Tag Archives: Congress

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

Here’s the latest education news from Texas and Washington, DC, supplied by your ATPE lobby team:

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today, Oct. 6,. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided this update.

The board is adopting a number of updates to the Texas Administrative Code (containing SBEC rules) both as part of the board’s regular rule review cycle and as the board pursues its role in active oversight of educator preparation programs and educator certification and assignment.

In addition to adopting rule changes, the board also considered today several items outside of their administrative rule review, including updating the Classroom Teacher Advisory Committee; approving modified principal and teacher surveys associated with the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP); and discussing updates to the board’s mission statement and statement of core principles for better alignment. At the conclusion of the discussion of rule items posted for action, the board heard presentations from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on 50 cases of pending or considered litigation.

Finally, the board is considering today four agenda items that were posted for discussion only:

  • A proposed amendment to rules in 19 TAC Chapter 227, implementing statutory requirements of SB 1839 and HBs 2039 and 1508 from the last regular legislative session, dealing with educator preparation candidates;
  • Proposed amendments to rules in Chapter 228, implementing SBs 7 and 1839 as well as HBs 2039, 3349, and 1963 with regard to requirements for educator preparation programs;
  • Proposed amendments to Chapter 233 rules regarding categories of classroom teaching certificates; and
  • Implementation of SB 1839 with regard to requirements to provide data to educator preparation programs to help those programs assess their impact and improve program design and effectiveness.

For additional information on the topics above, view the full board agenda and its related materials here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177533853Are you curious about efforts to reform Social Security laws that have had a negative impact on some educators when they retire? Read the latest update on our blog from David Pore, one of ATPE’s lobbyists representing our members on Social Security and other federal issues in Washington, DC.

 


Hurricane Harvey remains the focus of interim legislative hearings. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee met in Houston to discuss the state’s response to the massive storm. The committee heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials about Harvey’s impact and the recovery efforts. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Next Thursday, Oct. 12, the House Public Education Committee will meet to investigate the hurricane’s financial impact on schools and their facilities. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteTexans have only a few days left to register to vote in the next election. Next Tuesday, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming election on Nov. 7, 2017. In that election, voters will be asked to weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, as well as several local ballot measures. Below are some tips from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter on what you can do to prepare for upcoming elections.

While the big election isn’t until March 2018, now is the best time to begin, or continue, developing a culture of voting within the education community. Voting is more than just a right that has been handed down to us through the spilled blood of our forefathers and –mothers, it is also a responsibility of good citizenship, and like all positive behaviors, voting is learned by your students and colleagues through modeling and discussing good habits.

The best way to ensure that your voter registration is complete and up to date is to get into the habit of annually checking your voter status with the Secretary of State. Thankfully, this is as easy as going to the Am I Registered web page, entering one of three simple sets of information, and hitting submit. The site will then pull up your voter registration data and let you confirm that your “voter status” is active and that your name and address information are up to date.

If you have moved within the same county, you can update your address by simply clicking the “change your address” link. If you have moved to a new county, or if your voter status is not listed as active, then you will need to complete and submit a voter registration form. You can complete your voter registration on the Secretary of State’s voter registration page. After you fill out the web form, you will need to print it and drop it in the mail.

ATPE members with questions about voter registration are always encouraged to contact the ATPE Government Relations team at government@atpe.org. Happy voting!

 

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

TEA submits ESSA plan for review

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), on Monday. Submission of the plan triggered a 120-day window for the U.S. Dept of Education LogoU.S. Department of Education (ED) to review Texas’s proposal, a process that includes conducting a peer review and an evaluation by ED staff, primarily to ensure our state’s compliance with statutory requirements.

ATPE weighed in with input on the draft Texas plan during the public comment period last month. The plan saw some changes prior to submission to ED, but is largely similar to the draft plan that received public comment. ESSA provided flexibility to states in terms of using federal money to foster innovative approaches to accountability and assessments, among other areas covered under the law. Texas’s plan takes advantage of only some of that flexibility.

More on the final Texas ESSA plan and additional information on ESSA in Texas can be found at TEA’s ESSA web page. All states were required to submit final plans to ED this month (both Alabama and Texas received a deadline extension due to timing of hurricanes and hurricane recovery efforts).

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Deadline extended for public input on Texas ESSA plan

ThinkstockPhotos-476529187-hourglassToday’s deadline for members of the public to comment on Texas’s draft state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been extended.

After seeking an extension from the federal government, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials announced today that the public comment period will remain open until the close of business this Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. TEA will submit its state plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 25.

For more on the content of the draft state plan to comply with the federal education law, check out this earlier blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. View the draft state plan in its entirety here. Submit your comments this week to TEA via email to essa@tea.texas.gov.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 25, 2017

Welcome back to school, educators! Here’s this week’s ATPE wrap-up of education news:

 


TRS logoTRS has posted info on its website and social media telling plan participants in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey that they can fill prescriptions in advance of the storm.

Both CVS Caremark and Express Scripts are allowing one-time emergency refills of medications for those in areas affected by the hurricane.

The article on TRS’ website informing participants they can pick up medications in advance of the storm and which provides the PBMs’ phone numbers can be found here.

Participants with questions about how to access prescriptions, can contact TRS pharmacy benefit managers at the following numbers:

• Active employees: CVS Caremark 1-800-222-9205 (option 2)
• Retirees: Express Scripts 1-877-680-4881

TRS participants can get to the article from the “What’s New” section of the TRS homepage and from the health care news main page.

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) was scheduled to meet today for the first time following the conclusion of the 85th legislature’s special session. However, the meeting has been postponed until Sept. 1 on account of Hurricane Harvey and the inability to secure a quorum.

To learn more about changes the board is expected to consider for TRS-Care when it meets next week, check out this recent post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE Input on the Texas ESSA Plan_FINAL_Page_1As we reported yesterday, ATPE has submitted formal input this week on the draft Texas state plan for ESSA compliance recently shared by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Click here to read ATPE’s feedback, prepared by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, which focuses on aspects of the federal such as student assessment, setting long-term performance goals for students, and analyzing school climate as a quality indicator.

 


tea-logo-header-2This week, TEA also announced the availability of a new Equity Toolkit to help school districts comply with ESSA requirements to submit equity plans reporting on whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers” in the district. Learn more about the toolkit in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE state officers and staff have been talking to the media about the 85th legislature recent special session and how educators feel about issues heading into the 2018 election season.

Jennifer Canaday

Jennifer Canaday

A guest editorial by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was published this week by both the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. In her piece entitled “Maybe it’s time for a legislative gap year,” Canaday writes about the legislature’s decision not to make any major changes to the state’s school finance system in a way that would also provide local property tax relief. “The Legislature, unfortunately, punted on an opportunity to make structural changes to our beleaguered school finance system, opting to study the issue for two more years,” writes Canaday. “Like a seventh- or eighth-year college student still living at home, at some point the Texas Legislature must complete its studies and start working on the real job of fixing what is broken.”

Tonja Gray

Tonja Gray

The legislature will instead appoint a new commission to study and recommend improvements to the school finance system. ATPE State Secretary Tonja Gray spoke to reporters with KTXS in Abilene  about the commission and about her experiences testifying at committee hearings during the regular and special sessions. Gray said she was happy to see the legislature’s passage of a measure to provide additional funding for retired teachers’ healthcare needs.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

Byron Hildebrand

Byron Hildebrand

ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand and ATPE Executive Director also taped an appearance for the debut episode of “In Focus,” a new public affairs program produced by Spectrum News Austin and Spectrum News San Antonio. Local viewers can catch the program at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 3, 2017. For a sneak preview, check out this clip featuring Hildebrand discussing retired teachers.

 


 

TEA launches Equity Toolkit for school districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a new set of online resources this week aimed to assist districts in submitting Equity Plans as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal law passed in 2015 requires schools receiving Title I funding to determine whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers,” and to address any inequities.

The agency is accepting submissions for Texas Equity Plans from September 1 through November 1. The deadline is designed to encourage districts to develop their plans as part of their annual improvement planning process. To make things easier, TEA has launched the Texas Equity Toolkit. The website provides templates for reporting and project management planning, as well as equity plan submission guidelines.

According to TEA, the process “is about improving student learning for every single student throughout the state.  Are all students within an LEA learning at commensurate and appropriate rates?  If not, what factors contribute to that, and what strategies can LEAs pursue or continue to pursue to help close those gaps?”

The process begins with engaging stakeholders, then reviewing and analyzing data on equity gaps. Next, districts will conduct a root cause analysis, select strategies to improve equitable access, and craft a plan for implementation. The Texas Equity Toolkit provides details and resources for each of these steps, as well as training materials.

It’s important to note that Districts of Innovation (DOI) are not exempt from the federal requirement. The agency also advises that all regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) have staff available to assist districts with their plans. A list of “Equity Leads” can be found here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 23, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867We’re less than a month away from a 30-day special session ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott. Passing sunset legislation to keep a handful of agencies from going out of business during the interim will be the first order a business, after attempts to pass such a bill during the regular session fell victim to a battle of wills over ideological issues. Gov. Abbott has laid out 19 additional issues for lawmakers to consider during the special session, with signs that even more topics could be added to the agenda as we move closer to the start date. The governor’s wish list, featuring a number of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s questionable “priorities” from the regular session, includes regulating local school bathroom policies, funding private school vouchers, mandating that school districts come up with their own funds for a teacher pay raise, tinkering with teachers’ employment and due process rights, and prohibiting educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary membership dues to professional associations like ATPE.

Aside from the need to deal with the agency sunset matters that were allowed to falter during the regular session, the governor’s declaring this particular score of issues as being “extraordinary” and urgent enough to warrant spending a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money to debate is a decision that has left many scratching their heads. Arguably the most important priority that did not get addressed during the regular session was school finance reform, but that issue has barely registered as a blip on the governor’s special session radar. Abbott made it clear during his recent press conference that he intends merely for the legislature to appoint a commission to study the issue over the next two years. Many lawmakers, especially in the House, have indicated that they do not share the governor’s views on the urgency of spending another month arguing about such petty concerns as how local bathroom policies are written and how educators spend their own hard-earned money.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

ATPE weighed in on the merits of the special session plans this week in an opinion piece written by Executive Director Gary Godsey and published by The Texas Tribune on its TribTalk website. Godsey explained that the founders of our state government gave governors the ability to call special sessions “under ‘extraordinary occasions.’ Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors. Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.” Read the full piece republished on our blog here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1With the renewed attacks on public schools and hardworking educators that are anticipated in the new few weeks, it is important for educators to stay engaged and share their input with legislators. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their own lawmakers about protecting educators’ rights, properly funding the needs of our public (not private) education system, and preserving local control. The special session will convene on July 18.

 


The State Board of Education hears from education commissioner Mike Morath at the board's June 2017 meeting.

The SBOE hears from Commissioner Mike Morath at the board’s June 2017 meeting.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been in attendance to report on all the action.

As Mark reported for our blog on Tuesday, the board began its meeting hearing from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and learning about legislative revisions to the state’s “A through F” accountability system and the recent roll-out of new STAAR report cards by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Much of the SBOE’s work this week has been centered around revisions to the curriculum standards for English and Spanish language arts and reading. The board also looked at its process for TEKS revisions, as Mark described on Wednesday. Appointing board members to serve on a new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee was also on the agenda this week. On Thursday, Mark reported that SBOE committees took a closer look at education bills passed by the 85th Texas Legislature this year and considered impacts on the Permanent School Fund. It was also reported this week that the fund surpassed its investment benchmarks and hit the $32 billion mark for the first time.

For a wrap-up of this week’s SBOE action, check out Mark’s latest blog post here.

 


ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

This week, a group of ATPE leaders and staff traveled to Washington, DC to discuss federal education concerns. ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner were joined by Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann and Monty Exter. David Pore, ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist, arranged meetings for the team with several key officials in the nation’s capital.

The team had a jam-packed schedule of more than 20 meetings this week, visiting with both the U.S. House and Senate committees that cover K-12 education issues, staff of the U.S. Department of Education, and a sizable chunk of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE’s representatives primarily focused the discussions on three issue areas: the repeal and replacement of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that limits many educators’ access to Social Security benefits; implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and troubling signs that the country’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing for privatization of the public education system.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

One of the first meetings our team conducted this week was with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chair of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brady has been working with ATPE and other stakeholder groups on a bill that will repeal the current WEP and replace it with a much fairer system. During the meeting, he told ATPE Vice Present Carl Garner that he is looking forward to reintroducing his legislation and that when he does so, he expects it to move through Congress quickly.

Overall the visiting ATPE team reported that they received a very positive reception to our message during their many visits with lawmakers and staff. Executive Director Gary Godsey called it the most productive trip to Washington he’s taken since joining the organization. For more highlights of the Washington trip, check out ATPE’s Facebook page.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

 


 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 16, 2017

School is out for the summer, but education news keeps churning; here is your weekly wrap-up:


ThinkstockPhotos-187006771-USCapAs we reported extensively last week, Governor Abbott has called a special session to address 20 anticipated issues, a number of which involve your career, your students, your classrooms, and your schools. After five months of fighting hard and ultimately defeating policies that would establish vouchers in a number of different forms and selectively prohibit educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction, the Governor is now calling legislators back to Austin to reconsider both issues and encouraging them to act on these issues he considers priorities. He wants legislators to consider these policies while also addressing ways to merely study school finance (despite the existence of bills to overhaul and improve the system), give teachers a $1,000 pay raise (that he doesn’t expect the state to put new money towards), and offer administrators more flexibility to hire, fire, and retain teachers (an issue that received little to no discussion during the regular legislative session and on which the Governor has offered no additional information).

Your legislators need to hear from you on all of these special session issues!

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE urges educators and supporters of public education to contact their legislators on all of these issues. Teachers deserve a pay raise, but they deserve a real one – one the state intends to pay for! Students deserve a public school system that is fully funded and not parsed into a system that sends public funds to unaccountable private schools! Educators deserve respect, not to be targeted by policies that seek to suppress their collective voice under the false pretense that payroll deduction costs the state money! ATPE members may visit Advocacy Central to call, tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to representatives and senators on these issues. Your legislators need to hear from you!

Related content: From the Texas Tribune this week, Ross Ramsey offers analysis on another issue added to the special session call: property tax reform. As the legislature sets to again discuss property tax reform, Ramsey warns property owners not to get too excited. “That does not mean your tax bill is going to get any smaller,” he writes. As ATPE has pointed out in the past with a growing chorus of other public education advocates, Ramsey explains how funding public schools at the state level lowers the tax burden on homeowners locally. Read the full piece here.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThis week the U.S. Department of Education (ED) offered initial feedback to three states that have already submitted state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act as the primary federal education law governing education policy for pre-K through grade 12 schools, and each state is required to develop a plan for its own implementation of the new federal law.

States must submit their final ESSA plans to the department later this year, but 13 states took the optional opportunity to submit a draft plan in April and get initial feedback from the feds. The department released its initial input for three of those states on Tuesday, which took many by surprise due to the extensiveness of the response. (The Trump administration has said only that it will follow the letter of the law, repealing several regulations established under the Obama administration and not writing any new regulations to more specifically define elements of the law Congress wrote.)

Delaware was one of the three states that received initial feedback, and one piece might be of interest to Texas as it continues to write its own ESSA plan (since Texas was not one of the 13 states to submit a plan for initial review). Delaware wanted to include student performance on state math, English, science, and social studies tests as a part of its accountability measures to satisfy federal perimeters, but ED responded that Delaware should rethink the addition of social studies and science. Based on this, it seems ED is interpreting ESSA to say that state accountability systems should only utilize math and English tests as indicators. Texas tests students in all four subjects as well, and our state accountability system currently takes the results of all tests into account. As the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to develop Texas’s ESSA plan, this could influence decisions made with regard to including student performance targets in science and social studies.

Further complicating the discussion, Texas lawmakers considered the elimination of certain social studies exams during the 85th regular legislative session, although no such bill passed. Stakeholders and lawmakers alike were ultimately successful in maintaining the exams based on the concern that what isn’t tested, might not remain a focus of classroom learning through textbooks, teaching, etc. How these developments will play into Texas’s ESSA plan remain uncertain.

A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists will be in Washington, D.C. next week meeting with ED officials and members of Congress to discuss ESSA and other issues. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 26, 2017

We’re counting down the last few days of the 85th legislative session. Here are the latest updates:


The 85th Texas Legislature is set to adjourn sine die on Monday, May 29. As the clock winds down on the regular session, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides this update on the ongoing state budget negotiations:

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashLawmakers are within sight of fulfilling their only constitutional obligation: To pass a state budget for the next two years. Despite all the threats regarding bathrooms and tax elections, failure to pass a budget during the 140 days of regular session is the only circumstance that would automatically trigger a special session.

This week conferees from the House and Senate have busily worked to iron out differences between the two chambers on SB 1, the general appropriations act – AKA the budget. On Thursday, the ten negotiators released their conference committee report, the last step before the budget receives a final vote in the House and Senate. Earlier this week, the committee posted issue docket decisions outlining the negotiation points within each budget article.

The final budget agreement allocates $216.8 billion in total state and federal funds over the next two years, including $106.7 billion in state general revenue. The budget funds public education at current levels adjusted for enrollment growth, but does so in part by taking advantage of rising local property values to further reduce the share of state funding. A proposal by House leadership to provide roughly $1.8 billion in additional funding to public schools contingent upon a school finance reform bill was killed by the Senate, which stripped the proposal down to $500 million before killing the bill altogether by refusing an offer by the House to negotiate.

Lawmakers reduced funding in a number of areas, including eliminating funding for the governor’s high quality pre-K program. The budget will draw $1 billion from the $10 billion rainy day fund and defer a $2 billion payment to the highway fund in order to avoid further program cuts.

The state budget is eligible for final consideration before the full House and Senate on Saturday, at which point each chamber may either approve or reject the bill by an “up or down” vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates this weekend.

 

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., there has been movement on drafting a federal budget. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann offers this report on the week’s developments:

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundPresident Donald Trump’s full budget proposal was released Tuesday, and, as was outlined in his budget blueprint released earlier this year, he wants to cut the federal education budget by more than 13 percent. The cuts would total $9.2 billion under the most recent proposal and would include slashing over $2 billion for a program aimed at teacher and principal training as well as more than $1 billion for after-school programs.

The proposed federal budget would also maintain regular Title I funding at current levels, but dedicate just under $1.5 billion to pet programs of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos under the guise of “school choice.” Within that amount, $250 million would go toward creating the beginnings of a federal voucher program for private schools. (It is expected that the administration and Secretary Devos will separately push a type of voucher known as a tax credit scholarship when President Trump pushes forward with a tax reform plan.) The remaining money would go toward a funding structure known as Title I portability and charter schools, with the vast majority going to the former. Title I portability would allow public school students to take their federal funding with them as they go to the public schools of their choice. ATPE has expressed concern over this type of funding in a letter to members of Congress because “focusing funding on individual students would divert funding from schools that serve students living in high concentrations of poverty” and are in most need of the additional federal funding.

However, President Trump’s full budget proposal is just that, a proposal. Following the release of the proposal, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander stated, “Congress will write the budget and set the spending priorities. Where we find good ideas in the president’s budget, we will use them.” It is now up to Congress to develop a federal spending plan they can advance to the President for a signature. More details on the full proposal from the president can be read here.

 


Hopes for improved school funding and property tax relief were dashed this week when the Senate opted to doom House Bill (HB) 21, a school finance bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), rather than continue to negotiate its fate.

As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, Huberty’s bill had broad support from the education community when it was approved by the House, offering an additional $1.6 billion in funding for public schools, hardship grants to help districts facing the loss of ASATR funding set to expire, and additional aid to students with dyslexia. However, the Senate chose to strip funding from the bill and use it instead as a vehicle for an educational savings account (ESA) voucher to pay for students with special needs to attend private or home schools. The Senate passed its version of HB 21 in the overnight hours Monday night/Tuesday morning by a vote of 21-10.

On Wednesday, the House discussed the Senate’s controversial changes to the bill. Chairman Huberty spoke passionately about the House’s efforts to find a school finance fix and lamented that the Senate had gutted the bill and stripped out its method of finance. House members also acknowledged the fact that passage of a school finance reform bill would be the only “direct” way that lawmakers could lower local property taxes. Rejecting the Senate’s version of the bill, Reps. Huberty, Trent Ashby, Ken King, Gary VanDeaver, and Diego Bernal were then appointed to serve on a conference committee for HB 21.

NO VOUCHERSThe House also voted on a few motions to instruct their conferees, which serve to give guidance to the conference committee on the will of the House as negotiations continue on a bill. The first motion to instruct was made by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear) who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. It called for the conferees to reject any voucher language in the school finance bill, and the House approved that motion by a vote of 101-45. Next, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) offered a motion to instruct the conferees to look for ways to offer school choice (vouchers) to students with special needs. The House rejected that instruction with a vote of 47-89. The House also adopted a motion to instruct by Rep. Ken King urging conferees to seek additional money for hardship grants to help districts that are losing ASATR funds; that motion passed on a vote of 132-12.

With the House having sent another strong message rejecting vouchers in any form, HB 21 was again in the hands of the Senate to appoint its five members of a conference committee to try to hammer out an agreement that would offer some school finance relief. Senate leaders announced quickly that same afternoon that they would not appoint members to a conference committee for further negotiations on the bill, effectively sealing its fate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to point the finger at House leaders for killing the bill, saying he was “appalled” that the Senate’s voucher plan to help students with special needs was rejected. House Speaker Joe Straus responded that the House had tried to work on school finance until the Senate abandoned that effort. “The Senate has chosen to focus on sending taxpayer dollars to private schools,” Straus wrote in a statement. “Most House members don’t support that idea, as today’s vote once again showed.” Straus added, “Unfortunately, the Senate walked away and left the problems facing our schools to keep getting worse.”

The only real school finance-related legislation still alive at this point is in the form of an amendment the Senate added to HB 22, the A-F accountability bill still being considered. The Senate added language to that bill pulled from SB 2144 calling for the creation of a commission that would study school finance during the interim.

 


In a signing ceremony yesterday, Gov. Gregg Abbott enacted Senate Bill (SB) 7, a bill aimed at stemming and strengthening penalties for educator misconduct, including inappropriate relationships with students. The bill by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which ATPE and other educator groups supported, will take effect September 1, 2017.

SB 7 requires automatic revocation of certificates of any educators who are required to register as sex offenders and requires educators applying for a new teaching job to disclose in an affidavit if they have ever been charged with or convicted of a crime involving misconduct with students. Some educators convicted of certain crimes involving children would lose their TRS pensions, too. The legislation expands current requirements for superintendents to report teacher misconduct to the State Board for Educator Certification by adding some new reporting requirements for school principals. SB 7 also requires school districts to adopt a policy on electronic communications between teachers and students, which many districts already have in place.

In an op-ed yesterday for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, Gov. Abbott wrote, “We will protect our children from sexual predators in our classrooms. We will not allow a few rotten apples to abuse this position of trust.” Commissioner of Education Mike Morath also praised the new law in a blog post:

“Parents should be confident that our schools are places of learning and trust for all students. When violations of that trust occur, there should be consequences. Senate Bill 7 provides the Texas Education Agency, law enforcement and local school districts with additional tools to continue our work in combatting educator misconduct.”

 


Drugs and MoneyThe 85th Legislature has finally passed a bill to prevent the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators from going under. House Bill (HB) 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) received the approval of both the House and Senate and has been sent to Gov. Abbott for his review. The bill raises costs and limits options for retirees, but it was viewed as must-pass legislation by ATPE and other educator groups concerned about saving the TRS-Care program from going bankrupt. If the bill becomes law, these changes will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2018, and the TRS Board of Trustees will have a few months to iron out the details of the new plan. For more on the history of the TRS-Care legislation, view this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter who has followed this issue throughout the legislative session.

 


Among the bills that remain up in the air in these waning days of the legislative session are Senate Bill (SB) 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo). The bill would extend the law allowing for Individual Graduation Committees to decide if certain students may graduate despite failing a STAAR test. That law, enacted in 2015, is set to expire unless the legislature acts. Sen. Seliger’s bill as filed would have made the IGC law permanent, but some senators objected and gave it merely a two-year extension instead. House members, under the leadership of Chairman Huberty, voted to extend the bill’s life to 2021. Now the Senate has an opportunity to concur in the Senate’s changes to the bill or appoint a conference committee if further negotiations are desired. It is up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to decide if he will give Sen. Seliger an opportunity to bring up the bill and allow the Senate to make such a choice. If the Senate declines to take any action, the bill will die and the IGC law will expire.

Also pending is House Bill (HB) 22 by Chairman Huberty, aimed at improving the state’s A through F accountability system. The Senate passed its version of that bill at around 2:30 am early Wednesday morning, and Chairman Huberty asked the House this afternoon not to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill. The House therefore has appointed Huberty to serve on a conference committee for HB 22, joined by House Public Education Committee Vice Chairman Diego Bernal, Rep. Ken King, Rep. Gary VanDeaver, and Rep. Harold Dutton. Check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter for more on HB 22 and where it stands today.

Another bill most likely headed to a conference committee is Senate Bill 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which pertains to educator preparation and certification laws. It’s one of several ed prep bills that have been watched closely this session and undergone a number of changes.

Yet another bill still being considered is Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 515, which began its life as a bill aimed at reduced state-mandated student testing. Along the way, the bill gained an amendment adding language from Rep. Ashby’s HB 1776 that would replace the state’s EOC test for U.S. history with the test administered nationally for citizenship purposes. The Senate made dramatic changes to the bill, stripping out much of the language pertaining to testing and instead calling for the State Board of Education to conduct an interim study of the social studies curriculum across multiple grades. This afternoon, on a motion by Rep. VanDeaver, the House voted to reject the Senate’s changes to the bill and appoint a conference committee instead. As with other bills, the conference committee must strike a deal by Saturday night to be voted on no later than Sunday by both the House and Senate. Otherwise, that bill will be declared dead, too.

A conference committee was already appointed on SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-cyberbullying bill that ATPE supported. That conference committee has completed its work and submitted a report containing the agreed-upon bill language to be voted on by the House and Senate this weekend.

ThinkstockPhotos-476529187-hourglassOf course, there is also legislation dealing with high-profile political issues that have been identified by Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott as “must pass” bills before the session deadlines run out, including restrictions on the use of bathrooms by transgender students, changes to local property tax laws, and voter ID requirements, which remain undecided at this point. Also, bills to keep some state agencies operating for the next two years are dependent on the passage of sunset legislation that has not yet been finalized. Many will be watching this weekend to see if deals can be struck to avoid a special session. As always, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest news.

 


We wish you all a peaceful Memorial Day!