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From TribTalk: Special session will be more bad news for teachers and public schools

Bayless Elementary teacher Holly Guillmen identifies and explains the use of the contents of the Waterwise home water conservation kit provided to students by the High Plains Underground Water District in Lubbock, Texas, Oct. 17, 2012. Photo by Jerod Foster

 

There’s a truism in Texas politics: Little good happens in Austin after May.

That’s why our founders assigned the Texas Legislature only one task – to pass a state budget – and limited their ability to meet to just 140 days every other year.

As a failsafe in the event of catastrophe, the founders entrusted the governor with the power to call legislators back under “extraordinary occasions.” Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors.

Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.

We’ve just wrapped up one of the most bitter and divisive legislative sessions in recent memory. Friendships were strained, and the good of the state took a backseat to questionable “priorities” outlined by our radio host-turned-lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

Yet thanks to the refusal of Texas House members to abandon the voters who sent them to Austin, some of the worst proposals never came to fruition. For example, lawmakers said no to vouchers for unregulated private schools because most Texans oppose spending tax dollars that way and want the state to support our existing public schools. Over and over, House members voted against subsidizing exclusive private tuition in places like Dallas with taxes collected from hardworking families in rural communities like Lubbock.

Also, the House offered improvements to the “A through F” accountability system and a $1.6 billion increase in education funding that the Senate turned down in favor of pursuing Lt. Gov. Patrick’s pet causes. Angered by the failure of his potty police and other crusades, Patrick even held a medical board sunset bill hostage at the end of the session, and now he has received his wish to force a special session.

Those hoping Gov. Greg Abbott would ignore the partisan cries and focus instead on truly “extraordinary” government needs in this upcoming called session are disappointed.

Announcing what promises to be the mother of all special sessions, the governor began by teasing a teacher pay raise – but refusing to fund it. ATPE supports increased pay, but without appropriations for school districts that will be forced to accommodate this, it’s hard to see the governor’s proposal as anything other than an unfunded mandate intended to soften the blow of other unnecessary anti-teacher and anti-public education legislation on the special session call.

This 30-day, taxpayer-funded special session will reopen angry fights over vouchers and other bad bills that failed to pass during the 140-day regular session. They include a shameful attack on teachers that would curtail their ability to voluntarily join professional associations like ATPE by using payroll deduction for membership fees. Falsely marketed as an attack on unions and a way to save taxpayer resources, the legislation actually protects Abbott’s and Patrick’s favored unions — police, firefighters, and first responders — while singling out teachers to strip them of the rights enjoyed by other public employees.

Imagine that: Telling teachers they can’t be trusted with their own paychecks while reaching into all our wallets to fund another crack at their own pet political projects.

This special session outline is a slap in the face to teachers and public schools at a time when they are being asked to do more with less. The founders knew what they were doing. Texans should be wary of what happens in Austin after the regular session adjourns in May.

It won’t be good for many of us.

Gary Godsey, Executive director, Association of Texas Professional Educators

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This post was original published by The Texas Tribune for its TribTalk website at https://www.tribtalk.org/2017/06/21/special-session-will-be-more-bad-news-for-teachers-and-public-schools/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 20, 2017

Here are education news highlights for this Inauguration Day edition of our wrap-up:


 

President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.

The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.

As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.

A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.

Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.

In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.

 


Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.

Dollar fanThe House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.

 


The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.

ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.

CPS square logoRelated: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.

 


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.

For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenFinally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website here.

And so begins the tenure of the 85th Texas Legislature…

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Today marked the first official day of the 85th legislative session. At noon today, 181 legislators were sworn in before their families and other invited guests in their respective chambers. In the upper chamber, Senator Kel Seliger (R) of Amarillo was elected President pro tempore, while across the rotunda, Representative Joe Straus (R) of San Antonio was re-elected to his fifth consecutive term as Speaker of the House.

In a dramatic show of strength, Speaker Straus was elected by a vote of 150 to 0. He is now tied with Gib Lewis and Pete Laney as the longest serving Speaker in Texas history. In his comments today, Speaker Straus called on his fellow House members to be thoughtful with tax dollars but also smart with regulation, doing their part to ensure that the legislature creates a government that works. In his remarks on crafting education policy this session, the Speaker called on legislators to partner with teachers and not treat them as adversaries.

For the sake of educators and schoolchildren alike, we hope the sentiment of cooperation with the state’s teachers prevails over the remaining 139 days of the 85th legislative session. Either way, your ATPE lobby team will be here every step of the way to report back on what the legislature is doing with regard to public education and to represent you with passion and professionalism at your Texas capitol. We encourage you to join us in our efforts by talking to your own lawmakers about ATPE’s legislative priorities. ATPE members can use our convenient grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to track the progress of bills, send messages to lawmakers, and even receive mobile updates. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more as the legislative session continues.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

Rep. Dan Huberty shows off a celebratory cookie he received during a visit from Humble ATPE’s Gayle Sampley on opening day of the 85th legislature.

Lawmakers aim to silence Texas educators

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundTeachers, some lawmakers are trying to shut you up. There’s no other way to put it.

The lieutenant governor and a number of lawmakers are again pushing legislation to prohibit school employees from using payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to ATPE and other professional associations. If you currently pay your ATPE dues through payroll deduction, then you know why this is important. In addition to being convenient, payroll deduction is the safest way for employees to contribute to professional organizations and causes. By eliminating credit cards, payroll deduction reduces the risk of identity theft and potential lapses in payments that could cause a loss of insurance coverage.

Doing away with payroll deduction for school employees serves no legitimate purpose. Bills to prevent public school employees from doing as they choose with their own money are offensive and potentially unconstitutional. This legislation is about politics – and vouchers, in particular. Educators have long fought attempts to take money away from our cash-strapped public schools and use it for private school vouchers. Frustrated by the success of our advocacy for public education, some business groups are now lobbying to silence you in order to weaken the effectiveness of groups like ATPE. By making it more difficult for school employees to support professional organizations, voucher advocates hope to eliminate your influence at the Capitol.

In no uncertain terms, this legislation aims to silence the education community that has been speaking out in support of public schools.

After a similar bill failed to pass in 2015, a ban on payroll deductions will be pushed even harder this session, and the time for educators to fight that effort is right now. In the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) has declared banning the “collection of union dues” by public employers one of his priority items for 2017. Although the bill had not yet been filed as of this morning, Patrick has reserved Senate Bill (SB) 13 for this purpose, signaling its importance with a low bill number. On the House side, Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) has already filed House Bill (HB) 510 earlier this week. That bill would prohibit your ability to use payroll deduction to contribute to ATPE. In fact, it specifically bans all school district employees from using payroll deduction to support any professional organization.

What can I do?

Step 1: Speak up! Help us fight this personal attack on teachers and public school employees. If you’re an ATPE member, log in at Advocacy Central on ATPE.org to call or send a message to your legislator today. If you’re not an ATPE member, contact your legislators and let them know you don’t appreciate efforts to silence educators’ voices in the Texas Capitol.

Step 2: Know your facts. Payroll deduction is convenient, secure and reliable; otherwise, why is it allowed for so many other things? Use Advocacy Central to learn more about these and other truths regarding payroll deduction that you should share with your legislators:

  • Texas is a right-to-work state. Our public employees aren’t forced to join a union as in some other states, and payroll deduction is used in Texas only for voluntary dues payments since there are no mandatory dues requirements.
  • Payroll deduction is used not just by “labor unions,” but also by non-union professional associations like ATPE. ATPE is the largest entity representing educators in Texas, and we are not a “labor union.” ATPE exists only in Texas and has steadfastly supported right-to-work laws while opposing the union tactics that have been highlighted by business groups as a rationale for these bills.
  • Payroll deduction does not cost taxpayers ANY additional money. State law authorizes school districts to charge associations a fee to cover any costs associated with payroll deduction. Districts typically incur no additional costs since they already offer payroll deduction for everything from donations to charities like  United Way or an ISD foundation to payments for health care premiums and cafeteria plans.
  • Banning payroll deduction ultimately hurts Republicans and Democrats alike. Those pushing to ban payroll deduction claim falsely that educator groups like ATPE use their revenue to support Democratic candidates and causes exclusively while opposing Republicans. In reality, ATPE routinely helps both Republican and Democratic candidates and officeholders, and more than half of ATPE members identify themselves as Republicans based on member surveys.

Step 3: Be persistent. Business lobbyists are meeting with lawmakers to quickly amass support for their so-called “paycheck protection” bills. As a Senate priority, there will be pressure to get this done swiftly and silently, and a bill has already been filed in the House. Educators must send a message now to prevent their rights from being eroded in 2017. Don’t wait for the session to begin or the holidays to pass. Visit the district offices of your state representative and state senator, send e-mails, write letters, use social media, and make phone calls to ensure your voices are heard.

The key is to keep up the pressure – starting now!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 2, 2016

With the 85th legislative session just around the corner, things are busy in Austin. Catch up on this week’s education news:


capitol building, austin, texas, usaAs the Texas Legislature prepares to convene for the 85th legislative session in January, the Capitol is bustling with final preparations. Among the excitement, new members of the House of Representatives were in Austin this week for orientation, offices are being shuffled, and final meetings are underway. Adding to the preparations, the Texas Tribune Symposium Previewing the 85th Legislative Session took place on Tuesday. The event featured many high-profile legislators, including Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), and offered discussions on plenty of public education issues that are expected to be addressed in the first half of next year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides more in his post on the symposium and other public education issues facing the upcoming session.

Mark highlights in the same post that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expanded his list of legislative priorities. Particularly, he added a priority that aims to selectively prohibit certain employees from deducting their professional association dues through payroll deduction. Texas teachers were among the employees targeted by this bill during the most recent legislative session, although this session’s version of the bill has yet to be filed.

Two budget-related meetings also took place this week. The Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) met Thursday to set the spending limit for the 2018-19 biennium, for which legislators will establish appropriations during the upcoming legislative session. The board is a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature made up of five Texas House members and five senators, and develops recommended legislative appropriations for all agencies of state government, among other budget-related tasks. In its brief meeting, the board voted to unanimously adopt the constitutional spending limit at just over $99 billion dollars for the upcoming biennium. Earlier in the week, the Joint Select Committee on Economic Stabilization Fund, a fund more commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” set the fund’s floor at $7.5 billion. The floor establishes the amount of money that must be in the fund before automatic transfers to transportation funding are made. It does not affect the legislature’s ability to tap the fund to cover emergencies, short falls, or legislative priories.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin yesterday and today for the board’s final meeting of the calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meeting and provided the following report:

The board received a presentation on an external review of the TRS pension trust fund’s actuarial valuation as of Aug. 31, 2016. The review covered a range of economic and membership scenarios and how those scenarios would affect the overall health of the fund on a future-looking basis. Two big takeaways from that presentation: 1) the decision by past legislatures to dial down state and employee contributions to the constitutional minimum during the boom of the mid-nineties needlessly and irresponsibly left the fund vulnerable to becoming underfunded during periods of economic recession, and 2) the very vulnerability created by that legislative decision has created a scenario where TRS has to overcome a persistent lag created by the economic downturns in 2000 and 2007-08. Despite a period of average returns in excess of eight percent over the last five years, that lag continues to weigh down the fund.

The board also received an update on the report from the Joint Select Committee on TRS Health Benefit Plans from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Read more about that report here and view the full board meeting here.

 


Election resultsIn the race for House District (HD) 105, the results of a recount concluded this week that incumbent Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) won reelection. His Democratic opponent, Terry Meza, requested the recount following Election Day, where results showed she trailed by only 64 votes. HD 105 was among a handful of districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area considered to be swing districts leading up to the election. Two other incumbents lost reelection in the area. Rep. Anderson has held the seat since 2010.

 


News broke last week that President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen billionaire education reformer Betsy DeVos as his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education. The pick is a controversial one as DeVos has been heavily involved in efforts to pass vouchers and related alt-school-choice options in states throughout the country. Days after the announcement, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its final accountability rule, which needed a rewrite following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Notably, Trump’s pick for education secretary will have the power to do as he or she wishes when it comes to ESSA rules and regulations written by ED. Read more about DeVos and the final accountability rule in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here.

 


Janna_TCASE_Nov16_croppedLast week, we published a guest post from Jana Lilly, the Director of Governmental Relations for the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE). She shared a preview of some of the special education issues likely to be addressed during the 85th Legislature. In her post, she highlights three major issues: the particularly harmful nature of vouchers for students with disabilities, cameras in special education classrooms, and the much discussed topic of capping the number of students districts identify as in need of special education. If you missed this guest post over the Thanksgiving break, you can read more here.

 


SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

.

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

Here is your Veterans Day edition of our weekly wrap-up, featuring post-election news and more from this week:

 


Election resultsThe 2016 election came to a close this week. At the national level, voters chose the presidential candidate who is expected to bring change to Washington, but in Texas, things look pretty similar to how they looked going into the last legislative session. There were only a handful of Texas House seats where the incumbent or incumbent party lost reelection, and no seats altered in the Senate, leaving the balance of power in the Texas Legislature largely the same. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided more analysis on the outcome of the election state-wide here.

A state election story that the education community and policymakers were watching on election night dealt with the outcome of a school finance measure on some Houston voters’ ballots. The measure asked voters to authorize or not authorize the city’s first recapture payment under a provision in Texas school finance law commonly referred to as “Robin Hood.” Voters ultimately decided to not authorize the $162 billion payment, which would have been used to equalize funding for property-poor districts throughout the state. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more on this complex decision made by Houston voters and the effects it could have on the upcoming legislative session.

ThinkstockPhotos-523002181_IVotedAt the federal level, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann penned some initial thoughts on how public education will fare under a Trump presidency here. While his broad plans for education are still fairly uncertain, President-elect Trump has made it clear that he will push for a national voucher program for Title I funds and will seek to significantly reduce the role the federal government plays in education. He also appears to be in the same camp as education reformers. In fact, it was reported late this week that two education reformers working for the American Federation for Children confirmed that they have been contacted by President-elect Trump’s transition team regarding their interest in the Secretary of Education post. The American Federation for Children, which supports school choice, advised President-elect Trump during his candidacy.

 


The State Board of Education holds its next regular meeting starting on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The full agenda can be viewed here for the four-day meeting running through next Friday. It will be the last meeting for two of the board’s members who did not seek re-election this year: Martha Dominguez (D) and Thomas Ratliff (R). ATPE thanks them both for their service.

On Tuesday the board will decide on the amount of money it will move from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund, making it available for the legislature to appropriate to the instructional materials allotment. They will also continue to discuss the board’s long range plan for education and the board’s upcoming legislative priorities. On Wednesday the board will hear from the Commissioner of Education at 9 a.m., and then the board will discuss a range of curriculum items for the remainder of the day. Those will include revision of the ELAR TEKS, continued monitoring and feedback of the new Math TEKS, and the streamlining of the Science TEKS. On Thursday, the board will break into subcommittees. Of particular note the Committee on School Initiatives will consider ratifying six chapters of amended SBEC regulations, which cover educator preparation, educator certification, and educator disciplinary rules.

Anyone wishing to sign up to testify on one of these topics can do so here. If you would like to turn in written testimony, please feel free to contact the ATPE lobby team for further assistance. Stay tuned next week for updates on the SBOE’s actions.

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThis week was the final opportunity to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rule proposal pertaining to a federal funding provision under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The provision, referred to as “supplement, not supplant,” is aimed at ensuring Title I schools receive their fair share of state and federal funding. While “supplement, not supplant” is nothing new to federal education law, the language did change slightly under ESSA, and as we have reported, ED’s interpretation of that new language is controversial.

Many comments submitted raise concern over how the rule proposal would realistically affect states and districts, but some express support for rules they believe will help ensure the highest-need and most undeserved students get the resources they deserve. Congressional Republicans again expressed their concern over the rule proposal’s “broad and inaccurate conclusions” with regard to Congress’s intent, this time in a letter signed by 25 Republican Members of Congress, including the education committee chairs in both chambers. The Democratic education committee leaders submitted their own letter, expressing concern over some unintended consequences, but calling the proposal a “step in the right direction.” The concern is not a totally partisan one, however; last week a bipartisan Congressional letter was sent to President Obama regarding the undue state burdens created by the provision and ED’s poor interpretation of Congressional intent. Read more about that letter and ED’s rule proposal in this informative article published by the the Washington Post.

One yet-to-be-determined affect of the election, is how President-elect Trump will approach ESSA regulations made by the Obama administration. It’s safe to predict that these regulations pertaining to “supplement, not supplant,” if finalized, would be altered, at the very least.

Related: You still have one week left to share input with the Texas Education Agency on how our state should implement ESSA-related policies at the state level. TEA’s ESSA Public Input Survey remains open through 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) shared information this week on the call for nominations for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Administered by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the White House, the PAEMST is the highest honor for math and science teachers in the country.

A student and teacher working together in a classroomTeachers of grades 7-12 math or science, including computer science, will be recognized in all 50 states. Some high school CTE and tech apps teachers are also eligible to apply. The nomination deadline is April 1, 2017, and applications are due by May 1, 2017. Eligible teachers who submit a completed application will earn 25 continuing professional education (CPE) credit hours, too.

Recipients of the award receive $10,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C. to be formally recognized. Additional information on PAEMST eligibility criteria and the award process can be found here.

 


Thank you, Veterans, for your service to our country!

Houston throws down gauntlet on school finance reform

I lived in Houston for ten years.

It’s where I finished high school, graduated from college, and began my first career as a fuzzy-cheeked radio broadcaster. It’s where I gleefully watched my alma mater, the Houston Cougars, win a C-USA title, my beloved Astros make their World Series debut, and the Rockets come devastatingly close to a championship season after season. It’s a fantastically diverse and dynamic city; yet to many Houstonians, it seems that no matter what Houston does, few outside its boundaries ever seem to notice.

Now a vote on a relatively obscure proposition on Tuesday’s ballot has arrested the attention of many lawmakers in Austin.

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733On Tuesday, Houston voters decided not to authorize the city’s first recapture payment of $162 billion, part of a roughly $1 billion obligation over the next four years. Under the state’s school finance equalization formula, referred to as “Robin Hood” by some, school districts that are considered “property-wealthy” must return some of the money collected from their local property taxes to the state, which in turn delivers that money to poor districts that lack the tax base necessary to support healthy schools. Ironically, some of those property-wealthy districts still enroll high numbers of students from families living in poverty. Houston ISD officials argue that instead of sending away the funds, their district needs that money instead to educate a high proportion of low-income students in their own district.

It’s a predicament endured for years by Austin ISD, another property-wealthy district that serves a high proportion of economically disadvantaged children, yet is expected to pay more than $400 million in recapture this year. The number of Texas districts paying recapture stands at 250 and rising, and it is a major reason many districts are lobbying the 85th Texas Legislature to reform the school finance system when it convenes in January.

But things are complicated.ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcash

In response to a lawsuit filed by more than 600 school districts, the Texas Supreme Court in May ruled that the state’s school finance system met the minimum requirements under the Texas Constitution. While the final opinion from Justice Don Willett urged lawmakers to fix a “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect” system, it removed the threat of a court mandate to do so.

Houston’s new Mayor Sylvester Turner is no stranger to the Texas Legislature. The long-time state representative and former vice-chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee spearheaded a campaign urging Houston voters living within HISD boundaries to reject authorization of the recapture payment this election and force a standoff — gambling that state legislators will be spurred into action by voters and constituents in Texas’s largest school district publicly rejecting the state’s school finance system.

It’s a big gambit.

After Houston voters on Tuesday declined to authorize the recapture payment, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath notified HISD trustees early Wednesday that under the law, $18.2 billion in taxable property needed to meet the recapture amount will be detached from the district and annexed to one or more property-poor districts.

So will the ruckus raised in Houston Tuesday ring in the ears of important folks beyond Space City’s orbit?

Falling US MoneyThe question of whether the move will increase pressure on lawmakers to initiate a long and complicated school finance overhaul is a big unknown. The recapture amount owed by Houston is dwarfed by Austin’s, yet lawmakers have thus far been unmoved by AISD’s many pleas for change. While some House leaders have expressed interest in reform, a requested four percent across-the-board reduction in state agency spending will complicate things significantly.

ATPE has long advocated for meaningful school finance reforms to make the system more responsive to our students’ needs, as illustrated by our member-adopted legislative program, which includes the following:

ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal, empowers the state to be the primary source of funding, and creates a more stable funding structure for our schools. We strongly support efforts to increase funding levels to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing population and to increase funding equity for all students.

Ultimately, school finance reform could come by degrees, and meaningful progress could be made this session. I expect calls for legislation to update the decades-old Cost of Education Index (COI) and the similarly vintage transportation allotment, as well as a bill by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) that would amend the Texas Constitution to require the state to shoulder at least half the cost of public education. We’ll be keeping an eye out for you. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for updates.

State election results recap

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundElection Day 2016 was historic. Nationally, yesterday’s contest may have been considered a change election, but here at home in Texas there were few alterations in the balance of power. Only a small handful of incumbents or incumbent parties lost their elections yesterday. Those included one judicial race and five house races.

In the Texas State House, Democratic challenger Victoria Neave beat incumbent Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R-Dallas) in House District 107 by half a percentage point. In House District 117, Democratic challenger Philip Cortez re-won the seat he lost to Rep. Rick Galindo (R-San Antonio) two years ago. Democratic challenger Mary Ann Perez did the same in House District 144, winning back the seat she previously lost to Rep. Gilbert Pena (R-Pasadena) in 2014.

There are currently two Texas House seats in which a former Democratic incumbent stepped down during the current term of office, necessitating a special election this year that resulted in Democrats’ losing those seats. Somewhat predictably, however, those losses turned out to be temporary, with Democratic candidates taking back those seats as a result of yesterday’s election. Rep. John Lujan (R-San Antonio) won a special election in January 2016 after former Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) resigned in House District 118; but before getting a chance to serve during a legislative session, Lujan was defeated yesterday by Tomas Uresti (D), who is the brother of incumbent Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). Similarly, House District 120 was vacated earlier this year by former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio), and the special election to fill the remainder of her current term was won by Laura Thompson, an independent candidate. Thompson was defeated yesterday by Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D), who will take over the seat in January.

Outside of the races mentioned above there were no party shifts. Even in the several races where there was no incumbent running due to either the former legislator retiring or being defeated in the primary, the new legislator elected yesterday hails from the same party as the former or soon-to-be-former legislator.

All incumbent State Board of Education (SBOE) members won re-election yesterday, too. Two open SBOE seats were won by Georgina Perez (D) in District 1 and Keven Ellis (R) in District 9.

For those interested, here are the complete 2016 election results for those Texas House, Senate, and SBOE races that featured two major party candidates.

Education under Trump: vouchers and uncertainty

 

In the wake of Election Day 2016, many are wondering what lies ahead for public education in the United States. Education under the Donald Trump presidency remains fairly uncertain. He offered few education policy details during his presidential campaign. However, the billionaire business mogul and President-elect seems, at least preliminarily, in step with one public education camp: school reformers.

Trump’s election night acceptance speech included a quick promise to “fix” America’s schools, and his thin education policy proposal issued a few months ahead of the election committed to prioritizing a $20 billion federal voucher program. According to the vision he laid out on his campaign website, he will “immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice,” by reprioritizing yet-to-be-identified existing federal funds.

President-Elect Trump’s proposed vision will allow federal funding to follow children to the public or private school of their parents’ choosing. His plan will also “favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws,” which could become the most consequential piece for Texas, a state where voucher proponents have been defeated by public school advocates thus far but need no additional incentive to push their controversial agenda.

Outside of his strong support for vouchers and other nods to school reform, Trump’s policy agenda for prekindergarten-12th grade education is debatable and unclear. We do know he will look to aggressively scale back the federal role in education. He has also spoken out against Common Core, but federal law already prevents the mandate of any single set of standards; also, Texas state law prevents the implementation of any national curriculum here.

U.S. Congress

The make-up of Congress will remain the same with Republicans controlling both chambers, at least in Trump’s first two years as president. In the Senate, we can expect little change in the Senate education committee. Both its chairman,Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and its ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), are likely to continue service in their expected roles. While three contentious Senate races in Colorado, North Carolina, and Illinois could have more significantly affected the make-up of the committee, only one committee member lost reelection: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

On the House side, a shake-up in Republican education committee leadership is ahead. Retiring Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is likely to be replaced by current committee member Virginia Foxx (R-NC). The committee’s Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) is expected to retain his title.

Republican control in Congress mixed with the party’s expected top education leaders creates a path for federal vouchers. Both Alexander and Foxx have been proponents of vouchers in the past, with Alexander even proposing plans of his own. Still, such proposals weren’t included in the latest rewrite of the federal education law, now termed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), because they didn’t have enough support in the Senate to reach the required threshold.

U.S. Dept of Education LogoU.S. Department of Education

Trump has said he will reduce the role the federal government plays in public education, having gone as far as to say he may cut the Department of Education (ED). While that is a mostly unlikely scenario considering it would require a vote from Congress, scaling it back significantly has a better chance of prevailing. This has long been a talking point for many conservatives, and plenty in Congress have expressed support for such a move. The Trump campaign has signaled that the department would serve only to dole out funding and that he would eliminate divisions deemed unnecessary.

Predictions regarding Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of Education have been all over the place, but most lists contain the name of Dr. Ben Carson. Carson is a neurosurgeon by trade and was one of Trump’s Republican presidential primary opponents. Trump has praised Carson’s education policy views, calling education policy “his strength.” Carson maintained a strong presence on the Trump campaign trail following the primary.

Other names being floated have included Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution and former ED staffer under Secretary Margaret Spellings and President George W. Bush; Gerard Robinson, former commissioner of education for Florida; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; and Carl Paladino, a businessman and Buffalo, NY school board member. All are familiar faces at the Trump campaign.

The Every Student Succeeds Act

So how would a smaller ED, new secretary, and a Trump presidency affect the country’s new education law? Good question. Trump has been no fan of President Obama’s agenda, and with controversial rulemaking coming out of the new law he signed, there could certainly be an opportunity for anything from revisions to abolishment. The former is the more likely scenario, since the law’s congressional architects remain in key positions in Congress, and revisions to controversial “supplement, not supplant” rule language proposed by the Obama administration are likely. Such revisions would receive little push-back now from a Republican-controlled Congress. President-elect Trump and his Secretary of Education will also be tasked with approving state’s ESSA plans, pending a major upheaval of the law.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for updates on changes to the federal education landscape.