Tag Archives: charter schools

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 21, 2017

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


Falling US MoneyThe Texas House of Representatives this week passed a comprehensive school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. HB 21 is the House’s opening salvo in what the bill’s author calls a multi-session school finance reform effort. The bill is now on its way to the Senate where it is expected to receive a less than certain reception.

HB 21 picked up 10 floor amendments over the course of more than four hours of debate on Wednesday evening. The bill was approved on second reading by a vote of 134 to 16, and then the House passed HB 21 the following day on third reading by a vote of 132 to 15. Stay tuned later this week for a blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter describing the details of the bill as approved by the House.

The next steps will be for HB 21 to be accepted by the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee, where we hope that Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will schedule it for a public hearing. Taylor’s committee heard his own school finance bill this week, Senate Bill (SB) 2145. A hearing on HB 21 would likely include a discussion of the differences and merits of the two school finance plans.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week, also. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog earlier this week, the board’s agenda includes high-profile reviews of some of the state’s curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

This morning, the board held a final vote on proposed changes to the TEKS for science. The biology portion in particular has been the focus of debate over the discussion of evolution. Board members began the week seeking compromise language that would satisfy scientists as well as those wishing to allow for some discussion of creationism.

The board voted down an amendment this morning by member SBOE Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) that would have instructed teachers to “compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity.” The board then adopted an amendment by SBOE member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) instructing teachers “to compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) assured the board that the compromise language still encourages criticism of the theory of evolution.

On revisions to the TEKS for English and Spanish language arts and reading, the board has opted to delay a final vote until May. For more on this week’s SBOE deliberations, check out the latest update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here on our blog.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee education policy for the Texas House and Senate have been busy hearing numerous bills and voting a number of them through for floor consideration.

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard bills that included such topics as charter school authorizations and educator certification. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on our blog, the committee heard both a bill that could restrict the expansion of charter schools in certain areas and a bill that would make it easier for charters to be approved. The committee also considered an educator certification bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become certified in Texas without necessarily passing an exam.

As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on Twitter, the Senate Education Committee also voted yesterday to give favorable approval to several Senate bills, many of which have been changed from their original versions that were filed: SB 653, SB 754, SB 1122, SB 1267, SB 1398, SB 1882, SB 2142, SB 2143, SB 2188, and SB 2270.

The House Public Education Committee held a full hearing for several bills on Tuesday and then met again yesterday for the purpose of voting on pending bills. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog, Tuesday’s agenda included hearing HB 306, known as David’s Law, to prevent cyber-bullying and harassment that encourages youths to commit suicide. ATPE testified in support of the bill, as we similarly supported the Senate version, SB 179, during a prior hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read Mark’s blog post for more on the bills that were heard and voted upon by the committee on Tuesday. During Thursday’s formal meeting of the same committee, members voted to send 11 additional bills to the full House for consideration. For a list of those bills, check out Mark’s follow-up blog post on Teach the Vote.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday for consideration of several bills. The agenda includes bills pertaining to testing, instructional materials, pre-K, and Districts of Innovation. ATPE will be there to testify and will provide updates next week on Teach the Vote and on Twitter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Both the House and Senate have announced which of their members will serve on a conference committee for the state’s budget bill. The two chambers recently passed competing versions of Senate Bill (SB) 1, which necessitates a conference committee of 10 members to try to iron out the differences and forge a compromise to keep the government in operation for two more years and avoid the need for a special session.

Announced first this week were the Senate conferees for SB 1: Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), along with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen). On the House side, the conference committee appointees are House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), plus Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

 


Football RefereeAlso this week, the Senate approved a measure known as the Tim Tebow bill, which requires the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to allow the participation of home-schooled students. SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) received the Senate’s approval on Wednesday by a vote of 23 to 8. The bill still has to be considered in the House.

ATPE has opposed SB 640 and similar legislation in previous sessions based on long-standing positions in the ATPE Legislative Program adopted each year by our members. Specifically, ATPE members object to letting home-schooled students participate in extracurricular activities without being held to the same standards as their public school counterparts, such as no pass/no play laws.

2-1_Advocacy_LegislativeProgram_REVISED

Related: The ATPE Legislative Committee will be meeting in Austin this weekend to review the ATPE Legislative Program and make recommendations for any changes to the House of Delegates. Learn more about the ATPE Legislative Program and our member-owned, member-governed philosophy here.

 

 


Charter schools, educator certification top Senate Education Committee hearing

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday, April 20, to hear a number of bills pertaining to charter schools, educator training and certification, and more. ATPE weighed in on several measures.

Review, approval, and expansion of open-enrollment charter schools

The committee heard a handful of bills pertaining to charter schools on a number of issues. First up was Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 1883, pertaining to the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE testified against the bill. Our opposition was based on two primary themes: (1) removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible and (2) adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

Charter schools are not governed by an elected board of trustees, as is the case for traditional public school districts, so State Board of Education (SBOE) involvement in the charter applicant approval process is among the few opportunities for elected officials beholden to the Texas taxpayers to offer charter oversight. As was pointed out during the hearing, a recent out-of-state charter applicant that received approval three separate times from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, was then vetoed by SBOE each time based on reasonable concerns about the charter’s inappropriate profiteering in other states. Clearly, SBOE’s involvement plays a valuable role on multiple levels.

SB 1883 also creates new appeal and review processes for charters. The current process for charter approval offers sufficient opportunity for charter applicants to showcase the worth of their application. Further, charter schools and school districts have sufficient time to correct or address data or calculation errors prior to it affecting the entities’ academic or financial accountability ratings. ATPE believes that the additional appeal and review processes provided under Sen. Campbell’s bill are unnecessary and would only result in government waste at TEA, an agency that is already taxed for resources.

ATPE supported a charter bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), SB 2130, which would establish a process for first determining regional need before approving a new charter applicant or charter expansion effort. The bill would require the TEA commissioner to first consider a number of factors aimed at determining whether a current traditional school is sufficiently serving the educational needs of students who live in the district. If it is determined that the existing schools are sufficient to meet those needs, a charter applicant would not be granted approval to establish or expand in the area, a measure that is intended to address over-saturation of charter schools in specific geographic areas.

Early childhood certification, reciprocity for out-of-state certificate holders

SB 1839 by Sen. Brian Hughes (R-Mineola) was originally filed as a measure aimed at improving educator preparation program practices in Texas. It also addressed reciprocity for educators trained and certified in other states or countries seeking to teach upon moving to Texas. Current law requires those our-of-state teachers to pass the relevant Texas certification exam(s) before teaching, unless their out-of-state certification is deemed “at least as rigorous” as a comparable Texas certification. Sen. Hughes’s bill, under the committee substitute presented yesterday, would omit the “at least as rigorous” exception, allowing any teacher certified in another state or country to teach in a Texas classroom upon arrival. ATPE expressed concerns, saying that some standard, be it passing the Texas certification exam or another form of showcasing qualifications, must be in place to ensure teachers entering Texas classrooms meet our state’s standards.

The committee substitute language also adds the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate, which is among one of several avenues the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is currently reviewing in order to ensure early childhood teachers receive the specific instruction needed to best teach early childhood students. ATPE told the committee the thorough review process by SBEC is the best route to address this issue, because many factors play into this certification and SBEC is considering them all, including potential impacts on the supply of certified teachers at other grade levels.

Assessment flexibility, sex trafficking instruction

ATPE offered its support to two additional bills heard during yesterday’s hearing. Sen. Campbell’s SB 1005 would give certain students, those who must still pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to graduate, the opportunity to meet graduation requirements by instead passing the SAT or ACT. ATPE also supported Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) SB 2039, which would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.

The full Senate Education Committee agenda from yesterday can be found here. A list of the bills voted out of the committee during the hearing can be found here. Among the bills advanced by the committee was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) SB 653, which he changed to only address pension revocation for certain individuals formerly employed as educators. Some of his original bill was rolled into the Senate’s priority bill pertaining to educator misconduct, SB 7, which is already moving through the process. ATPE supported both bills when they were previously heard in the Senate Education Committee.

State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

The State Board of Education is meeting this week while the Texas Legislature is session. Across the street from the Capitol inside the Texas Education Agency (TEA) building, the board began its week-long meeting Tuesday morning with public testimony on proposed changes to the science TEKS.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

Some creationism supporters took issue with the changes proposed after first reading earlier this year. Biology teachers on the curriculum writing committee have proposed changes they explained would streamline the TEKS and focus on grade-level appropriate discussion. Creationism supporters argued Tuesday that the changes watered down criticism of evolution, and asked the board to retain proposed language to require students to “evaluate” various subjects related to evolution. Physics and chemistry teachers also recommended more mundane tweaks to their respective TEKS.

Wednesday began with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner informed the board of upcoming changes to the STAAR confidential student report card (CSR), aimed to make the report more parent-friendly and easy to understand. The report will now contain student lexile levels for the current year and over a student’s academic history. The report will include information for parents regarding how to help improve a child’s reading level, as well as guidance regarding how to maximize the impact of parent-teacher conferences. The agency has also changed terminology to replace the terms for Level I through Level III standards with “does not meet grade level,” “approaching grade level,” “meets grade level,” and “masters grade level.” These changes have already been adopted in rule and will be reflected in report cards due out in June.

Commissioner Morath also announced TEA is readying a new website that will allow parents to see every STAAR question their student was asked, along with what they answered and what other students answered, compared to the correct answer. This website is expected to roll out in mid- to late June. The agency is also working on a separate site for teachers and administrators. The separate website would help teachers and administrators unpack and understand the streamlined English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS. The site will feature sample assessment questions and is intended to help teachers understand vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum standards, as well as distinguish the meaning of verbs used in the TEKS insofar as how they affect instruction. The agency plans to activate the site in advance of the school year in which the TEKS are scheduled to go into effect.

The commissioner responded to questions from the board regarding the rollout of the “A through F” accountability standards passed by the Texas Legislature last session. House Bill 22, which would pare down the five domains to three and eliminate the overall grade, has passed out of the House Public Education Committee this session and is expected to be up for debate on the House floor within the next two to three weeks. At this point, Morath indicated he has participated in at least 70 stakeholder meetings regarding rulemaking for the version of A through F currently undergoing implementation. Some changes have been suggested to specific components, such as the calculation of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level and adjustments for children of military families and those who are absent due to illness.

As far as legislative priorities, both the House and Senate budget proposals include $25 million requested by the agency to access matching funds for rural broadband internet. Other priorities for which TEA is seeking funding in either one or both chambers include math innovation zones, high-quality pre-K, additional staff to investigate inappropriate student-teacher relationships, IT support for the Texas Student Data System (TSDS) to facilitate additional automation, cybersecurity enhancements to safeguard student data and funding to allow the STAAR test to be released annually as opposed to every three years.

On Wednesday, the board resumed discussion on second reading of the science TEKS. After hearing testimony the day before, the board unanimously adopted an amendment adding compromise language to a key section of the biology TEKS dealing with evolution. The amendment changed “evaluate” to “examine” scientific explanations for the origin of DNA. The board also adopted an amendment that would delay implementation of the streamlined science TEKS to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The board completed discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS for elementary and middle school Wednesday evening, approving amendments on second reading before adjourning.

Breaking up into committees Thursday morning, the board’s committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) heard an update to the bond guarantee program (BGP). As of February 28, roughly $70 billion of the program’s $100 billion capacity had been allocated. After setting aside $5 billion as required, roughly $24 billion remained available to back school bonds with the PSF. Last year, the board voted to increase the multiplier used to calculate the amount available to charter schools, which resulted in increasing that amount from $165 million to $510 million.

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) questioned staff regarding HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), which would use the PSF to guarantee school lease-purchase agreements through the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA). Staff advised that current law likely allows for the PSF to be encumbered to guarantee short-term commercial debt, and debt under this program would likely be cumbersome on the TPFA. The bill was voted out of the House Public Education Committee during a formal hearing Thursday afternoon at the Texas Capitol.

After Thursday’s committee meetings, SBOE’s committee of the full board gathered to take up discussion of the English and Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language TEKS for high school on first reading.

House Public Education votes out 11 more bills Thursday

The House Public Education Committee met briefly this afternoon during a break in proceedings on the House floor in order to vote out several pending items of legislation. The committee approved the following bills:

  • CSHB 310, which would allow compensatory education allotment funds to be used to fund a district’s school guidance and counseling program.
  • HB 933, which would ban rolled or shaved baseball bats for use in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities.
  • CSHB 1075, which would require sports officials registered with UIL to undergo an additional criminal background check once every three years.
  • HB 1451, which would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.
  • HB 1569, which would require a residential treatment facility to provide a student’s school, behavioral and arrest records to a district or open-enrollment charter school that provides educational services to a student placed in the facility.
  • HB 1886, which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade.
  • CSHB 2087, which would protect student data. Specifically, the bill would protect students’ personally identifiable information from being gathered by web sites or providers for targeted advertising.
  • CSHB 3438, which would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses.
  • CSHB 3476, which would require students who are required to take a physical under UIL rules to take an electrocardiogram. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the substitute introduces additional flexibility.
  • HB 3548, which would grant immunity from personal liability to a director, officer or employee of the nonprofit corporation established by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The bill would specify that the nonprofit corporation itself is subject to liability only in the manner that applies to school districts.
  • HB 3706, which would allow community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs to at-risk students online, in addition to at a campus.

The committee will meet next at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, and again the following Thursday to vote on additional bills.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

Senate Education Committee ramps up work

ThinkstockPhotos-144283240The Texas Senate Education Committee met twice this week for the first time this session, signaling things are picking up in the Texas Legislature. ATPE weighed in on two measures the committee took up this week: a measure termed the “Tim Tebow bill” and a bill pertaining to district partnerships with charters.

Senate Bill (SB) 1882 by Sen. Jose Menendez relates to a school district partnering with a public charter school to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities, and other educational resources. ATPE shared several concerns with the bill, which included lack of clarity on which entity would serve as the educators’ employer and the fact that a law is not needed to enable districts to form this type of partnership. Another concern was addressed by Senator Menendez in a newer version of the original bill; under the proposed committee substitute, neighborhood schools would still have first access to their neighborhood school regardless of the fact that a charter operator took it over.

Senator Menendez’s comments included his intent to continue working to address the issues expressed by stakeholders, calling for “a community solution.” That includes ATPE’s concern regarding the ambiguity with regard to who would employ educators. ATPE shared that if a district teacher becomes an employee of the charter, it would affect their rights and benefits, as charter employees don’t have the same rights and benefits as traditional public school employees.

The broader issue ATPE has with this bill does not have to do with opposition to locally developed partnerships between high-quality charters and districts, but with the fact that the bill only serves to incentivize this means of focusing attention on a school while not doing the same with others. Many innovative approaches or effective turnaround models, including this one, can be adopted by a board currently and has been done in various districts. This bill, however, would offer an accountability pause when this is used as a turnaround model in unacceptably rated schools and financial incentives when this sort of partnership is developed on any campus. Ultimately, this could serve to lessen the value and utilization of other models or innovative options that might be very well-suited for a particular school or community.

ATPE-Input-on-SB-640-imageThe committee also heard testimony on SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor, a bill that would allow home-school students to participate in UIL activities, a bill termed the “Tim Tebow bill.” ATPE opposed the legislation, pointing to a number of positions in the ATPE Legislative Program that contrast with the idea of home school students selectively choosing aspects of the public school system in which they want to participate. Home-school parents and students were present to testify in both support and opposition. ATPE’s full testimony can be read here.

The Texas Legislature is picking up speed rapidly. Stay tuned for more from the Senate Education Committee next week!

House committee advances A-F improvements

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a number of bills, including those dealing with special education, and to advance a key piece of legislation relating to accountability.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

During a break in testimony Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute to HB 22, which would modify the “A through F” accountability system. As filed, the bill would collapse the five domains down to three and eliminate the overall, or “summative,” rating for districts and schools.

Chairman Huberty explained the committee substitute would clarify that indicators must be based on disaggregated information and include indicators reflecting access to resources, size and socioeconomics. The substitute would also incorporate policies advocated by ATPE, including a requirement that stakeholders, including teachers, should be involved in the process. ATPE has also advocated for restricting the use of standardized test results and other value-added measures (VAM) for the purposes of evaluating educator performance. The substitute would cap VAM at 25 percent of the educator performance score.

The committee unanimously approved HB 22, along with the following bills:

  • HB 481, which would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.
  • HB 852, which would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program.
  • HB 972, which would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher.
  • HB 1560, which would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
  • HB 2611, which would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days.
  • HB 2649, which would require the governing bodies of charter schools to hold open meetings in the county in which the school is located and subject to the same requirements as regular government bodies.
  • HB 3722, which would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed.
  • HB 1669, which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit.

Also of note, the committee considered HB 713 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle. Specifically, it would prohibit any performance indicator based on the total number or percentage of students enrolled in special education. As the Chronicle reported, an arbitrary 8.5 percent target monitored by TEA resulted in schools inappropriately denying special education services to thousands of children. Although TEA indicated that it will no longer use this information as a performance indicator, Rep. Wu explained HB 713 would prevent the agency from resuming the practice in the future. ATPE supports this bill.

The hearing began Tuesday morning with HB 1886 by state Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade. It would require the TEA designate a dyslexia specialist to provide districts with support and resources, and identify both in-person and online training opportunities. According to the fiscal note, the bill would likely require TEA hire an additional full-time equivalent at a cost of roughly $107,000 per year.

HB 2205 by state Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) would require school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Kuempel argued that too much time may pass between the time a report is filed and DFPS notifies law enforcement of a potentially dangerous situation. In some cases, DFPS has waited up to 72 hours before notifying police.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on the bill. Highlighting the paramount importance of child safety both to educators and police, Wiggins pointed out that the current law orders DFPS to immediately inform local law enforcement. It’s hard to justify calling 72 hours “immediate,” as required by law. Before duplicating efforts, ATPE suggested that addressing the issue within DFPS may be the correct starting point for ensuring that current law is followed and no children are left in potentially dangerous situations.

HB 743 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow a social worker to provide services to students and families in a school district, collaborating with school administrators in order to enhance students’ learning environments. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1720 by state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) would require schools to provide parental notice if a child is found with lice. Furthermore, school officials would be required to notify the parents of every child in the same classroom as a student found with lice. The bill specifies that the child’s identity would be held confidential and not revealed to other parents.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on HB 1720, noting that some teachers have expressed frustration that some school districts prohibit teachers from notifying other parents when a child is found with lice, resulting in recurring outbreaks. ATPE suggested the bill could be improved by granting individual teachers the right to notify other parents if they determine such action is appropriate.

HB 1556 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would require training for foster parents of a child with disabilities before making educational decisions on the child’s behalf. The bill would separate the legal definitions of foster parents and surrogate parents for the purposes of educational decision making. Social workers testified that oftentimes, the law is unclear as to who makes the educational decisions for foster children in certain situations. According to the fiscal note, local districts could find it necessary to invest roughly $230,000 to develop training and $25,000 in subsequent years to maintain and update the training.

HB 1076 by state Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) would revisit the timing of mandatory spinal screenings. While current law requires screenings in grades 6 and 9, HB 1076 would instead order the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to designate the appropriate ages for screening based on the latest scientific research.

HB 1583 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools. The bill would also add private school nurses to the list of positions eligible to serve on the epinephrine auto-injector advisory council.

HB 2395 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would order each district and charter to test their water for lead using a third-party testing service. If too much lead is found, the bill would require schools to provide safe water until lead levels are returned to acceptable parameters. According to the fiscal note, the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) estimated the cost of lead testing to be between $2,000 and $3,000 per building. TEA estimated the statewide cost at approximately $22 million per year, not including remediation.

HB 2130 by state Rep. Kevin Roberts (R-Houston) would order a study on the impact of the statewide assessment program on students in special education. The study would be required to address whether the administration of alternate assessments complies with ESSA and whether state-required assessments provide accurate and helpful information. Many disability advocates argued that current assessments aren’t necessarily appropriate for children with some disabilities. According to the fiscal note, the study would cost the state approximately $230,000. TEA staff testified the study could be paid for out of federal funds. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1342 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would require elementary and high school students to receive mandatory annual sex abuse training “to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, and reduce child pregnancy.” Rep. Parker cited alarming statistics concerning sexual abuse of children, arguing children should be trained how to identify and handle assault.

HB 1033 by state Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) would require the TEA to petition for a waiver of the annual alternative assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Rep. Burns suggested that individual admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees should be empowered to determine which tests, if any, are appropriate. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2623 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care. According to the fiscal note, districts may find it necessary to hire an additional counselor at an average annual salary of $63,000. Rep. Allen explained this is needed to help ensure that students who have been away from a public education setting for an extended period are able to be successfully reintegrated. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 194 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create a special education endorsement. Vice-Chairman Bernal suggested the bill would rectify an oversight that has resulted in some special education students being unable to earn the endorsements needed to graduate.

HB 3439 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would allow school districts to contract with a charter to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities or resources. Such schools would be entitled to the greater of the funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) entitled to the district or the charter. Although the fiscal note projects no state expense through 2019, the program would cost the state $33.3 million in 2020, $44.4 million in 2021 and $55.5 million in 2022.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against HB 3439, pointing out concerns regarding students and educators. Even though students in each attendance zone would be given preference, the new charter campus would still be allowed to cap enrollment and potentially exclude students who would otherwise be entitled to go to that school. Furthermore, the legislation is unclear as to whether district teachers could be transferred to the charter and lose the rights and protections of district employees.

The bill would also allow low-performing charters to take over campus management. Currently, charters rated “C” or “D” on the “A through F” accountability system could participate, and as a result, would benefit from a one-year pause in their accountability ratings. This provides an incentive for poorly-performing charters to partner with poorly-performing districts in order to enjoy an accountability holiday. ATPE suggests confining participation to charters with “A” or “B” ratings.

HB 2442 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would change “minutes of instruction” to “minutes of operation” for the purposes of determining the length of each school day. The TEA commissioner would determine how many minutes of operation are equivalent to a day of instruction. Instruction time would include recess and meals. The bill would also repeal the minimum length of the school day.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 2442, pointing out that the bill helps clarify the length of half-day pre-kindergarten for funding purposes.

HB 3157 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would modify eye exam rules to allow students to be screened using photoscreening. Advocates argued photoscreening is a more accurate and efficient method for detecting eye problems than eye charts, but school policies don’t always allow them.

Before concluding, Chairman Huberty suggested there could be a formal meeting later this week in order to advance additional bills pending in the committee.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 31, 2017

Wrapping up a full week at the Texas State Capitol, here are stories from ATPE that you might have missed while you were STAAR testing:


Two major pieces of anti-public education legislation hit the Senate floor this week. First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), an anti-educator bill that prevents school district employees from using payroll deduction for their association dues at no cost to taxpayers. ATPE Governmental Relations Director provided a summary of Wednesday’s debate of the bill on second reading, during which a number of Democratic senators questioned the author’s decision to exempt “first responders” from the punitive bill and tried unsuccessfully to expand that exemption to cover educators, too.

The lively debate highlighted ATPE’s advocacy against the bill before senators voted on party lines to approve the measure, ironically just hours after take time to honor retired teachers visiting the Senate that day. Those voting for the anti-educator SB 13 were Sens. Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Burton, Campbell, Creighton, Estes, Hall, Hancock, Huffines, Huffman, Hughes, Kolkhorst, Nelson, Nichols, Perry, Schwertner, Seliger, Larry Taylor, and Van Taylor. Those voting against SB 13 were Sens. Garcia, Hinojosa, Lucio, Menendez, Miles, Rodriguez, Uresti, Watson, West, Whitmire, and Zaffirini.

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundThe Senate was back in session yesterday evening to take a final vote on SB 13, again along party lines with 20 Republican senators voting to send SB 13 to the House and 11 Democratic senators voting against the bill. It was another opportunity, though, for some Democrats in the Senate to ask why teachers were being picked on with SB 13 and why business groups in the private sector like NFIB should care about how public employees spend their paychecks. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. called the legislation “a show of disrespect” toward hard-working teachers. Sen. Royce West pointed out the highly partisan motives behind the bill, and Sen. Kirk Watson stated that it was wrong for lawmakers to try to silence certain groups and not others simply because you disagree with their message. Sen. John Whitmire warned his Senate colleagues of the bill’s “intended consequences” of silencing only those politically active groups who are deemed to be working against Senate Republicans’ legislative priorities this session. But Whitmire also warned of some unintended fallout during the next election cycle, observing that many educators do tend to vote in Republican primaries and saying, “You’ve awakened a sleeping giant.”

Thursday’s floor action in the Senate also brought up a high-profile voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which has been deemed on of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities this session. The bill’s author presented a brand new version of the bill on the floor, designed to limit the availability of the vouchers to larger urban and suburban counties. The changes were designed to lower the bill’s very high cost and garner support from a few rural Republican senators who had been objecting to SB 3.

The new voucher bill ultimately passed yesterday on an 18 to 13 vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. was the lone Democratic senator to vote for the bill. All other Democrats voted against SB 3, joined by Republican Sens. Robert Nichols, Kel Seliger, and Joan Huffman. (Although Huffman voted against the bill, she earlier joined with Republicans in voting to suspend the rules to allow the voucher bill to be heard on the floor.) For more on the voucher bill that passed the Senate and is headed next to the House, read this story from The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog about SB 3.

 


While the Senate was focusing its attention on questionable “priorities” of the lieutenant governor that would harm public education, the House Public Education Committee was attempting to find solutions to real problems, such as improving the state’s malfunctioning school finance system. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) school finance measure, House Bill 21, by a vote of 10 to one on Tuesday. The committee also heard a number of bills relating to charter schools this week and resumed discussion of Huberty’s HB 23 aimed at improving the A-through-F accountability system. Next week, the committee plans to consider bills dealing with health and safety, as well as special education.

The committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality also met this week for further discussions of bills dealing with improper relationships between teachers and students. Again, Mark Wiggins has a blog post with details on Monday’s hearing.

 


Stack of $100 billsThe Texas House and Senate continue to take differing approaches on the state budget. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports, the full Senate took up Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the Senate’s budget bill, this Tuesday, March 28, for second and third reading. After offering no amendments, the Senate passed SB1 unanimously. The bill was then sent to and received by the house later that day where it was read for the first time on the House floor and referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Appropriations took up House Bill 1 (HB1), the House budget, and House Bill 2 (HB2), the House supplemental appropriations bill, on Wednesday, March 29. Chairman Zerwas laid out SB1 in lieu of HB1 and then substituted the language in SB1 with the language in HB1, plus some of the language that was originally in HB2, essentially making SB1 the House Bill with the Senate’s caption. The committee then voted unanimously to send SB1, as substituted, and HB2 to the full House for consideration.

Yesterday, March 30, House Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter adopted a calendar rule on the House floor that impacts SB1, which will be considered by the full House next Thursday, April 6. The rule, which was adopted, does two things. One, it memorializes the House rule requiring a 72-hour layout for any amendment to a general appropriations bill. This means that any amendment to the budget will have to be filed with the House Clerk’s office by 10 a.m. Monday, April 3, or be subject to a challenge. Second, the rule requires that any amendment to the budget that proposes additional spending in one area must cut an equivalent or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. This means that the overall amount of the budget cannot increase on the House floor without support of the supermajority required to suspend the calendar rule.

Follow @TeachTheVote or individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter next Thursday for live updates on the budget as they occur from the floor of the Texas House.


tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the availability of 2016 Snapshot: School District Profiles on its website. The online resource annually compiles characteristics of every school district and charter school in Texas. View the data here.

 


The Senate Education Committee also met yesterday, hearing bills pertaining to virtual schools, special education, and the scheduling of teacher work days. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided this blog update with full details on the hearing.

 


 

School finance bill on its way to full House

The House Public Education Committee convened Tuesday morning with a focus on legislation concerning charters. At the outset, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) vowed to advance House leadership’s priority school finance bill, HB 21. Members approved the bill during a brief break Tuesday morning by a vote of 10-1.

HPE 03-28-17

Huberty hearkened back to his days as a school board member to explain his longstanding goal of finding a grand fix for the state’s troubled school finance system. The chair noted, “While we’re not there, this is a good first step.”

Casting the lone vote against the committee substitute to HB 21, state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) noted HB 21 increases recapture payments by Highland Park ISD. According to model runs produced by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), Highland Park ISD would lose $1.6 million in fiscal year 2018, worth $80 per student weighted average daily attendance (WADA).

HB 21 now heads to Calendars, where it will be scheduled for debate on the House floor. With the exception of state Rep. Harold Dutton casting a vote of “present” on HB 1291, the committee unanimously approved the following bills heard previously:

  • HB 1291, which would add a course on “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  • HB 657, which would allow ARD committees to advance a student in a special education program after a single exam.
  • HB 1469, which would allow charter schools to hire teachers without a baccalaureate degree for non-core CTE courses.
  • HB 2263, which would shrink the role of campus intervention teams.
  • HB 789, which would allow Highland Park ISD to raise acceleration exam cut scores.
  • HB 1731, which excludes students leaving a residential facility from dropout rate calculations.
  • HB 3075, which excludes students in juvenile facilities from charter school dropout rate calculations.

The first new bill heard was HB 1669 by Rep. Tracy King (D-Batesville), which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit. It would add language to the law regarding complaints that protects school districts from complaints concerning a student’s participation in an extracurricular activity that doesn’t involve a violation of parental rights.

HB 2611 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days. VanDeaver argued the flexibility would allow districts to reach more potential buyers, and he noted that cities and counties are already allowed to do this.

HB 2051 by Chairman Huberty would raise the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $1,000 from $250. Huberty introduced a committee substitute that would allow the funds to go toward remodeling of facilities. Fast-growth districts and charters argue the funding is needed to keep up with the growing need for new instructional facilities. The allotment is funded off of a set number, and HB 2051 would not increase the total available in the fund. For that reason, HB 2051 has no fiscal note.

Similar to the committee substitute for HB 2051, HB 1081 by Rep. Diana Arévalo (D-San Antonio) would add renovated or repurposed facilities and leased facilities to the New Instructional Facility Allotment (NIFA) under the FSP. The bill makes no change to the amount of the allotment. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. While ATPE supports the ability to use NIFA dollars for renovation and repurposing of buildings, Exter raised concern with the lease language of HB 1081 and allowing state dollars to pay for renovations to facilities that districts will not actually own.

HB 481 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.

HB 3722 by Rep. King would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed. Under HB 3722, TEA would be able to provide additional funding by allowing such districts to make use of the local fund assignment (LFA) adjustment for the annexed district.

HB 1039 by Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would change the funding calculation for open-enrollment charter schools from a calculation based on the state average adjustment and tax effort to the lesser of the state average adjustment and tax effort or that of the school district in which the charter’s largest campus is located. González argued that the bill is needed to reduce funding advantages for certain charter schools and bring funding more in line with local ISDs, with the goal of returning charter schools to the original mission of identifying innovative education practices. According to the fiscal note, HB 1039 would save $161 million in state funds over the next two years, which González suggested could be returned to school districts.

HB 2649 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) would require the governing bodies of charter schools to hold open meetings in the county in which the school is located and subject to the same requirements as regular government bodies. The bill would require charters to broadcast their governing meetings over the internet and provide archived audio/video recordings online. Capriglione argued the bill closes a loophole that allows charters to avoid open meetings laws. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2298 by Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) would prohibit anyone associated with a charter school from serving on a local school board or the State Board of Education (SBOE). The prohibition would apply to an employee, officer, or member of a governing body of a charter school, as well as anyone who lobbies on a charter school’s behalf or has a business interest in a charter school. Uresti argued the rule is needed to prevent a board member’s financial interest in a charter school from creating a conflict of interest with the member’s responsibility to students. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1059 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) would allow for the reattachment of property that has been detached from one district and annexed to another for the purposes of meeting the equalized wealth level. Reattachment can occur if the original district’s wealth per student drops $10,000 or more below the equalized wealth level that applies to maintenance and operation tax effort. Houston ISD faces the detachment of property worth $17.4 billion in order to meet the equalized wealth level after the district decided not to make its first recapture payment. A majority of the board is reported to support an upcoming “second-chance” election to authorize the recapture payment in order to avoid detachment.

Rep. VanDeaver pointed out concerns regarding the effects of reattachment on districts to which property had been annexed. If a district were to issue bonds based on property annexed from another district, then later lost that property through reattachment, taxes on property remaining within that district would necessarily increase.

HB 1023 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) would allow the TEA commissioner to grant more than one charter for an open-enrollment charter school to a charter holder if the additional charter is for an open-enrollment charter school that serves a distinct purpose or student population. This would allow a charter school operator to be granted an additional charter for programs such as a virtual open-enrollment charter school or an open-enrollment charter school for at-risk students. Current law restricts charter holders to a single charter for an open-enrollment charter school. Rep. Simmons noted there is plenty of room under the charter cap, which is scheduled to be set at 305 charters beginning September 1, 2019. Opponents of the bill voiced concerns regarding the ability of charter holders to skirt accountability through the use of multiple charters. According to the fiscal note, HB 1023 would cost the state roughly $20.7 million through 2019.

HB 2340 by Chairman Huberty would require school districts to maintain a minimum balance of undesignated funds that is no less than the district’s operating expenses for 90 days. The chairman explained the combined amount of money in undesignated school district fund balances across the state has grown to more than $20 billion and continues to increase. HB 2340 aims to encourage districts to spend down their fund balances by defining the balance in statute and outlining a list of acceptable uses for undesignated funds, such as paying off debt. Some indicated concern that cash-strapped Chapter 41 districts currently without a fund balance could face a problem building one up. Chairman Huberty acknowledged that some districts could have legitimate cash flow concerns, and pledged to continue the dialogue with stakeholders.

HB 852 by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program. The current cap limits the program to 150 individuals. According to Rep. VanDeaver, the bill directly affects the Goodwill Excel Center in Austin, which has graduated more than 205 students who would not otherwise have been able to obtain a high school diploma. After emotional testimony submitted by two adult students, a representative from the center testified the school would like to expand the program to additional locations in order to serve more adult students.

HB 171 by Rep. Dutton would require all school districts to lease or sell unused or underused facilities to charter schools. Current statute requires districts to allow charters an opportunity to purchase or lease underutilized facilities, but there is no requirement as outlined in Dutton’s bill. The bill would also require the TEA commissioner to produce a list each year of eligible facilities and post it on the agency website. Dutton said the bill’s committee substitute removes the requirement on districts and allows districts to determine what constitutes “unused” or “underutilized” facilities, which many stakeholders found objectionable. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 2337 by Rep. Dutton would entitle open-enrollment charter schools to facilities funding equal to the number of students in average daily attendance (ADA) multiplied by the guaranteed level of state and local per-student funds provided to school districts, resulting in an additional $170 per pupil. According to the fiscal note, HB 2337 would cost the state $411 million over the next biennium in Foundation School Program (FSP) funds that would no longer be available to traditional public schools. Dutton argued that charter schools face a structural disadvantage when it comes to facilities funding, and announced that the committee substitute would reduce the program cost to $100 million. Opponents pointed out that traditional public schools also face funding challenges that HB 2337 would make worse. For example, 80 percent of the state’s enrollment growth is occurring in less than 100 school districts. Yet these fast-growth traditional public schools do not receive additional facilities funding from the state. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 467 by Rep. Murphy would adjust the language regarding the capacity available to charter holders under the bond guarantee program to back bonds with the Permanent School Fund (PSF). It removes language that limits the calculation to capacity available after subtracting the total amount of outstanding guaranteed bonds. Murphy introduced a committee substitute that would move the distribution of funds to a period of five years instead of one year, increase by 50 percent the contributions charters make to the charter reserve fund and expand the TEA commissioner’s discretionary oversight to deny access. The bill would have the effect of increasing the amount available to charters to guarantee bonds using the PSF, which would increase access to better interest rates.

HB 1269 by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would allow a charter school to be eligible for supplemental funding if its students perform better than the state average college readiness standard as measured by test performance. The supplemental funding would be capped by the maximum amount received by nearby districts. Participating charters would be prohibited from expelling students in most cases and would be required to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the local juvenile justice board to operate a juvenile justice alternative education program on behalf of the charter. Participating charters would also be allowed to contract with a local school board to operate a district campus, which would be immune to action by the commissioner against a failing campus for the first three years. The bill would also expand the scope of reporting for new charter schools to include superintendents, districts, and legislators within a three mile radius of proposed campus locations. Opponents pointed out that HB 1269 would increase facilities funding for charters without addressing charters’ existing advantage in maintenance and operation (M&O) funding provided by the state. According to the fiscal note, HB 1269 would cost the state $450 million through 2019. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 480 by state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) would allow the TEA commissioner to grant a charter for prekindergarten-only programs. These programs would be exempt from the annual charter cap. The cap limit beginning September 1, 2017, is 270 charters. According to the fiscal note, the cost of providing half-day pre-K to an additional 5,000 students would cost the state roughly $39.7 million over the next two years. TEA staff explained many existing private pre-K providers would likely opt to become charters instead.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. While ATPE supports efforts to expand pre-K, Exter identified a number of concerns. If charters are limited to only serving the students who qualify for the funding they receive, they may be set up to fail. Additionally, if providers receive a subsidy for half-day pre-K and are allowed to “upcharge” for the remainder of the day, the program could begin to resemble a pre-K voucher. Finally, certain accountability factors – such as teacher certification requirements – don’t apply to charter schools, and that has been a point of contention about public-private partnerships to provide pre-K in the past.

HB 1560 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE). This bill would not change the law in any material way.

Concluding Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Huberty indicated the committee will consider legislation related to special education and health and safety next week.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 24, 2017

It’s time for our weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE’s Governmental Relations team:


This week the Senate Education Committee approved a sweeping voucher bill that would provide corporate tax credits to help fund private education and allow parents to receive public tax dollars to be used for private or home school expenses. Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature to pass.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Senate Education Committee

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying

On Tuesday, March 21, the committee spent 10 hours listening to witnesses on both sides of the voucher debate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against SB 3. Read more about the hearing and our testimony in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. The SB 3 hearing had originally been scheduled for the previous week during which many public school educators and students would have been on spring break. Fearing that a larger contingency of pro-public education witnesses would come to the hearing to testify against SB 3, the hearing was postponed to this Tuesday instead.

The Senate Education Committee met again Thursday, March 23, to vote on pending bills, including SB 3. Chairman Taylor shared a new committee substitute version of the bill, which modified the language in an effort to reduce the bill’s massive fiscal note. The new version tightens up qualifications for some providers of education services such as tutoring that could be funded via the bill; removes automatic funding increases for the corporate tax credits, and changes the Education Savings Account (ESA) program to give parents access to an online payment portal instead of a debit card. While the switch to an online portal could make it less likely for parents to use ESA funds for illegitimate purposes, it also creates a potential new hurdle for rural or low-income parents with limited internet access. The committee voted to send the new substitute version of SB 3 to the full Senate by a vote of 7 to 3.

Sens. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Royce West (D-Dallas), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) voted against SB 3 after expressing concerns about the voucher bill. Sen. West pressed representatives of the Legislative Budget Board for details on the bill’s negative fiscal impact to the state. Sen. Seliger observed that SB 3 would most likely have the largest fiscal note of any bill approved by a Senate committee other than the Finance committee, which hears budget bills. Seliger went on to raise alarms about the lack of accountability provisions for private entities that would benefit from the voucher money and the likelihood that SB 3 would lead to state funds being spent on indoctrinating students through religious institutions.

The only Democrat on the committee who voted for SB 3 was the vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville). He was joined by Chairman Taylor and Sens. Van Taylor (R-Plano), Bob Hall (R-Canton), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) was not present during the committee’s vote.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchers

It is not clear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to bring SB 3 up for a floor vote in the near future, which requires three-fifths of senators present to agree to hear the bill. We encourage ATPE members to keep contacting their senators about opposing SB 3 and other bad bills such as the legislation to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction. Find sample messages and other communication tools at Advocacy Central.

Related: Other bills getting a favorable vote from the Senate Education Committee yesterday were SB 579 by Sen. Van Taylor regarding the use of epi-pens in private schools, SB 826 by Chairman Larry Taylor dealing with the sequencing of high school math and English courses, and a committee substitute to SB 490 by Sen. Lucio that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus.

 


While the Senate Education Committee devoted its attention this week almost entirely to the private school voucher bill, the House Public Education Committee and its Subcommittee on Educator Quality heard a number of bills this week dealing with issues such as testing and accountability,  educator misconduct, and improving school finance.

Wiggins_3-20-17_testimony

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying

First, the subcommittee met on Monday, March 20, to hear bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the benefits of mentoring for new teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified at the hearing and penned a blog post this week summarizing the discussions. The subcommittee will meet again on Monday, March 27, to hear additional bills on educator misconduct, including SB 7 that has already passed the Senate.

On Tuesday, March 21, the full House Public Education Committee conducted a hearing that was almost as long as the Senate’s voucher hearing, but the House committee discussed some two dozen bills, most relating to state standardized testing and how schools are rated under our accountability system. Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 22 was the most high-profile bill heard, and ATPE testified for the bill. Check out this blog post from Mark Wiggins for complete details on the hearing, including a list of smaller bills that were voted out favorably.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is turning its attention to charter schools with a hearing Tuesday, March 28, mostly on bills pertaining to funding, facilities, and authorization of charters. The committee will also hear additional testimony on Chairman Huberty’s school finance reform bill, HB 21, for which a committee substitute is expected to be released next week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for updates.

 


Save Texas Schools rally 2017Tomorrow, March 25, is the Save Texas Schools rally at the Texas State Capitol. Supporters of public education are encouraged to attend the event that starts at 10 a.m. and will feature appearances by legislators, remarks by Superintendent John Kuhn who also spoke during ATPE at the Capitol, and student performances. Visit savetxschools.org for more information.

 


This week the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved SB 1, the state budget bill. The full Senate is expected to debate the budget on the floor next Tuesday. For details on the Senate’s proposal for funding state services during the next two years, read this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelIn national news this week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark ruling in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which focused attention on how school districts must accommodate students with disabilities under federal law. The lawsuit was brought by the family of a student with autism who felt that the public school’s individualized education program (IEP) did not meet the student’s needs and wanted funding for private education instead. At issue was the extent to which an IEP must produce educational benefits for the student in order for the school district to be considered compliant with the law.

The unanimous SCOTUS ruling is expected to spur school districts to do more for students with disabilities, but the decision was also newsworthy because of the fact that it overturns prior lower court rulings, including one 10th Circuit appellate decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, now going through U.S. Senate confirmation for a seat on the nation’s highest court.

ATPE will have more on the ruling and what it means for special education programs in public schools next week on our blog.

 


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