Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 22, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from the ATPE lobby team:

 


The board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and provided this report for our blog, summarizing the board’s discussions about data system upgrades and possible future actions pertaining to retire/rehire policies for educators and the assumed rate of return associated with the pension fund.

 


TEA_assessmentsThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been busy rolling out new STAAR testing resources for educators and parents. Its TexasAssessment.com website offers tools and data for parents, teachers, and administrators to help understand and analyze information related to the state’s standardized testing system. This week, TEA made available to educators the ability to view sample reports that parents can access for their children. The goal is to help teachers provide guidance to their students’ parents who may have questions about the STAAR reports. For more information on the new resources, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


This weekend, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins is attending the Texas Tribune’s annual TribFest. Learn more about the education-related panel discussions that are taking place at the festival in this blog post from Mark. ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are also out on the road this weekend attending ATPE meetings in Regions 12 and 14, with many more scheduled in the next few weeks. Learn more about these events in today’s blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.

 


 

Share Button

ATPE’s lobby team out on the road

The ATPE Governmental Relations team is busy traveling across the state to visit with our members!

ATPE’s lobbyists are on the road this fall sharing legislative updates and previews of the 2018 elections. We’d love to see you at an ATPE region meeting, such as those happening this weekend in Regions 12 and 14. We’ve already visited with ATPE members in Regions 13, 19, and 20 this past week, and we’re looking forward to seeing more of you in the weeks and months to come.

The 2018 primary elections are just around the corner and educators are getting fired up! As we have reported extensively here on Teach the Vote, there was a clear and direct assault on our public education system during the 2017 legislative session and the special session that followed. ATPE fought hard against bills to slash local control, take away educators’ rights, and drain money from our public schools by sending it to unregulated private schools. But there were also valiant efforts by some legislators to stand up for our public schools, students, and educators. Regional visits by our ATPE Governmental Relations staff are a great opportunity for you to chat with your ATPE lobbyists and hear more about these legislative battles of the recent past and future, as well as what’s at stake during the upcoming 2018 elections.

Below are some of the meetings we’ll be attending this weekend. We’ve also been invited to speak at Regions 4, 9, and 16 next month, so check with your local unit president or visit the ATPE region’s website for more information about those events. We’re excited and looking forward to seeing you there!

Region 12 ATPE Meeting:

  • Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, Waco, TX
  • Region 12 website

Region 14 ATPE Meeting:

  • Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, Abilene, TX
  • Region 14 website

Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas (CREST) 2017 Fall Conference:

    • The Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas is holding a conference on September 24-25, 2017, at the Hilton Austin Airport. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and Lobbyist Mark Wiggins will be providing CREST members with a legislative update on September 25. We have ATPE members who are also part of this great organization, so we look forward to seeing them and other educators there. Find more information about the CREST conference here.
ATPE L obbyist Monty Exter joined Region 13 ATPE members at their meeting in Driftwood.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter joined Region 13 ATPE members and guests at their meeting in Driftwood, Texas.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins visited Region 19 ATPE members in El Paso.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins visited Region 19 ATPE members in El Paso.

 

Share Button

Summary of third-quarter TRS board meeting

TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas held its quarterly board meeting this week in Austin on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. You can watch video of the board meeting here, as well as review the board agenda and board book.

The TRS board received its final update on the TEAM project prior to the upcoming go live date. As we have reported previously on our blog, TEAM is the agency’s ongoing project to update its computer infrastructure and data systems. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie reported that everything continues to be a go for the transition to the new system, which is scheduled to go live on Oct. 2. At the next meeting, the board will receive a report on the transition from the legacy system to the new system and the transition from working on phase one of the TEAM project to working on phase two.

In a subsequent agenda item, Guthrie laid out several of his policy goals for the upcoming year. Included in those Guthrie would like to look into significantly streamlining the retire/rehire rules for educators. There are always pros and cons to any changes made to the retire/rehire rules, and advocacy groups including ATPE will stay closely involved during the process to ensure that the rules produce the best results possible for individual educators while also ensuring the overall health of the retirement fund. Additionally, TRS is set to undertake the process of completing an updated experience study, a process utilizing a third-party vendor to analyze the assumptions TRS uses to determine its actuarial numbers. TRS staff expects to complete the study by February and present findings to the TRS board for discussion at the February board retreat.

ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyConducting an experience study and reconsidering the TRS assumptions, including the assumed rate of return, is a significant action for the TRS board and agency. The assumptions combined with the actual assets on hand are what TRS uses to determine the funding window and overall actuarial soundness of the pension fund. Lowering the assumed rate of return without increasing the contribution rate will significantly increase the funding window, or number of years required to fully cover pension liabilities. Under law the fund cannot be considered actuarially sound if the window is greater than 30 years. Currently the fund is just over the 30 year mark but is trending in the right direction. Lowering the assumed rate of return even slightly will add years, as many as five to 10, to the funding window. TRS’s current assumed rate of return is 8 percent. Despite the fact that TRS has a one-year rate of return at 12.9 percent, a five-year rate of return at 8.9 percent, and a 26-year rate of return at 8.7 percent, there is significant pressure, including political and peer pressure, to lower the investment return assumption. ERS recently underwent a similar process that resulted in that fund’s rate of return being lowered from 8 percent down to 7.5 percent.

Any degradation of TRS’s actuarial soundness will undoubtedly result in new calls from some advocates and state lawmakers who oppose government-funded pensions for TRS to be converted from a defined-benefit pension system into a defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan.

In addition to the meeting of the full TRS board, various sub-committees also met this week. Of particular note, the TRS policy committee made changes to a number of TRS rules, many in response to legislative changes from the 85th legislative session that just went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017. You can review the list of rules affected on the Policy Committee Agenda or take a closer look at the rules in the Policy Committee Book.

Other committees that met this week included the following with links to their materials:

  • TRS Investment Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Risk Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Compensation Committee – Agenda and Book; and
  • TRS Audit Committee – Agenda and Book

The next TRS board meeting will be a one-day meeting on October 27, 2017. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Share Button

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Share Button

TEA offers educators access to sample STAAR parent portal

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released information this week for educators interested in better understanding the agency’s website, TexasAssessment.com, which aims to provide more information on the STAAR test to parents and educators.

In addition to accessing the website through the teacher and analytical portals, educators now have the opportunity to see aspects of the site from a parent’s point of view, a perspective TEA hopes will aid educators as they converse with parents who might have questions about the Twebsite or student/parent portal.

Educators can utilize these sample parent credentials to log on to the student/parent portal and navigate through examples of what family members and students experience when visiting the site. The sample credentials offer educators access to example results for multiple grades and subjects. This list of frequently asked questions by parents also aims to help educators prepare for conversations with parents regarding the new website and portal.

Visit TexasAssessments.com today for more.

Share Button

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 15, 2017

Catch up on the latest education news this week from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter snapped a photo with Rikki Bonet, an ATPE member serving on the SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, Sept. 12, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter visited with Rikki Bonet, an ATPE member serving on the SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, Sept. 12, 2017.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended all the proceedings and reported on them for our blog here and here. The board took steps to implement changes made by legislation earlier this year, such as a bill to allow certain computer science courses to satisfy other core curriculum requirements. SBOE members also heard an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on schools and students.

One day prior to the board’s meetings, the SBOE’s new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee held its first meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Read about the committee and its initial discussions in this blog post from earlier this week.

 


As Texans deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has directed some legislative committees to study issues connected to the deadly storm. In new hurricane-related interim charges released this week, Speaker Straus is directing the House Committees on Appropriations, Natural Resources, and Public Education to hold hearings to study and make recommendations to help the state deal with the effects of the storm. The Public Education Committee will discuss the issues of displaced students, financial losses for schools, and avoiding punitive accountability outcomes as a result of the storm. For more on the interim charges, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

ATPE members are reminded of resources available on our Hurricane Harvey page. Find additional hurricane-related information on the TEA website here.

 


This week ATPE learned of an e-mail phishing scam that is targeting educators around the state. ATPE and the Texas Education Agency both issued warnings on Sept. 14, 2017, urging educators not to respond to the fraudulent emails, which falsely claim to be generated by ATPE and TEA. The emails are geared toward collecting sensitive, personal information from individual teachers, and they claim to offer participants a chance to attend an expense-paid workshop hosted by ATPE and TEA, which does not exist. The agency quickly issued a press release warning that the emails are illegitimate and not being sent by TEA or ATPE. For our part, ATPE sent a warning out to all of our members in yesterday’s e-newsletter. Read TEA’s press release here.

 


 

Share Button

SBOE wraps quiet September meeting

The State Board of Education met Friday to conclude its September meeting in Austin. After recognizing the 2017 Heroes for Children award recipients, the board heard public comments and took up the agenda.

The board swiftly moved though items from the Committee on Instruction that removed duplicative rules regarding certain science classes and an amendment changing the amount of credit offered for extended practicum in fashion design. Members approved a measure from the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund to update the rule to comply with the Texas Tax Code regarding the definitions used for tax collections to calculate state aid under the Texas Education Code.

The board approved an item from the Committee on School Initiatives that would expand the commissioner’s ability to dismiss or decline to recertify hearing examiners, as well as an item that clarifies policies regarding late renewals of educator certifications. The board took no action on an item that would make adjustments to the qualifications for educators whose degree was earned outside the United States.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) updated the board on the first meeting of the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, which Cargill chairs. The 18-member committee met Tuesday for what Cargill described as a “great meeting,” in which attendees received a presentation by the state demographer. Cargill noted that according to the demographer, 86 percent of the state’s population lives along the I-35 corridor or east of it. After brainstorming ideas for main topics on which to focus, the committee is now working to narrow its list down to four items.

Before the board adjourned, member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) thanked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff for creating a Spanish language support group in response to the myriad issues facing bilingual speakers in the public school system.

Share Button

Speaker Straus issues interim charges on Hurricane Harvey

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued five interim charges today related to Hurricane Harvey. He tasked three House committees, including the House Committee on Public Education, with studying issues related to the recent hurricane as well as preparations for future natural disasters. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) plans to hold a public hearing on the charges in the coming weeks.

The five interim charges:

  • Committee on Appropriations: Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
  • Committee on Public Education: Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.
  • Committee on Public Education: 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 Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Committee on Public Education: Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by 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.
  • Committee on Natural Resources: Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

Speaker Straus plans to release a full list of interim charges, which will include additional charges related to Hurricane Harvey, in the next couple of months. His full press release on the announcement can be read here.

Share Button

Commissioner: 1.4 million students affected by Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Share Button

SBOE Long-Range Plan committee holds first meeting

Members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) hosted the first steering committee meeting Tuesday for the development of a Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

Long Range Plan Steering Committee meeting September 12, 2017 at the Texas Education Agency.

Long-Range Plan Steering Committee meeting at the Texas Education Agency, Sept. 12, 2017.

The 18-member steering committee includes SBOE chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and members Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Georgina Perez (D-El Paso), and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo). Three staff members from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are also on the committee, as well as 10 public stakeholders representing various community and education interests. Additional information on the Long-Range Plan and steering committee members can be found on the TEA website.

The steering committee’s purpose is to recommend long-term goals for the state’s public school system and to identify strengths, opportunities, and challenges. The purpose of the steering committee’s first meeting was to adopt operating procedures, elect a chair, look at examples of long-range plans from other states, brainstorm a vision, get an image of the Texas demographic landscape in 2030, and prioritize three to four topics for deep dive sessions.

One of the committee’s first actions was to elect Barbara Cargill as chair and Lanet Greenhaw, vice president of education and workforce at the Dallas Regional Chamber, as vice-chair. The committee then reviewed examples of plans produced in Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Texas State Demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter presented the committee with an overview of state demographics and how those trends may impact the public education system. Below are some highlights of the presentation to the committee.

According to Dr. Potter, Texas is experiencing urbanization characterized by people moving from rural areas to urban and suburban areas. Significant growth is also occurring in the suburban “rings,” a factor of migration out of urban cores as well as immigration from outside the state following employers to the suburbs. Dr. Potter pointed to Harris County as the most significant growing county in the nation, with roughly a dozen counties in the national top 100. Texas also is home to three of the top ten fastest growing counties in the United States. California is the top state contributing migrants to Texas, comprising 22.1 percent of the net migration from out of state.

In 2000, Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the state’s total ethnic makeup. By 2015, Hispanics comprised 39 percent. During the same period, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites roughly held steady. Much of the non-Hispanic white population consists of Baby Boomers, who are now in their 60s and 70s. Older cohorts in the Boomer age range comprise a larger percentage of the overall population each year. Across all nationalities, cohorts of school-age children are increasing year-over-year.

Using data from 2010 to 2015, projected population growth has slowed compared to previous models. Dr. Potter hypothesized this could be a result of reduced immigration from Mexico and declining fertility rates. According to the newer calculations, Texas could reach a population of just under 29 million by 2020. While the number of people who primarily speak Spanish at home has increased slightly, the percentage of school-aged children from primarily Spanish-speaking households has decreased. The percentage of children from households below the federal poverty level has slightly decreased. Looking at the labor force, low-skilled, low wage jobs are declining as high-skilled, high wage jobs are increasing as a share of the overall workforce. This is accompanied by increases in educational attainment, with the number of college graduates increasing compared to a decrease in workers with a high school diploma or less.

Among the more troubling statistics shared by the demographer today, Texas is one of the worst states in terms of teen births. Texas is ranked number five out of 50 states, ahead of only Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and New Mexico. Dr. Potter suggested there is a direct correlation between high teen birth rates and high levels of poverty. Additionally, adult obesity in Texas is on the rise.

Following the presentation by Dr. Potter, the committee moved on to prioritizing topics for deep dive discussions. Future-readiness, equity, poverty, teacher recruitment and retention, alternative certification, family and parent empowerment, parent education, early learning, numeracy and literacy, access, additional measures of accountability, and readiness to participate in the global economy were among the topics identified by members of the committee as important leverage points for improving public education.

The committee is next scheduled to meet November 6 at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Austin.

Share Button