Tag Archives: early childhood

SBEC delays potential early childhood education certificate

SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met last week for its first regular meeting of 2017. The board welcomed its newest member, Yes Prep’ alternative certification program Director Carlos Villagrana, and continued discussion on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) interest in developing a Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate.

As we previously reported, TEA, through its Office of Early Childhood Education, began discussions with SBEC in December 2016 regarding internal interest in developing a new certificate dedicated to early childhood education. Following the December discussion, the board instructed TEA to (1) gather input from stakeholders on the new certificate and (2) explore the possibility of an early childhood endorsement that would be added to the existing Early Childhood through Grade 6 Certificate (EC-6), the current generalist certificate that would remain under either scenario.

TEA gathered input via a public survey tool and through conversations with stakeholders. When the data from the survey was presented to SBEC at last Friday’s meeting, members of the board expressed frustration over the fact that the survey and subsequent discussion failed to involve consideration of an endorsement, instead focusing solely on the potential new certificate.

Early Childhood EducationOne board member also highlighted that data from the survey showed that the majority of respondents expressed some level of concern with offering a new Prekindergarten-Grade 3 Certificate in addition to the current EC-6. Public testifiers were largely in support of the discussion to offer more specific and focused training to educators of early childhood educators, but several expressed concerns with the additional certification. I previously outlined some of the concerns based on historical context here.

Ultimately, SBEC instructed TEA to take a step back in order to gather better information and stakeholder input on both options. The item will be back before the board at its next meeting in June.


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

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

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

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

Kuhlmann and Sampley at Tribune 02-28-17

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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



TEA seeks input on Early Childhood certification issue

Early Childhood EducationThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) is seeking input from stakeholders on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. TEA has begun discussions with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) regarding adding such a certificate and would like to utilize feedback from the survey when addressing SBEC about the idea at its March meeting.

Your input as an educator working within the Texas public school system will be valuable to TEA and SBEC as they consider moving forward on this possible new certificate. The survey is open until Friday, February 24 and can be found here.

Background and Context

Supporters of adding a more narrow certificate field for early childhood educators believe it would help teachers assigned to those early grades focus on the needs of their students. More specified certification and training gives teachers in the classroom a more specific skill set, knowledge, and understanding of the grades they go on to teach. Educators know that the way one teaches and the content one teaches vary significantly between grade levels. Certainly, early education looks much different than education in upper-level primary grades and at the secondary level.

A more specified certification is not a new concept to Texas. Many Texas educators will remember a time when teachers could get either an Early Childhood-Grade 4 Certification or a Grades 4-8 Certification. The vast majority of teachers sought and received an Early Childhood-Grade 4 Certification, leaving few available to fill the remaining primary school classrooms in grades 5 and 6. The unfortunate reality under this scenario was that many teachers were asked to teach outside of their certification area without corresponding training and additional support. Recognizing this wasn’t a good scenario for the teacher or the students in those classrooms, the state moved to the more general Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certification that is now available.

TEA has stated that it is not proposing to do away with the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certification. The new Pre-K to Grade 3 Educator Certificate would be offered simply as an alternative to the current general certificate that covers more grades. However, some worry that if more certification candidates choose to pursue early childhood certification instead of the EC-6 certificate, then the supply of those teachers will outpace the demand in terms of job openings, and teaching assignments in grades 4 through 6 will become harder for districts to staff. This could lead to another waiver situation as was experienced a decade ago when teachers certified in grades K-4 were forced to teach grades 5 or 6 in order to keep their jobs.

ATPE encourages educators to share their feedback on this idea with TEA before the survey closes on Feb. 24.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 8, 2016

We’ve got your wrap-up covering this week’s state and federal education news:

Little children study globeThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the 578 recipients of the high-quality prekindergarten grant program, which parceled out a total of $116 million to Texas school systems. The grant program is the result of House Bill 4, legislation initiated by Gov. Greg Abbott and passed by the 84th Legislature in 2015.

Gov. Abbott declared early childhood education a priority ahead of the 2015 legislative session and the legislature responded with the passage of HB 4. ATPE supported the bill, which increased state funding by $130 million for prekindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures, and its passage was a win for early childhood education advocates.

The passage of HB 4 and this week’s announcement of funding for 578 prekindergarten programs across the state is a welcomed change for programs that had previously seen significant budget cuts and vetoes on bills that supported early childhood education. Still, considering the money is to be dispersed among a large number of school systems, the per pupil dollar amount will be telling in terms of how far the state needs to go to invest in quality and meaningful early education. Recipients of the grant will begin implementing the funding for prekindergarten programs in the upcoming school year.

For a full list of grantees and additional information on the HB 4 High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant Program, visit TEA’s webpage dedicated to the program.

U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released the draft rule text of two assessment portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): the rule administering assessments under the law and the rule pertaining to the new innovative assessment pilot established by the law.

The broad assessment provision draft rules are a result of a compromise reached by a committee of stakeholders through the negotiated rulemaking process, on which Teach the Vote reported earlier this year. Negotiated rulemaking is only required for certain provisions of the law; other ESSA provisions, such as the innovative assessment pilot, are written by way of the department’s traditional rulemaking procedures.

The innovative assessment pilot draft rules include a concept supported by ATPE in a letter written to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. in May and in previous ATPE input provided to Congress. As a means of reducing the time and emphasis placed on standardized testing, ATPE has encouraged Congress and ED to consider allowing states to use a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data. ATPE’s letter to Secretary King asked the department to give pilot states the option to utilize sample testing and pointed to our previous input to Congress. ATPE is pleased that the department included a version of our input in the innovative assessment pilot, which will allow pilot states to consider exploring this already successfully used method of assessing students.

The department’s draft rule offers seven states the opportunity to implement an innovative testing system in some school districts, with the goal for those systems to eventually go statewide. States must implement high-quality testing systems that match the results of current state-standardized tests and fit within four category types: grade span testing for an innovative assessment, assessing a representative sample of students who take the innovative assessment and the state standardized test, including common test items on both the state standardized tests and the innovative assessment, or a broad option that requires states to demonstrate that innovative assessments are as rigorous as current state assessments. Participating states would have up to five years to pilot systems with the opportunity for a two-year extension.

For more, read ATPE’s letter to Secretary King and ATPE’s comments to Congress on limiting the negative impact caused by the overuse of standardized testing and federal assessment requirements.

The 2016-2017 teacher shortage areas were released this week, and the list looks similar to recent years. This year, TEA identifies six shortage areas:

  1. Bilingual/English as a Second Language – Elementary and Secondary Levels
  2. Career and Technical Education
  3. Computer Science/Technology Applications
  4. Mathematics
  5. Science
  6. Special Education – Elementary and Secondary Levels

ThinkstockPhotos-178456596_teacherAhead of every school year, TEA submits to ED a list of shortage areas in Texas. Once the submission receives approval, state administrators have the ability to offer loan forgiveness opportunities to educators teaching in shortage area classrooms, assuring they meet the minimum qualifications required.

Visit the TEA website for more information on eligibility and how to apply.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 11, 2016

Happy Friday! Here’s a recap of this week’s news:

The March 1 Texas primary elections were historic in many ways. Some closely watched races resulted in narrow margins of victory and even prompted recounts and further analysis of the ballots in some instances.

Hugh Shine has prevailed in a recount for Texas's House District 55 seat.

Hugh Shine prevails in recount for Texas’s House District 55 seat.

In House District 55, incumbent Rep. Molly White (R) faced a tough challenge by Hugh Shine (R), who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC. Shine defeated White in the Republican primary election on March 1, but White asked for a recount. As reported this week, Shine remained the winner by a margin of 104 votes upon completion of the recount, and White conceded her loss to him. Shine will become the new state representative for the central Texas district since there are no Democratic, third-party, or independent candidates on the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, in the closely watched race to succeed Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) in Senate District 1, there is still no answer as to which candidate will earn the second place spot and a right to compete in a runoff against front-runner Bryan Hughes (R). It was initially reported that David Simpson (R) edged out James K. “Red” Brown (R) for second place by only 13 votes, but officials have been busy this week counting all the votes, including provisional ballots and military ballots often submitted by mail from members of the armed services who reside in the district but are currently stationed outside the country. Our friends at The Texas Tribune reported yesterday that Simpson and Brown “traded places intermittently throughout the week as results from provisional ballots across the district’s 16 counties came in. At various points on Thursday, each candidate appeared to have won by a handful of votes as they contended for a chance to face state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in a runoff to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. Once official canvassed results are finalized, the third-place candidate will have the opportunity to request a recount.” Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this extremely close race.

Check out last week’s blog post to read more results from the March 1 primaries and previews of major runoffs. Visit the 2016 Races pages to view runoff candidates’ voting records, responses to the ATPE candidate survey, and additional information.


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann contributed the following update on education-related developments in the nation’s capital this week.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) met Wednesday, March 9, to consider the nomination of Dr. John King to serve as Secretary of Education. Dr. King is currently functioning as the acting secretary after serving as the Deputy Education Secretary at the Department of Education (ED) under Secretary Arne Duncan. After being nominated by President Obama to fill the post, the HELP committee convened a confirmation hearing on the nomination in late February where King was asked to weigh in on issues of importance to public education.

In its markup this week, the HELP committee voted 16-6 to advance King’s nomination to the full Senate. In his closing comments, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he hoped the Senate would promptly confirm Dr. King, highlighting the need for accountable leadership as ED works to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The six no votes came from Republican members of the committee, but Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also expressed hesitation. She said she would not be able to support Dr. King’s nomination in the full Senate until she gets answers to her policy questions on student loans and for-profit colleges.

In related news, Dr. King continued his Capitol Hill budget tour this week. King testified Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. We reported late last month that he testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. King is making the rounds to defend President Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposal.


ThinkstockPhotos-152142396_preschoolThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently posted proposed new commissioner’s rules to implement a major pre-Kindergarten grant program pursuant to Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 4 that passed in 2015. Under the program, school districts and charter schools that implement certain quality standards for curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement may apply for grant funding starting in 2016. The commissioner is required to propose and adopt rules to determine parameters for the grants. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following additional information about the rulemaking process that is underway now:

ATPE submitted formal written input on the proposed rules earlier this week. Our comments addressed funding, flexibility, standards, and reporting. First, we suggested adding some simple procedures to give grantees a better sense of certainty on funding levels for budgeting purposes. We called for additional flexibility in choosing or creating instruments to assess the progress of pre-K students. We praised the agency for upholding high standards for pre-K teachers while requesting clarification that grantees can use their grant dollars to help educators meet those higher standards. Finally, we cautioned against making the same mistakes on overemphasis of accountability measures, particularly those driven by standardized assessment data, that have plagued middle and upper grade levels for years, if not decades.

Read ATPE’s full comments on the proposed pre-K rules here.


Don’t forget to set your clocks forward this weekend!


Legislative Update: Budget approval and more on the final countdown

We’re in the home stretch of the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest on education-related bills that are still on the move:

State budget and TRS funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass in order to avoid a special session. The House passed its version of HB 1 on April 1 by a vote of 141-5. The Senate approved its version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 30-1. The House version contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system. The Senate’s version provided an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their tax cut proposal was factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth will be covered by increases in property tax revenue. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee where representatives and senators negotiated a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. The budget deal calls for funding enrollment growth plus an additional $1.5 billion for public education.

Today the House and Senate are both considering the conference committee report and taking final votes on the budget plan. The Senate voted 30 to 1 to approve HB 1. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) voted against the motion, saying she preferred to see more spending on education and healthcare. Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) voted for the bill but only after he spoke passionately about his belief that state needs are not being adequately addressed in the appropriations. The House approved the budget a short time later by a vote of 115 to 33.

Tuesday evening the Senate unanimously passed its version of a supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). (The House passed its version of the bill back on April 1.) Yesterday, the House voted 145 to 1 to accept the Senate amendments to the bill, which will send HB 2 on to the governor. Rep. David Simpson (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur. The supplemental appropriations include much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care health insurance for retirees over the next two years.

Tax cuts and spending restrictions

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. The leaders of both chambers ultimately agreed on two tax cut proposals: increasing the homestead exemption to reduce property taxes and lowering the business franchise tax. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) contains the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; if the bill passes, that increase in the exemption will be subject to voter approval in a November election. The bill is pending in a conference committee. HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent, is already on its way to the governor.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also considered multiple measures to curtail state spending. One of the primary measures is SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. After the House changed the bill, the Senate refused to concur in House amendments and has requested a conference committee.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

Two major accountability reform bills are still in flux. HB 2804 is a comprehensive bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) intended to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. Unfortunately, the bill was amended to add a controversial plan, which ATPE opposes, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The House passed the bill by a vote of 102 to 26 after an attempt to strip out the “A-F” language from the bill was narrowly defeated. Read more about the House debate here on our blog. The Senate passed its own version of the bill unanimously on May 25. Now the House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes. HB 2804 is on today’s House calendar.

HB 1842 also by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for turnaround strategies for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 by a vote of 143 to 1 on May 13, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate approved a substitute for HB 1842 on Tuesday night, May 26, around midnight. The upper chamber added numerous floor amendments, many taken from other bills that were procedurally dead. The controversial amendments include Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241 and Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  ”School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669. Language dealing with charter and virtual school expansion was also added to HB 1842. Chairman Aycock is expected to refuse the Senate’s changes to the bill and ask the House today for a conference committee to be appointed.

Student testing and curriculum

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 and on May 25, the full Senate passed an amended version of it. The House refused to accept the Senate’s changes to the bill and is appointing a conference committee.

HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House unanimously on April 30. The Senate passed a substitute version of the bill on May 25 by a vote of 26 to 5, with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) opposing it. The House voted on Wednesday, May 27, to accept the Senate’s changes to the bill. The vote on the motion to concur was 96 to 45, and it sends HB 1164 to the governor’s desk.

HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. It passed the House on May 8 by a vote of 134 to 6. The Senate approved the bill this Tuesday, May 26.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. ATPE has supported the bill, which received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11. The Senate  passed a substitute version of HB 2349 unanimously on Wednesday, May 27.  Today the House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or send the bill to a conference committee.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. On May 25, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The House finally passed the bill, as amended, on May 26 by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate opted not to accept the House’s changes to the bill and has appointed a conference committee.

SB 968 by Sen. Royce West (D) adds a prescription drug misuse awareness component to the school health curriculum. On May 7, the Senate approved it 28 to 3, with Sens. Konni Burton (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The House unanimously approved the measure on Wednesday, May 27.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

Late Tuesday night, the Senate considered HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The bill, which ATPE supported in the House, changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The Senate made several changes to the bill. First, the Senate version of HB 2205 incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After conferring with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s objection to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the Senate sponsor of the 2013 bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75.) As amended by the Senate, HB 2205 also requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before an alternative certification candidate may be hired as a teacher of record; that change is opposed by alternative certification providers. The Senate also added two of Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) dead bills onto HB 2205 as floor amendments. One amendment added language from his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers, while his SB 1222 language added onto the bill gives the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The Senate’s vote on HB 2205 as amended was 28 to 3, with Sens. Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The bill is on the House’s calendar today for a vote on whether to accept the Senate amendments to the bill or send it to a conference committee.

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 on May 12 by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it. This ATPE-backed bill is now on the governor’s desk after being unanimously approved by the Senate on May 22.

Early childhood education

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law two pieces of legislation supported by ATPE that deal with early childhood education. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Abbott signed the bill at a formal ceremony yesterday. He previously signed SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), which calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. The bill gives preference  to teachers at campuses where the majority of students are educationally disadvantaged and entitles teachers who attend the academies to be paid stipends. Gov. Abbott declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has pursued legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. HB 2186 was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar on Wednesday of this week. The House is expected to vote today on accepting the Senate’s amendments to the bill, which should send it to the governor’s office soon.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE has supported the bill. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill on May 24 by a vote of 23 to 7. Since the House refused to accept the Senate’s changes, the bill has been referred to a conference committee.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. The House passed an amended version of the bill on May 12 by a vote of 136 to 9. The Senate added several floor amendments to HB 18 and passed it on Wednesday, May 27 by a vote of 30 to 1; Sen. Konni Burton (R) was the lone dissenter. The House must decide to accept the Senate’s changes or appoint a conference committee.

Charter schools

Only a small number of bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools have made it this far through the legislative process. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) is designed to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. The House approved it on May 15, and the Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, May 26; both votes were unanimous. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities. It passed the House on May 8 with only a single no vote from Rep. Terry Canales (D). The Senate unanimously approved a substitute version of HB 1170 on Wednesday, May 27. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or send the bill to a conference committee. Farney’s HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools; it passed the House and Senate unanimously, but also was amended by the Senate. Both of these bills on the calendar today for a decision by the House.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure. The House approved it unanimously on Wednesday. Several changes have been made to the bill, including amendments that give parents and the Texas Education Agency access to the videos. The bill has been referred this week to a conference committee.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) is designed to reduce school paperwork requirements. It passed the House unanimously on May 4, and the Senate approved it on Wednesday of this week.

With help from ATPE members who reached out to their legislators this session, we’ve managed to stop several bills that would have done great harm to the education profession. These included numerous high-profile private school voucher bills; proposals to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers; a bill to ban school districts from offering a payroll deduction option for school employees to pay their association dues; and proposals to make it easier to deregulate low-performing schools and take away the governing authority of locally elected school boards through “parent trigger” petitions or converting entire school districts to so-called “local control school districts.” We thank you for your grassroots advocacy efforts.

Our fight is not over. In the last few days of this long session, conference committees will negotiating deals on bills that remain contested, and some of those bills still contain language that we oppose. Stay tuned for updates on the bills not yet finalized. For the latest news, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: Senate committee approves “A through F;” House hears payroll deduction; suicide and early education bills progress while reform bills languish

The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:


Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ’”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”

This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.


The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.


The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.


Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.


The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.

In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.


There have been major developments on a couple of bills ATPE supported this session pertaining to early childhood education. First, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.


A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.

Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.

This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: Improved graduation committee bill closer to final passage, more voucher news, advisors blast pre-K

A popular bill to help high school upperclassmen who’ve been unable to pass a STAAR test required for graduation is one step closer to becoming law after undergoing a few upgrades today on the House floor. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) calls for the creation of individual graduation committees to help decide if certain students may be allowed to graduate despite failing a mandatory state standardized test. ATPE supports the bill.

On second reading today, the full House voted by a voice vote to give preliminary approval to SB 149 after adding four floor amendments. The first two amendments came from Rep. Dan Huberty (R), who is sponsoring the bill on the Senate side. His first amendment, reportedly added at the request of the Texas Counseling Association, removes the requirement that a school counselor serve on the graduation committee and replaces that person with “the department chair or lead teacher supervising the teacher” serving on the committee. Huberty’s second amendment contained simple clean-up language referring to graduation requirements.

A third floor amendment by Rep. Armando Walle (D) expanded SB 149 to cover students who fail not just one mandatory STAAR test, but two STAAR tests required for graduation. Walle’s amendment was approved by a record vote of 131-0.

Finally, Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) offered a floor amendment that was requested by ATPE based upon a suggestion from an ATPE member. The amendment, which was accepted by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Huberty, requires the commissioner of education to adopt rules permitting the bill to apply to a former high school student who completed all coursework for graduation but failed an end-of-course exam in one course that was required for graduation. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter explained to the committee two weeks ago, the amendment would help students who just missed graduating in recent years because of standardized tests they were unable to pass.

SB 149 must be approved one more time on the House floor before heading back to the Senate to decide if senators will accept the changes made to the bill by the House. The measure has been fast-tracked in an attempt to make it applicable this school year.

The full Senate gave final approval to a divisive private school voucher bill today. By a vote of 18-12, the Senate passed SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor on third reading. The bill will head now to the House, where it is expected to encounter significantly more opposition than in the Senate. Read more about the bill and the Senate floor votes on SB 4 here and find downloadable talking points against SB 4 that you can share with your representatives here.

Shortly after today’s vote, Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) took to Facebook to offer additional details on why he chose to vote against SB 4. Citing statistics from Louisiana, Rodriguez said, “There is no clear evidence showing that voucher students perform better than do public school students. In fact, evidence suggests precisely the opposite.” Rodriguez further stated, “Voucher schools are not held to the same standards as public schools, and without state accountability standards fly-by-night private schools could start popping up simply to get access to public dollars. Without clear accountability that tracks public school standards, parents might not know the school isn’t meeting their expectations. My amendment would have allowed vouchers with more transparency, but unfortunately it was not accepted, and for that reason I voted against SB 4.”

ATPE appreciates all those senators who voted against SB 4 and encourages members to thank them for their efforts to keep the voucher bill from moving forward.

An advisory board appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) at the start of the legislative session is making waves with a written statement blasting two high-profile pre-kindergarten bills that are moving through the legislative process. In their letter to the Texas Senate delegation today, 18 signatories from “Lt. Governor’s Grassroots Advisory Board,” are asking senators to oppose HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) and its companion bill, SB 801 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D).

HB 4, a bill that ATPE supported, was finally passed by the House earlier this month by a vote of 128-17. The bill has been one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the 84th Legislature. Patrick’s close advisors are now calling the bill “a threat to parental rights,” despite its overwhelming support in the House and Governor’s office. The letter from the advisory board, made up of local Tea Party leaders, further states, “In other words, we are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade.”

Yesterday, the House Public Education Committee held an impromptu desk meeting to vote out several pending bills that had already been heard during prior meetings. They included the following:

  • HB 338 (committee substitute) by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) relating to the evaluation of an internal auditor employed by a school district.
  • HB 1170 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1171 also by Rep. Farney relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 1474 (committee substitute) by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund for public schools to use to purchase instructional materials.
  • HB 1486 (committee substitute) by Rep. Rick Galindo (R) relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.
  • HB 1706 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 2293 (committee substitute) by Rep. Drew Darby (R) relating to the certification by the comptroller to the commissioner of education of the taxable value of property in each school district.
  • HB 2812 by Rep. Drew Springer (R) relating to the limit on junior college courses that a high school student may enroll in for dual credit.
  • HB 2847 (committee substitute) by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to policies and training regarding the use of epinephrine auto-injectors by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools; providing immunity.
  • HB 3106 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.
  • HB 3562 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) relating to the adoption of a policy allowing a grace period after the exhaustion of the balance of a meal card or account used by students to purchase meals in public schools.

This morning, the House Public Education Committee began its regularly scheduled meeting with more than two dozen bills on the agenda for public hearing. The deadline for House committees to report out bills is May 11, less than three weeks away, meaning that this is a critical time for legislators to get their bills heard. Before beginning today’s public testimony, the House Public Education Committee voted 7-0 to approve a committee substitute version of Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) school finance bill, HB 1759.

Aycock announced that the committee would vote out no other pending bills today, meaning that Rep. Farney’s controversial HB 2543 to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule is among the bills still pending and not yet on its way to the House floor. Also being held pending by the committee for now are these bills recalled from the committee’s Educator Quality Subcommittee, where they were heard last week:

  • HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2014 by Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R) relating to the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.
  • HB 2205 by Rep. Crownover relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2566 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 3494 by Rep. Huberty relating to educator preparation programs and teacher certification examinations.

The Senate Education Committee is also meeting today, with a much shorter agenda. It includes UIL sunset legislation (SB 213) filed by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), a bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) to assess the quality of school districts’ programs for English Language Learners (SB 1868), and another controversial voucher bill (SB 1513) by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) that ATPE opposes. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Legislative Update: Education committees meet, Senate hears controversial bills, House focuses on pre-K

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday and heard several of the Senate leadership’s high-priority bills. One of the bills was Senate Bill (SB) 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor, who chairs the committee. SB 894 would vastly expand the virtual school network in Texas. Most of the Texas education community came out unified in strong opposition to the bill and expressed concerns that it would set up a system of virtual vouchers, expand access to a low-quality education that evidence indicates is less effective in most cases, and offer little to no accountability to taxpayers on the virtual providers.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against SB 894. Gregg noted that ATPE has long supported virtual and distance learning opportunities but has worked to ensure quality controls and stressed the importance of containing the cost to taxpayers. A good portion of the day’s testimony on SB 894 focused on its cost, with education advocates questioning the relatively small fiscal note on the bill considering the fact that SB 894 would allow home-schooled and other children free access to virtual courses on the state’s dime. Testimony ultimately revealed that the bill’s fiscal note was largely the product of guesswork, since it is impossible to predict how many existing private or home-school students might take advantage of the bill’s funding provision. ATPE and others believe that funding virtual courses for those students not currently enrolled in public schools would cause the cost of the program to balloon and would further burden the state’s already underfunded public school system. In his testimony, Gregg also cited research showing 42 percent of the state’s virtual schools as low-performing and noting that many of the largest virtual course vendors are companies operating in multiple states that use a national curriculum based on Common Core, which has been prohibited by Texas law.

Another major bill heard yesterday in committee was SB 6, also by Chairman Taylor, which calls for assigning “A through F” letter grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. ATPE’s Brock Gregg testified against the bill and explained that labeling schools as failures is equivalent to calling students who attend those schools failures. The committee heard several hours of testimony, including remarks by numerous members of the education community who oppose the legislation. “A through F” legislation has been proposed in several states and is being pushed vigorously by affiliates of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely viewed as a strong contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

ATPE’s Gregg also testified in support of SB 13 by Sen. Charles Perry, a bill relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual-credit courses. The committee also heard a handful of bills relating to health and safety.

Interestingly, the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on SB 6 occurred on the same day that the fact-checking journalism group PolitiFact Texas rated as “false” a recent claim by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush that a majority of Texas students are “trapped in schools that are underperforming.” George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, made the statement at a pro-private school voucher rally at the State Capitol in January. PolitiFact agreed to look into the claim upon the request of Rev. Charles Johnson, a member of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools who was also a guest speaker at ATPE’s recent Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day. Looking at 2014 state accountability data, PolitiFact determined that more than 90 percent of districts and 80 percent of campuses were meeting state standards, making it impossible for the majority of Texas’s students to be “trapped” in low-performing schools.

Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee devoted an entire hearing to bills relating to pre-kindergarten. Early childhood education is one of five priorities designated by Gov. Greg Abbott as emergency items for the 84th Legislature to tackle. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified or registered support for all of the following bills during Tuesday’s committee hearing:

  • House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty relating to a high quality prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. According to Exter, the bill provides school districts with additional formula funding in exchange for adding quality control measures into the districts’ pre-K programs.
  • HB 173 by Rep. Carol Alvarado relating to information reported by a public school district regarding prekindergarten classes.
  • HB 296 by Rep. Gene Wu relating to certain prekindergarten programs offered by a school district.
  • HB 424 by Rep. Harold Dutton relating to providing free full-day prekindergarten for certain children.
  • HB 1100 by Rep. Eric Johnson relating to a gold standard full-day prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. Similar to HB 4, this bill provides additional formula funding to schools districts that implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Exter notes that HB 1100 requires districts that opt into the bill’s provisions to provide a full day pre-K program but offers additional funding above the amounts contemplated by HB 4.
  • HB 1188 by Rep. Joe Deshotel relating to the creation of a joint interim committee to study and make recommendations regarding early childhood education.

Exter believes, based on testimony and remarks from committee members during Tuesday’s hearing, that “the question the committee has chosen to answer is not whether to expand Pre-K and pre-K funding but rather by how much.”

Today is the last day that legislators may file bills in the 84th session with the exception of certain local and emergency bills. More than 6,000 bills or resolutions have already been filed this session. It is estimated that at least one-quarter of those will relate to public education in some manner.