Tag Archives: Commissioner of Education

A-F fix takes center stage in House Public Education

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider more than two dozen bills. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing with more discussion of House Bill (HB) 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to the public school system. Huberty announced that the much-anticipated committee substitute should be posted this week.

The committee heard extensive testimony over the last two weeks regarding how to structure $200 million allocated for hardship grants to ease the burden primarily on schools facing the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. Huberty indicated $125 million would be allocated the first year, and $75 million the second year. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the subcommittee on Educator Quality, explained districts taxing at the max level will get larger prorated grants under the program. Grants could be no larger than the actual amount of the lost ASATR funding, or exceed ten percent of the overall grant.

Huberty added that House budget writers have identified $250 million of additional funds to bring the overall price tag of HB 21 to $1.9 billion. The chairman suggested those funds could be focused toward CTE, computer technology and bilingual education. Huberty concluded by stating his intention to finalize committee substitute language this week and hold a vote on the bill next week. ATPE continues to support HB 21 as an important step toward larger reform of the school finance system.

HB 1776 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees public education funding, would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine. Ashby argued the current U.S. history end-of-course exam is overly burdensome both for students and teachers. According to the fiscal note, the change would save an estimated $2 million through the biennium ending in August 2019.

HB 22 is Chairman Huberty’s answer to addressing some of the unintended consequences of the “A through F” accountability system. In short, the legislation would collapse the number of domains from five to three and eliminate the overall letter grade for schools and districts. The bill would also add a wide variety of additional performance indicators intended to decrease the reliance on standardized test data, and draw distinctions between “D” and “F” ratings – with particular regard to the accompanying accountability triggers.

Calling the system “flawed,” Huberty suggested HB 22 would move the emphasis away from standardized tests and factors influenced heavily by economic disparities. The bill is the product of collaboration between committee members, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath and school administrators. The fiscal note estimates HB 22 would cost $4.5 million over the next biennium, and $3.5 million the following biennium.

The legislation would further delay implementation by another school year. Commissioner Morath told the committee that the legislation fixes “unintended mathematical consequences,” and said the additional time is needed to model changes and write new rules. Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that letter grades fail to adequately capture performance, and were never intended to be part of the five-domain accountability system created by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Responding to concern raised by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) over the elimination of the overall grade, Huberty said “A through F” came with numerous problems. The scheme replaces the current pass/fail accountability system, under which 94 percent of schools are listed as meeting performance expectations. Under “A through F,” many schools and districts received poor grades despite being recognized by the state for outstanding performance during the same year.

“I’m tired of listening to rhetoric about our failing schools,” said Huberty, who suggested lawmakers should focus instead on finding and fixing issues leading to problems. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) agreed “A through F” doesn’t provide a “true picture” of what’s happening within public schools and local communities, and praised the bill as an important step toward improvement.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 22, pointing out that several states have recently repealed “A through F” systems over the same concerns. While grateful for the inclusion of a teacher quality component, ATPE advocated for ensuring value-added metrics (VAM) are not used for teacher quality measurement. ATPE also advocated for a statutory requirement that the commissioner include a panel of stakeholders, including parents and campus-level educators, in the rulemaking and implementation process. Additionally, ATPE advocated for adding a layer of simplistic language that is more descriptive than a single letter, and which would let parents know what each rating is telling them about their particular school.

Acknowledging the need to fix the shortcomings of “A through F,” Huberty told the committee, “We cannot go home without getting this done.” The chairman encouraged interested parties to continue to engage on HB 22, with a goal of finalizing a committee substitute before next week’s hearing.

HB 1336 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law. Leach pointed out policymakers don’t know how much the state is asking local districts to spend indirectly in order to administer tests. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 145 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of “A through F.” Supporters of HB 145 argue that empirical methods should be used to assess the differences in achievement for African-American males as a demographic group, with the goal of closing performance gaps and ending the reliance on anecdotal information. The fiscal note anticipates a cost of $273,000 the first year and $257,000 each subsequent year for the employment of two additional TEA positions to track the data.

HB 61 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system. Guillen argued the bill would give districts an incentive to encourage special education students to advance.

HB 79 by Rep. Guillen would eliminate the cap the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments, as opposed to standard assessments. The bill would further prohibit using the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments for performance, compliance or accountability purposes. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1500 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1057 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1174 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 988 and HB 989 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create a pilot program to develop a portfolio method to assess student performance. HB 988 would create a program for grades three through eight and HB 989 would create a program for high school students. González explained balancing standardized test results with holistic measures would yield a much more useful and accurate picture of student performance. ATPE supports both of these bills.

HB 1650 by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) would allow a student who passes a dual credit course on U.S. history to skip the U.S. history end-of-course exam. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 795 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would require a committee appointed by the education commissioner to review any challenge to academic or financial accountability ratings raised by a school district or charter school, regardless of the issue. A successful challenge raised under this legislation would allow charter schools facing charter revocation due to unacceptable academic or financial accountability ratings to stop the clock on the proceedings under the current “three strikes” law.

HB 1993 by state Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) would require the education commissioner to adopt procedures to identify nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instruments as additional alternative assessment instruments that may be used to evaluate student achievement under “A through F.” The bill would further require the commissioner to apply for federal waivers to allow for multiple instruments for assessing students in the same grade. According to the fiscal note, HB 1993 would cost the state an additional $1.6 million per year.

HB 3607 by Rep. King would eliminate end-of-course exams for high school students. It would also require the commissioner to identify a procedure for districts to select the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) or a nationally recognized norm-referenced exam, such as the SAT or ACT, as the assessment instrument to be administered to students in grade 11. According to the fiscal note, HB 3607 would save the state $2.5 million per year.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. Acknowledging the laudable goal of reducing high-stakes testing, Exter noted that norm-referenced tests are not appropriate for accountability purposes because they are designed so that results will fall along a bell curve. ATPE warned against allowing districts to use multiple assessment instruments. Currently, the only benefit of a statewide testing system is data comparability, which is lost when districts use different tests. ATPE also advocated for educators to have a stronger role helping vet out test deficiencies at the agency level.

HB 1731 by Rep. King (R-Canadian) would exclude students who leave a residential treatment facility and fail to enroll in a nearby school from the calculation of those schools’ dropout rates, provided those students would not otherwise be enrolled there. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 515 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would eliminate writing and social studies assessments and require only end-of-course assessments in reading, math and science as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writing assessment has long been criticized, and VanDeaver argued HB 515 could help reduce overtesting. Agency staff suggested that eliminating writing assessments could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal guidelines, which could potentially result in a financial penalty. Staff suggested the conflict might be ameliorated by removing writing from the state’s English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) guidelines. The fiscal note estimates HB 515 would save the state $23 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2263 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would no longer require campus intervention teams to continue to work with “improvement required” campuses until two years after performance standards are met. Agency staff testified that the process was “resource intensive, without providing much feedback.” Staff suggested that resources may be better spent at the front end of the intervention process, and districts would be able to determine whether additional help is needed to keep campuses from regressing.

HB 3828 by Chairman Huberty would adjust the triggers for commissioner action for failing schools to include those “rated unacceptable” and confine criteria to the “school progress” domain of the “A through F” system. The bill would modify the commissioner’s power to oversee turnaround plans and curtail the commissioner’s power to manage failing districts and require district workshops. Importantly, the bill requires a written turnaround plan with the agency and clear guidelines for implementation. After listening to public testimony, Huberty committed to work on a committee substitute for future consideration.

HB 789 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would allow Highland Park ISD to modify the cut score for an examination for acceleration, placing the limit at 90 percent, rather than 80 percent. Meyer explained that some students who passed with an 80 percent score struggled after advancing.

HB 546 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would also limit state-required assessment instruments to assessments required by federal law. The fiscal note estimates a $2.9 million savings over the biennium. Noting that the language of HB 546 is wholly contained within HB 515 by Rep. VanDeaver, Rep. Deshotel pulled his bill from consideration in favor of supporting HB 515. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 657 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARC) committee of a student who participates in special education to promote a special education student to the next grade level after failing an assessment just once, provided that the committee determines the student has made significant progress in the measurable academic goals contained in the student’s individualized education program. Bernal explained that the passing rate for special education students on state assessments is roughly 30 percent, and scores usually do not improve after the third administration. Rather than subjecting students to multiple unnecessary examinations, Bernal argued parents and educators should be allowed flexibility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3104 by Rep. VanDeaver would require the TEA to adopt or develop exams in English Language Arts (ELA) for grades four and seven and at the end of English I and English II, instead of writing. The bill’s committee substitute would create a one-year pilot program to allow districts and charter schools to choose their own assessment instruments for writing and required to report their results. The fiscal note anticipates HB 3104 would save the state $7.5 million each year.

After listening to testimony on HB 3104, Chairman Huberty briefly paused to read a message from his son’s English teacher pointing out that the STAAR end-of-course assessment is approaching next week. The teacher reported students are stressed, even with her words of encouragement. Regardless of the test results, the teacher said, she’s proud at work they’ve done.

“The teachers are trying, but we’re not arming them with the ability to do their jobs,” Huberty concluded.

HB 3075 by Chairman Huberty would exclude students detained in a juvenile detention facility and educated by a public charter school from the computation of dropout and completion rates for charter school accountability purposes. Huberty explained public schools are already exempt, and HB 3075 would allow the same rule to apply to charters.

All of the above bills were left pending. The committee voted out a number of previously heard bills during a break in Tuesday’s testimony. Members unanimously approved the following:

  • HB 1645, which would allow students to get a varsity letter for participating in the Special Olympics.
  • HB 728, which would create an advanced computer science course to satisfy the third math or science credit.
  • HB 367, which would allow schools to assign a nonprofit to distribute leftover food to hungry students.
  • HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • HB 1270, which would allow excused absences for students to visit a military recruiting facility in the same way they are currently allowed to visit a college or university.
  • HB 264, which would update the information and public outreach materials for HB 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and extend the time period required for reporting.
  • HB 136, which would add CTE and workforce training to the mission of public education.
  • HB 357, which would allow the children of first responders eligible for Star of Texas awards to receive free prekindergarten services.

Those bills will next head to the Calendars Committee to await a date for consideration before the full Texas House of Representatives. Before adjourning, Huberty referred the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality: HB 1799, HB 1869, HB 1918, HB 2209, HB 3769 and SB 7.

Huberty reiterated his intent to vote on a substitute for HB 21 next week. The next meeting will feature a variety of bills, including more legislation affecting charter schools.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 3, 2017

ATPE members are heading to Austin this weekend to advocate for their profession. Here’s a look at the current climate for education policy and politics in Texas:


With voucher interest on the rise in Washington, DC, all signs point to public opinion in Texas being mixed, at best, about the idea of privatizing education. More Texans seems to have insurmountable concerns about using public tax dollars to fund private or home schools, whether the objection is the lack of accountability on the part of those entities, the belief that public schools will suffer from a reduction in their funding, or the fear that vouchers will lead to government intrusion into private institutions that have not historically had to worry about being regulated.

This week on our blog, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared information about two voucher bills filed at the federal level. Both the proposed “Choices in Education Act of 2017” (H.R. 610) and the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or CHOICE Act (S. 235) have members of the Texas congressional delegation as cosponsors. Also, President Trump has voiced clear support for funding vouchers at the federal level.

Kuhlmann and Sampley at Tribune 02-28-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann and Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley attended Tuesday’s Texas Tribune interview with Rep. Dan Huberty.

In Texas, however, the outlook for vouchers is darker. On Tuesday, ATPE helped sponsor the Texas Tribune‘s interview with Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Asked about the likelihood of voucher bills being considered this session, Huberty expressed his belief that vouchers are a dead issue on the House side, as noted in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. (Click here for video of the exchange between Huberty and the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.)

Huberty’s remark drew ire from supporters of the so-called “school choice” legislation that both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have prioritized this session. Pro-voucher groups like Texans for Education Opportunity have been using robo-calls and letters to try to urge House members to take a vote this session on vouchers, and now they are hoping to convince the state’s Republican Party to discipline Chairman Huberty over his anti-voucher sentiments.

Also this week, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) held a press conference with a gaggle of other state representatives to tout his House Bill 1335 that would fund vouchers for at-risk students or those with special needs through an Education Savings Account (ESA). That bill has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which Huberty chairs.

The voucher debate is one of several high-profile education issues being discussed today during another event hosted by the Texas Tribune. In Houston, both Chairman Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) are participating in “A Symposium on Public Education,” where their differing views on vouchers are being showcased. Huberty and Taylor will have a chance to debate the issue again on Sunday when the two of them will sit on a panel of legislative leaders speaking during ATPE at the Capitol.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for an update.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The agenda includes a discussion of the possibility of adding a new certificate for teachers of early childhood education. As we reported on our blog recently, the Texas Education Agency solicited input from stakeholders about the idea and will share the results of those surveys at today’s meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there and will have a detailed report for our blog after today’s SBEC meeting.

 


On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee conducted an initial hearing on school finance. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote a summary of the hearing, which featured invited testimony from panelists representing several school districts. The committee will be meeting again next Tuesday, March 7, to hear a handful of bills pertaining to school funding mechanisms. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has also announced that he will introduce a new school finance bill on Monday. Huberty and Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee report that they are working together to craft some ideas for improving the state’s school finance system, but they also concede that it will likely take multiple legislative sessions to solve the current problems.

 


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

This week, the Texas Senate Committee on Nominations had an opportunity to review the performance of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and State Board of Education (SBOE) chairwoman Donna Bahorich. Bachorich is an elected member of the SBOE but has been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the board’s chair. The commissioner is an appointed position.

Chairwoman Bahorich and Commissioner Morath both gave testimony before the Senate Nominations Committee yesterday in support of their respective confirmations. Both were fairly well received by the committee members.

Chairwoman Bahorich in particular, who has chaired the board through one of its least contentious periods in recent memory, received a warm reception with only short positive interactions from the senators and no opposition from public testifiers.

While receiving plenty of support from the committee members, Commissioner Morath drew tougher questions from multiple senators on the new A-F accountability system. Additionally, the commissioner drew much more criticism from the public on issues as diverse as special education, hiring decisions at the Texas Education Agency that he oversees, and his own qualifications and appointment process.

While both nominations were left pending in the committee, there is no indication that either appointee will face any serious opposition in the Senate to getting confirmed this session.

 


ATPE at the Capitol squreSunday and Monday, hundreds of ATPE members are traveling to Austin for ATPE at the Capitol, our biennial political involvement training and lobby day event. Sunday’s agenda includes networking opportunities and training sessions for ATPE members on legislative issues; an opening keynote presentation by Superintendent John Kuhn; and a panel discussion with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) to be moderated by TWC/Spectrum News host Karina Kling. On Monday, ATPE members will visit the Texas State Capitol for meetings with their legislators to discuss issues such as education funding, testing and accountability, privatization, healthcare, and anti-educator bills prohibiting payroll deduction for association dues.

 


 

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

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from ATPE:


Sen Ed Teacher MisconductThe Senate Education Committee met yesterday to look at two educator misconduct bills involving inappropriate relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified in support of the bills.

Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) and SB 653 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, an act sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” The bills would also require more ongoing education for educators on the subject, add reporting requirements for principals, require that schools develop an electronic communication policy, and further penalize associated misconduct.

In her testimony, Kuhlmann highlighted the importance of ongoing education, beginning in educator preparation programs and continuing throughout educators’ careers, and the work ATPE does to educate both future and active educators about maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships with students. While she reminded Senators that an extremely small percentage of educators in Texas account for such misconduct, she stated that ATPE knows one incident is too many and is committed to being a part of the solution.

Discussion during the hearing did raise the need for some additional clarity with regard to certain language in the bill. For more, watch an archived recording of the hearing here.

 


HPE02-21-17The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the session on Tuesday, taking invited testimony only. The committee announced plans for upcoming hearings on school finance, to be followed by an examination of accountability, including the controversial “A through F” labeling system that was adopted last session for campuses. Read more about Tuesday’s hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Girl showing bank notesATPE weighed in this week on discussions for education-related items in the state budget. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Article III Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Monday. In addition to school finance and the need to fund pre-Kindergarten programs, Exter also discuss the looming problem of healthcare affordability for education employees. The Teacher Retirement System board of trustees is also gathering this week to discuss similar issues. Read more in Exter’s most recent blog post for Teach the Vote.

 


FU5A8792_SB13hearing-crop1The fight to protect educators’ voices continues at the Texas Capitol, where ATPE continues to monitor two anti-teacher bills that would restrict educators’ control over their own paychecks while protecting other groups of public employees.

After forceful testimony in opposition by ATPE members, the Senate State Affairs Committee nonetheless advanced Senate Bill 13 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) last week by a vote that split along party lines. Sens. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined Huffman voting in favor of the bill. Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who expressed concern earlier in the week over the bill’s unequal treatment of educators, was absent for health reasons and unable to vote. Due to Senate rules, the earliest SB 13 is likely to be heard on the Senate floor is March 10.

On the other side of the Capitol, the companion House Bill 510 by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) was referred to the House State Affairs Committee, where the payroll deduction bill was unable to gain the traction needed to advance last session. No hearings have been scheduled so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is critical that ATPE members continue to contact your legislators through Advocacy Central and voice your opposition to both SB 13 and HB 510. The best way to fight these teacher-bashing bills is to join us March 5 and 6 for ATPE at the Capitol Day and visit your legislators in person!

 


Today is the last day to submit input to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. For more information and historical context on the topic, revisit ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here. The survey can be accessed here.

 


Next week, stay tuned to Teach the Vote for the latest updates from the 85th legislative session, as well as the upcoming March 3 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will also have an article about new efforts at the federal level to fund private school vouchers. We’re also gearing up for our lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on March 5-6, 2017. ATPE members can find the complete schedule and updates on the event here.

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House committee hears from ATPE, others on education funding challenges

Dollar fanThe House Appropriations committee began meetings this week for its subcommittees assigned to work on various parts of the Texas state budget. This includes the Article III Subcommittee, which covers education funding and began taking testimony on Monday, Feb. 20. The subcommittee’s first day agenda involved looking at funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), including the Foundation School Program; the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including both pension and health insurance funds; the state schools for the visually impaired and the deaf, the Windham School District; and community and junior colleges.

After the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the budget documents on TEA and the Foundation School Program, the committee heard from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath began by thanking the committee and restating his dedication to the goal of improving student outcomes for all students. The commissioner then laid out his agency’s priorities beginning with ensuring and improving teacher quality as the “most important in-school factor” in a student’s education outcomes. Next, Morath addressed the agency’s second key priority to promote a strong foundation in reading and math, and spoke about the affect of achieving this goal on closing the achievement grant. To facilitate this goal, the commissioner talked about continuing to push for expanding high quality pre-K. He also promoted TEA’s goal to scale the math innovation zones program statewide. The agency’s third priority is to connect K-12 education to higher education and career opportunities. The next priority is to improve struggling schools, Morath explained. He reported that TEA is working to do this through systemic system-wide improvements. In addition to budget items tied to the agency’s larger priorities, Morath also addressed specific targeted budget requests like funding the E-rate match to complete the build-out of statewide broadband access.

Early Childhood EducationThe Commissioner was well received by the subcommittee. The majority of questions to the commissioner from committee members tended to focus on supporting pre-K. In responding to an offshoot of this questioning, the commissioner indicated that the State Board for Educator Certification will likely institute a new certificate for grades EC-3 that would be more focused on early childhood education.

Later in the hearing, the committee heard from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Guthrie gave brief remarks about the overall performance of the TRS trust fund before turning to the more pressing issue of the billion dollar shortfall in the TRS-Care fund. He impressed upon the committee that TRS has done everything it can do internally to control costs without legislative action. On TRS-Care the plan laid out to the House budget committee would include a “shared pain” approach where the state would cover half of the cost of the shortfall, retirees would cover 25 percent of the costs, and districts and active teachers would each cover 12.5 percent of the cost. While this plan is more generous than what has already been laid out in the Senate, it still puts additional pressure on active teachers, many of whom are drowning in the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Additionally, the strategy laid out did not contemplate changing the state paid formula for TRS-Care, which is currently set at 1 percent of payroll for all school districts statewide. The TRS board of directors is also meeting this week.

After hearing from LBB and invited witnesses, the Article III subcommittee took public testimony, including testimony from ATPE. Our testimony focused on the need to address active teacher health care costs through additional state funding, not just a denigration of benefits; the benefits of closing the education gap early in a student’s career thorough pre-K; and finally the need to address equity through more appropriately funding students based on their needs, individually and at the campus level.

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

HPE02-21-17

The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.

 

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 6, 2017

Happy New Year! The year 2017 has kicked off with several prominent news stories affecting public education:

 


Mark on camera

The Texas Education Agency released today an informational report containing preliminary “A through F” ratings for school campuses and districts. The legislatively mandated report is meant to give a preview of what types of grades schools would receive under a newly adopted accountability system that is set to take effect next school year, and the results are not encouraging. ATPE opposed the move to the A-F system when lawmakers adopted it last session, and now the harsh realities of the new rating system are causing many school districts to call for a repeal of the law. Read more about ATPE’s position on A-F in today’s blog post and also check out this quick video from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on the ATPE Facebook page.

Related: As previously reported on our Teach the Vote blog, a change has been proposed to commissioner’s rules that would dramatically accelerate a jump in the cut scores associated with STAAR tests. The current rule allows for a more gradual increase in the performance standards, but that would change under the proposed revision. Advocates who are already dubious of the negative impacts those tests can have on students, campuses, and the perceptions of public schools in general have requested a public hearing to share their concerns over the impact of drastically increasing the cut scores with the commissioner and Texas Education Agency (TEA). The hearing will take place starting at 1:30 p.m. on January 13, 2017, in Room 1-111, William B. Travis Building, 1701 North Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701. Stakeholders with concerns about the proposed rule are welcome to attend and provide input at the public hearing or submit written comments on the proposed revision via e-mail to TEA. The deadline for written comments, however, is Monday, Jan. 9.

 


Austin, Texas

Tuesday, Jan. 10, marks the opening of the 85th Texas legislative session. A number of education-related bills have already been pre-filed, including some that are alarming. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has designated private school vouchers among his top three legislative priorities for 2017, and he recently praised the filing of bills to eliminate educators’ access to payroll deduction for their voluntary dues paid to professional associations. ATPE is urging our members to use our online resources at Advocacy Central on ATPE.org to follow these bills throughout the session and send messages to their lawmakers opposing them. A school voucher bill to be designated Senate Bill 3 had not yet been filed as of the publication of this blog post. Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 510 banning payroll deduction for educators have been filed and are showcased on Advocacy Central.

The legislation to eliminate payroll deduction and privatize education can be viewed as part of a larger effort to devalue the education profession and public schools in general. Add to that the ongoing fights over school funding and recent legislative changes that require schools to receive controversial “A through F” accountability grades based largely on student test scores, and it’s easy to see why many people consider public education to be under attack. This session, more than ever, it’s important for pro-public education stakeholders to make their voices heard and drown out the divisive rhetoric about “failing” public schools and unfounded claims of misspent taxpayer resources.

Learn more about ATPE’s legislative priorities for the 85th Legislature here and here.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the results of a survey it conducted during the latter part of last year. The survey asked parents, educators, students, and the general public to weigh in on how they’d like to see the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), implemented in Texas. Respondents were asked to provide input on five general topics, including teacher equity, school quality, and college and career readiness. Just over 29,000 respondents from across the state provided input. Learn more about the survey results in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Related: The U.S. Education Department (ED) released three new guidance documents today that aim to help states as they implement ESSA. The documents cover guidelines for state plan development, report cards, and graduation rates. As ATPE’s federal lobby team reports: “The guidance reminds state officials about conducting outreach to key groups and stakeholders (including the governor, state lawmakers, institutions of higher education, and additional education representatives) as they work to develop the state plan. Details on this outreach should also be incorporated into the state plan submission to the Department. The guidance also reminds states that when incorporating new measures of school quality or student success that research should show how that measure increases student learning.”

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members are reminded to register to attend ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event. Taking place in Austin on March 5-6, 2017, this event gives educators an opportunity to learn about high-profile issues being debated at the capitol this session and meet with their own legislators to share concerns and input. The deadline to register is Feb. 3. Find complete details over at Advocacy Central on the ATPE website. (Member login is required to register for the event.)

 


 

Texas gets a sneak peek at new A-F campus accountability grades

skd282694sdcToday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) rolled out its long-anticipated list of preliminary ratings under the “A through F” accountability system set to grade schools and districts beginning in the 2017-18 school year. After the passage of House Bill 2804 last session, the current accountability system that rates schools and districts as either “met standard” or “needs improvement” will be replaced by one that assigns letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F across five domains and appoints an overall score. The letter grades released today for campuses across Texas are intended to provide a preview of how schools might fare under the new system once it is fully implemented next year. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath issued a press release today calling this week’s preliminary grade report a “work-in-progress.”

Under the new accountability system, the domains of Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing Performance Gaps are all based on STAAR test results and account for 55 percent of a school’s or district’s overall grade. The fourth domain, Postsecondary Readiness, will be based on sets of criteria, such as chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, that vary by grade level. Schools and districts will be allowed to grade themselves in the fifth domain of Community and Student Engagement. The cumulative results of all five domains will be used for the purpose of designating an overall letter grade.

We know students’ standardized test scores are being used inappropriately for many high-stakes purposes, and this kicks things up to a whole new level. It obscures and oversimplifies the multitude of things that go into judging how a school is doing. It relies too much on flawed tests – and the kids end up having to bear the stigma of failure.

The numbers provided by TEA accompanying the preliminary grades show economically disadvantaged campuses are likely to fare the worst under this system by far. Under the “what if” campus grades shared this week, 89 percent of schools serving fewer than 20 percent economically disadvantaged students scored an “A” or “B” in the first domain, while 57 percent of schools with the poorest student bodies scored a “D” or “F.” While schools serving the most affluent populations don’t perform as well in domain two, which measures growth, they still outperform schools serving the least privileged students with only an 8 percent D or F rating compared to a 39 percent D or F rating. So with all their other challenges, systemically underfunded schools serving the state’s most challenging populations get to be stigmatized as well under the system that will be put in place next year.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeHow will that help those students perform better, or those schools attract the high-caliber teachers they need? The political environment here can’t be overlooked.

According to actual accountability ratings released in August 2016, 94 percent of Texas schools earned the “met standard” designation. That tells us what we already know: The vast majority of Texas schools are performing well. Yet under the new system being previewed this week, more than half of Texas schools in each domain scored a C, D, or F. Suddenly, we have a metric that seems to black the eyes of established well-performing schools – just days before we head into a legislative session in which voucher proponents will try to sell voters on the myth that our schools are failing.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia state government recently overturned that state’s A through F system. The bill’s author, a Republican who initially voted for the system, acknowledged the stigmatization of schools as a reason for upending the law. He also said the system would make it hard for schools to recruit teachers, among other things.

On Thursday, state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed House Bill 843, which would repeal A through F and replace it with the labels Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Needs Improvement.

“There is a dangerous domino effect here — the failing label causes stigmatization and punitive action to schools and their community, which does nothing to promote improvement,” Rep. González said in a press release Friday. “This harmful effect makes repealing A-F urgent and necessary.”

ATPE supports a robust accountability system that gives parents meaningful and unambiguous information, avoids too much reliance on flawed standardized tests, and takes into consideration important factors such as funding inequities and the importance of having well-trained, certified teachers. We strongly opposed the move to “A through F” grades when it was proposed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 and even suggested alternative scoring rubrics and report cards for campuses, which lawmakers unfortunately declined to consider at the time.

Our hope is that the release of these “informational” campus accountability grades this week, however hypothetical they are intended to be, will eventually serve as a wake-up call for the need to enact meaningful testing and accountability reforms that will support rather than penalize the hardworking students and staff in our Texas public schools.

TEA releases results of ESSA public survey

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the results of a survey the agency conducted to collect public input on the state’s plan to implement the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA). Recognizing that the new law returns some decisionmaking to states when it comes to federal education policy, Commissioner Morath and TEA turned to parents, educators, taxpayers, and other public education stakeholders in Texas to gather required input on a handful of issues the state will have the opportunity to address.

The survey gathered information on five main topics, including how Texas should measure school quality or school success, support the educational success of students with varying backgrounds, increase student access to effective educators, prepare students for college and career, and support struggling schools. For each question, respondents were offered multiple options and asked to rank their top three choices.

  • In order to measure school quality or success, respondents chose career and technical training, student engagement, and school climate and safety as the top three gauges.
  • The top strategy chosen by respondents to equalize and grow access to high-quality teachers and principals was increasing teachers’ salaries. Ensuring school leaders have the flexibility to staff their schools based on the specific needs of their students and communities, and ensuring that teacher preparation programs focus on the skills and practices most linked to student achievement followed.
  • To ensure a quality education for all students, focusing resources on learning in early grade levels, providing high-quality teacher training and supports, and highlighting best practices that have increased student outcomes rose to the top of the list.
  • To improve struggling schools, respondents felt the following were the best approaches: provide more funding and resources for curricular materials, such as technology; offer incentives for excellent teachers to teach in those schools; and provide more funding and resources for wrap-around services like health care services, behavioral health services, or parent education offerings.
  • Critical thinking and development of interpersonal skills were respondents’ choices for the knowledge and skills students need in order to be prepared for college and career.

About 22,500 stakeholders completed the survey with an additional almost 7,000 beginning it but not completing. Of the 29,500 respondents, just under 12,500 identified themselves as public school teachers. Parents or guardians of public schoolchildren made up the second highest percentage of respondents, with just over 10,000 of them providing input. More than 3,500 administrators responded and a little over 1,000 students offered their perspectives. Results came in from regions all over the state, but the prairies and lakes, gulf coast, and south Texas plains regions provided the highest percentage of respondents.

The full results of the survey published by TEA can be found here and the Agency’s press release on the survey results is here.

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

The ATPE state office will be closed for the holidays until Jan. 2, 2017. We appreciate your reading our blog and look forward to sharing more education news with you in the new year. Here are highlights of this week’s big education news:


Today, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) pre-filed Senate Bill (SB) 13 to prohibit educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary membership dues paid to professional associations. Lieutenant governor Dan Patrick (R) immediately issued a press statement praising the legislation, which represents one of his top 20 priorities for the 85th legislative session starting in January. Patrick wrote, “It is clearly not the role of government to collect union dues, and certainly not at taxpayer expense. I commend Sen. Huffman for filing SB 13 – one of my top priorities, which will ensure taxpayer funds are not used to support the collection of union dues.” A similar bill has already bill filed by Rep. Sarah Davis, as we reported on our blog last week.

ATPE, through Executive Director Gary Godsey, was quick to respond today to the lieutenant governor’s mischaracterization of the current law on payroll deduction, issuing its own press statement. Educators’ use of this safe and convenient payment method does not result in any expense to school districts or taxpayers. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter further explained the law as follows: Because school district payroll offices are already set up to use payroll deduction to send payments to a number of charitable and for profit entities, and they will continue to do so even under SB 13’s proposed language, there is essentially no additional cost associated with the use of payroll deductions for professional associations like ATPE. Even if there were a hypothetical cost, school districts are already authorized to recoup those costs from the associations that receive the payments deducted from employees’ paychecks. It’s worth nothing, also, that those payments of association dues are always made with the employee’s consent as forced unionism does not exist in Texas.

ATPE has been urging its members to reach out to lawmakers and educate them on the realities of payroll deduction and the peace of mind it gives to school employees. ATPE members can visit our Advocacy Central on atpe.org to view additional information and send messages to their lawmakers.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is rolling out two significant accountability related actions over the holiday break. First, Commissioner Morath has posted proposed commissioner’s rules that dramatically alter the cut scores associated with the STAAR testing regime. The agency is replacing the current proficiency labels with new labels: did not meet grade level, approaches grade level, meets grade level, masters grade level. More significantly, the proposal replaces the gradual increase in cut scores that was set to top out at the final level 2 cut scores in the 2021-22 school year with a system that implements the final level 2 and level 3 cut scores this year. The proposed rule can be found here. For comparison, the current cut score tables can be found here and here, and the proposed tables here and here. The public comment period on these rules began on December 9 and runs through January 9. A public hearing may be requested by December 23. If a hearing is requested it would likely be scheduled to occur in January.

skd282694sdcIn other accountability related news, the agency is releasing mock campus and district accountability results under the new A-F accountability system. Grades will be released to legislators on December 30, to school districts on January 4, and finally made available to the public on TEA’s website on January 6. House bill 2804, the legislation which called for the pre-release of A-F ratings, only required the agency to release this test run to the legislature by January 1, 2017. According to the agency, “The ratings in this report will be based on development of the A–F system as of December 2016. Development of the new accountability system will continue—with additional input from stakeholders—until spring 2018, when the final rules are adopted.”

 


Watch our blog next week for a follow-up on a recent news program about private school vouchers. ATPE Monty Exter will explain why the newest voucher proposals – education savings account – don’t add up to a good deal for students.