Tag Archives: budget

Senate committee talks school security programs

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met for the second day in a row Tuesday. While Monday’s hearing was dedicated to discussing school infrastructure and design that can help address school safety, Tuesday’s hearing centered around school security programs and resources. Invited testimony was primarily represented by law enforcement officers who discussed the following charge:

“Study school security options and resources, including, but not limited to, the school marshal program, school police officers, armed school personnel, the Texas School Safety Center, and other training programs to determine what improvements can be made to provide school districts and charter schools with more robust security options.”

In addition to representatives from various levels of law enforcement, invited testifiers included the director of the Texas School Safety Center, a superintendent, and a principal. All were there to highlight existing programs in Texas and offer other options. A considerable amount of time was spent on the School Marshal Program, which allows Texas school districts to appoint School Marshals on campuses who are authorized to carry firearms. On the School Marshal Program and other programs discussed, panelists emphasized strong training for participants.

One of the invited panelists, a retired principal from Friendswood ISD, also made a strong case for reducing class sizes in schools to address school safety. She highlighted what she has heard from educators in schools and what she knows from her own experience in the field: relationships are a key element of school safety and teachers cannot have meaningful one-on-one relationships with their students when there are 35 or more students in a classroom. She argued that reducing class sizes could improve the opportunity for teachers to really know and understand their students.

ATPE provided written testimony to the committee that highlighted relevant positions in our member-written-and-approved ATPE Legislative Program and pressed committee members to keep several things in mind as they continue these important discussions: (1) respect that the wishes of local school districts and their communities differ broadly based on local needs, (2) understand that adequate funding must accompany any proposals to address school safety, and (3) engage educators in the discussions as they continue.

Public testifiers included a number of Texas students and a big contingent of activists from the group Moms Demand Action, who were largely there to oppose the discussion around arming educators. The committee is not scheduled to meet again at this time, but future hearings are expected. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said that the committee will host a meeting dedicated to mental health in July.

In last-minute meeting, revenue working group gets orders

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues met briefly Tuesday evening after the commission’s formal meeting adjourned. Unlike the other two working groups, the revenues group led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) did not post a public notice following Texas open meetings guidelines.

Texas’s open meetings law was passed to limit secret government meetings and ensure the public has access to deliberations of public interest. The law explicitly applies to the school finance commission as a whole, however its application to working groups of the commission is less clear. The only notice was posted the day of the meeting in an obscure portion of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. Because notice was not provided according to guidelines laid out by the open meetings law, few people attended the revenues meeting and no audio or video of the meeting is available.

According to those inside the meeting, Sen. Bettencourt stated the working group will aim to score various spending and revenue proposals, including raising the state sales tax or gas tax, enacting the performance pay program proposed by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, limiting recapture, extending the Universal Service Fund (USF) tax on land telephone lines to cell phones, and the 2.5 percent tax cap proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott during the special session. Bettencourt requested members submit their ideas for study topics before the full commission meets again July 10.

A snapshot of the proceedings was posted on social media:

Runoff Spotlight – Get to know the candidates in House District 4

When it comes to public education, the Texas Legislature has incredible power to decide how our students are educated, how our schools are funded, and how our educators are treated. From per-pupil funding to student testing to teacher pay and benefits, these issues and more will be at the forefront of the 2019 legislative session, making the 2018 election cycle extremely critical. Most of the legislators who will make up the ranks of the 86th legislature next January were decided on March 6 when Texas held its primary elections, and the bulk of the rest are looking toward competitive races in November. For the residents of a few key districts, however, the decision on who will represent them next session will be made on May 22, 2018, which is the date of the primary runoff election.

ATPE is taking a closer look at some of the runoffs that will be decided in May, where the candidates squaring off against each other have identified public education as a key campaign issue. Today, we’re analyzing the Republican primary runoff for House District (HD) 4. To learn more about the candidates vying for this seat, click on the candidate’s name and you will be taken to that candidate’s full profile on Teach the Vote.

The Candidates: Keith Bell (R) vs Stuart Spitzer (R)

HD 4 covers all of Kaufman and most of Henderson counties. The incumbent Rep. Lance Gooden (R) is running for a U.S. congressional seat, creating an open seat.

Candidate Keith Bell is a business owner and rancher who has served on the Forney ISD school board for 20 years. Responding to the ATPE Candidate Survey, Bell has said enhancing school funding is his biggest priority, should he get elected. He has been endorsed by the pro-public education groups Texas Parent PAC and Texans for Public Education.

Candidate Stuart Spitzer represented HD 4 during the 84th legislative session before losing his seat to Gooden. While he did not respond to this year’s ATPE Candidate Survey, Dr. Spitzer stated in response to the 2014 ATPE candidate survey that he believes TRS is a part of the “nanny” state and called 401(k) style investment of teacher retirement dollars a “liberty issue,” adopting language  commonly used by  those who support dismantling the TRS defined benefit pension system. Spitzer has been endorsed by the Texas Home School Coalition, a pro-voucher organization, and by Empower Texans/Texans For Fiscal Responsibility, which supports limiting state spending on public education; eliminating educators’ right to use dues deduction; private school vouchers; and privatizing the management of existing public schools.

For additional information on this race or the primary runoff elections in general, contact ATPE Government Relations at government@atpe.org.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 27, 2018

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


This May, many Texans will be making not one, but two trips to the ballot box. ATPE wants to ensure that all educators are aware of the two important elections taking place next month.

Saturday, May 5th is the uniform election date when municipal propositions, elections, and issues will be decided. Meanwhile, Tuesday, May 22nd is when state level primary runoff elections will be held. While any registered voter can participate in the May 5th municipal election, participation in the primary runoffs depends on whether you previously voted in the March primaries and in which primary election you voted.

For more information about the candidates and your eligibility to vote in the upcoming primary runoffs, check out this new blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Texas has a new “Grow Your Own” grant program designed by the Texas Rural Schools Taskforce to address  challenges faced by rural school districts and foster a more robust and diverse teaching force. This week, TEA released the names of the 25 school districts that received the 2018-19 “Grow Your Own” grant. Read more about them in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore.

 


The Texas Education Agency has finalized its plan to address special education. Professional development for special education teachers; resources and outreach for parents of special needs children; funding at the district level for students previously denied access to special education services; and additional staffing and resources were the four final measures proposed by TEA in its efforts to redress issues plaguing special education in the state. While the proposed measures would cost the state $212 million over the next five years, TEA is unable to commit additional funds to support the plan leaving the burden to fund these measures on the shoulders of the 86th Legislature which is set to reconvene in 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explains more about the plan in this blog post.

 


Houston ISD has notified district teachers of its plan to begin staff layoffs. As reported by the Houston Chronicle this afternoon, district employees received correspondence informing then that an unspecified number of layoffs would begin shortly due to budget constraints in the district. The financial strain of Hurricane Harvey coupled with new recapture woes have resulted in a projected deficit of $115 million for the district. The HISD administration has said that the number of layoffs will depend on how many teachers leave the district through attrition at the end of this school year.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a highly contentious HISD board meeting earlier this week that was shut down when protests broke out over a planned vote to turn over management of some of the district’s struggling campuses to a charter school operator. That move is part of a plan authorized by new legislation that ATPE opposed in 2017. Schools otherwise facing closure have an option to partner with charter holders for a temporary pause in their progressive sanctions, and HISD has proposed this course of action for 10 of its campuses despite heavy opposition from the community. Waco ISD also took similar action this week, opting to partner with a charter operator to avoid the closure of five struggling campuses in that district.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this developing story.

 


From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers’ pay is average. But their pensions are among the lowest in the country.

By Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune

Photo by Jacob Villanueva/iStock

Today’s Texplainer question was inspired by reader Tiffany Adair.

Hey, Texplainer: How do employment benefits for Texas educators compare to those in other states?

This question has been a point of contention between lawmakers and educators for many years. Texas teachers say they’re frustrated due to a lack of state funding for public education. But lawmakers say the uncertainty surrounding the budget makes it hard to allocate better benefits for educators.

If you look at the raw numbers, Texas ranked 27th in the nation for teacher pay in 2016, according to the National Education Association. On average, Texas teachers earned $51,890 — roughly $6,500 below the national average.

However, teachers have long argued that inadequate funding for public schools cuts into their salaries. During the 2008 fiscal year, the state covered roughly 48.5 percent of the cost of public education, according to the Legislative Budget Board. By the 2019 fiscal year, that figure will be closer to 38 percent. Over the same period, teacher salaries remained about the same [Texas teachers, on average, earned roughly $47,000 in 2008].

“One of the biggest costs to education are the teachers and other employees at a school district. That’s the biggest cost to the state,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “When you start cutting education in Texas, you’re shortchanging teachers. We’re already behind the national average when it comes to teacher pay, and we’re getting further behind.”

But salaries aren’t the only component to consider when looking at how Texas teachers fare compared to their peers in other states, said Ed Allen with the American Federation of Teachers.

“When looking at a nationwide comparison, most people factor in the salaries. But when teachers get older, what’s being paid into retirement and the health insurance becomes a really big deal,” Allen said.

When it comes to health care benefits, advocates say Texas teachers are stuck in 2002. That’s when state lawmakers created the plan known as TRS-ActiveCare. The teacher health insurance program, which is run by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, requires the state to contribute $75 per employee toward monthly health care premiums.

Nearly 430,000 public school teachers and retirees are covered under the plan, which is used by many of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts. Since the program went into effect, employees’ share of premiums have more than doubled, while the state’s contribution to teacher’s health care has remained the same.

“When your salary is barely going up year after year, health care costs are going up considerably and you’re not getting any additional money put toward those healthcare cost by your employer — which is the state in this case — then effectively you’re taking a year over year cut to your salary,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Under the TRS-ActiveCare program, districts are also required to put a minimum of $150 per employee per month toward health insurance premiums, with the option of contributing more. But Exter said that can be difficult for districts as education budgets are squeezed.

Joel Solomon, a senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, said it’s hard to compare Texas teacher health insurance programs to other states since the structure of such programs varies nationwide. But, he said, “when we look at educators’ health benefits around the country and how important … ensuring quality health benefits to educators are, what we see in Texas is deeply troubling.”

When it comes to retirement funding, a majority of states pay into both a pension plan and Social Security. Texas is in the minority of states that only pay into a pension fund and does not pay into Social Security for the majority of its teachers — which means most Texas teachers won’t have access to Social Security benefits when they retire. Fewer than 50 of the state’s districts participate in Social Security on their own.

Among states that only offer a pension plan for teachers, Texas is dead last when it comes to funding its pension programs — by a lot.

For years, Texas only paid 6 percent — the constitutional minimum — into the Teacher Retirement System. It now pays 6.8 percent, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. And the Texas Constitution says the state’s contributions to pension funds can’t eclipse 10 percent without a constitutional amendment approved by voters.

“The next closest non-Social Security state had a retirement contribution rate at least double ours,” said Ann Fickel, the associate executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. The median contribution for the other 14 other states that don’t pay into Social Security for their teachers is around 18 percent, she added.

“As retirees’ costs rise, especially for medical care, there will be pressure on lawmakers to find a way to increase benefits for retired teachers,” Fickel said.

The bottom line: When it comes to teacher pay, Texas ranked 27th in the nation — right around the middle. But Texas is dead last in teacher retirement funding and puts a little more than the minimum into the Teacher Retirement System.

Disclosure: The Texas State Teachers, the Association Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/04/20/texas-teachers-employee-benefits-dead-last-retirement-funding/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

School finance commission focuses on tax policy

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met today in Austin to cover an agenda focused on tax policy. The day included invited testimony from a series of witness representing both out-of-state entities and Texas-based stakeholders.

National representatives offered individual assessments of the Texas taxing structure as well as perspectives on various reforms. The representatives hailed from the Tax Foundation, Tulane University’s Murphy Institute, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Their individual presentations centered around a variety of policy reforms, including revisions to the property tax, an expansion of the sales tax base, changes to corporate taxing, better tax transparency policies, an update to the gas (or vehicle usage) tax, and a focus on more targeted relief over broad based relief. The broad look at tax policies seemed to drive an overall message that some combination of reforms is the best approach.

The commission also heard from the Texas Education Agency and the Comptroller’s Office regarding Texas’s current sources of funding for public education. The high-level presentation focused on the coordinating chart, which identified the Foundation School Program appropriations and their 2018-2019 biennium levels.

Texas-based entities invited to testify included a range of stakeholders. While many of the same broad tax policy reforms mentioned by the national panelists were addressed, the group offered perspectives more narrowly focused on the Texas taxing and school finance systems. For example, one testifier highlighted a lack of taxpayer transparency with regard to how certain tax revenues are directed. While some education funding is diverted to other budget areas, other revenue is used to supplant the state’s share of education funding when those dollars are intended to be supplemental funding.

Links to the witnesses presentation materials can be found here and a recording of the meeting can be viewed here. The commission’s Working Group on Expenditures will meet tomorrow morning and will hear invited testimony on the cost of education index, compensatory education, and the transportation allotment.

The Rainy Day Fund roadshow makes a stop in the House Appropriations Committee

The House Appropriations Committee, similar to its counterpart in the Senate, heard a number of interim charges Wednesday. Of note for public education, and for educators in particular, was an interim charge to continue to study strategies to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), also known as the “rainy day fund,” to generate additional revenue for state obligations without compromising the fund’s intended purpose. The charge instructed lawmakers to evaluate the current methodology used to set the ESF cap.

The committee heard testimony on ESF investment history, utilization, and investment practices from the Legislative Budget Board, the state comptroller, and the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, whose executive director helped draft the legislation that brought the ESF into existence.

Read more about Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s plan to invest ESF dollars to create new revenue stream to fund state priorities and why that revenue is needed, in this previous Teach the Vote blog post.

Senate State Affairs Committee discusses future of TRS pension fund

The Senate State Affairs Committee met in Austin this week to discuss interim charges about the health of various state and municipal pension systems, including the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. The committee heard invited testimony from the staff and members of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB), as well as the heads of several pension systems, including TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie.

Some of the more general discussion included senators, including Sen. Charles Schwertner in particular, making the case that defined benefit pension systems are somehow inherently flawed and should be scrapped and replaced with 401(k)-style defined contribution systems. This now tired pitch, whose real aim is to line the pockets of private money managers, has been soundly refuted on many fronts, particularly as it applies to TRS. First 401(k)s have proven to be not so wonderful retirement vehicles. For the average American population which relies on them for the bulk of their retirement planning, these investment vehicles have proven to be a tool that generally leads to a woefully underfunded retirement account that is highly sensitive to market volatility and has left many in bad positions with regard to their retirement security. Second, 401(k)s were never meant to stand alone. They were really meant to be a supplement to a more traditional pension system, but even as that has gone by the wayside for many, they are still intended to be on top of Social Security benefits. However, most Texas educators will not receive full Social Security benefits because neither the educator nor the state is paying into Social Security on their behalf. This leads to the final falsehood promulgated by retirement privatizers, that defined benefit pension plans simply cost too much. The truth is Texas has been getting by on the cheap for decades.

Retirement experts will tell you that you should be putting away around 25 percent of your pre-retirement income for use in retirement. Half of that amount, 12.5 percent, is normally covered by contributions to Social Security. Any reasonably good private employer will put up a match of 4 percent, or better, toward an employee’s individual retirement account, in addition to paying the required 6.25 percent employer’s share of Social Security. This means that these private employers are on the hook for a little more than a 10 percent toward their employee’s retirement. Likewise, their employees must also put the required 6.25 percent into Social Security and typically an additional 4 percent or more into their own retirement accounts to access the employer’s match. For years the state of Texas only contributed 6 percent, the constitutional minimum, into the TRS pension system. Thanks in large part to the work of ATPE the state bumped that contribution up to 6.8 percent a few sessions ago. However, at only 0.55 percent above what the state would otherwise have to pay into Social Security, Texas still contributes less than half of what the next lowest state not paying into Social Security pays towards it educators’ retirements. Most Texas teachers are themselves contributing 7.7 percent, or just 1.45 percent above what they would otherwise be paying toward Social Security, into their pension system. When you add in the 1.5 percent districts are contributing into the TRS pension plan, the total contribution comes to 16 percent. At 16 percent, contributions into TRS are substantially less than what even average employers and employees are contributing toward retirement, and despite being many educators only source of retirement income, that is only 64 percent of what experts recommend putting away. So far from being “too expensive” as some lawmakers insist, the TRS pension system has been an exceedingly good deal for the state of Texas.

This discussion is of particular importance at this moment because while TRS has been reasonably healthy for a long time and has been on track to be actuarially sound (very healthy) within the next five years, those statistics have been based on TRS’s current assumed rate of return of 8 percent. Based on the advice of the external actuarial firm with which TRS contracts, the TRS board is considering lowering that assumed rate of return. In order to maintain the positive trajectory of the fund, legislators will need to increase the contribution rate going into the fund. Per the discussion above, these increased contributions are long overdue, and had lawmakers increased them previously, the fund would be in a much better place today. Additionally, many retirees wouldn’t have gone more than a decade without a cost of living adjustment. If TRS lowers its assumed rate of return, however, the decision to increase contributions will no longer be a luxury; it will be an imperative. ATPE is advocating for this process to take place gradually over a number of years so that the increased contributions, corresponding to a gradually decreased assumed rate of return on investments, won’t be a shock the system for either the state or educators who will both share the burden of increased contributions.

Whether a gradual approach is taken or a more “one and done” approach is used, as is being advocated by TRS, the important thing is that educators stay fully engaged with their legislators, and in choosing their legislators this election year, so that the health of the pension fund is secured.

Senate Education holds interim hearing on virtual education

The Senate Education Committee met today in an interim hearing covering “high quality education opportunities,” virtual education, and Texas’s matching of the federal E-rate program.

The day kicked off with a conversation aimed at understanding the roll out of the federal E-rate program, which Texas pursued through state matching funds in order to support high-speed broadband access across Texas public schools. The committee ended the day with a discussion on expanding access to “high quality education opportunities.” While a broad interim charge, the focus seemed to be on choice models within public schools. Invited panelists included traditional ISDs, charters, higher education, and TEA, all of which focused on sharing innovative programs within their institutions.

The middle of the day was dedicated to virtual education. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) began by offering an update to the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) and explaining the routes available to students – supplemental classes through school districts and the full time program. Several members of the Senate Education Committee have sought, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to expand the scope of the program in recent sessions. At the same time, the TxVSN saw a significant hit to funding last session, dropping from $4 million to $400,000. As was noted during the committee hearing, expansion models proposed in the past have come with very high price tags to the state.

ATPE shared written testimony expressing support for both “offering virtual and distance learning opportunities as a supplement to campus-based courses for Texas students” and ensuring “strong quality controls exist for Texas virtual schools.” We also noted studies that challenge the success of virtual education and cautioned against expanding the scope of the network in light of these issues, which are consistent with Texas where full-time virtual programs have been plagued with low accountability scores. “It is irresponsible to expand access to the virtual school network without very careful consideration of whether we can ensure current students utilizing the network are receiving the quality education they deserve,” ATPE summarized.

The committee is not currently scheduled to meet again on interim charges, but there are a few left to cover before the legislature reconvenes in January. Of the interim charges assigned to the committee by Lt. Gov. Patrick, the committee still needs to study dual credit and mandate relief. Under the charge aimed at monitoring recent legislation, the committee must still review SB7 on educator misconduct related to inappropriate relationships, SB 22 concerning workforce pathways, and SB 1882 related to district and charter partnerships (although San Antonio ISD, which pushed to pass this bill, discussed it significantly today under the “high quality education opportunity” charge, along with several other panelists).

Senate Education Committee hears from ATPE on teacher compensation

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann gave invited testimony at the Senate Education Committee’s interim hearing, March 26, 2018.

The Senate Education Committee met Monday to discuss three interim charges assigned to the committee by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: teacher compensation, classroom conduct, and the Texas special education corrective active plan. ATPE served as invited testimony on a panel specific to teacher compensation.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared with committee members a number of things that should be considered when developing any compensation plan for educators, first and foremost that plans be funded, sustainable, and built from an adequate base. ATPE shared support for the minimum salary schedule and emphasized that levels of pay are more impactful when they are based on more meaningful step increases.

From a policy angle, ATPE shared that plans should be based on valid data and a meaningful picture of teaching, explaining that student standardized test scores are a woefully incomplete picture of a teacher’s success and that research has failed to validate the use of standardized test scores as a fair and viable measure. Kuhlmann also told legislators that any plan should be locally developed, transparent, and should involve participants in the development and revision processes.

Finally, ATPE stressed the need to consider and develop compensation plans in alignment with the entire teaching pipeline. For example, while pay is a critical component, working conditions remain another highly reported reason for teachers leaving the classroom. Efforts to support teachers once they are no longer novice, offer more time in the day for teachers to plan and prepare their lessons, and even enhance access to supplies can have an impact on retaining and recruiting our best teachers. Preparing teachers adequately before they enter the classroom and enhancing non-salary compensation benefits can have the same impact.

Panelists from Dallas ISD, San Antonio ISD, and Richardson ISD shared individual aspects of their respective compensation plans and discussed successes where they exist. Commissioner Morath presented data on the Texas teaching profession, confirming that on average teachers receive little to no increase in their salary when adjusted for inflation. It has become increasingly more concerning that while starting pay for a Texas teacher can be competitive, the lack of increase over time leaves little incentive to stay in teaching.

Watch the full hearing to listen to the discussion on compensation or to hear the conversation on the other two interim charges. The committee will reconvene next week, Wednesday, April 4, to discuss virtual education, “high quality education opportunities,” and the federal e-rate program.