Senate adds voucher to House school finance bill, jeopardizing needed funding

NO VOUCHERSSenate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) added a special education educational savings account (ESA), the newest fad in voucher legislation, to the House’s school finance bill, HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). After adding the bill to today’s Senate Education Committee agenda late yesterday, Chairman Taylor dropped another surprise when he announced this morning that his substitute version of HB 21 would include the special education voucher.

Having originally planned to support the school finance bill in today’s hearing, ATPE joined a slew of education advocates who lined up to change their position on HB 21 from “for” to “against” in light of the new development. ATPE will be testifying before the committee after it reconvenes later today following the Senate’s floor session. This morning, the committee heard from a handful of witnesses before recessing. View video from this morning’s portion of the hearing here; the discussion of HB 21 begins 40 minutes into the archived video file.

Testimony on HB 21 during the morning hearing included remarks from representatives of school districts that now oppose the school finance bill that would otherwise alleviate many problems with recapture and funding. For ATPE and so many others invested in supporting our public schools, vouchers in any form are a bridge too far. The committee also heard compelling testimony from the parent of a student with special needs who said, “I am not okay with ESAs,” citing concerns about giving up protections in federal law and parents being unable to afford the high additional costs of sending their children to specialized private programs that are few and far between in Texas. (Check out her testimony at the 1:30:27 mark on the archived video file.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on ATPE’s testimony later today against HB 21, as well as any action taken by the committee to advance the bill. In the meantime, ATPE urges educators and supporters of public education to contact their legislators and urge them to reject vouchers in any form! What is bad for kids is bad for all kids, and calling vouchers a different name doesn’t change that. ATPE members may visit Advocacy Central to call, tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to representatives and senators on this issue.

Related: View ATPE’s press release on the Senate’s move today to add vouchers to the school finance bill.

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House continues clearing out Senate education bills

House Public Education Committee meeting May 11, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 11, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee advanced another raft of Senate bills while the House was in session Thursday afternoon. The committee approved the following measures today:

  • SB 1837, the Senate companion to HB 3231, which would exempt charters operated by a public senior college or university from being assigned a financial accountability rating under Section 39.082(e)
  • SB 489, the Senate companion to HB 3684, would add instruction to prevent the use of e-cigarettes to the tobacco prevention section of the duties of the local school health advisory committee.
  • SB 601, which would allow charter schools to be exempt from paying municipal drainage fees. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) voted against the bill.
  • CSSB 725, the Senate companion to HB 367, which would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. A committee substitute included language from a “food shaming” bill by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) that was pulled from the local calendar on Wednesday.
  • SB 754, the Senate companion to HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • SB 1051, which would create a driver education course for the deaf or hard of hearing and create a fee for the course.
  • SB 1152, which would create an excused absence for a student to pursue enlistment in the armed services or the Texas National Guard, similar to the way in which students may currently be excused to visit a college or university.
  • SB 1153, which would guarantee a parent’s right to information regarding intervention strategies for children with learning difficulties.
  • SB 1318, the Senate companion to HB 2014, which would allow the TEA commissioner to designate a campus as a “mathematics innovation zone.” Such a campus would be exempt from accountability interventions for two years and would be allowed to use a “pay for success” program approved by the commissioner. The bill sets up a framework for creating such pay for success programs funded by private investors.

Members met again Thursday evening to pass SB 22, which would replace the current tech-prep program with a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program.

The committee is next expected to meet on Tuesday, but Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told members to expect more formal meetings to vote on individual bills.

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Texas House approves SB 7 misconduct bill

On Tuesday, the Texas House passed Senate Bill (SB) 7, the educator misconduct bill passed by the Senate last month. Several amendments were attached to the bill Monday on the House floor, including one that would withhold the pensions of school employees convicted of certain sexual offenses, including inappropriate relationship between an educator and student.

State Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) attached two amendments. One added parental notification requirements laid out in HB 218, which was heard in March by the House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality. The other required public school employees to disclose any criminal misconduct charges or convictions on a pre-employment affidavit based on HB 1799.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) added an amendment to strip the pensions of public school employees convicted of felony sexual offenses. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) amended the amendment by ensuring the full pension amount would be able to go to an innocent spouse instead.

The House approved SB 7 on second reading Monday, then again on third reading and final passage Tuesday by a vote of 146-0. The bill will now be returned to the Senate as amended, and the Senate will have the option to either concur with the House amendments or appoint members to a conference committee.

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From CPPP: Promising School Finance Bills Stuck in Texas Legislative Limbo

Chandra Villanueva_CPPPBy Chandra Villanueva, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP)

Last month we were pleased to see the Texas House of Representatives approve a bill that would take some good steps toward remodeling our neglected school finance system. That proposal, House Bill 21 sponsored by Chairman Dan Huberty, has been sent to the Senate and is awaiting referral to a committee.

It’s in the interest of the 5.2 million Texas children in public schools – and their future employers – that the Senate consider and approve HB 21.

Meanwhile the Senate Education Committee has approved some good school finance reform bills sponsored by Chairman Larry Taylor that explore cost-neutral options for simplifying the overly complex school finance formula. These bills also deserve to move to the full Senate and on to the Texas House for approval:

SB 2142 – Repeal of the High School Allotment – Districts receive $275 through the high school allotment for each student in grades nine to 12 to supplement academic offerings and provide services to students at-risk of dropping out. This allotment is considered inefficient because funding is generated for every student in high school, rather than only for those in need, and it is not tied to an actual cost for serving students. It is the intent of the author that funding otherwise allocated under the high school allotment be used to increase the basic allotment. HB 21 also repeals the high school allotment. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2143 – Basic Allotment Increase – The basic allotment is the per-student funding amount and the primary building block of the school finance formula. This bill increases the basic allotment to $5,140 to reflect current levels of funding set in the 2016-2017 budget. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting referral to a committee.

SB 2144 – Commission on Public School Finance – This bill creates the Commission on Public School Finance, a 15-member commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve the state’s method for funding schools. This commission has the potential to bring innovative ideas to the next legislative session. This bill has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

SB 2145 – Simplified School Finance System – This bill would strip out many outdated elements and unneeded complexities from the formula and reduce the system down to one tier, from its current two-tiered system. While this plan does a lot to improve equity, or fairness between districts, no additional funding is added to the system. This bill is currently pending in the Senate Education committee.

We encourage the Texas Legislature to move forward with these promising school finance bills. The children, parents and employers of Texas are watching.


This post has been republished with permission from the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP).

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House Public Education shifts focus to Senate bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning to consider a handful of Senate bills. Monday was the deadline for House committees to refer House bills, so the committee is limited to considering Senate bills for the remainder of session.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 9, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 9, 2017.

The hearing began with SB 1051 by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), which would create a driver education course for the deaf or hard of hearing and create a fee for the course.

SB 1152 by state Sen. Jose Menéndez (D-San Antonio) would create an excused absence for a student to pursue enlistment in the armed services or the Texas National Guard, similar to the way in which students may currently be excused to visit a college or university. The bill is similar to HB 1270, which the committee approved in March.

SB 725 by state Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. This is the Senate companion to HB 367 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which was approved by the committee in March and passed by the full House in April.

SB 601 by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow charter schools to be exempt from paying municipal drainage fees. The state, counties, municipalities, and school districts are exempt under current law.

SB 1153 by Sen. Menéndez would guarantee a parent’s right to information regarding intervention strategies for children with learning difficulties.

SB 1166 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would subject the Harris County Department of Education to sunset review as if it were a state agency. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) praised the department’s progress and expressed concern that the bill would open HCDE to the possibility of being shut down. Rep. Allen asked members to oppose the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that Dallas County Schools is also subject to the sunset process, and encouraged members of the committee to engage in a healthy discussion on the topic.

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House Public Education advances Senate companion bills

The House Public Education Committee met during a noon recess Monday to vote on a pair of House bills and several Senate bills that are identical to House bills the committee has already passed. The committee unanimously approved the following:

  • CSHB 4226 by state Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio), which would require meetings of the Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee to be conducted in compliance with open meetings laws. Iw would also order the committee to develop a policy to encourage public participation with the committee.
  • HB 1033, which would require the TEA to petition for a waiver of the annual alternative assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 
  • CSSB 179, the Senate companion to HB 306, the anti-cyberbullying bill. A committee substitute removed significant portions of the bill, including language that would have criminalized cyberbullying and would have prohibited bullying outside of school related activities.
  • SB 276, the Senate companion to HB 852, which would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program. 
  • CSSB 587, the Senate companion to HB 539, which would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. 
  • SB 1404, the Senate companion to HB 2806, which would require school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to report to PEIMS the number and percentage of students enrolled in voluntary after-school and summer programs, along with the number of campuses that offer such programs.
  • SB 1634, the Senate companion to HB 1114, which would reduce the number of service days required of teachers in a district that anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, while preserving the teacher’s salary. 
  • SB 1882, the Senate companion to HB 3439, which would allow school districts to contract with a charter to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities or resources. 
  • SB 1901, the Senate companion to HB 3381, which would order the governor to designate a Texas Military Heroes Day in public schools.

Monday is the final deadline for House committees to report House bills, which means any House bills that remain pending after Monday are procedurally dead. The committee is scheduled to meet 8:00 a.m. Tuesday to hear testimony on five Senate bills.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 5, 2017

Here are education news stories you might have missed this week from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelA settlement agreement was executed Wednesday between ATPE and three other teacher groups that sued the state over the commissioner’s T-TESS rules for teacher evaluation. Under terms of the settlement, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will revise the T-TESS rules to eliminate requirements that districts use four specific methods, including controversial Value-Added Measures, to evaluate student growth for purposes of teacher appraisals.

Read more about the settlement here.


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144We’ve reached the 117th day of the 85th legislative session with only three full weeks left for lawmakers to pass a state budget. Monday, May 8, is the first of several important session deadlines approaching quickly: the last day for House committees to report out House bills. House bills that don’t make it out of a House committee by then will be considered procedurally dead, although many “dead” bills can still resurface in the form of companion bills or amendments to other bills. Committees, especially on the House side, had a busy week of hearings ahead of the deadlines, and several late nights of floor debate. The House is scheduled to hold a Saturday session tomorrow, too.

Several significant education bills made it through either the House or Senate chamber this week, as reported by ATPE’s lobbyists. In the Senate, a popular bill passed to extend the law allowing the continuation of individual graduation committees for certain high school students unable to pass all required STAAR tests. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved an amended version of SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-bullying measure known as David’s Law. Other bills passing the Senate this week dealt with educator certification, charter schools, and a study on school finance. For more about the Senate’s work this week, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

In the lower chamber, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) saw two more of his most significant bills pass the full House this week. HB 22 improves the state’s “A through F” accountability system for schools by condensing the number of domains from five to three and eliminating the overall summative grade that would have been assigned to schools. An ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) also calls for the Texas Education Agency to supply narrative descriptions of the ratings assigned in an effort to help parents and the public better understand their significance. Another ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) that would have further reduced the emphasis on student test scores in the accountability system was rejected. Huberty’s HB 23 also got a nod of approval from the House; the bill creates a grant program to help public schools, including charter schools, offer specialty services for students with disabilities. An attempted floor amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) that would have funded private school vouchers was withdrawn during the debate. The House also approved Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 515, an ATPE-supported bill that reduces mandatory testing. Also, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), offering changes to try to shore up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators, passed the House on a 140-0 vote yesterday.

Numerous bills made it past the House Public Education Committee this week as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For complete details, check out his latest blog posts here, here, and here.




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House Public Education revives bill regulating DOIs

The House Public Education Committee called an impromptu meeting Friday afternoon to vote on a pending bill and reconsider the vote on a bill that failed on Thursday.

House Public Education Committee meeting Friday, May 5, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting Friday, May 5, 2017.

The committee revived HB 3635 by state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), which failed on a 5-4 vote Thursday. The bill was passed upon reconsideration Friday by a vote of 7-2. HB 3635 would require the commissioner to establish objective eligibility and performance standards, including academic and financial performance, for districts pursuing DOI status. Would require DOI plans to include performance objectives and allow the commissioner to terminate a DOI after a single unacceptable performance rating. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) voted against the bill.

The committee unanimously passed HB 4111 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would allow an open-enrollment charter school that has been rated lower than satisfactory solely due to a data error reported by the charter to PEIMS to have its rating corrected.

The committee is expected to next meet Tuesday morning to discuss five Senate bills.

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This week in the Texas Senate

The Senate wrapped up its work week today after two Senate Education Committee meetings with modest agendas and a number of education bills getting the green light from the full Senate chamber.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee heard a total of twelve bills this week during its regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. ATPE supported three bills: SB 1699, which establishes a framework of available resources for districts and campuses to use when addressing students’ non-academic barriers to learning; SB 927, which would set up a process for reevaluating any students who may have been denied necessary special education services because of the 8.5% cap uncovered last year; and SB 2052, which adjusts the school start date to not before the third (it’s currently set at the fourth) Monday in August and prohibits Districts of Innovation (DOI) districts from opting out of the provision.

ATPE opposed a bill, SB 1963, that would roll back a rule recently adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that requires all educator preparation programs to conduct one in-person, face-to-face observation of all principal, counselor, diagnostician, and other non-classroom teacher candidates.

The committee also passed its first House bill, sending that bill and 13 other Senate bills to the full Senate.

Texas Senate

On the floor of the full Senate this week, several education bills were approved and sent to the House for consideration by the body. ATPE is advocating for a number of the bills:

  • SB 463 by Sen. Seliger (R-Amarillo) is a top priority of ATPE and many other public school advocates. The bill would extend individual graduation committees available to those students who otherwise demonstrate mastery, but fail to pass up to two STAAR exams required for graduation. Read more about the bill here. Senators Konni Burton, Donna Campbell, and Jane Nelson were the only senators to oppose final passage.
  • SB 196 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) would require schools to notify parents if the school does not have a full-time nurse, school counselor, or librarian. The measure ultimately passed 19-12.
  • SB 2144 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) establishes a commission to study school finance in Texas. The bill passed the chamber unanimously. During debate, Chairman Taylor indicated his larger school finance bill, SB 2145, would be debated on the Senate floor next week.
  • SB 1854 by Sen. Uresti (D-San Antonio) would reduce unnecessary paperwork currently required of classroom teachers in schools. Senators Robert Nichols and Van Taylor were the only senators to oppose the bill.
  • SB 179 by Sen. Menendez (D-San Antonio), which aims to prevent and criminalizes school aged bullying and cyberbullying, passed unanimously out of the Senate after substantial changes.

The chamber advanced a few additional bills this week. SB 1839 by Sen. Hughes (R-Mineola), creates an EC-3 certification, gives the Commissioner authority to determine certain out-of-state certification reciprocity standards, and addresses educator preparation data collection. ATPE testifed neutrally on this piece of legislation in committee, sharing that the SBEC is already in the process of thoughtfully considering the best approach to adequately training early childhood teachers. We have also shared that all other certification authority is granted to SBEC, and it makes little sense to parse out reciprocity responsibility to the commissioner instead of the board.

SB 1882 puts into statute a process for schools to partner with a charter campus. Such partnerships already exist in Texas, but the bill would encourage them by granting financial and accountability incentives. ATPE has maintained that if we want to incentivize districts to implement turnaround models or try new approaches, we shouldn’t pick winners and losers by incentivizing one model or approach over others when many other valuable methods exist. The Senate floor debate included the adoption of an amendment advocated for by ATPE that ensures partner charters have been rated acceptable for the three preceding years. The Senate also contemplated an amendment that would have clarified that the district would remain the educators’ employer. However, that amendment lacked support and was pulled from consideration. The bill passed unanimously.

Finally, SB 1883 involves approval and review processes for charter schools. ATPE opposed the bill as originally filed because it removed the State Board of Education from the charter review process and revoked the board’s veto power over charter approvals. The review process issue was altered before the bill passed, but many of ATPE’s additional concerns remain.

The Senate begins its work again next week on Monday afternoon. Stay tuned as we head into the final three weeks of session.

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House Public Education Committee passes final House bills

The House Public Education Committee met during a break in floor activity Thursday afternoon to vote on the final set of House bills before Monday’s committee referral deadline. The committee approved the following:

Texas House of Representatives stands adjourned as committees meet, May 4, 2017.

Texas House of Representatives stands adjourned as committees meet, May 4, 2017.

  • HB 588, which would establish a grant program for promoting computer science certification and professional development for teachers.
  • CSHB 1023, which would allow the TEA commissioner to grant more than one charter for an open-enrollment charter school to a charter holder if the additional charter is for an open-enrollment charter school that serves a distinct purpose or student population. The bill passed 7-3, with state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) voting against.
  • HB 1585, which would require a district include student input in the local instructional plan process.
  • HB 1651, which would replace the current classroom supply reimbursement program, which is subject to appropriation and not guaranteed, with a blanket $200 reimbursement per teacher per school year.
  • HB 2010, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to make information available regarding workplace safety training that may be included as part of a district’s curriculum for grades 7 through 12.
  • HB 2014, which would allow the TEA commissioner to designate a campus as a “mathematics innovation zone.”
  • HB 2093, which would order TEA conduct a study and issue a report to determine the most appropriate method for including the performance of gifted and talented students in determined school accountability.
  • HB 2519, which would order a study on dropout prevention and recovery for students who drop out before entering the ninth grade.
  • HB 2537, which would require a school counselor to inform a parent or guardian of the availability of education and training vouchers and tuition and fee waivers to attend an institution of higher education for a student who is or was in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
  • HB 2775, which would allow non-classroom teacher certification observations to be held on the candidate site or through video technology. The bill passed on a vote of 10-1.
  • HB 3244, which would allow a district to provide a salary bonus “or similar compensation” to a teacher who completes autism training through a regional education service center.
  • CSHB 3347, which would allow districts to establish before-school or after-school programs, but prohibit them from using state or local funds appropriated to the district for educational purposes to support such a program.
  • HB 3632, which would extend the timeframe for requesting a special education due process hearing for the child of a service member.
  • HB 3767, which would require a local school board to annually certify with TEA that the local board has established the required district- and campus-level committees.
  • HB 3800, which would specify that an open-enrollment charter school is a political subdivision for the purposes of Chapter 617, Government Code, which prohibits strikes and collective bargaining by public employees. The bill passed on a vote of 9-2, with Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Gooden voting against.
  • CSHB 4140, which would rename the instructional materials allotment (IMA) the “instructional materials and technology allotment” and require districts to consider “open education resources” before purchasing instructional materials. The bill passed on a vote of 8-3, with Rep. Gooden, state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) and state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) voting against.
  • HB 4151, which would transfer responsibility for reporting bacterial meningitis information from TEA to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
  • CSSB 826, which would loosen sequencing for advanced English and mathematics courses.
  • SB 160 (HB 713), which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle.
  • SB 579 (HB 1583), which would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools.
  • SB 671 (HB 1451), which would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.
  • SB 1480 (HB 467), which would adjust the language regarding the capacity available to charter holders under the bond guarantee program to back bonds with the Permanent School Fund (PSF).

The committee failed to pass CSHB 3635, which would require the commissioner to establish objective eligibility and performance standards, including academic and financial performance, for districts pursuing DOI status. Vice-Chair Bernal, Rep. King, Rep. Gooden and Rep. Dutton voted against the bill, which failed in a 5-4 vote.

The committee will next meet Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. to hear Senate bills.

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