House committee discusses school security issues

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday to discuss two interim charges related to school safety. Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the significance of these charges in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and a list of school safety recommendations released by Gov. Greg Abbott. Rep. Huberty opened the meeting by reading the interim charges aloud:

  • Review the effectiveness of schools’ current multi-hazard emergency operation plans. Determine any areas of deficiency and make recommendations to ensure student safety. Research violence prevention strategies, such as threat assessment, that are available for school personnel to identify students who might pose a threat to themselves or others. Identify resources and training available to schools to help them develop intervention plans that address the underlying problems that caused the threatening behavior.
  • Examine current school facilities and grounds. Consider any research-based ‘best practices’ when designing a school to provide a more secure environment. Review the effectiveness of installing metal detectors, cameras, safety locks, streaming video of school security cameras, and other measures designed to improve school safety.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath was the first to testify, and addressed the school marshals program that allows districts to arm teachers and staff who voluntarily undergo special training. Morath noted that this is an option for districts that choose to use it. He also encouraged districts to partner with local law enforcement organizations to find innovative ways to increase police presence on campus, such as by inviting officers to take their breaks on school campuses.

House Public Education Committee meeting June 27, 2018.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) asked whether school marshal candidates must undergo a psychological evaluation in order to ensure individuals who volunteer for the position do so for the right reasons. Morath indicated that individuals must be nominated by others, and stressed the training requirements for the program.

Much of Commissioner Morath’s testimony mirrored what he told a Senate committee earlier this month. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) indicated funding is a challenge for making additional training and supports available for character education. Morath suggested that teacher certification redesign may help, but the redesign isn’t schedule until 2022.

Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) recommended more mental health personnel, such as trauma counselors, on school campuses. State Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) asked the commissioner directly whether the legislature should require and fund trauma counselors. Morath punted on the question, saying needs and resources vary from district to district. On further questioning from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morath acknowledged that mental health services could be part of a special appropriations request independent of TEA’s regular budget submission. Chair Huberty pressed the commissioner on the question – clearly indicating the committee is focused on getting more counselors into school with a potential state funding assist.

Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen testified regarding a number of physical security issues, such as fire alarms and building design. Fagen indicated that making the changes proposed by the governor’s office could cost between $100,000 and $250,000 per campus. Members heard from a total of nine panels, covering everything from student mental health services to how schools are designed. Representatives from groups representing school social workers and licensed specialists in school psychology emphasized the difference between their jobs and those of standard school counselors, who are primarily focused on preparing students to graduate. Public testimony consisted of a mix of school safety product vendors and advocates for students with mental health issues — the latter of whom warned against unfair discrimination.

 

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U.S. Supreme Court delivers major ruling affecting public employees in union states

The Supreme Court of the United States delivered a ruling today in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME). The case revolved around Mark Janus, a non-union member who argued he should not have to pay “agency fees” collected by the union in his state of Illinois to cover the cost of the union’s collective bargaining activities. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the plaintiff, Mr. Janus, in determining that forcing workers who do not wish to join a union to still have to pay fees to a union is unconstitutional.

The outcome of this case, which has been anticipated for months, affects not only Mr. Janus and other pubic sector workers, including teachers, in the state of Illinois, but also potentially impacts public sector workers in 26 other states. Those affected states, which do not include Texas, are those that do not have right-to-work laws in place and where agency fees are currently legal.

As a non-union professional association, ATPE was founded on the principles that educators should have the right to chose which organizations with which they want to associate. We believe public education is an inherently collaborative endeavor that should not be divided into management versus labor, and that all educators should have a seat at the table when it comes to collaborating with school district leaders on pay and other contract issues, regardless of organizational affiliation. These rights, which were at the heart of the Janus case, are embodied by the right-to-work laws that have long been enjoyed by Texas educators.

In response to the court’s ruling, ATPE has released the following statement.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional analysis on this, and any other rulings, likely to impact public education or public school educators.

 

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 22, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


A full meeting of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB) was held on Monday, and the body voted to adopt voluntary guidelines designed to work as best practices for how retirement plans are funded. While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) meets many of the PRB’s voluntary standards, it fails to meet standards in two critical areas that can be crippling to TRS members. Read more about the guidelines in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Earlier this month the State Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt curriculum standards for  a high school elective course entitled “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies”. This comes after months of back and forth between members of the board and stakeholders over content and curriculum standards for the course as well as what it should be named. In this commentary, SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) reflects on how working together made this course a reality and how that gives her hope, both for the state of Texas and the nation.

 


School may be out, but the fight for Texas public schools is ongoing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the ways you can engage with the legislature and advocate for your profession during the summer in this blog post.

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Summer Activism: How can I continue to fight for our classrooms?

Congratulations, you made it to summer!

The students are gone, but every teacher knows the work never really stops, even when the temperatures soar. As it turns out, this summer is already shaping up to be a pretty active one when it comes to shaping public education policies that could make a big impact on classrooms next fall.

In fact, keeping on top of what’s happening this summer is critical to ensuring lawmakers start off on the right foot when they return to Austin in January to start making laws that affect your students, classrooms and profession. To that end, many ATPE members have asked what educators can do to stay on top of these important conversations this summer.

The good news is there’s plenty to do, and much of it can be done with minimal disruption to your summer schedule! Here’s a list of ways to keep engaged:

Be Social

Keeping up on your social media feeds is the best way to stay up to date on what conversations are going down where. Your ATPE governmental relations staff is busy going to important meetings where the future of public education is being discussed, and we’re posting what’s being talked about on Twitter. Good handles to follow are @OfficialATPE, @TeachTheVote, @ATPE_JenniferC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_KateK and yours truly, @MarkWigginsTX. Also check for updates on ATPE’s Facebook page. The more follows, likes and shares we get, the more clout we’ll have when we start mobilizing members during the legislative session.

Speak Up

There are dozens of meetings scheduled this summer where members of the public are allowed to testify about public education issues, letting lawmakers know where they stand. Next month, a special Senate committee is meeting to talk about school safety, and the House Public Education Committee is holding hearings on school safety and mental health next week. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is scheduled to meet July 10 to discuss ways to fix the school finance system. The State Board of Education (SBOE) just wrapped up their June meeting, but they’ll be back in September. If you want to know more about how to testify, just call or e-mail your ATPE governmental relations department; but you don’t have to travel to Austin to be heard. Reaching out to the people elected to represent you via letters, email, and phone calls can be just as effective. You can often them just down the street at their local district offices during this time year as well, if you want to talk to them face to face without ever leaving home.

Volunteer

The most important way to make sure we secure adequate funding, resources and respect for the teaching profession is by electing pro-public education candidates to office. You can find out who supports public education by checking out our Candidates page. The November 6 election is the biggest and last opportunity between now and the next legislative session to do that. Even though July and August are typically slow months for political campaigns, those campaigns are always looking for people to block walk, make phone calls and put up signs. Volunteering during the dog days is also a great way to get to know candidates and staff on a personal level, since they’re usually very grateful for the help!

Donate

Unfortunately, money still matters in the world of politics. Campaigns rely on it and so do political action committees (PACs). People are grateful for donations any time, and summer is no exception. For most educators, pooling your money with other donors through a PAC offers you an opportunity to get the best bang for the buck. For example, during the primaries, 72 percent of the candidates who received a donation form the ATPE-PAC went on to win their election. In the primary runoffs that number jumped to 80 percent.

Preach the Word

Summer is a time for barbecues, grilling out and social gatherings. We’ve all been general brought up to avoid talking politics, but the future of our schools is something that should rise above partisanship. Are your friends also stressed about paying too much in property taxes? Do they know that fixing the school finance system by ensuring the state pays its fair share of the burden would go a long way in fixing that? What about testing — are other parents just as fed up with the overemphasis on STAAR? Let them know the hard work you and ATPE are doing to advocate for solutions to these problems and let them know about Teach the Vote! We created the site for everyone who cares about the future of public education because we need everyone’s help to make sure we get  the right people in office to fix these and many other issues, such as teacher health care and compensation.

We’re gearing up for a scorcher, but educators can’t afford to spend too much time in the shade. Every little bit helps us to avoid getting burned next session!

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Texas Pension Review Board adopts principles of retirement plan design

A subcommittee of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB) has been working over the last several months on a set of non-binding guidelines meant to impart what the board feels are best practices with respect to retirement plan design for use by the retirement plans that are required to report to the board.

Despite some concern expressed by smaller funds over how the board’s non-mandatory recommendation on vesting periods might be made into a legal mandate by the Texas Legislature, the full PRB unanimously adopted the proposed principles, which can be found here, at its most recent meeting.

The Texas Teachers Retirement System (TRS) pension fund is one of the many funds, and certainly the largest fund, required to report to the PRB. While the design of the TRS pension fund by and large already meets the voluntary standards enumerated in the PRB’s principles document, the two areas where it does not are notable. First, the principles document calls for “contributions to retirement plans [to] be consistent with the PRB Pension Funding Guidelines.” Those guidelines call for plans to be funded at a level that would allow the plans’ unfunded liability to be amortized over less than 30 years. Second, the PRB principles say that a plan’s “retirement benefits should be protected against the erosion of the benefit’s value due to inflation.” Essentially that means plans should include built in COLAs (Cost of Living Adjustments). In both instances, that the TRS pension plan does not comply with these best practices is a function of the Legislature choosing not to fund the plan adequately.

Perhaps the Legislature and the Governor should take a note from the PRB, a body the legislature created whose chairman the Governor appoints, and fund TRS adequately to comply with the PRB’s newly adopted principles.

 

 

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 15, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ATPE leaders and staff meet with Rep. Kevin Brady.

A delegation of ATPE leaders and staff were in Washington, D.C. this week for several days of meetings covering multiple topics pertaining to public education policy at the federal level. Primarily, the contingent met with members of the Texas delegation in Congress as well as other key decision makers about the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which negatively impacts the Social Security benefits of too many educators in Texas and across the country. Among their agenda was a meeting with U.S. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has led a push to replace the current WEP with a fairer formula for calculating the Social Security benefits of those affected. The team of ATPE advocates also discussed our recent efforts to prevent federal vouchers and pressed for maintaining Title II funding within the Higher Education Act that supports educators, among other issues. Learn more about the work ATPE did in Washington this week in this post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday.

 


The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met Monday and Tuesday for its inaugural meetings. The committee was established late last month by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick following Gov. Greg Abbott’s roll out of a 40-page plan to address school safety following the school shooting tragedy in Santa Fe. So far the Lt. Gov. has assigned the committee four charges to study between now and the end of August, when he expects the committee to wrap up its work and offer recommendations on next steps. Two of the four charges were discussed this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has a recap of the the Monday meeting covering school infrastructure and design techniques aimed at improving school safety. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was at Tuesday’s hearing, and she has more on that day’s discussion covering school security programs. ATPE provided written testimony to the committee encouraging members of the committee to respect that the needs of local school districts differ broadly, understand that adequate funding must accompany proposals to address school safety, and engage educators as conversations on school safety continue. The committee is expected to meet again in July to focus on mental health.

 


The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin. Leading the headlines from the four-day meeting was coverage of developments regarding a long fought battle to establish a course focused on Mexican-American studies. That began on Tuesday when a meeting allowing public comment on a number of curriculum issues was largely focused on public comments regarding the newly approved course. A set of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) were adopted for the course, and it was ultimately renamed based on input from public testifiers. Originally titled “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Mexicans of American Descent” the course was changed by the board to “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.” The board also heard updates from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath regarding Hurricane Harvey, the Santa Fe school shooting, and assessment woes; voted to approve new charter applicants; and amended the dyslexia handbook. Linked in the text above are a series of posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who attended the meetings and reported extensively on their work this week. Today’s final meeting gave the board the opportunity to finalize all of its work earlier in the week.

 


 

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SBOE quietly concludes June meeting

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday morning to conclude its June meeting, which began with the board recognizing Arlington Collegiate High School Teacher Jennifer Fuller and Slaton Junior High TAP Master Teacher Katie Negen as 2017-2018 Milken National Educator Awards winners. The board also honored winners of the National Blue Ribbon Schools program and the 2018 Student Heroes Award.

SBOE recognizes teachers receiving Milken National Educator Awards on June 15, 2018.

The board moved quickly through most of the action items, but paused to amend a proposed rule change regarding credit by examination (CBE), which received criticism from school administrators in Thursday’s committee meeting. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed concern that certain provisions regarding external validation may amount to an unfunded mandate on school districts that currently have the freedom to develop their own exams. Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) noted that the board can make adjustments to the rule at future meetings based on stakeholder feedback.

Members also approved changes to the Dyslexia Handbook, which members plan to adopt into rule. The board also gave formal approval to revised TEKS for Social Studies and the newly-renamed Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies course. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) led a discussion about branding the Permanent School Fund (PSF) in order to promote awareness of the fund among the general public. The board will hold a competition to invite students to come up with a logo.

The board approved four new charter school applicants, but not before Member Cortez raised significant concerns about the expansion of charters in general and the subsequent degradation in both funding for traditional ISDs and public school accountability. Finally, the board discussed the timeline for releasing the Long-Range Plan for Public Education. The next scheduled board meeting is in September.

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ATPE meets with lawmakers, congressional staff in Washington

ATPE 2017-18 State President Carl Garner and State Vice President Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2018

Carl Garner, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Jennifer Mitchell Canaday, and Byron Hildebrand in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

A group of ATPE state leaders and lobbyists were in the nation’s capital this week to advocate for pro-public education legislation. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore for meetings with our Texas congressional delegation on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Our visiting ATPE group held numerous productive meetings, including visits to the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady, Beto O’Rourke, Henry Cuellar, Pete Olson, John Carter, Lloyd Doggett, Will Hurd, Roger Williams, and Jeb Hensarling.

Byron Hildebrand, Carl Garner, Rep. Kevin Brady, and Jennifer Mitchell Canaday at the U.S. Capitol, June 12, 2018

The bulk of ATPE’s discussions with our congressional delegation focused on the need to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduces Social Security benefits for many educators and other public servants. Rep. Brady, who chairs the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, has been leading an effort to replace the WEP with a different formula that will provide Texas educators with Social Security benefits that are calculated in a more transparent, equitable, and predictable manner. Chairman Brady outlined his vision for a new plan to replace the WEP in a guest post for Teach the Vote back in November. ATPE’s team also visited this week with the staff of the Ways and Means Committee who are working on that new WEP legislation that is expected to be filed soon.

Hildebrand, Garner, Claire Sanderson from Sen. John Cornyn’s office, and ATPE contract lobbyist David Pore in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

Other topics of discussion during this week’s meeting included school safety, maintaining funding for teacher preparation programs under Title II of the Higher Education Act, and preventing federal vouchers that would send public tax dollars to unregulated private schools. ATPE recently lobbied our congressional leaders to oppose an attempted amendment to a national defense bill that would have created an Education Savings Account voucher for students from military families. ATPE joined a number of military groups in opposing the amendment, which was recently ruled out of order and prevented from being added to the bill.

Hildebrand and Garner at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley, June 11, 2018

During the trip to Washington, ATPE’s representatives also visited area museums, enjoyed a tour of the U.S. Capitol, and spent a special evening at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley.

Carl Garner with Rep. Pete Olson in his Washington, DC office, June 13, 2018

 

 

Byron Hildebrand with his congressman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, June 13, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SBOE committee update: Dyslexia handbook

The three committees of the State Board of Education (SBOE) met Thursday morning to discuss items under the umbrella of school initiatives, instruction, and school finance/permanent school fund.

SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting June 14, 2018.

The Committee on Instruction began its meeting by considering changes to the rules regarding credit by examination (CBE), which was opposed by school administrators. Witnesses warned that some of the changes, such as the method of external validation, were infeasible. The committee ultimately amended the rules following a lengthy conversation with stakeholders.

The committee also approved amendments to the Dyslexia Handbook, which were proposed as a result of testimony received by special education advocates in April. The handbook is being adopted into state administrative rule in order to ensure all schools comply with the provisions contained within it. Witnesses on Thursday expressed concern over the ability of districts to create their own reading programs under the new rule. Other witnesses warned about the potential consequences of arbitrarily placing all dyslexic children in special education programs as opposed to Section 504. Member Tincy Miller (R-Dallas) urged staff to ensure a balanced approach in the handbook.

The full board is scheduled to meet again on Friday to wrap up its June meeting.

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SBOE initially approves Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies curriculum

The State Board of Education (SBOE) approved the initial Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for a course on Mexican American studies after amending the TEKS and name as a result of public testimony the board heard Tuesday.

SBOE meeting April 13, 2018.

On a motion by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) and seconded by Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont), the board voted to change the proposed name from “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Mexicans of American Descent” to “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.” Perez emphasized the lack of a hyphen in the new title, and explained the title would provide a consistent format for future courses focused on other ethnic groups.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) led the opposition to the name change, preferring to simply title the course “Mexican American Studies.” Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) characterized the “Ethnic Studies” prefix as a sort of “area code” that implies the promise of more related courses in the future. Acknowledging the concerns raised Tuesday, the board unanimously approved the name change proposed by Perez.

Also Wednesday, the board approved requirements for instruction for a course on proper interaction with peace officers, which was created as a result of legislation passed during the 2017 legislative session, and adopted the long-term strategic asset allocation plan of the permanent school fund (PSF). The board’s three committees will meet Thursday, before the full board concludes its June meeting Friday morning.

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