Tag Archives: committees

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

Dan Patrick’s Texas Senate plows ahead

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

In a matter of days, the Texas Senate, under the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, plowed through Governor Greg Abbott’s special session priorities on education. The blitz began late last week and continued through the wee hours of this morning, when several more contentious education items were granted final approval. The pieces of legislation now head to the Texas House, where the lower chamber began work with a significantly different focus: on a meaningful approach to fixing the state’s broken school finance system and state-funded, sustainable options for increasing teacher pay and the state’s contributions to retirees.

The Senate worked until 2am this morning, passing a voucher proposal that was paired with needed funding for certain school districts and facilities funding for charter schools; a prohibition on educators’ ability to utilize payroll deduction to pay professional association dues; a teacher pay bonus bill that includes one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care; a “bathroom bill” that would dictate related local school policies; and not a fix, but another commission to study school finance. Here’s more:

SB 19: teacher bonus & TRS-Care

After spending a significant amount of time yesterday debating Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority legislation regarding the use of bathrooms in public schools, among other public spaces, the chamber moved on to several other pieces of legislation affecting public schools, students and educators. It started with its teacher pay bill, SB 19, authored by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The bill was originally marketed by its author and the Lt. Gov. as a teacher pay raise, but ATPE, among others, pushed back against that notion when it was heard in committee over the weekend.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in the Texas Senate.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter told members of the committee that educators appreciated two portions of the bill, the state-funded bonus for teachers and the needed one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care, but he expressed opposition to the piece termed a “teacher pay raise,” which wasn’t state-funded and required school districts to “re-prioritize” funding. ATPE State Secretary and Abilene educator Tonja Gray also testified on the bill in committee, telling members: “I don’t want a pay raise on the backs of my students.” She explained that in an environment where Texas schools are already underfunded, an unfunded mandate to provide teacher pay raises would result in cuts to valuable programs or educators.

When the bill hit the full Senate floor for debate, the empty pay raise portion was removed and the bill was passed out of the chamber with overwhelming support. Senator Nelson, as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Finance who writes and passes the state’s biennial budget, assured educators that she will prioritize a pay raise next session. ATPE looks forward to working with her to deliver on that promise to educators in 2019 as the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, and we will continue to fight on behalf of educators for a state-funded, sustainable, and meaningful pay raise. The House has its own versions of bills to address teacher pay and retiree benefits that are already on the move.

Related, the Senate also hosted a hearing over the weekend to consider proposals to fund a teacher pay raise in the next legislative session. ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to the proposals, saying that “ATPE believes the legislature should pivot its focus on teacher pay to developing plans for long-term investments that do not come out of existing money already dedicated to public schools.” Both proposals received initial skepticism and one was in the process of being written as it was heard in committee. Both were left pending in committee and may stay there since the Senate removed the unfunded pay raise from its teacher pay bill.

SB 7: prohibition on payroll deduction for educators

A mere hour after praising educators endlessly as senators worked to approve the teacher pay bill on the floor of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick turned the chamber’s attention to SB7, the bill by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) that selectively targets educators in an attempt to silence their collective voice. Unlike the teacher pay bill, which received no attention during the regular session, the bill to eliminate educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction to pay voluntary professional association dues has been a priority of the Lt. Gov. and Texas Senate for years now.

G3 testimony B&CDuring both the committee hearing and as the bill was debated on the floor of the full Senate, the discriminatory, purely political, and completely unnecessary nature of the bill was highlighted once again. ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey testified to the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce that educators feel “besieged, besmirched and really like they’re second class citizens.” Testifier after testifier pushed back against the proponents’  rhetoric about busting unions and glass claims about eliminating associated costs to government. Educators, police officers, fire fighters, and many other public servant employees showed up to prove that this bill isn’t wanted by anyone, aside from a couple of heavily funded special interest groups that have made it their top priority to silence educators, which they see as too effective at fighting harmful policies like vouchers.

During floor debate, more truths emerged. Senator Hughes shared Governor Abbott’s promise to veto any bill that includes first responders, a status of employment he and others deem superior to educators and other public servants like CPS workers and correctional officers. Amidst questioning on why the bill picks winners and losers, Senator Hughes finally admitted that some people “don’t like the advocacy of labor unions,” acknowledging that the bill is about silencing the advocacy efforts of the public employees targeted under the bill, which amounts primarily to educators. And as all involved continued to push back against the lie that payroll deduction for association dues costs the state, the bill author could only say that he wants to get the government out of the process for the targeted professions only.

Democratic members of the Senate offered amendments to exempt educators under the bill, broaden the definition of first responder to include educators, null the targeted prohibition until associated costs can be identified, delay the legislation’s enacting date to give the targeted labor organizations more time to adjust, and more, but Senator Hughes rejected them all and the bill remained unchanged. The bill passed the Senate with support from all Republicans, except for one, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). He joined the Democratic members of the Senate to stand with educators in opposition. During the regular session, a nearly identical bill was sent to the House where it received no attention during the regular session. The House version of that bill died in committee and the Senate bill never received a hearing once it made it over. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the special session version of this legislatio.

SB 2: special education voucher & certain school funding

NO VOUCHERSFirst up in the Senate was SB 2, the voucher bill authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Paired with the $10,000 voucher for special education students was continued ASATR funding for certain schools that stress the funding is necessary. The bill also contains $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a grant program termed the ”educational expense assistance program” for public school special education students to access up to $500.

The voucher portion of the bill is, this time, in the form of a “tax credit scholarship.” Certain entities could receive tax credits in return for contributions made to the voucher program. Students with special needs could then access vouchers to pay for private school tuition. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expressed ATPE’s concerns with the voucher portion of the proposal, saying that we should be focused on fixing things for special education students within public schools, rather than offering them money to go elsewhere. Tax credit scholarships, like all vouchers, are guilty of funneling public tax dollars out of the public school system. Offering tax credits to corporations will lower the general revenue Texas earns through taxes, and unless funds are raised elsewhere, cuts will have to be made in order to cover the deficit.

ATPE also encouraged legislators to take up the issues of ASATR and facilities funding independent of the politically charged voucher proposal. The Senate pressed ahead with the combined voucher and funding proposal, instead, and SB 2 passed the chamber 19-12. Two Republicans voted against the proposal, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and one Democrat supported the bill, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville). The bill heads to the House where the chamber took several overwhelming votes to reject vouchers during the regular session.

SB 16: commission to study school finance

The Senate also began with work on school finance, but unlike the House that is working on a bill to fix the system, the Senate bill would create a commission to further study school finance in Texas. SB16 is authored by Senator Larry Taylor, who filed a permanent fix supported by ATPE during the regular session. However, he chose not to advance that bill during the regular session, instead altering the House’s school finance bill by adding his voucher proposal. In the special session, he maintains that more studying of school finance should be done prior to passing a fix to the system. ATPE submitted written testimony that said it is time for legislators to act on school finance. We also encouraged the legislature to include educators on any commission that passes.

When SB 16 was debated on the Senate floor Monday, legislators agreed with our request to add an educator and amended the bill to include an active or retired educator to the commission. The chamber passed the legislation unanimously and sent it to the House where more extensive work to fix school finance is underway.

SB 3: bathrooms

The Senate chamber spent the better part of yesterday debating SB 3 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). After hours of testimony in committee and hours of debate on the Senate floor only days later, the Senate advanced the proposal, 21-10, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville), voting to advance the legislation. Speaker of the House Joe Straus has sided with business and school districts and made his feelings on the legislation fairly clear, saying he just doesn’t think it is needed legislation. The House offered a bathroom proposal limited to public schools that it was willing to advance during the regular session, but it did not receive the seal of approval from the Senate.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is important that members of the legislature hear from you on these issues deemed priorities by Governor Abbott. ATPE is encouraging all members to visit Advocacy Central to send a message to state legislators about these proposals as they continue to make their way through the process during the special session. Tell them to focus on meaningful pay and benefits for your profession and adequate school funding for your local schools. Let them know that vouchers and targeted prohibitions on payroll deductions for educators are distractions from the real issues faced by Texas public school children. You can also utilize the resource to thank your individual senators who voted with public education and educators!

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

We’re entering a busy weekend at the Texas Capitol, and here’s what you need to know from the ATPE lobby team:


 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

The Texas Senate is speeding through more than a dozen hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to the governor’s newly expanded special session call. This morning, the Senate Education Committee convened a hearing on Senate Bill 2, providing in part for private school vouchers for students with special needs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against the bill along with numerous other education advocates, parents, and even students.

The committee plans this afternoon to hear a second bill to create a commission to study school finance between now and the next regular session of the legislature. Also today, the Senate Committee on State Affairs has been hearing bills that would restrict school district policies on usage of bathrooms.

Additional hearings are scheduled for tomorrow and Sunday at which ATPE will be testifying. These include a hearing tomorrow on teacher pay and a Sunday afternoon hearing on bills to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association membership dues.

Read more about the hearings and ways you can share your voice with legislators by checking out yesterday’s blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings and follow us on Twitter for the very latest news.

 


Rally attendeesMore than a thousand educators braved the Texas heat on Monday to attend a rally at the State Capitol hosted by Texans for Public Education and co-sponsored by ATPE. Read highlights and view pictures from the rally in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and also check out ATPE’s extended coverage on Facebook and YouTube.

Another Capitol rally is scheduled for tomorrow. The March for Public Education, an event taking place in states around the country, begins at 11:10 a.m. in downtown Austin.

If you’ve been unable to make it to Austin for these rallies, you can still exercise your voice and help influence the decisions being made inside the Capitol. Take it from ATPE’s Ginger Franks, a former special education teacher and past state president of our association, who urged fellow educators to call their legislators about the bills being considered right now. “Please make the calls,” said Franks. “The rallies are great but we must also make the calls. The calls are a must if you want your voice heard!!”

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1

ATPE members can easily call, email, or post messages to their elected officials using our tools at Advocacy Central.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the launch of a new reading initiative called Texas Readers. The initiative offers professional development for teachers and additional tools for elementary schools to use in enhancing reading instruction for young students. “Reading will always be the foundation that determines success in the classroom for every child at every grade level,” wrote Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on his blog about the new project.

 


 

ATPE’s Wrap-Up of the 85th Legislature’s Regular Session

ATPE at the Capitol squreWhile navigating challenges both new and familiar, and with the support of our members, ATPE has continued to fight for the rights of educators, teachers, and parents and to fend off threats to public education in the great state of Texas. This year, many ATPE members took swift and decisive action to protect their rights by calling, writing, and visiting members of the legislature (on more than one occasion) to inform their elected officials of the issues most important to Texas educators.

The 85th Legislature’s regular session was long and arduous, but ATPE persisted in keeping public tax dollars out of private institutions—despite strong pushes from some lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, and outside lobbying groups to do the opposite. The Texas House leadership stood with ATPE, the vast of majority of parents, and the education community to fight vouchers and champion improvements to Texas’s school finance system. Both chambers engaged in meaningful conversations about improving school accountability and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing.

Despite the numerous challenges presented during the 85th regular session of 2017, ATPE rose to the occasion and continued on our mission to provide every child equal opportunity to receive an exemplary education. Below are some highlights from this year’s regular legislative session.

Progress on ATPE’s Legislative Priorities for the 85th Legislature

  1. School Funding
  2. TRS and Healthcare
  3. Saving Payroll Deduction
  4. Stopping Privatization
  5. Promoting Educator Quality
  6. Reducing Standardized Testing
  7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions
The ATPE Lobby Team

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team

1. School Funding: ATPE lobbied for dramatic improvements to the state’s school finance system and urged lawmakers to provide the resources necessary to allow every child in Texas access to an exemplary public education.

o  The state budget: Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

While the House and Senate each began this session with their own versions of the budget, the bills were worked out in a conference committee and resulted in the following new state budget for the next two years:

·       Lawmakers allocated fewer state dollars to school districts under this budget, requiring local schools instead to rely more heavily on property taxes just to stay open. The decrease in state funding coupled with the elimination of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) is a one-two punch for districts that are already cash strapped, especially those in rural areas, and some have already stated they will either close or consolidate under this budget. This continues a trend of legislators shifting the burden of paying for public education from the state to the local level, which results in increased upward pressure on local property taxes to make up for the reduction in state funds. Legislators must realize that our outdated school finance formulas need to be reformed, and the state must shoulder its share of the burden if our schools are to meet the demands of rapid growth in population and enrollment.

·        The TRS healthcare program for retirees faced a billion-dollar shortfall going into the next biennium under its existing and inadequate funding mechanism. Lawmakers made modest increases to state and district funding formulas, in addition to providing a relatively small amount of one-time supplemental funding from the state, in exchange for passing a TRS reform bill that shifts the majority of the shortfall to retirees through increased premiums and decreased benefits. In all, SB1 includes $480 million above what previous formula funding called for, made up of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts.

o  School finance reform: House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble)

HB 21 was the first iteration of what Chairman Huberty planned to be a two- or three-session effort to completely overhaul the state’s school funding mechanism. A testament to the volatility of this session, HB 21 began as a school finance bill supported by ATPE and most of the education community. The bill would have increased the basic allotment of funding per student, lowered the recapture rate, created a Hardship Provision Grant to soften the elimination of ASATR funding for several districts, added a formula weight for students with dyslexia, increased the Career and Technology Allotment weight (CTE), and repealed hold harmless provisions in the current law. Coupled with companion legislation in the House’s state budget proposal, HB 21 could have provided as much as $1.9 billion in additional state funding for public education.

However, once the bill passed to the Senate, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, substituted it with language of his own that reduced the additional funding to $530 million and added in a controversial provision for vouchers for students with disabilities. This draining of public tax dollars into private entities through a proposed Educational Savings Account (ESA) voucher caused ATPE and other members of the education community to retract their support of the bill. The Senate passed the voucher-laden version of the bill on a mostly party-line vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), joined with all Republicans to support the bill.

The House refused to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill, and Chairman Huberty called for a conference committee to work out the differences between each chamber’s versions of HB 21. However, over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Chairman Larry Taylor declared the bill dead that same afternoon, refusing to appoint members of the Senate to participate in a conference committee. The Senate ultimately appointed conferees with just hours to spare on the last day of deliberations, but no agreement could be worked out in the few remaining hours, and the school finance bill died.

2. TRS and Healthcare: ATPE helped prevent the passage of bills that would change the defined benefit structure of TRS, raised awareness of the dramatically rising costs of educators’ healthcare programs, and helped secure additional funding for TRS-Care to prevent retired educators from losing their access to healthcare.

o  HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)

As stated above, ATPE entered the 2017 legislative session with a looming crisis for the state’s healthcare program for retired educators. Facing a $1 billion shortfall, TRS-Care was slated to run out of funding during the next biennium without urgent action by the 85th Legislature. Combining $350 million in state funds along with $130 million in support from school districts, the passage of HB 3976 helped secure $480 million in new money budgeted for TRS-Care over the next biennium. In order to maintain coverage, this bill changes the current TRS-Care plan by splitting coverage into two groups based on retirees’ ages. While the enactment of the bill means higher costs for participating retirees, it prevents the worst-case scenario: The collapse of TRS-Care in its entirety. Read a more comprehensive summary of the legislative changes here, and also read here about how the TRS Board of Trustees is now undertaking the rulemaking process to implement the changes called for by lawmakers in greater detail.

o  SB 1750 and SB 1751 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Sen. Bettencourt’s SB 1750 and SB 1751 revived the concept of converting the TRS defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution program in the future, making it more like a 401(k) plan or a hybrid of the two. The first bill called only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would have authorized TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. Bills like this are a common fixture in the sessions preceding when an agency is up for its sunset review. While both bills were referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, neither received a hearing and both proposals died. Additionally, other legislation was passed that will move back the sunset date for TRS to the year 2025.

3. Saving Payroll Deduction: ATPE fought back against anti-educator bills that would do away with payroll deduction for voluntary professional association dues.

o   SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston)

ATPE continued to defend educators’ rights to use voluntary payroll deduction for their association dues and to fight anti-educator bills that do away with that option in an attempt to make it harder for educators to join professional groups like ours. Bills eliminating payroll deduction were identified as priorities of both the governor and lieutenant governor. ATPE members mounted strong opposition, testifying in committee and meeting with individual members of both the House and Senate to demand fair treatment. The Senate version (SB 13) of the so-called “union dues” bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote. In the House, both SB 13 and HB 510 were referred to the Committee on State Affairs but did not receive a hearing and subsequently died there.

4. Stopping Privatization: ATPE helped defeat bills aimed at creating private school voucher programs.

o  SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)

Having made school choice one of his top three legislative priorities this session, Lt. Gov. Patrick used SB 3 as the main vehicle to push for vouchers in the form of both corporate tax credits for donations to private school scholarships and educational savings accounts for parents to use for their children’s private and home school expenses. The bill was voted out of the full Senate after measures were added to make the bill more palatable to rural legislators who were concerned about the impact a major subsidy would have on their districts. SB 3 passed the Senate with the support of 13 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville); the rest of the Senate Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), voted against the bill. While Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is recorded as voting against SB 3, she cast a key vote to enable the bill to come up for consideration on the Senate floor, which paved the way for its passage. Upon being received in the House, the bill was referred to the House Public Education Committee, where it later died.

o  The Senate’s voucher amendment to HB 21

Earlier in the session, the House passed HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty as a school finance reform measure and the policy component intended to guide the additional money allocated to education in the House’s version of the draft budget. As we discussed above, HB 21 was vigorously debated on the House floor and passed to the Senate, where Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) substituted the House version of the bill with his own bill demanding an ESA voucher for students with special needs. The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 and sent it back to the House, which refused to concur with the controversial amendments. Lawmakers were unable to agree to a final bill, and HB 21 died along with all other attempts to pass a private school voucher this session.

o  Record votes on vouchers. The House took multiple noteworthy votes against private school vouchers this session:

·        During the initial debate of SB 1—the budget bill—on the House floor, members voted 104-43 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi), Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), and Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) to prohibit the use of public funds from supporting school choice programs in any form.

·        The House voted against vouchers again upon receiving the Senate’s version of the school finance bill, HB 21. The vote occurred in response to a “motion to instruct” presented by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), a move intended to inform conference committee appointees of the desire of the body they represent while fleshing out the differences between differing bills. Chairman Zerwas filed the motion to urge House members of the conference committee to reject any voucher language in potential compromises on HB 21, and a supermajority of the House agreed. House members voted 101-45 to reject any compromises on HB 21 that would allow for ESAs, tax credit scholarships, or any other form of voucher.

·        Immediately following that vote, members squashed an alternative motion to instruct the conferees to “consider all methods of education choice and financing for special needs students.” The motion, presented by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), failed with members voting 47-89 against it.

o  Related legislation: The “Tim Tebow” Bill, SB 640, by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

Once again, this session ATPE helped prevent the passage of a bill that would force public schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular UIL activities. ATPE members have long opposed the uneven playing field that would be created with allowing the participation of homeschooled students in UIL, since those students are not be held to the same academic and disciplinary standards as public school students.

5. Promoting Educator Quality: ATPE advocated for maintaining high standards for the education profession and a compensation and benefits structure that promotes educator recruitment and retention.

o  SB 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Amended several times over, SB 1839 became the catch-all for bills that had otherwise failed in the legislative process. In its original form, the bill mandated that relevant PEIMS (Public Education Information Management Systems) data be shared with educator preparation programs, gave the commissioner more rulemaking authority with regard to out-of-state certificate holders, and required educator preparation programs to include instruction on digital learning. In the final version signed by the governor, the bill also includes measures to do the following:

·        Prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs to deliver one or more face-to-face support visits for principal, librarian, counselor, and diagnostician candidates during their clinical experience;

·        Create an early childhood through third grade teaching certificate;

·        Require additional professional development for digital learning and teaching methods; and

·        Allow long-term substitute teaching to count in lieu of minimal field-based experience hours required of certain educator candidates before entering the classroom as the teacher-of-record on a probationary certificate. This
language was originally a part of SB 1278, a bill ATPE testified against because it watered down educator preparation standards raised by SBEC during the past year. As that bill made its way through the committee process, much of the SB 1278 content was stripped away; however, this remaining portion was improved and ultimately added to SB 1839.

 

6. Reducing Standardized Testing: ATPE supported bills to reduce the role of standardized test scores in our accountability system for schools, in teacher evaluations, and in high-stakes decisions for students. 

o  SB 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)

During the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2015, ATPE worked with Sen. Seliger to enact legislation that would provide a safe harbor for eligible high school seniors otherwise prevented from graduating due to failure of two or fewer STAAR tests. Enacted by that 2015 law that was set to expire this year, Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) take the student’s entire academic history into account and use that to work a path to graduation. This session, we successfully worked with legislators once more to secure access to IGCs for high school students through 2019 with the passage of SB 463. 

o  HB 657 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

This ATPE-supported legislation allows ARD committees to promote special education students who have failed an exam but have otherwise met the goals of their individual education plans (IEPs). The passage of this bill provides students in special education programs with additional relief from regimented standardized testing. 

o  HB 515 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

What started out as a bill to reduce the number of standardized tests that students are required to take lost much of its strength as amendments were added through the committee process. The bill’s focus was altered, causing it to place an emphasis on replacing state exams for high school social studies with the US Citizenship test, which would have presented problems due to a lack of alignment between the proposed test and the curriculum standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The author of the bill did not concur with Senate amendments when the bill was sent back to the House, and the bill died.

 

o  HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs)

This bill called for a reduction in the number of standardized tests taken by public school students by requiring the state to seek a waiver of federal laws that require certain tests in grades three to 12, and bringing the number of standardized tests for high school students down to the federally required minimum. The bill also called for making test scores a smaller percentage of school accountability calculations and removing standardized test scores as a facet of teacher evaluation. This bill did not make it beyond a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.

7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions: ATPE advocated for limiting, repealing, or adding safeguards to regulatory exemptions that have been granted to some public schools, including Districts of Innovation (DOI).

Several bills were put forth this session with the goal of closing loopholes associated with the advent of Districts of Innovation (DOI). ATPE successfully advocated for a new measure of transparency under DOI:

SB 1566 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Included in SB 1566, an omnibus bill pertaining to district and charter governance, is the requirement that school districts designated a DOI must post and maintain their DOI plan prominently on the school district’s website. A school district now has 15 days upon adoption to post its DOI plan or any revisions to its plan.

However, none of the following DOI bills made it to final passage:

o  HB 972 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas)

This bill would have partly disallowed districts from exempting themselves from teacher certification laws by preventing a district from assigning most students in first through sixth grades to an uncertified teacher for two consecutive years (unless the district gets permission from parents). The bill passed the House but was not given a hearing in the Senate.

o  HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint)

This bill would have removed educator certification from the exemptions available to districts under the DOI law. The bill failed to pass either chamber.

o  HB 1865 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth)

The bill would have removed school start date requirements from the list of eligible DOI exemptions, which would have eliminated a major enticement to districts considering DOI status. A desire to start the school year on an earlier date has been the most typical exemption sought by DOIs statewide. Despite the tourism industry vigorously lobbying in support of this legislation that would preserve a more predictable school calendar, the bill was left pending and eventually died after being heard in the House Public Education Committee.

o  HB 620 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano)

The bill would have allowed districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and would have required instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. HB 620 would have offered schools flexibility and eliminated an incentive to pursue DOI status. Like HB 1865, the bill was left pending and therefore died in the House Public Education Committee.

Other Legislative Victories:

·        ATPE supported changes to the A-F accountability system put in place for campuses last session (HB 22).

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 22 to try to revamp the state’s unpopular A-F accountability grading system for schools and districts. A version of the bill approved by the House had broad support from the education community, but stakeholders were less enthusiastic about changes made to the bill in the Senate. Ultimately, the bill was referred to a conference committee to iron out an agreement, and HB 22 became one of the last bills passed by the 85th Legislature before the clock ran out on the regular session. HB 22 as finally passed collapses the five domains down to three, allows districts to add locally designed aspects of their accountability plans subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education, and pushes back the rollout of the A-F rating system for campuses to August 2019. ATPE successfully advocated to require the rulemaking process include input from teachers. While ATPE is still not a proponent of the A-F system and had argued for eliminating the overall summative grade for schools, we support these changes in the final compromise version of HB 22, which should give districts more leeway and educators an additional opportunity for local input into the design of their schools’ accountability systems.

·        ATPE bolstered efforts to prevent and punish cyberbullying - David’s Law, SB 179, by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).

Expanding on ATPE’s work in prior sessions to help curtail bullying of students, the act now known as David’s Law establishes criminal penalties for those engaged in acts of cyberbullying and requires schools to create secure channels for students to report cyberbullying. 

·        ATPE supported prohibiting the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from basing a school’s performance on the number of students in special education programs – SB 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso).

ATPE supported legislators’ efforts to end the de facto 8.5 percent cap on schools enrolling students in special education services. This legislation prevents TEA from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students they enroll in special education services. 

·       ATPE worked closely with lawmakers to address educator misconduct – SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

One of the first bills signed into law by Gov. Abbott this year, SB 7 aims to address the phenomenon sometimes called “passing the trash,” whereby educators accused of misconduct have been allowed to resign and find work in another school district thanks to lax reporting. Several amendments were added to the original version of this bill, including one to strip certain employees convicted of felony sexual offenses of their TRS pensions, amendments to add parental notification requirements, and an amendment that requires school job applicants to disclose any criminal charges or convictions in a pre-employment affidavit.

ATPE's 2016-17 State Officers

ATPE’s 2016-17 State Officers

Abbott announces special session to include many public education items

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Governor Greg Abbott released his plans for a special session today following a week of growing anticipation. For educators and public education advocates, the fight isn’t over. Beginning July 18, the Texas Legislature will to return to Austin to address a long list of issues identified by Governor Abbott. Only one, continuing the Texas Medical Board, requires “emergency” attention; once that has been addressed, Governor Abbott expects the legislature to immediately address 19 additional items.

Two of those additional items are particularly familiar to public education advocates and educators who just spent the last five months defeating them. By adding them to the special session call today, the governor revived vouchers for special education students and a prohibition on payroll deduction for educators. Both issues were ones addressed and rejected by the legislature during its regular session. ATPE immediately responded to the news with a press release calling payroll deduction a “shameful attack on public school employees.”

The governor also added school finance to the call, but he only called on lawmakers to create a commission to study school finance. He did not call on lawmakers to pass the pieces of legislation debated during the regular session that actually sought to fix the school finance system. For instance, HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and SB 2051 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendwood) took separate approaches to fixing the school system, but each addressed current school funding issues and received strong support. The school finance fix was ultimately derailed when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick added a voucher and refused to compromise on any bill to fund schools if a voucher wasn’t included.

Two items that got little attention during the regular session but topped the governor’s list of special session items today were a $1000 pay raise for teachers and flexibility for administrators in hiring, firing, and retaining teachers. The governor gave little detail on how to address either item, but did say that he expects the pay raise to be carried out through existing money and within existing budgets, meaning he doesn’t want the legislature to dedicate any new funding to the effort.

The 19 additional items, as described by Governor Abbott’s office are as follows:

  1. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
  2. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
  3. School finance reform commission
  4. School choice for special needs students
  5. Property tax reform
  6. Caps on state and local spending
  7. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
  8. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
  9. Speeding up local government permitting process
  10. Municipal annexation reform
  11. Texting while driving preemption
  12. Privacy
  13. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
  14. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
  15. Pro-life insurance reform
  16. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
  17. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
  18. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
  19. Extending maternal mortality task force

Bills addressing educators in the 85th Texas Legislature

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands

Public education advocates mostly successful in fighting bad educator preparation policy

Teachers, districts, administrators, college deans, and more were unified this session in opposition to educator preparation policies that were bad for students. While our unity fended off some of the worst pieces, a handful of educator preparation bills that roll back standards adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) prevailed. A key piece of legislation opposed by the education community was SB 1278 by Chairman Taylor (R-Friendswood), as well as its companion bill HB 2924 by Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston). The majority of that legislation failed to pass, but one piece did and sits on the Governor’s desk.

That piece allows for long term substitute teaching to count in lieu of minimal field-based experience hours required of certain educator candidates before entering the classroom as the teacher-of-record on a probationary certificate. That language was also included as a standalone bill, HB 3044 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble), and was ultimately added to SB 1839 in the final hours of the session. SB 1839 was this session’s catch all bill for various preparation, certification, and professional policies (more about the pieces falling under the latter two categories in the remaining post). The bill also requires the sharing of relevant PEIMS data with educator preparation programs for use in assessing their programs, adds required educator preparation instruction in digital learning, and gives the commissioner the ability to write rules regarding flexibility for certain out-of-state certificate holders.

A law ATPE and others opposed that did pass involved training requirements for non-teaching certificates. The bill, SB 1963 by Sen. Brandon Creighton and companion bill HB 2775 by Rep. Dade Phelan, prohibits the SBEC from requiring programs to deliver one or more face-to-face support visits for principal, librarian, counselor, and diagnostician candidates during their clinical experience. SB 1963 passed as a standalone measure and was also included in SB 1839.

Early childhood certificate, professional development on digital learning make it to Governor

Pending the Govenor’s signature, teachers will soon have the option to seek a certificate specific to early childhood through grade 3 education. The SBEC is already in the process of determining the best way to train and certify teachers to teach our state’s early learners, but HB 2039 adds the required certificate and associated training into law. The language was also included in SB 1839, where additional language on professional development for digital learning and teaching methods is also housed. That was originally housed in a bill by Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), HB 4064.

Another topic discussed throughout the session and included in several bills involved training for educators in methods specific to students with disabilities and students with dyslexia. HB 2209 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and companion bill SB 529 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) failed to pass or find a vehicle to ride to the governor’s desk, but they would have required training for educators in the universal design for learning framework, among other training for educating students with disabilities.

HB 1886 by Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) requires the development of a list of dyslexia training opportunities for educators, employs a dyslexia specialist at all education service centers, and addresses several aspects of screening and transitioning for dyslexia students. The bill was sent to the governor for his signature.

Teacher mentor and appraisal bills bite the dust

Over the interim, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) visited with educators in schools across his district and developed a major takeaway that led to his filing of HB 816, a bill that outlined some requirements regarding teacher mentoring. Rep. Bernal, who also served as vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee this session, recognized that the addition of a mentor program in Texas could strengthen Texas teachers and minimize the cost and negative impacts of high teacher turnover rates. The bill made its way through the House chamber but hit a wall once it was sent to the Senate, where it never moved.

Another bill supported by ATPE received even less love. HB 3692 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would have prohibited the state from using student standardized assessments when determining the performance of students under the teacher appraisal system. The bill got a hearing in the House, but was left pending.

A bill involving mentor teachers and teacher appraisals, among other things, HB 2941 by Rep. Harold Dutton and its companion bill SB 2200 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) didn’t receive the votes to advance beyond their respective chambers.

Educator misconduct omnibus bill becomes law

Right off the bat, the legislature began its 85th session with legislation to address a type of educator misconduct that became the subject of many news stories over the interim: “passing the trash,” which involves educators accused of inappropriate relationships being dismissed from their jobs but having the chance to work in other schools because the appropriate administrators failed to report the incident or share their knowledge of the incident with future employers. Ultimately, the legislature passed SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), a compilation of several pieces of legislation filed to address this issue and others.

SB 7 adds to the punishments and protocols for reporting, requires training in educator preparation programs, adds to continuing education requirements, requires school districts to adopt electronic communication policies, increases penalties for educators found to engage in inappropriate relationships, and revokes the pension annuities of educators convicted of certain types of criminal misconduct. The bill was signed into law last week by Governor Abbott.

Districts of innovation educator loophole addressed, overall law left alone

SB 7 also seeks to address another issue that arose over the interim, this time because of legislation passed last session. As more and more districts opted to become a district of innovation (DOI) and certification became one of the most popular exemptions under the law, it became more and more concerning that the state lacked the ability to sanction and prevent from future school employment any non-certified educators who engage in prohibited misconduct. While the new law is full of efforts to close this specific DOI loophole for non-certified educators, lawmakers ultimately did nothing with bills that sought to address the DOI law itself.

For instance, HB 972 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would have partly disallowed districts from exempting themselves from teacher certification laws by disallowing a district from assigning most students in first through sixth grade to an uncertified teacher for two consecutive years (unless the district gets permission from parents). The bill passed the House but was not given a hearing in the Senate. Similarly, HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) would have removed educator certification from the exemptions available to districts under DOI. That bill failed to pass either chamber.

Another popular exemption under districts of innovation, or rather the most popular exemption, is the school start date. Bills to alter the school start date or remove it from possible exemptions under DOI also failed to make it through the legislative process. SB 2052 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would have done both, received a hearing in his committee but was left pending where it died.

Grab bag of other educator bills face different fates

Last session the Texas legislature changed the requirements for the amount of time a school must operate from a certain number of days to an equivalent number of minutes. The change resulted in a situation where teacher contracts, which are still based on days (roughly days in the school year plus service hours in a school year), didn’t accurately align with the new school schedules. Language to address this issue was added to HB 2442 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). The bill gives the commissioner authority to write rules granting flexibility of teacher contract days and was sent to the Governor.

Two other bills by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) weren’t as lucky. SB 1317 would have prevented a district from requiring a teacher to report to work more than seven days before the first day of school, with an exemption for new teachers who couldn’t be called in more than ten days prior. SB 1854 would have reduced unnecessary paperwork currently required of classroom teachers in schools. Neither made it through the full legislative process.

Latest education developments in the 85th legislature

DASIHSWU0AA4SAhIt was a busy weekend for the Texas House and Senate, which took action to move forward several pieces of high-profile education legislation during meetings on Saturday and Sunday that stretched into the overnight hours. The regular legislative session is slated to end in just one week on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. Here’s a look at some of the latest activity from ATPE’s lobbyists:

Budget

The House was in session for most of the day Saturday. Late that afternoon, senators and representatives serving on the conference committee for Senate Bill (SB) 1, held a public hearing to openly discuss the terms of a compromise for the state’s budget bill. The discussions lasted beyond midnight amid late calls from the governor for additional funding of governor’s office initiatives for economic development. The SB 1 compromise includes adding $480 million for retired educators’ healthcare (consisting of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts), which is contingent upon final passage of the TRS-Care bill. The conferees agreed on tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenditures to repair aging state hospital facilities and purchase bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers. They’ll also use a payment deferral method to free up some needed cash.

The budget compromise entails a $530 million increase for public education, but that’s far less than the additional $1.6 billion that the House had proposed in its budget, contingent upon passage of Huberty’s school finance reform bill, House Bill (HB) 21. The final funding available for public schools will depend largely on what becomes of HB 21 now that the Senate has made dramatic changes to that bill, most notably by harnessing a private school voucher plan to it.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) told senators this afternoon that while the conference committee has adopted its report, there are still some housekeeping items to be worked out before the report is presented to the full House and Senate. She directed senators to the Legislative Budget Board’s website to view documents related to the report on the budget compromise.

Bathrooms

The House was back in session on Sunday, and one of the most watched moments was the debate on a school safety bill that became the vehicle for an amendment relating to gender-based bathroom policies for schools. SB 2078 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was a noncontroversial bill intended to help school districts address their multi-hazard operations plans. But Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) successfully added a floor amendment to address bathroom usage in schools.

As adopted by the House on a 91-50 vote last night, the Paddie amendment requires schools to provide a single-occupancy restroom or changing facility for any student who requests an accommodation because he or she does not wish to use the facility corresponding to the student’s biological sex. Questions remain as to whether school districts will be forced to adopt or change any of their existing policies on bathrooms aside from any such requests for accommodations. The bill as amended passed on second reading late last night, and the House approved SB 2078 with the amendments on third reading today.

Now the bill heads back to the Senate for a determination of whether the House’s language, with its added bathroom-related amendments, will be acceptable or will require referral to a conference committee. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already called the new language “ambiguous” in a statement to reporters today.

Healthcare

The full Senate took Saturday off and reconvened at 7 pm last night, taking up a couple of bills of great interest to the education community. First, the Senate unanimously passed HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) to reform the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. The proposed changes are a tough pill to swallow for many retirees, but will prevent the program from completely running out of money during the upcoming biennium. For more on the TRS-Care bill, read ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s blog post here.

Vouchers and School Finance

At around 11 pm Sunday night, the Senate began debating HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill that is now hosting the Senate’s controversial language calling for an education savings account voucher for students with special needs.

Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the bill’s Senate sponsor and author of the voucher language, emphasized his opinion that the voucher likely would only be used by 5,000 students, or one percent of the current public school student population. He fielded questions from several senators, notably Sens. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), who pointed out the problems with private school vouchers, such as parents being forced to give up the many rights and protections of state and federal law that students with special needs enjoy when they attend public schools. Opponents in the Senate also pointed out that voucher utilization rates have been considerably higher (and costlier) than one percent in other states that have passed vouchers, making the Senate’s version of HB 21 likely to produce a much higher price tag than being claimed. The Senate tabled a Rodriguez amendment that would have stripped the objectionable voucher language from the bill, and similarly rejected a Menendez amendment that called on private schools that receive voucher funds to comply with the laws that would otherwise protect special needs students attending public school. A handful of other floor amendments were added to the bill, mostly representing less significant bills that had died on the calendar this session.

The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 on second reading at around 1 am this morning. After adjourning for a couple of minutes and reconvening, the Senate passed its version of HB 21 on third reading at around 1:30 this morning. The final floor votes on the bill were 21-10 with all Republican senators plus Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voting for HB 21; all other Democratic senators opposed the bill. The bill now heads back to the Texas House where it’s likely to receive a chilly reception.

This afternoon, the House advanced another school finance-related bill on second reading. SB 2144 by Sen. Larry Taylor, sponsored in the House by Rep. Huberty, would create a commission to study school finance during the interim and make recommended fixes to the next legislature. Laying out the less significant study bill today, Rep. Huberty used the opportunity to complain about the Senate’s changes to his HB 21, which had the effect of stripping out much of the extra funding proposed by the House for public schools.

Testing

Upon adjournment of the Senate in the overnight hours, the Senate Education Committee called a last-minute meeting to take a vote on a pending bill relating to student testing. Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 515 as filed was an ATPE-supported bill designed to eliminate some state STAAR tests not required by federal law. Earlier this month, the full House amended the bill to add language from another bill (HB 1776 by Ashby) that would call on school districts to administer the test for U.S. citizenship in lieu of a state-adopted history test. The Senate committee approved a substitute version of HB 515 early this morning that strips out the citizenship test requirement and instead calls for the State Board of Education to study the alignment and coursework of required social studies curricula for grades 8-12. The Senate’s committee substitute bill also allows school districts to use SAT, ACT, and TSI tests as alternative assessments for graduation purposes. The full Senate must still pass HB 515 by Wednesday.

Today, the House gave preliminary approval to Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 aimed at extending the law allowing individual graduation committees for certain students unable to pass STAAR tests required for graduation. The House agreed to a floor amendment by Rep. Huberty that will extend the ATPE-supported law until 2021. The bill must pass on third reading, and then as with many of these other bills, the Senate will have a chance either to accept the House’s version of the bill in its current form or send the bill to a conference committee during this last week of the legislative session.

Now what?

There is a lingering question on many stakeholders’ minds now: “Will there be a special session?” Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made public demands for a special session if the House failed to pass a property tax reform bill and a bill on transgender bathroom policies. Over the weekend, Gov. Abbott took unusual steps to declare an emergency on changing the state’s voter ID laws, signaling that issue as another “must pass” item for the regular session. Now that the House has added language relating to all three of these issues onto other bills, it remains to be seen whether those measures will be deemed acceptable by the Senate or if the governor will be inclined to call a special session. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


The latest from the Texas Senate

Senate Education Committee moves House A-F fix plan

The Senate Education Committee heard a slew of House bills this week, with Chairman Huberty’s (R-Humble) HB 22, his plan to address the problems with the underpinnings of A-F, rising to the top of ATPE’s radar. While ATPE does not support the system to label schools A through F, we recognize that changing the labeling system is not on the table at this time. What could happen, however, are efforts to change some of the underpinnings of the accountability system, and ATPE supports that process as we work to reduce our state’s overreliance on standardized tests. As the bill was heard in committee on Thursday, Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor substituted his own A-F bill, SB 2051 into HB 22. Find out more about the hearing and ATPE’s position on the bill here. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

The full lists of the House bills advanced to the Senate floor this week can be found here and here.

Senate expected to send school finance bill back to House with voucher added

The Senate version of HB 21 is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. Last week the Senate Education Committee heard the school finance bill, but added a special education voucher before passing it out of committee (A refresher on that here.). Another bill eligible to be heard on the Senate floor today is the bill to address TRS-Care, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin). A comprehensive update on that bill can be found here. Follow your ATPE lobby team on twitter for live updates as these bill are debated on the floor of the Senate and check back for Teach the Vote updates.To watch the floor debate on these bills and more, visit the live or archived Senate feeds.

Educator misconduct bill, other bills sent to Governor Abbott

The Senate sent SB 7, the educator misconduct bill, to Governor Abbott this week. SB 7 originated in the Senate as a measure filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). The upper chamber advanced its final version of the bill in early March and sent the legislation to the House. The House passed the measure last week with several amendments added and sent it back to the Senate, which chose to agree to the House amendments rather than take the bill to conference committee and address any differences between the two bodies. Gov. Abbott is expected to sign the legislation into law.

The House also passed SB 826, a bill that loosens sequencing requirements for English and mathematics courses in high school. The bill saw changes in the House, and the Senate will likely decide to accept or deny those changes today prior to sending the bill to the Governor. Another bill that is likely to be sent to the governor this week without changes to bill text is SB 489 by Sen. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville). The ATPE-supported bill adds “e-cigarettes” to the recommended student instruction on preventing tobacco use.

The Senate chose not to concur to the House amendments to SB 179, the bill aimed at curbing bullying and cyber-bullying authored by Senator Menendez (D-San Antonio). The ATPE-supported bill will now go to conference committee where the two chambers will have the opportunity to work out their differences on the bill and develop a measure on which both chambers can agree.

Full Senate advances last-chance Senate bills

A significantly watered down version of SB 610, which originally expanded the virtual school network eligibility to students in kindergarten through 2nd grade (currently, state-sponsored virtual schooling is only available to students in grades 3 through 12), passed the Senate this week. ATPE opposed the legislation based on a number of concerns, including the pedagogical inappropriateness of full-time virtual education for our state’s youngest students and the research calling into question the success of full-time virtual education for a student of any age. In a last ditch effort to move the bill, Senator Huffines changed significantly changed the bill. It passed as a study of such an expansion, and ATPE expects it will support the vast majority of previous studies that seriously question the effectiveness of full-time virtual education.

The chamber also advanced a bill pertaining to educator preparation that ATPE opposes. SB 1963 by Sen. Creighton (R-Conroe) would prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs that train principals, counselors, and librarians (among other non-classroom teacher certification fields) to observe each candidate through at least one face-to-face visit. ATPE supports observations and support for educator preparation candidates that involve immediate feedback and support in real situations. While electronic tools might be great options for supplementing support of candidates, we remain concerned about efforts to roll back standards by SBEC that require at least one face-to-face observation for these candidates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 12, 2017

While you were STAAR testing, here are stories from the Texas Capitol this busy week:

 


NO VOUCHERSThis week’s major legislative news included a new voucher alert, courtesy of the Senate Education Committee. The committee announced on short notice a hearing of a major school finance bill, House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. ATPE was one of numerous education groups signed up to testify in support of the bill, but we were forced to change our position with the surprise announcement from Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) that a private school voucher was being added to the bill.

Witnesses including ATPE testified against HB 21 Thursday based on the addition of the educational savings account (ESA) voucher for students with special needs. The addition of the voucher language is disappointing for many hoping to see progress on school finance reform this session. Earlier this week, we republished a blog post from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the status of school finance legislation this session. Chairman Huberty has described his bill as a start to work that could take two or three sessions to overhaul the state’s school funding system. He and other House leaders have made it clear that the lower chamber has no interest in accepting a voucher bill this session.

The Senate’s substitute version of HB 21 was voted out by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday evening by a vote of 7 to 1. It is expected to be placed on a calendar soon for consideration by the full Senate, which is likely to pass the voucher measure.

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ATPE is urging members to contact their senators with messages opposing HB 21 in its current form, and ask their state representatives to reject the Senate’s version and strip out the voucher provision from the school finance bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for sample messages and rapid communication tools.

For more on the voucher plan that was added to HB 21, check out this Teach the Vote blog post from Thursday. Also, read the latest blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with a rundown of all the major activity in the Texas Senate this week.

 


Texas House of Representatives stands adjourned as committees meet, May 4, 2017.

This was a week of dramatic late-session deadlines in the Texas House, which prompted more than a few verbal skirmishes on the House floor. Last night at midnight was the deadline for most House bills to be considered on second reading, while today was the corresponding deadline for passing those bills on third reading. Yesterday’s lively and lengthy floor session was punctuated by emotional pleas from some members to pass bills of personal interest, as a handful of the House’s most conservative members employed various tactics to stall the debate and force dozens of bills off the calendar, including a bill relating to school lunches. One very significant bill that barely missed the pivotal midnight deadline was a sunset measure for the Texas Department of Transportation; if no such sunset bill passes this session, the governor would be forced to call a special session to avoid the automatic dissolution of the state agency. Fortunately, the TxDOT sunset bill has a Senate companion that remains alive at this stage.

Relatively few education bills were on the House calendars for yesterday and today, but a few high-profile bills did pass the House this week. Today, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 179, known as David’s Law. The ATPE-supported bill by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) aims to prevent teen suicides and curb cyberbullying. Earlier in the week, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, dealing with educator misconduct. Read more about the bill in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

With the passage of the deadlines for House bills to make it out of their chamber of origin, the House Public Education Committee is turning its full attention now to Senate bills. Its next hearing on Tuesday features an agenda with two dozen bills. For more on the bills that were considered this week in the House, view the recent blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here, here, and here.