 

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

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week for its November meeting, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has all you need to know in a series of posts covering the four-day agenda. The board began its week on Tuesday with a review of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), an update from Commissioner Mike Morath, and work sessions on school finance and new textbooks. Board members met again on Wednesday to act on a lengthy agenda, which included the rejection of a Mexican-American studies textbook that was up for consideration as an addition to the list of approved instructional materials. Wiggins reports more on the board’s first two days here.

On Thursday, committees of the board met to consider a variety of issues, including making a final determination on rules adopted by SBEC, and the full board convened again today to make final decisions on most of the above.

As the board wraps up its regular meetings for 2017, attention turns to a series of regional meetings scheduled from November through February. The meetings will focus on collecting feedback as the board prepares to update its Long-Range Plan for Education. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday in Kilgore. More on the purpose of the meetings and meeting schedule can be found in this post highlighting a Texas Education Agency (TEA) press release on the topic.

 


As the Texas legislature works to assess the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on state infrastructure, spending, and policies, Senate and House education committees continue a series of committee hearings focused on the storm’s hit to public education. On Monday, the Senate Education Committee met in Houston to hear from affected districts, educational service centers, and other stakeholders. Committee members also heard from Commissioner Mike Morath who shared TEA’s response and supports related to the hurricane. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing and offers an overview of the discussion here.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will meet for its second hearing on the topic, this time to hear from teachers and other stakeholders on the following Harvey-specific interim charges issued by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

The House committee will meet on Tuesday at 8:00am in the Texas Capitol. Tune in live or catch an archived video of the hearing here.

 



Tuesday was Election Day in Texas and the rest of the country. In addition to approving all seven of the constitutional amendments proposed on the ballot, many Texans went to the polls to approve a number of local ISD bond proposals. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has a analysis of these elections and a few other education-related proposals here.

Disappointing voter turnout on Election Day yielded the second lowest participation rate in 40 years; only 5.8% of eligible voters headed to the polls. Texans must do better as we head toward the March primaries, which decide the vast majority of Texas’s local, state, and federal officeholders. Are you registered to vote? Have you taken the Texas Educators Vote oath? Is your district one that has committed to creating a culture of voting? Important elections are just around the corner and your voice needs to be heard. Prepare to vote in March and learn more by visiting the Texas Educators Vote website and following them on Twitter.

 

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SBOE concludes November meeting

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday to conclude its November meeting in Austin. The board declined to approve a Mexican-American studies textbook that members and reviewers concluded fell short of instructional standards. Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) and others reiterated their commitment to supporting the Mexican-American studies curriculum and encouraging additional submissions for instructional materials on the subject.

A&M Consolidated High School choir performs for the State Board of Education, November 10, 2017.

The board breezed through a number of items initially approved during Thursday’s committee hearings, including a rule change as a result of legislation aimed to ensure schools continue to receive funding for students who are excused from class for the purposes of military recruitment.

Members also approved an item to expand the commissioner’s authority to decertify and decline to recertify independent hearing examiners (IHEs). Under the change, the commissioner – rather than solely an attorney – would be able to initiate a complaint against an IHE. Additionally, the commissioner would be able to take action against an IHE if the examiner applied the incorrect legal standard. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) questioned whether the change would hinder the due process rights of IHEs. Perez-Diaz suggested reopening the rule at a future meeting to address training. Staff advised the earliest the rule could be reopened would be September 2018.

The board entered into a lengthy debate regarding certification for family and consumer science teachers, as part of the agency’s “Grow Your Own” initiative to encourage students to pursue careers in education. Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) raised a concern that the rule change, which was approved through the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), was advanced in a way that many stakeholders felt was not fully transparent and collaborative. The 15-member body declined to endorse the rule change, but fell short of the two-thirds vote required to reject the rule and send it back to SBEC. The rule will go into effect within a 90-day period unless the board votes to reject it by a two-thirds majority by December 15.

Members voted nine to five to allow another SBEC rule to go into effect that would increase the requirements on school counselors. Counselors testified in favor of the rule on Thursday, arguing that 48 hours of master’s-level counseling instruction would better prepare counselors to meet students’ increasing mental health needs. Administrators opposed the rule change, suggesting the requirement would make it more difficult for rural schools to hire counselors.

The board is scheduled to meet again January 29 through February 2, 2018.

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SBOE committee considers IHE, SBEC rules

State Board of Education (SBOE) committees met Thursday morning to consider a variety of issues before the board. The Committee on School Initiatives considered a rule change regarding the certification and recertification of independent hearing examiners (IHEs), who weigh disputes between educators and school districts. The change would allow the commissioner to decline to recertify an IHE who applies an inappropriate legal standard, and would allow anyone – not just an attorney – to initiate a complaint. It would further grant the commissioner the authority to decertify an IHE who fails to issue a timely recommendation.

Some attorneys representing educators questioned the statutory authority for the rule change and testified that the change, while perhaps well-intentioned, could expand the commissioner’s authority to a degree that is disproportionate to the number of cases in which independent IHEs have applied an inappropriate legal standards. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff documented, at most, three instances of an inappropriate legal standard being applied. Notwithstanding that, issues regarding poorly-trained IHEs are sometimes difficult to resolve, as attorney may be hesitant to file a complaint against someone before whom they may regularly appear.

SBOE Committee on School Initiatives meeting, Nov. 9, 2017.

The committee approved the changes after some members discussed the possibility of increasing the training in school law required of IHEs at a future time. Members Ruben Cortez, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) voted against the measure.

The committee also approved three rule changes from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). One would conform with statutory changes made by the 85th Texas Legislature to extend temporary certificates for military spouses. The committee heard extensive testimony over a rule that would add a 48 hour master’s degree requirement for certificate school counselors. Counselor associations advocated in favor of the change, arguing that counselors should undergo robust training in order to meet students’ various needs. Administrators argued against the measure, noting that the rule change would affect certain education service center (ESC) programs utilized by districts that face counselor shortages.

The full board will meet Friday to conclude its November meeting.

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SBOE begins November meeting

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Tuesday to undertake work sessions on school finance and new textbooks. After spending the morning reviewing the history and operation of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), the board began the afternoon with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas SBOE meeting, November 8, 2017

“The work related to Hurricane Harvey is ongoing,” Morath told the board. The commissioner drew the board’s attention to rule changes initiated by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that are tied to the state’s “grow your own” strategy to recruit more highly skilled teachers.

“There is increasing strain on school systems and their ability to hire teachers,” said Morath, who added the strain is most acutely felt in rural settings. The commissioner explained that there are students in schools throughout the state who are thinking of becoming doctors and lawyers. Morath then posed the question: Are we creating incentives and pathways for them to become teachers?

The SBEC rule changes subject to the board’s approval this week are aimed to help schools that offer CTE courses in the field of teaching as part of the “grow your own” strategy. The rule change would allow districts to place any teacher, regardless of their certification area, in charge of “Ready, Set, Teach” courses.

The commissioner also updated the board on improvements to the agency’s STAAR report card at www.TexasAssessment.com. Following the commissioner’s presentation, the board turned its attention to Proclamation 2018. The board voted to extend the deadline by two weeks for Kendall Hunt, a publisher that was unable to meet the published deadline as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Board members returned Wednesday to tackle a lengthy agenda. The board declined to add a Mexican-American studies textbook to the list of approved instructional materials. The board adopted changes to correct inconsistencies in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Career and Technical Education (CTE).

Members next turned their attention to changes to graduation requirements made by legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The board approved rule changes to align with legislation that eliminates sequencing requirements for advanced mathematics and English courses. The board debated at length how certain computer science courses could satisfy graduation requirements for languages other than English (LOTE) and/or advanced mathematics. Members cast a preliminary vote to allow courses to satisfy both requirements, while counting as a single course credit.

The board also considered rules regarding International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, and received an update following previously-adopted changes to the TEKS review process. After receiving many volunteers to serve in TEKS review work groups, TEA staff indicated more volunteers are needed for elementary-level panels.

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Election Update: Analyzing Nov. 2017 results around the state

Yesterday, Nov. 7, 2017, Texans went to the polls, wrapping up a little more than two weeks of voting by passing all seven of the state constitutional amendments on the ballot.

In addition to yesterday’s constitutional election, Texans from 58 districts scattered all across the state also voted on ISD bond proposals totaling approximately $7.7 billion. Of those 58 districts, 19 of them asked their voters to approve bond packages greater than $100 million, accounting for roughly $7 billion of the $7.7 billion total. Seventeen of those 19 bond proposals, totaling $6.6 billion, passed, most by a significant margin, while only two, Ector County ISD and Victoria ISD, failed.

While it is only one metric, the overwhelming passage rate of ISD bond proposals is a good indicator that Texans overwhelming support their local public schools and are willing to voluntarily dedicate their tax dollars to see them prosper to the benefit of local students. Texans by and large are a fiscally conservative bunch and are not prone to approving what they view to be wasteful or excessive spending. We at ATPE hope that state lawmakers will take this strong show of support by local taxpaying voters that the state’s citizenry supports public schools and public school funding as encouragement to make similar decisions on school funding at the state level.

You can view all ISD bonds on the November 2017 ballot at the Texas Comptroller’s website.

Dallas County and City of Houston voters weighed in on a couple of significant measures not related to ISD bonds.

Dallas County voted to close down a countywide taxing entity known as Dallas County Schools, which was separate from the traditional ISDs that educate area students. Over the years Dallas County Schools, an intermediate educational agency, had largely become the provider of school bus services to local districts including Dallas ISD. Once Dallas County Schools fully closes down, area districts will need to either pull those services, including bus transportation, in-house or contract them out to private providers.

The City of Houston passed a $1 billion pension revenue bond package by a wide margin. While these bonds will NOT impact educators or the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), it is a good sign that the state’s largest city is overwhelmingly supportive of maintaining a healthy defined-benefit pension system for its local public employees who are not covered under state plans.

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