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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.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1

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.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 5, 2017

Here are education news stories you might have missed this week from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelA settlement agreement was executed Wednesday between ATPE and three other teacher groups that sued the state over the commissioner’s T-TESS rules for teacher evaluation. Under terms of the settlement, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will revise the T-TESS rules to eliminate requirements that districts use four specific methods, including controversial Value-Added Measures, to evaluate student growth for purposes of teacher appraisals.

Read more about the settlement here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144We’ve reached the 117th day of the 85th legislative session with only three full weeks left for lawmakers to pass a state budget. Monday, May 8, is the first of several important session deadlines approaching quickly: the last day for House committees to report out House bills. House bills that don’t make it out of a House committee by then will be considered procedurally dead, although many “dead” bills can still resurface in the form of companion bills or amendments to other bills. Committees, especially on the House side, had a busy week of hearings ahead of the deadlines, and several late nights of floor debate. The House is scheduled to hold a Saturday session tomorrow, too.

Several significant education bills made it through either the House or Senate chamber this week, as reported by ATPE’s lobbyists. In the Senate, a popular bill passed to extend the law allowing the continuation of individual graduation committees for certain high school students unable to pass all required STAAR tests. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved an amended version of SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-bullying measure known as David’s Law. Other bills passing the Senate this week dealt with educator certification, charter schools, and a study on school finance. For more about the Senate’s work this week, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

In the lower chamber, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) saw two more of his most significant bills pass the full House this week. HB 22 improves the state’s “A through F” accountability system for schools by condensing the number of domains from five to three and eliminating the overall summative grade that would have been assigned to schools. An ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) also calls for the Texas Education Agency to supply narrative descriptions of the ratings assigned in an effort to help parents and the public better understand their significance. Another ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) that would have further reduced the emphasis on student test scores in the accountability system was rejected. Huberty’s HB 23 also got a nod of approval from the House; the bill creates a grant program to help public schools, including charter schools, offer specialty services for students with disabilities. An attempted floor amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) that would have funded private school vouchers was withdrawn during the debate. The House also approved Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 515, an ATPE-supported bill that reduces mandatory testing. Also, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), offering changes to try to shore up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators, passed the House on a 140-0 vote yesterday.

Numerous bills made it past the House Public Education Committee this week as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For complete details, check out his latest blog posts here, here, and here.

 


 

 

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

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from the ATPE lobbyists:

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

Wiggins_HPE_4-25-17

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


Kuhlmann_SenEd_04-27-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

ATPE testifies for bill promoting inclusive consultation

The Senate Education Committee met today to hear a slew of bills covering a variety of topics, but one garnered the most attention from ATPE. Senate Bill (SB) 1294 by Senator Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit districts from limiting professional staff eligibility to members of one professional organization when developing certain school district planning and decision-making committees.

ATPE served as invited testimony, testifying in strong support of the legislation. Ten official ATPE Tenets developed and adopted by ATPE members have guided the association since its inception, and they continue to drive the association’s work today. Tenet number seven speaks to ATPE’s belief in a collaborative approach. It reads:

“ATPE members believe in working with others to advocate positive solutions to education issues facing public education today.”

SB 1294 speaks directly to ATPE’s collaborative tenet. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann told Senators on the committee that ATPE members believe the best policies for Texas public school children result when all educators, regardless of their professional association affiliation or lack of affiliation, are at the table working together.

Two additional ATPE tenets align with SB 1294: support for right-to-work principles and an all-inclusive membership. ATPE does not believe anyone should be forced to join a professional association and appreciates that the bill would not limit eligibility to only professional association members. We also welcome all members of the public education community to join ATPE, because collaboration between types of education professionals is as important as collaboration among teachers of all organization affiliation.

The committee also heard testimony on SB 195 today, and voted the bill out of committee the same day it was heard, an expedited process afforded to few bills. The bill deals with school transportation safety for certain students, allowing districts to use transportation funding to provide transportation and protections to students residing in or forced to walk through high violence neighborhoods. The bill was offered by Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) in response to a tragedy in her district involving the murder of a student. A list of other bills voted out of committee today can be viewed here.

ATPE supported SB 195 as well as two bills involving special education, SB 436 and SB 748. The full committee agenda can be found here. The committee will be back on Thursday to hear a number of measures, which can be found here.

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

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


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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

2-1_Advocacy_LegislativeProgram_REVISED

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

 

 


State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

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

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Public Education votes out 11 more bills Thursday

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

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

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