Tag Archives: Districts of Innovation

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

o  The Senate’s voucher amendment to HB 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·        Create an early childhood through third grade teaching certificate;

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Legislative Victories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATPE's 2016-17 State Officers

ATPE’s 2016-17 State Officers

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 9, 2017

Here’s your latest news wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


IMG_8509On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans for a special session beginning July 18. This “overtime” period for the 85th legislature is needed only because lawmakers failed to pass an important, time-sensitive agency sunset bill that affects the licensing of medical professionals, a failure many are attributing to deliberate stall tactics and the “bill kidnapping” approach taken by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the final week of the regular session. Lawmakers could address the sunset issue within a matter of days and head home to enjoy the dog days of summer with their families, but Abbott is calling on them to take up 19 additional issues during the 30-day special session, which is estimated to cost taxpayers about $1 million.

During the governor’s press conference, he led off his laundry list of topics for the upcoming special session with a surprise announcement that he wants lawmakers to mandate a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers. The catch, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains in this blog post, is that no additional money would be appropriated for the salary increase. Gov. Abbott made it clear that he intends for school districts to find money within their existing budgets to cover the proposed pay raise. For many districts, that would necessitate cuts in some other area, which would very likely be expenditures for staff pay or benefits, such as healthcare programs that are already becoming increasingly hard for educators to afford. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter added in this video for Twitter that potential offsets could include staff layoffs or higher class sizes, depending on each district’s financial circumstances and priorities.

If the governor planned to use this special session as another shot at meaningful school finance reform, then perhaps legislators could find ways to fund a teacher pay raise and other critical needs of our public schools. Unfortunately, the only school finance-related issue on the governor’s call is legislation to appoint a statewide commission to study school finance during the next interim.

Another surprise topic added to the governor’s agenda for the special session is giving districts greater “flexibility” in their hiring and firing decisions. Teacher contract rights have been targeted in prior legislative sessions, but the topic was hardly broached during the 2017 legislative session.

ATPE representatives testified against a bill to eliminate teachers' payroll deduction rights during the regular session.

ATPE representatives testified against an anti-educator bill to eliminate teachers’ payroll deduction rights during the regular session. The contentious issue is being revived for the upcoming special session.

The remaining school-related items in the special session outline are a trio of controversial, highly partisan scorecard issues from bills that failed to garner enough support to pass during the regular session:

  • One is the anti-educator legislation to do away with teachers’ rights to pay their voluntary professional association dues using payroll deduction. In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Abbott revived tired rhetoric from his Jan. 2017 State of the State address that has already been proven false – the claim that taxpayer dollars are being spent to collect “union dues.” We will continue to refute this unfounded claim and fight this harmful, unnecessary measure aimed at silencing educators’ voices by making it more difficult for them to join associations like ATPE.
  • Also on tap for this legislative overtime is yet another push for private school vouchers for students with special needs. With the Texas House of Representatives having already voted multiple times to reject this idea, it is hard to fathom a sudden change of heart that would give this legislation a greater chance of passing during the special session.
  • Lastly, the governor is also asking lawmakers again to try to restrict local school districts’ adoption of policies on bathroom usage. Both chambers passed versions of a bathroom bill during the regular session, but they could not agree on the extent to which the state should infringe on local control over these decisions. In other words, get ready for even more potty talk.

To read the full list of the governor’s priorities for the special session, view ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post here. Also, check out ATPE’s press release, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for new developments.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there. She provided an update in this blog post on the items being discussed today by the board. They include plans to add a new early childhood teaching certificate mandated by the legislature recently, plus how Districts of Innovation are claiming exemptions from certification laws.

 


 

 

Highlights of today’s SBEC meeting

SBECThe State Board for Education Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin to take up an agenda involving a few actions items and several discussions. The topic of Districts of Innovation (DOIs) has also made several appearances at today’s meeting.

 

Action Items

The action items for today’s meeting included preliminary action on new passing standards for out-of-country certification candidates required to show evidence of English language proficiency via the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). A committee of stakeholders proposed minimum cut scores of 24 for the speaking portion of the exam, 25 on the reading, 25 on the listening, and 21 on the writing. The board also took a preliminary step to disallow out-of-country candidates to show English language proficiency solely based on the fact that they earned a degree from an institution of higher education that delivers instruction in English. The board also took final action on revisions to late renewal requirements for certificate holders. The new language clarifies processes for certification renewals that are submitted not more than six months after the renewal deadline and those submitted more than six months after the deadline.

 

Discussion Items

The discussion items before the board today included an update on work to redesign the principal and teacher surveys for the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP); a presentation on the plan to implement the recent changes to rule chapters involving educator preparation programs and their candidates; and an initial discussion regarding future extensive changes to the Standard School Counselor Certificate requirements and standards, as well as additional changes to the Standard Educational Diagnostician Certificate.

The board also received an update on the SBEC directive to explore best pathways for training early childhood through grade 3 teachers. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on the decision by the 85th Texas Legislature to pass legislation mandating the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate. Staff expanded the discussion to include an educator certification structure redesign to best accommodate new certificate and district needs. The board approved a Classroom Teacher Standards Advisory Committee, which includes ATPE members, to immediately begin work on addressing this charge.

 

Districts of Innovation

The topic of Districts of Innovation (DOI) also came up several times at today’s meeting. First, in relation to approving the rule review process for the SBEC chapter involving school personnel assignments, TEA staff presented data on district’s certification exemptions under DOI. To date, 416 Texas districts across the state have exempted themselves from certification requirements. Examples of district reasons for certification exemptions shared by TEA included the desire to hire trade professionals to teach CTE courses (an area where state law already grants considerable flexibility to districts); the flexibility to allow teachers to teach outside their field of certification; the intent to hire community college instructors and university professors; and the need to fill science, math and foreign language classrooms in rural areas of the state. The data presented also showed that 127 districts have exempted themselves from the requirement to notify parents of a student who is taught by an uncertified teacher, and 12 DOIs will not follow state law requiring districts to void the contract of a probationary educator who fails to complete all certification requirements in the three years the candidate is given to do so.

Later, TEA attorneys also explained to members of the board how it is possible for DOIs to hire educators who previously had their SBEC certificates revoked  - even permanently – because state law fails to prevent such conduct, despite specific provisions in place for charter schools given similar flexibility.

House Public Education reviews grab bag of school bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider a score of bills touching a variety of subjects. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing by referring the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian): HB 49, HB 218, HB 331, HB 333, HB 460, HB 816, HB 972, HB 1255, HB 1403, HB 1469 and HB 1485.

The day’s testimony began with HB 1291 by state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), which would add “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS would include the study of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 639 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would authorize districts to obtain health benefit plan, liability or auto insurance for partner businesses and students participating in CTE programs. Anderson suggested insurance is important in the event of accidents related to CTE instruction.

HB 1645 by state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require school districts that offer varsity letters to adopt a policy that allows students to earn a letter for participating in a Special Olympics event. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 69 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

HB 264 by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require TEA to continue until 2020 providing outreach materials to districts required under Section 28.015, Education Code, regarding public school curriculum changes under House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. The section includes explanations of the basic career and college readiness components of each endorsement, requirements to gain automatic college admission, and financial aid requirements for the TEXAS grant and the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program. The section is currently set to expire September 1, 2018.

HB 452 by state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would require report cards to include the number of students in each class. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 728 by state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would create an advanced computer science program that would satisfy the curriculum requirements for a third math or science credit.

HB 1270 by state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) would allow schools to excuse student absences for the purpose of visiting a military recruitment center. A similar provision currently allows for excused absences to visit a college or university campus.

HB 136 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include a CTE objective under the public education objectives enumerated in Section 4.001(b), Education Code. The text would read, “Objective 11: The State Board of Education, the agency, and the commissioner shall assist school districts and charter schools in providing career and technology education and effective workforce training opportunities to students.”

HB 1389 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. The bill would result in smaller class sizes for schools that are currently over the limit, but would not carry a significant fiscal impact to the state budget. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 710 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would extend free half-day prekindergarten to full-day for the same set of eligible students. Research has shown early childhood education improves student learning through the elementary grades, leading to improved educational outcomes overall. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost $1.6 billion over the 2018-2019 biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 620 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would allow districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and require instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. This would allow districts more flexibility in scheduling, provide additional time to prepare for first semester assessments, and allow for earlier summer release. No fiscal impact to the state is anticipated. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, pointing out that current restrictions can be burdensome when it comes to predictably and adequately allocating instruction time.

HB 729 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would integrate character traits instruction into the TEKS, and require a center for education research to study the effects of character traits instruction on student attendance and disciplinary problems. Bohac suggested emphasizing positive character traits would improve school performance overall. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in favor of the bill, noting that statewide standards would eliminate the patchwork implementation of character traits instruction.

HB 404 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) would create higher education curriculum review teams charged with reviewing changes to the TEKS. Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appoints TEKS review committees composed largely of K-12 teachers, as well as up to seven “experts” as defined by board rules. This bill would define a process and expert panel with at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the relevant subject or a doctorate in education. The panel would be selected the Higher Education Coordinating Board and higher education commissioner, which would insulate the experts from the appearance of political influence. The bill would also protect the panel’s recommendations by setting a two-thirds vote threshold for SBOE.

Rep. Anchia described the bill as “a work in progress.” ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in favor of the bill, and advocated for ensuring that K-12 educators have a meaningful impact on the process as well. Recently, SBOE has taken steps to improve its TEKS review process, and ATPE supports a collaborative effort to codify improvements in statute in order to ensure the success of future reviews.

HB 539 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. According to TEA, roughly 12,000 students, about 0.3 percent of the state’s total enrollment, are currently enrolled in the virtual school network. Approximately 63,500 military dependents are enrolled in grades three through twelve. The Legislative Budget Board assumes 0.5 percent, or 318 students, would enroll in the virtual school network. Based on that, the fiscal note assumes the change would cost an additional $5.3 million – which Chairman Huberty and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) disputed, suggesting the expense was overstated.

HB 367 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. Some schools already do this, but this bill would guarantee that right in statute and give rulemaking authority to the commissioner of education. No significant fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.

HB 357 by Chairman Huberty would extend free prekindergarten eligibility to the children of anyone eligible for the Star of Texas Award for police, firefighters and emergency medical first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. According to the fiscal note, no significant impact on the budget is expected. ATPE supports this bill.

All those bills were left pending.

The board unanimously approved HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state. The bill will head to the House floor next.

The committee also resumed consideration of HB 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to public education. Huberty warned that without HB 21, the budget would effectively fund $140 less per pupil and there would be no plan for dealing with the expiration of ASATR.

Noting he has had numerous meetings with stakeholders, Huberty suggested hardship grants for districts losing ASATR could be stair-stepped. Additional transportation funding could be capped at five percent of the total spend, Chapter 41 districts at 15 percent and ASATR at 80 percent, or $100 million in 2018 and $60 million in 2019. Discussing whether lawmakers should offer more or less flexibility regarding grant fund allocation, TEA recommended erring on the side of being more prescriptive in order to provide clear direction.

For the 327 school districts whose property taxes are maxed out at $1.17, the committee entertained testimony suggesting raising the yield on “copper pennies.” It’s important to note that the more the state spends on public education in general, the less school districts will be forced to rely on local homeowners for funding. In other words, real property tax relief – not the bumper sticker kind, but meaningful relief – begins with putting more state money into public education.

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Huberty signaled his intent to vote on a committee substitute at next Tuesday’s hearing. That meeting will focus on bills dealing with public school accountability, including “A though F.”

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rep. Dan Huberty

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

 

Preparation, training, and support that educators deserve

Students School College Teaching Learning Education ConceptAs we reported following the board’s meeting last month, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) recently revised a number of rules involving educator preparation in Texas. The lengthy and thorough process to rewrite the rules lasted about a year. The rules cover preparation, program requirements, pathways to certification, and more, and they seek to raise the quality of training all teachers receive before going into the classroom where they are expected to excel.

One of ATPE’s policy priorities involves a strong focus on all aspects of the teacher pipeline, and that starts with high-quality training for Texas educators. ATPE recognizes that we do a disservice to our teachers and our students when inadequately prepared educators are placed in the classroom and expected to achieve excellence. We also recognize that we cannot expect teachers to stay in the profession if they aren’t strongly prepared to enter the classroom in the first place.

ATPE knows that Texas teachers are incredible and work hard in their classrooms (and beyond!) every day to provide a great education for the students they teach; they deserve high-quality preparation that will provide them with a strong, solid base and great potential from which they can continue to grow.


Research also backs ATPE’s focus on ensuring all Texas teachers receive the high-quality preparation and support they deserve. A sampling of those findings include: that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting a student’s success; that we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for educator preparation; that candidates seeking certification through the state’s most popular pathway, alternative certification (or a post-baccalaureate path that can currently involve as little as two weeks of training), are leaving the classroom at a faster rate than their peers; and that teacher turnover could be costing our state up to billions of dollars.


SBEC’s new rules are not extreme and they represent a lot of compromise with interests that thought original proposals went too far. Still, they set a foundation and represent a positive step. Here are some of the ways SBEC’s new rules seek to improve preparation:

  • a two-tiered system of probationary certification for alternative certification candidates, which better identifies a candidate’s level of training and requires supplementary support for less prepared candidates;
  • revised measures of accountability for EPPs, such as a newly established new-teacher survey;
  • a more appropriate definition of “late hire” candidates, who are put in the classroom as the teacher-of-record with significantly less coursework and training; and
  • an increase in the number of coursework hours a candidate must receive prior to an internship or clinical teaching.

The rule revisions and rationale for the changes can be read in their entirety here. They now go to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which will review them at its meeting in two weeks and can affirm the proposals or send them back to SBEC for further review.

Educational Aide Certificate

The SBEC rules also include recent changes to educational aide certificates. The new rules specify that beginning Sept. 1, 2017, all educational aide certificates issued will be valid for two years. The current validity period of an educational aide certificates is five years. Concurrently, the fees associated with renewing an educational aide certificate will be reduced to $15 (from $30). Those aides with lifetime certificates will not be affected by this change.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided several reasons for this move in their rationale to SBEC, including a large number of unused certificates and the issues this can cause with TEA’s investigations and prosecutions divisions. According to TEA staff, a total of 227,910 educational aide certificates were issued in the 2014-15 school year, but only approximately 53,791 educational aides were actively employed.

As TEA has explained it, although only 53,791 educational aides were employed in schools, the investigations and prosecutions divisions remain responsible for all 227,910 certificate holders, meaning they are using resources to pursue any certificate holder accused of wrongdoing. As TEA put it, “Shortening the validity period for the educational aide certificate would focus TEA investigative and prosecutorial resources only on those who are actively using the educational aide certificate in a Texas public school.”

Districts of Innovation

Regardless of the SBOE’s actions on these newly revised certification rules, another piece of education policy has the potential to interfere with SBEC’s work: Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law was created by the Texas legislature last session, and it allows certain school districts to opt out of the majority of the Texas Education Code, including provisions requiring quality teacher preparation and certification. ATPE will continue to advocate for high-quality educator training for all Texas educators and will encourage the upcoming legislature to join SBEC in its quest toward raised standards as they consider the potential negative effects of the broad exemption opportunities created under the DOI statutes. Fore more on DOI, visit our DOI Resource Page at atpe.org.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 14, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are education news stories you might have missed this week:


Road sign toward election 2016We’re only 10 days away from the start of early voting for the 2016 general election. Many thanks to all of you who helped get pro-public education voters registered. Read more about Texas’s record-setting voter registration statistics in this recent article from The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. The early voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4. Early voting enables you to visit any polling place within your county or political subdivision. In most counties, if you wait until Election Day to vote, you’ll be required to vote in the assigned polling location for your precinct. Voters over the age of 65 or those unable to make it to the polls due to certain circumstances such as illness may apply for a ballot by mail. Learn more about the requirements for voting here. Also, click here to find out about ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, which includes ATPE, is encouraging school leaders to help get their employees to the polls during the early voting period.

I votedNow is a great time to find out where legislative and State Board of Education candidates stand on public education issues. Use our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that unlike the primary elections held earlier this year where voters had to choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election regardless of party affiliation, including independent candidates.


The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, where the main topic of discussion will be private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote next week. In the meantime, check out this video press release where Monty explains why ATPE remains committed to fighting efforts to implement a publicly funded voucher or private school scholarship program in Texas.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education has released new federal rules for teacher preparation, which include requirements for states to hold educator preparation programs accountable for a number of factors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been following the development of the rules over the last couple of years and provided a full report for Teach the Vote earlier this week.


Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants teachers to help students learn how to interact with law enforcement officers in the hope of decreasing violent incidents. Whitmire has announced plans to file a bill that would make lessons on police interaction part of the required curriculum for students in the ninth grade. The topic was discussed at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Whitmire chairs. Read more about the idea in a recent story from KVUE News here, and check out a related interview with ATPE member Cristal Misplay, who worked as a law enforcement officer before becoming a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD. We want to hear your thoughts on requiring the ninth grade curriculum to include lessons on interacting with police. Post your comments below.


Rent on red business binderAustin ISD is considering ways to foster teacher retention by partnering with the City of Austin to explore future affordable housing options for educators and other public employees. Austin ATPE President Heidi Langan spoke to KXAN News this week about the local cost of teacher turnover. Her district has struggled to keep teachers who often leave for neighboring districts that offer higher salaries and where houses are more affordable. Check out the full interview here.


Are you a teacher or parent in a school district that is considering a District of Innovation (DOI) designation? ATPE has a resource page dedicated to helping stakeholders navigate the DOI process and learn about the types of laws that can be waived in districts that avail themselves of the new DOI law. Our resource page includes examples of some Texas school districts that have become DOIs and provides tips on how to share input with your district through the DOI process. Check out the DOI resource page here.


 

Senate committees preview controversial education issues they will address in 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-144283240It’s been a busy week in the Texas Capitol for the ATPE Governmental Relations team as the Senate held a handful of big issue hearings in the Senate Education and State Affairs committees. The serving of hot topics included vouchers, districts of innovation (DOI), individual graduation committees, and payroll deduction.

Senate Education Committee

The education committee kicked the week off on Tuesday with an interim charge on access to digital learning opportunities in Texas classrooms. Invited testifiers lauded the advantages of using technology programs in the classroom, discussed ways some districts and education service centers (ESCs) have overcome limited broadband access, and dove into the federal e-rate program. The e-rate program is currently offering a 10 to 1 match for states that seek to expand broadband infrastructure. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, who handled testimony in the Senate this week, encouraged senators to take advantage of the limited-time arrangement offered through the e-rate program. He also reminded the committee that while digital learning is a great tool, it is important to not consider it a panacea, and training and support for teachers, among other things, must be paired in order for it to be effective.

The committee also received an update on the individual graduation committees that were created last session by Senator Kel Seliger’s SB 149. The bill received strong support from both education committees last session and was voted out of each chamber by overwhelming majorities, taking immediate effect after being signed into law by the Governor. The law is set to expire unless the Texas Legislature chooses to renew it in 2017. ATPE expressed support for continuing the committees, recognizing that state standardized tests should not be the only thing that stands between a qualified student and a diploma.

On Wednesday, the committee held a marathon interim hearing covering vouchers, DOI, and a bill that altered the minimum school year standard from days to minutes. ATPE joined other public school advocates in opposition of the voucher charge, which instructs the committee to study “education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs” in other states. Exter stressed to senators our concerns about the funding issues with a voucher proposal, which not only uses public dollars to support non-public schools, but also fails to address the real funding problem: the students who need the most resources are the students most underfunded. Under any form of a voucher, it would still be the lowest-income students receiving the fewest amount of resources; such a plan would only exasperate the problem for most.

Exter also testified on DOI, a new Texas law allowing acceptably-rated districts to opt themselves out of large amounts of the education code. A bipartisan handful of senators (those who were left in the room at the late hour) agreed with Exter’s testimony that raised alarm to the fact that essentially no checks and balances exist under the law and additional transparency should be fostered through the application process.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Also on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on payroll deduction. The committee, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), was given an interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” Sen. Huffman authored a bill last legislative session that would have prohibited most public employers, including school districts, from allowing their staffs to use payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to professional associations such as ATPE. That 2015 bill passed the Senate on a party line vote but died in a House committee. On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee first heard testimony from the State Comptroller’s office about the criteria that must be met for organizations to qualify for payroll deductions through government employers. Following that testimony, representatives from the Texas affiliate of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) both urged the committee to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for dues payments but admitted that there was virtually no cost to the state or taxpayers associated with that practice. The committee then heard testimony from several public employees and representatives of groups that could be affected by payroll deduction legislation. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday testified that public employers’ payroll offices routinely process a host of deductions from their employees’ paychecks, including insurance premiums and voluntary payments to charities and professional associations like ATPE. She emphasized that ATPE is not a labor union and does not engage in collective bargaining, calling efforts to prohibit payroll deduction in our state for hardworking public servants such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters an “unnecessary” and “misdirected” objective.

 

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education (SBOE) convened a few blocks away to cover an agenda that included its own high profile issue: a controversial proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook. Look for more on the SBOE meeting in Friday’s wrap-up and stay tuned as the House and Senate committees are poised to convene regularly in the upcoming months.