Tag Archives: cameras

Graduation committees advance in House hearing

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning to consider a large agenda of Senate bills as the session winds down. The committee also approved the following bills Tuesday evening:

  • CSSB 463, which was heard earlier in the day. The bill would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) through 2019.
  • SB 436, the Senate companion to HB 4226, which would require meetings of the Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee to be conducted in compliance with open meetings laws.
  • CSSB 529, the Senate companion to HB 2209, which would incorporate “universal design for learning” into the required training for all classroom teachers.
  • SB 585, the Senate companion to HB 545, which would require principals to allow “patriotic societies” such as Boy Scouts to speak to students about membership at the beginning of the school year.
  • SB 748, the Senate companion to HB 4027, which would add additional guidelines to the transition plan for special education students preparing to leave the public school system.
  • CSSB 1481, the Senate companion to HB 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.
  • SB 1942, the Senate companion to HB 1692, which would allow a licensed handgun owner to store a firearm in a vehicle parked in the parking lot of a public school, open-enrollment charter school or private school. State Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) voted against the bill.
  • SB 2080, the Senate companion to HB 69, which would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

The meeting began with SB 1566 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would hand broad powers to local school boards to compel the testimony of district officials and obtain district documents. It would also require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) develop a website for boards to review campus and district academic achievement data.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

SB 2131 by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add requirements to counseling regarding postsecondary education, encouraging a focus on dual credit programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1294 by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit “exclusive consultation,” ensuring that educators on campus-level advisory committees do not all belong to a single professional association. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1660 by Sen. Taylor would allow districts to choose between using either minutes or days to calculate operation. According to the fiscal note, SB 1660 could cost the state $1.7 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2019.

SB 195 by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) would allow additional transportation allotment funding to districts with children living within the two mile zone who are at a high risk of violence if they walk to school. In the fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board indicated that there is insufficient data regarding the number of students who are at risk of violence to be able to calculate a fiscal impact. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1854 by state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) would require district-level committees to review paperwork requirements annually and recommend to the board of trustees instructional tasks that can be transferred to non-instructional staff. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 384 by state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) would give the State Board of Education (SBOE) flexibility in scheduling end-of-course exams to avoid conflicts with AP/IB national tests.

SB 1883 by Sen. Campbell would modify the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE opposes the bill because the removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible. Adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

SB 1005 by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow the use of the SAT or the ACT as a secondary exit-level assessment instrument to allow certain public school students to receive a high school diploma. The fiscal note estimates an annual cost of $2 million per year.

SB 1839 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would create a certification for early childhood through grade three, and would grant the commissioner authority to set reciprocity rules regarding the ability of teachers from outside the state to obtain a certificate in Texas. ATPE believes that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), as the official state body charged with the oversight of educator standards, is the more appropriate authority to set these rules.

SB 2270 by Sen. Lucio would create a pilot program in ESC Region 1 to provide additional pre-K funding for low-income students.

SB 1784 by Sen. Taylor would encourage the use of “open-source instructional materials.”

SB 2188 by Sen. Taylor would specify that a student who is 18 or older in an off home campus instructional arrangement is a full-time student if they receive 20 hours of contact a week. Part-time would be defined as between 10 and 20 contact hours per week. According to the fiscal note, SB 2188 would cost roughly $7 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 463 by state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) to 2019 and order the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to compile a report tracking the progress of IGC graduates. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2039 by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would develop instructional modules and training for public schools on the prevention of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1483 by Sen. Taylor would establish a grant program to implement a technology lending program to provide students with electronic instructional materials. The program would be funded through instructional materials fund. The fiscal note anticipates no additional cost, but indicated the commissioner could use up to $25 million of existing funds from the instructional materials fund each biennium.

SB 1398 by Sen. Lucio makes lots of clarifying and limiting changes to the classroom video camera law. Among them, the bill would require requests in writing and only require equipment in classrooms or settings in which the child is in regular attendance or to which the staff member is assigned.

SB 1122 by state Sen. Donald Huffines (R-Dallas) would create a mechanism to abolish Dallas County Schools, one of two remaining county school districts in the state, which primarily provides transportation services to multiple independent school districts in the Dallas area.

SB 1886 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would create an office of the inspector general at TEA appointed by the commissioner to prevent and detect criminal activity in districts, charter schools, and education service centers (ESCs). The bill would allow the new TEA inspector general to issue subpoenas in order to secure evidence.

SB 490 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would require a report on the number of school counselors at each campus. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1484 by Sen. Taylor would create a web portal and instructional materials repository to assist schools in selecting open education resources. The bill provides for a third party to provide independent analysis regarding TEKS alignment. According to the fiscal note, SB 1484 would not require additional state funding, but would result in an additional cost of $1.85 million in fiscal year 2018 and $450,000 in subsequent years that would be paid from existing instructional materials funding.

SB 1658 by Sen. Taylor would make changes to laws regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school.

SB 2078 by Sen. Taylor would require TEA develop a model multi-hazard emergency operations plan and create a cycle of review. The fiscal note anticipates a fiscal impact of roughly $215,000 per year.

SB 2144 by Sen. Taylor would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. ATPE supports this bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Monty_TWC_vouchers_Sept16

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

Duron_CPS_press_Sept16

Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

CPS_press_conf_Sept_16

Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 5, 2016

Read highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


On Wednesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee convened for an interim hearing on ideas that might evolve into potential changes to the state’s school finance system. The committee has been tasked with studying an interim charge on “performance-based” funding for public schools, as an alternative to attendance-based funding methods and finance formulas that take into account the instructional needs of students. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing and provided a blog post about it for Teach the Vote this week. Also check out The Texas Observer‘s coverage of the hearing, which includes a quote from Exter and is linked to the blog post from yesterday. The committee has other upcoming interim hearings scheduled to discuss a variety of topics from innovation districts to technology to school choice. Follow our blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments as interim hearings continue.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-92037734Voters in San Antonio’s House District 120 have selected a new state representative to serve the remainder of the unexpired term of former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) who resigned earlier this year. Laura Thompson, running as independent candidate in the special election, defeated Lou Miller (D) in the August 2 runoff by a reported margin of just 50 votes. Thompson will only hold the post for a short period of time during the interim. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) won a primary runoff election earlier this year to become the only candidate on the November 2016 general election ballot vying for the seat in a new term that will begin January 2017.

On Saturday, precinct chairs in Harris County will decide who should replace outgoing Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) in House District 146. Miles was running for re-election unopposed this fall, but now he has been tapped to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis on the ballot for Senate District 13, which is also an unopposed seat. Ellis is giving up that seat with intent to become a county commissioner, as we’ve reported recently. According to the Harris County Democratic Party, candidates with a verified interest in Miles’s House seat include Erica Lee Carter, Larry Blackmon, Valencia L. Williams, Rashad L. Cave, and Shawn Thierry. We’ll report on the precinct chairs’ decision next week on Teach the Vote.

 


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath released an adopted rule this week for implementation of a 2015 law requiring video surveillance of certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. The final rule as adopted includes some changes made in response to public comments. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided details on the revisions in a blog post earlier today.

 


ATPE submitted written input this week to the U.S. Department of Education on its proposed accountability rules implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported Tuesday on our blog, our comments raised concerns about the department’s proposed requirement for summative performance ratings of schools. As with the controversial “A-F” accountability labels that the Texas legislature has already mandated that our state’s schools receive, we have trepidation about states assigning overly simplistic summative ratings to schools that may not always reflect the many complex factors that contribute to a school’s overall performance. Read Kate’s blog post for more on ATPE’s recommendations for more holistic approaches to accountability ratings in the federal rules.

 


Kuhlmann SBEC testimony Aug 2016The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is holding its regular meeting today and welcoming new gubernatorial appointees to the board as we reported last week. Today’s agenda includes proposed changes to disciplinary rules and the Educators’ Code of Ethics to create mandatory minimum sanctions for educators found in possession of, under the influence of, or testing positive for drugs and alcohol on school property. The board is also voting on changes that have been in the works for many months to increase the rigor of educator preparation and ensure that new teachers enter the classroom well-prepared and with the support of experienced mentors and supervisors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is testifying at today’s meeting and will provide an update on the board’s actions.

 


Best of luck to all educators and students heading back to school this month! 

Four children waiting in a row outside the school bus

Final rule for video surveillance of special education classrooms

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has finalized a Commissioner’s Rule implementing Senate Bill 507 in 19 TAC Chapter 103, Health and Safety, Subchapter DD, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings, §103.1301, Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings. The rule will be published in the August 12, 2016 issue of the Texas Register, and will become effective on August 15, 2016.

As we’ve reported on previously (here, and here, for instance), the 2015 bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) mandated that certain classrooms serving students in special education programs be equipped with video surveillance systems, requiring districts to maintain the video footage on file. The agency worked closely with a diverse stakeholder group, including ATPE, in developing the rule. (Read ATPE’s written comments on the original proposed rule here.)

Stakeholder recommendations resulted in several changes to the regulation, including instances where the rule was made less broad or more specific as to which classrooms and classroom educators will be affected by a request for video surveillance under the new mandate. Examples of these changes were often as simple as changing “a” to “the” in some sentences. For example, in the following section the change of this one word narrowed the scope of the bill from any staff member working in a special education setting to only staff members associated with a classroom where a request for a camera had been made:

§103.1301. (b)(2)
Staff member means a teacher, related service provider, paraprofessional, or educational aide assigned to work in the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting. Staff member also includes the principal or an assistant principal of the campus at which the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting is located.

The final rule text can be viewed here. The red double underlines in the document represent changes made from the original rule proposal based on public comments received by the agency.

Note: The agency is still waiting for an Attorney General’s opinion related to notice and implementation time-frames that school districts must comply with under the bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 20, 2016

Important runoffs are happening in some parts of the state. We’ve got your election news and more in this week’s wrap-up:


Early vote pic from EAToday, May 20, is the last day to vote early in primary runoffs for Republican and Democratic races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the votes on March 1. Polls close at 7 p.m. tonight. Several legislative and State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff election day.

Read our early voting blog post for a list of districts that have runoffs, tips on where to find your polling places, and more. Don’t forget to check out the runoff candidates’ profiles, including voting records and survey responses, using our 2016 Races search page.


Hotly contested runoffs capture attention of voters, political action committees, and media

Whether or not you live in SBOE District 9, chances are you’ve heard about the high-profile runoff contest taking place in that northeast corner of Texas. In the open seat to replace Thomas Ratliff (R), who is not seeking re-election, candidates Mary Lou Bruner and Dr. Keven Ellis are vying for the Republican nomination. Bruner attracted early attention from local and national media with her Facebook claims (as reported by The Texas Tribune and others) that President Obama had been a gay prostitute and drug addict. Those early Facebook posts have since been shielded from public view, but candidate Bruner has continued to shock voters with questionable assertions about public schools, including accusations about the number of substitutes holding teaching positions in a local school district and the percentage of students in special education.  Earlier this week we republished a story from The Texas Tribune about a meeting with area school superintendents who challenged Bruner on her dubious claims.

Following that meeting, an influential Tea Party group announced this week that it was retracting its earlier endorsement of Bruner. Grassroots America – We the People said in a statement, “We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate. Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action; however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses…. Unfortunately, once we viewed the raw, unedited video of Mrs. Bruner speaking to Region 7 Superintendents on May 4th and read her written statement, we had no choice but to start the process of reconsidering the endorsement.”

The fact that another Texas Tea Party group recently chose not only to reject Bruner but even to endorse Dr. Keven Ellis in this race underscores the serious concerns that many have expressed about Bruner’s ability to serve effectively on the SBOE. The publishers of the Texas Tea Party Voter Guide stated that Bruner “has gone too far and is making us all look like idiots. If she gets elected she will do more damage to the conservative movement than anything she might accomplish, so we are supporting Keven Ellis.” Interestingly, Ellis also earned the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

Bruner earned 48.4 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary compared to Ellis’s 31.05 percent. However, both candidates were relatively unknown at that time, and media interest in the race has put it on the radar of more voters and education stakeholders throughout the state. With Ellis appearing to capture increasing support from such diverse interests, this race will certainly be one to watch on Tuesday.

Also in the spotlight are runoffs for Senate Districts 1 and 24. SD 1 is an open seat, where incumbent Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) is not seeking re-election. Republican candidates and current state representatives David Simpson and Bryan Hughes are locked in a tight race with dueling endorsements, matching pleas for smaller government, and efforts to appeal to education voters. Simpson received the coveted endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC and is airing radio ads in which he touts his support for school funding and opposition to cuts to the public education budget. Hughes, meanwhile, is the only non-incumbent senator to be formally endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), after Patrick originally stated that he would not get involved in the primary races. Education reform and pro-privatization groups such as the Texas Home School Coalition and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (Empower Texans) have backed Hughes, but he’s also using campaign ads to try to appeal to retired educators by featuring photos of his meetings with local retired teachers. This is a winner-take-all race on Tuesday since no Democrats or third-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat; Tuesday’s winner will take office in January 2017.

SD 24 is another open seat race worth watching on Tuesday night. State representative Susan King (R) and Dr. Dawn Buckingham (R) are vying for this Senate seat currently held by Sen. Troy Fraser (R), who announced plans to retire. This race featured a crowded six-person field in the Republican primary on March 1. King earned 27.25 percent of the vote, while Buckingham brought in 24.76 percent. Expect another close match-up in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder in November.

A few of Tuesday’s House runoffs are also winner-take-all races, in which the primary winner will face no opposition in November. In HD 5, Republicans Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer are in a runoff to determine who will succeed Rep. Bryan Hughes (R). HD 73 features a runoff between Rep. Doug Miller (R) and challenger Kyle Biedermann (R). In HD 120, the winner of the primary runoff between Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D) and Mario Salas (D) will decide who takes this House seat previously held by Ruth Jones McClendon (D) in January 2017; this is despite the fact that another, separate election is taking place this year to determine who fills McClendon’s vacant seat for the remainder of this year. HD 139 is another open seat for which both regular and special elections are taking place in 2016. After a vacancy was left for the House seat of Sylvester Turner (D), now mayor of Houston, Jarvis Johnson (D) won a special election earlier this month to serve out the remainder of Turner’s term, but Johnson faces a runoff on Tuesday against Kimberly Willis (D) for the upcoming full term to begin in January 2017.

Check out profiles of these and other runoff candidates using our 2016 Races search page.


Related: Supreme Court’s school finance ruling highlights importance of 2016 elections

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

A week has passed since the Texas Supreme Court ruled that our state’s school finance system meets the constitutional minimum standards. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson writes about why your vote is the only thing left to compel legislators to take any action to improve the way we fund our schools. Josh also explains why discussions of two legislative committees this week about the possibility of new spending restrictions are another cause for concern. Check out his latest blog post here.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

FEDERAL UPDATE

It was a busy week for education in Washington, D.C., as discussions continued over how to implement the nation’s new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written an update on ESSA, including the latest debates over the law’s “supplement not supplant” language, as well as new legislation relating to school nutrition. View Kate’s blog post here.

 


RULEMAKING UPDATE

In his first few months on the job, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has put forth administrative rules pertaining to a number of controversial topics. First, the commissioner finalized rules begun by his predecessor to implement the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS. ATPE has filed a legal challenge against the T-TESS rules, arguing that they violate existing state laws, the Texas Constitution, and public policy expectations. That petition has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings so that an Administrative Law Judge can decide the merits of ATPE’s case. In the meantime, be sure to check out our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org to learn more about the new evaluation rules and how they might affect you.

Related: The Hawaii State Board of Education voted this week to remove student test scores from its teacher evaluation system. Hawaii was one of several states that had incorporated student growth measures into a new teacher evaluation system in recent years, partly in order to satisfy criteria for an NCLB waiver. Texas’s T-TESS rules were similarly design to match NCLB waiver conditions that are no longer applicable, which ATPE cited in our requests for Commissioner Morath to revise T-TESS and reconsider the student growth measure language in the rules.

Commissioner Morath has also proposed rules for Districts of Innovation (DOI), implementing 2015 legislation that allows acceptably-rated school districts to claim exemptions from numerous education laws. ATPE has submitted comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address serious concerns about implications for educators’ and school districts’ immunity protections in school districts that claim entitlement to blanket waivers of all exemptible laws in the Texas Education Code. We’ve got updated information on some of the districts that are pursuing DOI status on our comprehensive DOI resource page on ATPE.org.

Also in the works at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are rules to implement a 2015 law that requires video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms serving students in special education programs. Yesterday, TEA officials held a public hearing on proposed commissioner’s rules for implementing Senate Bill 507. ATPE previously submitted written comments on the proposed rules, which have not yet been finalized. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these and other rules as developments occur.

Related: The Texas Tribune hosted an interview with Commissioner Morath on Tuesday. The event was sponsored in part by ATPE. View video from the event here.


Next week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Austin. View the commission’s agenda here. We’ll have more on the meeting next week, along with complete results of Tuesday’s big runoff election day, here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteIf you live in a runoff district, don’t forget to go vote early today or vote on Tuesday!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 8, 2016

Here’s your weekly review of education news stories from ATPE and Teach the Vote:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended this week’s board and committee meetings of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) where topics of discussions included investment strategies, returns, and the upcoming legislative budget process.

TRS regularly evaluates its various investment managers to measure their performance against benchmarks, the market, and their peers. Much like any other investment, the rates of return on TRS investments fluctuate over time, but over the long-term returns have exceeded the 8% return assumption. During the last seven years following the 2008 recession U.S. and world markets have experienced incredible growth, and pension funds, such as your TRS pension, have done very well. The challenge TRS investment staff face is to continue with their diversified asset allocation in order to maintain these returns needed to pay for current and future pension benefits. The data support the TRS board’s strategy and return assumptions, which is good news for public education employees in order to sustain these benefits over time.

The board and staff also discussed the legislative budget process and how the TRS budget, which includes assumptions for public education employee payroll growth as well as employee and state contributions to the pension trust fund, is beginning to be developed for the 2017 legislative session. There is a chance that TRS is going to include in their budget request to the legislature, known as the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), the approximately $1.6 billion that is going to be needed to sustain TRS-Care for the next two years. This issue was discussed last week in an interim legislative hearing where ATPE presented information to House and Senate members on the need to craft a long-term solution that does not increase the burden on active employees or retirees. This  issue is going to be ongoing throughout the 2017 legislative session, but it must be addressed if the retiree health insurance program is intended to survive.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The State Board of Education (SBOE) and its three committees met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was there covering all the activity. According to Exter, the discussion ranged from recent policy and technical issues with STAAR testing to several core subject TEKS, particularly English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), Math, and Science.

The ELAR TEKS are currently undergoing a scheduled rewrite. The board heard testimony from representatives of organizations representing subject area educators and from representatives of the TEKS writing teams. Subsequently, the board briefly discussed the upcoming streamlining process for the Science TEKS. Board members have until May 6 to recommend to TEA staff nominees to serve on the streamlining writing team. The Board also heard from testifiers during Friday’s meeting about concerns with the new Math TEKS. Particularly, that the new TEKS omit computational requirements in favor of focusing on process. That the shift may violate current law, which prohibits the board from dictating methodology. The Board will likely have an upcoming workshop on this subject.

In addition to testimony on TEKS subject areas, the board heard from parents and educators about validity, reliability, and methodological problems with the STAAR test. The board was very sympathetic to this well-researched and well-delivered testimony and ultimately decided to postpone an item in which they would provide comment for the legislature on the subject. The board postponed the item to its next meeting so that their discussion and comments will be stronger and more robust.


We’ve been reporting on our blog about recent problems with administration of the STAAR tests. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on problems experienced by some students whose test answers in progress were lost. Those issue prompted TEA to issue two news releases and advise districts that they were not required to force affected students to retest. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the testing problems during remarks to the State Board of Education. Morath also shared with SBOE members that the agency is changing its course on asking test administrators to clock students’ bathroom breaks during the test. TEA is expected to release a new press statement about the decision within the next few days. Read Monty’s blog post from Wednesday to learn more about what’s happening with STAAR.



Rulemaking continues as part of the process to implement various changes made by the Texas Legislature in 2015. First, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has distributed adopted rules for new suicide prevention training that will take effect on April 17, 2016. The rules implement changes authorized by House Bill (HB) 2186, which Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed at the request of ATPE last year to help educators address the epidemic of youth suicides.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceAlso released this week were proposed commissioner’s rules to implement last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Click here to view the proposed rules. Public comments will be accepted on the rule proposal until May 9. As we reported last week, Commissioner Morath has also requested an Attorney General’s opinion to guide the Texas Education Agency and school districts in complying with the new law.

We are still awaiting adopted rules for implementation of T-TESS, the state’s new recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for rulemaking updates.


Several education-related meetings and events are coming up next week and beyond.

  • On Wednesday, April 13, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will once again be the subject of multiple interim hearings on a single day. First, the House Pensions Committee will hear testimony related to its charge to study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. The Senate State Affairs Committee will look at proposed TRS reforms. Also, ATPE will be giving invited testimony about TRS-ActiveCare to the Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. Watch for updates on these hearings next week from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.
  • On Friday, April 15, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meets. The rather lengthy SBEC agenda includes consideration of requests for waivers of a new law limiting how many times one can repeat a certification exam, discussion of comprehensive changes to be considered this summer for educator preparation program (EPP) rules, and assignment of accreditation ratings to EPPs. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will be there to follow all of the action and report back to Teach the Vote.
  • If you live in the Abilene area, mark your calendar for April 25, when Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is sponsoring a community meeting to discuss the value and future of public education in Texas. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson will be the featured speaker. The event is taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, 701 South Pioneer Drive, Abilene, TX 79605. Register to attend at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-24488621125.
  • Don’t forget, also, that April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Learn more about voter registration at VoteTexas.gov, and be sure to check out profiles of the runoff candidates here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-146967884_teacherThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) shared details this week on math and reading academies planned for teachers starting this summer. The academies are being created as a result of legislation passed last year and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott. They are designed for certain teachers who provide reading or math instruction at specific grade levels, and participating teachers will be eligible for stipends.

TEA will begin launching the academies this summer with assistance from the state’s regional Education Service Centers. Read TEA’s April 7 press release here, and learn more about the academies on the agency’s webpage.


As we mentioned above, April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the primary runoff elections taking place on May 24. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday shared her thoughts on the biggest challenge we face heading into these runoffs:

JC

Jennifer Canaday

“While voter apathy and low turnout are challenges we must address in every election, runoffs are notorious for producing extremely small numbers of voters. Active participation and turnout by a relatively small, but engaged group of voters with a special interest can heavily influence the outcome of a runoff. Their influence becomes very significant when the overall number of people voting in that election is expected to be low. The question is, ‘Which group’s voters are going to show up at the polls next month – pro-public education voters who support our students, schools, and teachers, or voters who follow extremist groups such as Empower Texans and Texans for Education Reform that want to cripple, privatize, or starve off funding for public education?’ Some very key races are going to be decided as a result of those runoffs in May, and it’s imperative that educators and our allies make a point to get to the polls.”

ATPE is working with other groups, including the Texas Educators Vote coalition, to help remind educators about the importance of voting not once, but twice, during the month of May. The first election on May 7 covers local ballot proposals and races such as those for school board seats. The second election is the May 24 runoff election for Republican and Democratic primary races in which no candidate earned at least 50 percent of the vote on March 1.

You can learn much more about the upcoming runoffs and determine your eligibility to vote in a runoff by reading ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s informative new blog post, “Am I eligible to vote in a runoff?


Legislative hearings on education took place this week in Texas and D.C.

Education-related hearings took place this week both in Texas cities and in the nation’s capital. Here’s a recap of the topics that were covered.

Congress holds first ESSA oversight hearing

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education met on Wednesday for a hearing entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control.” Four individuals were invited to testify at the hearing; the panel of witnesses included a statewide education official, a school superintendent, and two legal representatives.

United States Capitol BuildingThe hearing is the first Congressional oversight hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Congress passed ESSA in December and President Obama signed the bill into law quickly after. Congress has since turned its focus to ensuring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) implements the law in the way lawmakers intended. Today’s hearing was an initial step.

ATPE’s federal lobby team covered the hearing and reported that the primary takeaway was a familiar theme to ESSA: While lawmakers and witnesses praised the transfer of power to state and local authorities, some still cautioned that the flexibility associated with that transfer raises the potential for neglect of at-risk students. Members continue to disagree over the role the federal government should play in ensuring every student receives an adequate and equal education. Democratic Members tended to continue to stress that the federal government does have a responsibility to ensure that there is equitable treatment and evenhanded disbursement of funds; while two of the witnesses and some Republican members felt that the responsibility was now solely in the hands of the states.

Another line of disagreement when addressing the federal government’s role dealt with ED’s rulemaking and regulation-writing authority. Some stressed that the federal government is not prohibited from acting when states fail to meet federal requirements, but others felt that student success is higher when state and local authorities maintain the power.

Later this month, members of Congress will have the chance to express these disagreements with ED directly. Acting Secretary of Education John King will visit the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to testify on ESSA implementation. That hearing is scheduled to take place on Feb. 25, the day after King visits the committee to discuss the President’s budget proposal. Teach the Vote will continue to provide relevant updates on these and other actions pertaining to ESSA implementation.

 

Texas Senate and House Public Education Committees

The House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday in Austin to discuss two interim charges pertaining to best practices in middle school grades and high performing students. The first invited panel addressed the interim charge pertaining to initiatives in middle school grades and consisted of individuals focused on researching, developing, and implementing research-based best practices for middle school classrooms.

Anne Wick, the Senior Advisor for Middle School Matters at the Bush Institute, explained what her organization is doing to with regard to middle school grades. She highlighted that students at risk of failing to graduate high school can be identified in their middle school years. The Institute is working with the University of Texas to focus best practices on research-based methodologies. Dr. Sharon Vaughn, who leads the research project, testified on the university’s work to develop a field guide, saying that the idea was to focus on best practices grounded in high quality research. The final panelist, Farrah Gomez, represented San Angelo ISD where the best practices are being implemented in classrooms.

Several members of the committee asked questions regarding the staff’s commitment to the partnership. Ms. Gomez stressed that educator buy-in was a significant piece of implementation and that involving teachers in the identification of the methods ultimately used in the classroom allowed teachers to have ownership in the process. Another key piece that Ms. Gomez highlighted is the district’s focus on support. She said that supporting teachers central to leading the project is important to its success. Gomez added that while the district has seen gains in test scores, the focus is not on evaluations based on assessments.

In addition to staff development and support, the committee members and public testifiers addressed the need for balancing autonomy and consistency, the role of counselors, education for administrators, mental illness and wrap-around services, and the success of the community schools in middle schools, among other issues.

The second panel of witnesses was invited to address high performing students. Representatives from the Texas Education Agency, the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium, and the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented made up the panel.

The TEA representatives spoke about what the agency is doing with respect to high performing students. Robert Bayard of the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium spoke as a district program director for high performing students. Mr. Bayard shared his first-hand insight on the importance of students demonstrating the information they learn without the pressures of high stakes tests being attached. He said high performing students need to be liberated from “meaningless assessments” but also described how this could benefit other students. Priscilla Lurz of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented focused her testimony on the array of services offered, but also suggested that disaggregating the data of high performing students would allow school districts to focus on their needs and address any issues raised. She also recommended a variety of non-test-based measures. The committee members discussed with TEA how the accountability system could accommodate these recommendations.

The Senate Education Committee also held an interim hearing this week in McAllen, Texas. The committee met Wednesday to discuss legislation concerning the placement of cameras in special education classrooms and legislation involving support for counselors and middle school students. The committee’s vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville, authored last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms and has also filed several bills over the years relating to school counselors. Senators also received a briefing on English Language Learners at the meeting.

 

The Texas Legislature’s interim is busy and you can expect more updates from Teach the Vote as developments unfold.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 18, 2015

Here are recent stories that made news in another big week for Texas education:


As we reported last week, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has been signed into law, officially reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

While the ESSA is not a perfect solution, many educators are optimistic that the new law will help reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal policies going forward. Of course, many questions linger, especially here in Texas where plans are already underway to implement a new teacher evaluation system. The new evaluation framework, called T-TESS, has been based largely on criteria linked to the state’s ESEA/NCLB waiver, which will expire formally in 2016. Draft commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS have been posted recently, and the Texas Education Agency is accepting public comments on them now through Jan. 11, 2016Read more about the ESSA and its potential impact on Texas’s testing and teacher evaluation policies in our blog post from last week.

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is beginning the implementation process for the new federal law and welcoming new leadership. John B. King, Jr. takes over as Secretary with the departure of Arne Duncan this month. ED has established a webpage with ESSA resources here, where you may view the actual text of the bill, read a White House fact sheet on ESSA, or even submit questions to the department about the new law. Publication of a “request for information” in the Federal Register on Dec. 22 also commences a 30-day public comment period on the federal law. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in 2016 for future updates on ESSA implementation.


The U.S. Department of Education is not the only education agency undergoing personnel changes at the top. Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that he has selected Mike Morath to become our state’s next Commissioner of Education. Commissioner Michael Williams is resigning at the end of this month. Morath will be relocating to Austin from Dallas, where he has been serving on the board of trustees for Dallas ISD. We wrote about the governor’s pick on our blog earlier this week. For insight into Morath’s priorities as commissioner, check out the KERA News interview that is also featured on The Texas Tribune‘s website here.


The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would extend several tax credits for 2015, including the teacher tax deduction for classroom supplies. The deal is part of a major spending bill that was negotiated by congressional leaders earlier this week in order to avoid a government shutdown and fund services through September 2016. The bill includes a variety of tax breaks valued at approximately $600 billion within the $1.1 trillion plan. Under the pending proposal, elementary and secondary school teachers who dip into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies will be allowed to deduct up to $250 from their federal income taxes for those expenditures, and this time the deduction will be made permanent. The U.S. House already approved the spending measure yesterday, and the upper chamber is expected to give it a favorable nod today.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

In last week’s wrap-up, we shared a few highlights of actions taken by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) during its Dec. 11 meeting. Of particular interest was an agenda item to re-adopt a rule pertaining to certification requirements for Texas superintendents. SBEC’s original attempt to rewrite the rule was rejected by the State Board of Education (SBOE) after ATPE and other educator groups complained that the rule watered down the standards. In addition to adopting a second revision to the rule last week, SBEC also took several actions relating to educator discipline and educator preparation programs. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who attended and testified at the lengthy hearing, has provided more detail on the board’s deliberations that day. Read her latest blog post here.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2015 that requires school districts to place video surveillance camera systems in certain classrooms serving students in special education programsSenate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) takes effect in 2016. With attention turning to how districts are implementing the requirements, NPR News did a feature story about the new law this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was quoted in the story, which notes that some Texas school districts could incur millions in costs to comply with the law. The legislature did not provide any additional funding to equip classrooms with the camera equipment that is required. Read the full article here, courtesy of NPR. For additional background information, check out ATPE’s FAQs about SB 507 as compiled by our Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services staffs earlier this year.


The ATPE office will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1, 2016. We will resume normal office hours on Jan. 4, 2016. We at ATPE wish you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to sharing more news with you in 2016. Watch for exciting updates coming soon to Teach the Vote, including profiles of candidates running in the 2016 elections for the legislature and State Board of Education. We’ll see you in the new year!

Holiday Decorations Card

 

Cameras in the classroom: FAQs on Senate Bill 507

In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), sponsored in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D), a bill that requires school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. After the two chambers passed different versions of the bill, a conference committee was appointed to iron out the differences. Eventually, agreed-upon language in the conference committee report was adopted by the Senate by a vote of 21 to 10 and by the House by a vote of 140 to 3. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill into law on June 19.

Since SB 507 was finally passed, ATPE members have asked us a number of questions about the implementation of this new law. Below is additional information compiled by ATPE’s Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services departments to try to address the questions we’ve fielded and to help you understand more about the bill that was adopted and will take effect in 2016.

What prompted SB 507 to be filed?

A small number of high-profile cases involving allegations of intentional abuse of students with special needs, including some who are non-communicative, galvanized a small group of committed parent activists to seek new statutory protections at the state level. A similar bill was filed in 2013 that did not pass.

What does SB 507 do?

SB 507 requires districts to install audio/video monitoring equipment in any self-contained classroom in which special education services are being provided to at least 50 percent of the students for at least 50 percent of the school day. The requirement is triggered in the event that a parent, school board member, or staff member on the campus requests that audio/video monitoring equipment be installed. The bill also requires school districts to store the audio and video recordings for not less than six months and to release the footage to persons specified by the bill. Additionally, the bill specifies that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment and that the commissioner of education shall provide a grant program in the event that excess Foundation School Program funds are available from the state.

Must the school give notice that video monitoring is occurring in the classroom?

Yes, while the statute specifically exempts districts from having to obtain consent from parents before monitoring occurs, it does require that notification be given in writing to both parents and campus staff.

Will there be audio or just video on the recordings?

There will be audio captured on the recordings. Under SB 507, Texas Education Code Section 29.022 (c)(2) requires that the camera equipment be capable of “recording audio from all areas of the classroom or other special education setting.”

Who can request to view the footage and through what process?

The following groups of people may have access to certain footage in certain situations:

  • A school district employee or a parent or guardian of a student who is involved in an incident documented by the recording for which a complaint has been reported to the district, on request of the employee, parent, or guardian, respectively;
  • Appropriate Department of Family and Protective Services personnel as part of an investigation of child abuse or neglect in a school setting under Section 261.406 of the Texas Family Code;
  • A peace officer, a school nurse, a district administrator trained in de-escalation and restraint techniques as provided by commissioner rule, or a human resources staff member designated by the board of trustees of the school district or the governing body of the open-enrollment charter school in response to a complaint or an investigation of district or school personnel or a complaint of abuse committed by a student; or
  • Appropriate agency or State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) personnel or agents as part of an investigation.

The process for requesting access to a recording is not specified in SB 507. However, the bill does grant the commissioner of education rulemaking authority with regard to implementation. Therefore it is likely that the process for requesting access will be part of a commissioner’s rule that is yet to be drafted.

Who will pay for the equipment, monitoring, storage, and other administration required under SB 507?

School districts are required to foot the bill using existing funds. The legislature appropriated no extra dollars to fund SB 507.

The bill does specify that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment. Districts, however, were already able to accept grants and donations for virtually any educational purpose prior to this legislation and did not need statutory authority to receive or spend philanthropic dollars in this way.

The bill also directs the commissioner of education to create a grant program that would be funded in the event and to the degree the state appropriates more money to the Foundation School Program than what districts are owed based on the formulas. If funded, the program would be used to repay some districts for some of the upfront costs of implementing SB 507. There is no way to say how much or even if there will be any funding available for this grant program at this point.

When does SB 507 go into effect?

The bill’s requirement to install video equipment and monitor classrooms under TEC Section 29.022 doesn’t apply until the 2016-17 school year.

The Commissioner’s grant program, should there be any funding for it, would begin in the 2015-16 school year.

Does the bill require video surveillance of life skills and behavior unit classrooms for students in special education programs?

Most likely, yes. Under TEC Section 29.002(a), the bill requires that districts ”place, operate, and maintain one or more video cameras in each self-contained classroom or other special education setting in which a majority of the students in regular attendance are:

(1)  provided special education and related services; and

(2)  assigned to a self-contained classroom or other special education setting for at least 50 percent of the instructional day.”

However, under Section 29.002(k), the commissioner may adopt rules to implement and administer this section, including rules regarding the special education settings to which this section applies. That would likely include a determination on whether life skills and behavior unit classrooms constitute special education settings under SB 507. Stay tuned for updates once the rulemaking process is completed.

Can a parent opt his or her child out of being recorded?

It is very unlikely that a parent would be able to opt not to have his child monitored by video. There is no opt out provision in the statute and no practical way for a school district to comply with the law and ensure access to an unmonitored classroom setting covered by SB 507. Under the bill, a classroom must be monitored by video surveillance even if only a single parent requests it. While it is theoretically possible for a district to set up a classroom designed for only those children of parents who object to video monitoring, it is not really practical and the bill doesn’t require such an accommodation.

What implications does FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) have on viewing a video under SB 507?

There is no way to definitively say at this point whether common situations that would occur under SB 507 would violate the FERPA privacy protections, but likely the bill can be implemented without causing a violation of the federal law.

In any event, it is important to remember that potential FERPA violations caused by SB 507 are ultimately not something that should cause much worry for an individual educator. FERPA very specifically makes the institution (i.e. the school district, in this case) responsible for maintaining confidentiality – not individual educators. The only problem an educator could have is if the educator violates a school district policy with regard to the bill and the district then tries to take negative employment action against the educator; similarly, SBEC could pursue sanctions against an individual educator for violation of a local school district policy.

For those still interested in whether the law might create a violation under FERPA, it is important to distinguish between the legality of making a recording and the legality of showing that recording to a specific individual. Because FERPA regulates disclosure, it is unlikely that requiring districts to create a recording implicates the federal law at all. FERPA only applies when an educational record (in this case the video of the classroom) is shared with someone who is not the maker of the video (i.e. the district).

So the questions that follow are these: What obligations does a school district have when deciding who gets to see the videotape, and what must a district do to redact such a videotape before allowing someone without a legitimate educational purpose or one of the other exceptions written into the regulations to see it? A parent seeing a child, other than his own, in a self-contained special education setting likely establishes that the child is receiving special education services, which might be characterized as a violation of confidentiality. A district could likely avoid this potential violation by only sharing the video after blurring the images of other students. In fact, there are already instances in which school districts have provided video recordings involving students after blurring out the students’ faces to protect their anonymity, ostensibly to avoid any potential FERPA violations.

You can read more about common FERPA questions at this FERPA FAQ posted online by the U.S. Department of Education.

What was ATPE’s official position on SB 507?

As is often the case with high-profile legislation, SB 507 presented both positive and negative implications. After careful consideration of the pros and cons, ATPE chose not to register a formal position for or against the bill as part of official testimony before the House Public Education Committee or Senate Education Committee when those committees considered the bill this legislative session. In fact, no representatives of the state’s major educator groups registered a position for or against this bill. Most of the testimony was provided by parents, educators with particular expertise in special education, and representatives of school districts. SB 507 is likely to have a far greater impact on school districts and school boards, which ATPE does not directly represent, than it is expected to have on individual educators, which make up the majority of our membership.

ATPE certainly agrees with the intent of the bill – to deter classroom violence, aggression, or abuse. Our decisions on how to respond to SB 507 were based in part on how the bill addressed the issue of classroom violence – not whether or not that issue should be addressed. Any level of classroom violence, whether perpetrated by a teacher or student or against a teacher or student, is without question unacceptable and should not be tolerated. A few important questions that must be considered, however, when tackling this issue include these: 1) Is requiring video monitoring of classroom the most efficient and effective way of addressing classroom violence?  2) Does requiring video monitoring do more harm or good on balance?

SB 507 requires that certain classrooms as detailed above be equipped with audio and video monitoring equipment. However, the bill also provides that an area of a monitored room that is used to change a student’s clothing or to facilitate a student using the restroom may not be visually monitored. Even considering that SB 507 requires such “no view” areas, the bill will almost certainly have some deterrent effect on classroom violence. However, it is ATPE’s informed opinion that video surveillance is neither the most efficient nor the most effective means of deterrence. In the vast majority of cases, enhanced educator and administrator training would be less costly and equally effective at decreasing the incidents of classroom violence. Training would also likely have positive spillover effects within the educational environment that cameras do not offer. Likely the most effective deterrent, though not less expensive, would be to require that each self-contained special education setting be staffed by a trained para-professional in addition to the classroom teacher. Many organizations have a policy of requiring two adults to be present with a group of children in order to achieve this exact deterrent effect. Even more than training, this alternative would also provide massive additional benefits to the educational environment that a camera simply can’t provide.

While some educators feel that cameras are a justified expense to promote student and educator safety, other educators feel that SB 507 creates an unnecessary invasion of privacy, implies that they are incapable of performing their jobs in a responsible manner, or perpetuates a myth about widespread child abuse occurring in school settings. However, it’s important for educators to consider that video recordings may be just as likely or even more likely to exonerate them from false accusations as they are likely to result in new allegations of educator misconduct. Having access to an objective record of actual events in the classroom can eliminate “he said/she said” complaints otherwise devoid of hard evidence and can also provide educators with valuable support in instances where educators have been assaulted by students. Additionally, it’s important to remember that school districts have already had authority – even before passage of this bill – to videotape their classrooms. Video cameras are commonly found in school hallways, cafeterias, and other common areas. Cost constraints have been one of the primary reasons that schools have not previously chosen to deploy additional cameras both for security and educational purposes; and concerns about inadequate funding were the primary reason that administrator and school board associations voiced opposition to SB 507 during the legislative session.

Ultimately, ATPE concluded during the legislative session that SB 507, on balance, would not result in vastly greater harm or good than the status quo. The new law is a somewhat expensive diversion of limited education resources (as the state appropriated no additional dollars to fund this very specific mandate), but it will likely have some deterrent effect. The bill does involve a loss of educator (and student) privacy, but it is also likely to exonerate far more educators than it convicts. It was for these reasons that ATPE did not take an official position supporting or opposing the bill but instead worked behind the scenes this session to improve it. Some of the positive changes made to SB 507 included giving educators access to any tape capturing an incident in which they are implicated, as well as giving access to experts trained in proper restraint techniques who can more accurately identify what they are seeing on the video.

We hope that some of the unanswered questions about SB 507 will become clearer after the commissioner of education proposes rules for implementation of the new law. Stay tuned for updates from Teach the Vote when that process occurs.

 

*ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp contributed additional information for this post.