Tag Archives: funding

SBOE begins June meeting with A-F update

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Tuesday for its June session, during which the 15 members will continue work on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) and Spanish Language Arts and Reading (SLAR) and English as a Second Language (ESL). The board is also scheduled to discuss changes to the TEKS review schedule and appoint members to a Long-Range Plan Steering Committee.

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

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

Tuesday began with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner Mike Morath, who reported the spring testing cycle was completed with satisfactory results. After encountering issues with scoring and test delivery in 2016, Morath stated, “All the problems with last year were resolved.”

A result of testing this year and a one-year effort to redesign the Confidential Student Report (CSR) is the new STAAR report card. The new report card goes beyond numerical results to include more information, context and terms that are easier to understand. More information on the new STAAR report card can be found on the TEA website.

The commissioner also provided a brief summary of changes to the “A through F” accountability system passed during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature as part of House Bill (HB) 22. The legislature compressed the system to three domains: Student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.

The student achievement domain will primarily rely on test data to calculate student performance. Under the school progress domain, the same test data will be used to determine how much students gain year over year and how schools compare to other schools with similar levels of poverty. The closing the gaps domain will focus on identifying whether certain student groups are struggling, relative to the campus. The student achievement and school progress domains will be combined for a single “best of” score, which will be weighted against the closing the gaps domain to calculate the overall or “summative” score.

The agency will focus on outreach to stakeholders through December, and the first district-level ratings under the new system will be issued in August 2018. At that time, campus-level ratings will still be either “met standard” or “improvement required.” All campuses are scheduled to receive a “what if” report using the A through F system on January 1, 2019. Official campus-level A through F ratings will be issued in August 2019, at which time a local accountability plan framework will also be rolled out.

Districts using a local accountability plan must continue to use the three state domains, but may add as many additional domains as they like and come up with an independent formula for calculating a summative score. Only schools that have not scored a “D” or an “F” will be able to participate, and local accountability plans will be vetted through a “peer-review” process.

Under HB 22, attendance rates have been removed from the accountability system, fixing problem identifying by many elementary and middle schools. A task force has been commissioned to look at incorporating extracurricular activities, which is expected to be a five-year process.

Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) asked about the effects of Senate Bill (SB) 1784, which promotes the use of “open-source instructional materials.” These materials are currently licensed through the state procurement process, which already includes accessibility requirements. Morath said the agency plans to make the process more similar to the proclamation process used by the SBOE for textbook vendors.

The board received an update from TEA staff on other bills passed during the legislative session. The agency is currently tasked with implementing 145 pieces of legislation passed by lawmakers of the 85th Texas Legislature.

The board proposed eight legislative recommendations, of which five were successfully carried out. Lawmakers expanded SBOE authority over approving instructional materials to consider suitability for subject and grade level, with an additional requirement that it be reviewed by academic experts. Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) noted that the legislature provided no guidance regarding the definition of “suitability” and “expert,” though staff pointed out that a definition of expert already exists in agency rule.

The legislature did not allocate any funds for the long-range plan, nor did it appropriate money to increase TEA staffing in the curriculum division, which oversees and supports TEKS review and implementation. The legislature did approve a $5 million rider for data privacy and other items, as well as a $25 million rider to allow districts to access federal matching funds for the E-Rate Infrastructure Program.

Lawmakers passed SB 160, which prohibits the agency from adopting or implementing a performance indicator in any agency monitoring system that solely measure the number or percentage of students who receive special education services. This legislation was passed as a result of an investigative series by the Houston Chronicle that uncovered a de facto cap on special education enrollment.

Finally, the board recommended lawmakers conserve public free schools and prohibit public dollars from going to private schools or parents/guardians. Despite attempts by the Texas Senate to pass a voucher bill, the Texas House stood strong and prevented the passage of any private school voucher legislation. However, Gov. Greg Abbott has announced he will include vouchers on the call for a July special session. Noting that voucher proponents had focused on special needs vouchers during the regular session, Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) asked what a special needs voucher would look like. Staff indicated the governor specifically mentioned HB 1335 by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton).

The board spent the latter half of Tuesday resuming their work on ELAR/SLAR and ELL high school TEKS. On Wednesday, the board is scheduled to discuss the broader TEKS review schedule.

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

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


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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

 

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: “Tax relief,” maybe, but no savings for taxpayers

In the midsummer special session, Texas lawmakers will be talking about your rising property taxes again. Don’t get excited: That does not mean your tax bill is going to get any smaller.

by Ross RamseyThe Texas Tribune
June 12, 2017

Photo from The Texas Tribune

Photo from The Texas Tribune

State officials are talking once again about your property taxes. Like you, they hate those taxes. A lot.

But they’re hoping to fool you, once again, into thinking they are going to lower the price of local government and public education.

None of their proposals or their recent actions would do that.

School property taxes are the biggest part of every Texas property owners’ tax bill. They are also the only local property tax that goes up and down primarily because of what happens in Austin.

State officials don’t set your school property tax rate; they just decide how much money local officials are required to raise.

In practice, it amounts to almost the same thing.

If the state spends less money per student, the local districts have to spend more. They get their money from property taxes, so property taxes go up.

And then, state officials complain — alongside property taxpayers across Texas — about rising property taxes.

The current long slide in state funding started in 2007 — right after lawmakers rejiggered the formulas and balanced state and local funding, with each covering 45 percent of the total cost of education and the federal government picking up the remaining 10 percent.

The numbers ten years later: Locals pay 52 percent, the state pays 38 percent and the feds are still at 10 percent.

According to the Texas Supreme Court about a year ago, local property taxes and the system they finance remain constitutional. Lucky for the state that’s not a criminal court, though: Taxpayers clearly feel robbed.

State officials can feel the heat of that ire. But their new budget doesn’t address the school finance problem. They killed legislation that would have put another $1.5 billion into public education — the only bill in the regular session that would have moved school taxes, if only indirectly and only a little bit.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

And their effort to limit growth in property taxes levied by other local governments failed, too. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will put that one on the agenda of the midsummer special session. One version, passed by the Senate and apparently favored by the governor, would have required voter approval for any local property tax increases of more than 5 percent.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

Texas lawmakers have replaced the idea of lowering state taxes with a new one: Complaining alongside taxpayers who want lower taxes. Actually doing something about it has remained out of reach.

They could replace an unpopular tax with a less unpopular one, but they have few options — none of them particularly lucrative. The Texas Lottery was an example of this, and it served mainly to underscore our widespread innumeracy: A surprising number of Texans thought state-run gaming would cover the full cost of public education in Texas. In fact, the Texas games earn the state about $2.5 billion every two years, about as much as taxes on alcoholic beverages and less than half as much as the (also) unpopular business franchise tax. Lawmakers budgeted $41 billion for public education over the next two years; the lottery will cover about 6 percent of that.

They could cut spending, except it has proven nearly impossible to do that in Texas, partly because the state budget is, relatively speaking, pretty tight, and partly because when you get down to it, the programs that would be cut are more popular than the tax cuts that might result.

People want roads and schools and prisons and whatnot, and the political experts who run the government — give them their due for getting into and then remaining in office — have ascertained that it’s more rewarding to keep current programs alive than to cut taxes.

That’s a safe assumption, isn’t it, since they haven’t cut those programs or whittled those taxes?

But state leaders can hear the voters, too, so they’re trying to force local governments to hold the line on taxes. They can’t provide any relief themselves, but maybe they can make someone else do it.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/12/analysis-tax-relief-maybe-no-savings-taxpayers/.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 


 

 

About that proposed pay raise…

Falling US MoneyGov. Greg Abbott surprised many in the education community on Tuesday when he stated what is old hat for us, but seldom admitted by fiscal hawks: “Teacher pay is too low.”

The governor followed that with a call to add a $1,000 teacher pay raise to this summer’s special session.

Fantastic!

Only the state is not going to pay for it.

In fact, the governor claimed such a raise “can easily be achieved by passing laws that reprioritize how schools spend money, and we can do that without taxpayers spending a penny more.” In other words: An unfunded mandate.

Well, at least we can appreciate the sentiment. Or perhaps we could, had the governor not followed that empty promise with a more disturbing one: To pass a laundry list of bills aimed at stripping teachers of their rights and redirecting even more resources from Texas school children – at a time when schools and teachers are being asked to do more with less.

Let’s quickly recap how lawmakers spent our money in this most recent legislative session.

Despite ATPE-supported attempts by leaders in the Texas House of Representatives to increase public education funding across the board, the final budget negotiated with the Senate actually decreased the overall amount of state spending on public schools by about $1.1 billion, forcing districts to rely on rising local property tax collections just to maintain current funding levels. The decision by Senate leadership to scuttle the House’s school finance legislation also means some schools are likely to close as existing funding streams expire.

Within this budget, Gov. Greg Abbott requested that lawmakers designate $236 million for “high-quality” pre-K programs, without providing any additional money to do so. This will basically force districts to cut money from other parts of their own budgets; whether that means from teacher payroll, band instruments, or football pads, it will be up to districts to decide. Now the governor has proposed using the same approach to generate a raise of $1,000 for teachers over the course of a year.

The state’s underfunding of public education has already had a pretty devastating effect on teachers’ healthcare. While ATPE effectively advocated for increased funding for TRS-Care, lawmakers chose to only increase that funding enough to avoid shutting the system down completely. The result is a restructured TRS-Care plan that reduces benefits and raises premiums. Lawmakers’ decision not to provide adequate funding will also result in an average rate increase of 8.1 percent for those enrolled in TRS-ActiveCare plans.

Let’s not forget that this is the same budget that found $800 million to spend on border security, despite President Trump’s promises to ramp up federal involvement along the Rio Grande.

Now Gov. Abbott intends to hold a 30-day special session at a cost of around $1 million in taxpayer money to pass a long list of bills that were either unnecessary or too controversial to pass during the previous five months of the regular session. This includes legislation that would make it easier for districts to fire teachers, plus the anti-teacher payroll deduction legislation and private school vouchers for students with special needs.

ATPE has fought and continues to fight for educators to be paid what they deserve. That means a pay raise that is fully funded by the state legislature. Without any funding for the governor’s offer to raise teacher pay – and with that offer having been waved in front of a grab bag of other offensive legislation – we cannot help but feel trepidation about his proposal.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Now more than ever, Texas educators must be vigilant. We now know that this special session is shaping up to be an all-out assault on teachers and public education by the governor and lieutenant governor. We urge ATPE members to be active through ATPE’s Advocacy Central and let your legislators know you will stand up for your rights and those of your students.

Abbott announces special session to include many public education items

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Governor Greg Abbott released his plans for a special session today following a week of growing anticipation. For educators and public education advocates, the fight isn’t over. Beginning July 18, the Texas Legislature will to return to Austin to address a long list of issues identified by Governor Abbott. Only one, continuing the Texas Medical Board, requires “emergency” attention; once that has been addressed, Governor Abbott expects the legislature to immediately address 19 additional items.

Two of those additional items are particularly familiar to public education advocates and educators who just spent the last five months defeating them. By adding them to the special session call today, the governor revived vouchers for special education students and a prohibition on payroll deduction for educators. Both issues were ones addressed and rejected by the legislature during its regular session. ATPE immediately responded to the news with a press release calling payroll deduction a “shameful attack on public school employees.”

The governor also added school finance to the call, but he only called on lawmakers to create a commission to study school finance. He did not call on lawmakers to pass the pieces of legislation debated during the regular session that actually sought to fix the school finance system. For instance, HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and SB 2051 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendwood) took separate approaches to fixing the school system, but each addressed current school funding issues and received strong support. The school finance fix was ultimately derailed when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick added a voucher and refused to compromise on any bill to fund schools if a voucher wasn’t included.

Two items that got little attention during the regular session but topped the governor’s list of special session items today were a $1000 pay raise for teachers and flexibility for administrators in hiring, firing, and retaining teachers. The governor gave little detail on how to address either item, but did say that he expects the pay raise to be carried out through existing money and within existing budgets, meaning he doesn’t want the legislature to dedicate any new funding to the effort.

The 19 additional items, as described by Governor Abbott’s office are as follows:

  1. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
  2. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
  3. School finance reform commission
  4. School choice for special needs students
  5. Property tax reform
  6. Caps on state and local spending
  7. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
  8. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
  9. Speeding up local government permitting process
  10. Municipal annexation reform
  11. Texting while driving preemption
  12. Privacy
  13. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
  14. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
  15. Pro-life insurance reform
  16. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
  17. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
  18. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
  19. Extending maternal mortality task force

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 2, 2017

Texas state legislators have gone home, at least temporarily. When might they return? Here is the latest advocacy news from ATPE:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-144283240On Monday, May 29, the 85th Legislature adjourned sine die, following a 140-day regular session marked by considerable conflict over important and not-so-important issues. The Legislature did reach an agreement on the state’s budget, which was the only bill constitutionally required to pass. However, the House and Senate took decidedly different approaches to their other priorities this session, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote in this blog post on Monday. School finance reforms sought by the House fell victim to a push for private school vouchers by the Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick both made late-session declarations that lawmakers needed to pass a bill regulating public bathroom use by transgender Texans and a bill changing requirements for elections before property tax increases, but neither measure made it beyond the finish line.

Another bill that did not pass was a sunset “safety net” bill designed to keep certain state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, from ceasing to operate during the next two years. The failure of that bill to pass could alone force Gov. Abbott to call a special session, leading to speculation about which other topics might be added to the types of bills that could be considered during a special session. Lt. Gov. Patrick warned during the last week of the regular session that he would be urging the governor to include on any special session call various other “priorities” that the Senate passed but the House did not approve; those could include not only state-mandated bathroom restrictions to which many school districts and business leaders objected, but also private school vouchers and the anti-educator bill that would eliminate payroll deduction for educators’ professional membership dues. All of these were ATPE-opposed bills that were shut down during the regular session, largely thanks to the more moderate, common sense approach of the Texas House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus.

After hinting that he would make an announcement by the end of this week, Gov. Abbott told reporters today not to expect any announcement either today or during the weekend about his calling a special session. Be sure to tune in to Teach the Vote next week and follow us on Twitter for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-docThe Legislature managed to pass important bills to keep the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators afloat for a few more years, and the TRS board of trustees now has responsibility for implementing the changes directed by lawmakers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended today’s meeting of the TRS board and penned a blog post outlining the many changes that will take effect in 2018.

While the legislature passed no major bills pertaining to TRS-ActiveCare this session, the board is taking steps now to mitigate an anticipated shortfall for that program, too. Fortunately, no bills that would negatively affect the TRS pension plan, such as converting the defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution or hybrid design, gained traction this session. Check out Mark’s blog post for more on the legislative changes that will affect TRS and educators’ healthcare.

 


One of the most significant bills approved by the 85th Legislature this year was House Bill 22, aimed at reworking the A-F accountability system for school districts and campuses. On our blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter answers a number of questions about what the bill does and areas in which Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will be tasked with rulemaking and additional interpretation of HB 22. Read Monty’s blog post for more information about changes coming soon to the A-F system.

 


Male lecturer looking at students writing in a classroomYet another topic that garnered significant discussion by the 85th Legislature this year was educator quality. The results were mixed, as ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann analyzed this week for our blog. A high-profile bill to stem educator misconduct and the problem often called “passing the trash” got the approval of lawmakers and has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. For more on that bill and several others relating to educator preparation and certification, check out Kate’s latest blog post here.

 


Next week, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will be meeting on Friday, June 9. We’ll have a report for you on that meeting, plus ongoing analysis of the legislative session that ended this week. ATPE will also bring you up-to-the-minute reporting on any announcements of a special session. As always, you can follow @TeachtheVote and individual members of the ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the most timely news from our team.

17_web_Spotlight_SummitATPE members are also encouraged to register to attend the ATPE Summit, July 10-12 in Austin, where our lobbyists will be presenting an in-person legislative update wrapping up the 85th legislative session and what it means for Texas public education.

 


 

TRS board approves major healthcare changes

TRS logoThe board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas met Friday to make changes to healthcare and retirement following the actions of the 85th Texas Legislature, which adjourned sine die on Monday.

Before delving into plan information, the board approved new contracts with CVS Caremark as the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) administrator for TRS-Care Standard, TRS-Care Part D, and TRS-ActiveCare. Staff then reviewed the two major pieces of legislation that will define healthcare and retirement benefits under TRS moving forward:

Senate Bill (SB) 1

The state budget covered roughly $480 million of the estimated $1 billion shortfall facing TRS-Care by increasing contributions by both the state and school districts, including one-time state supplemental funding of $182.6 million. While this prevented a worst-case scenario for retirees, the balance will unfortunately have to come from higher premiums and benefit reductions.

House Bill (HB) 3976

This bill represents a major structural overhaul of TRS-Care. It establishes two separate plans: A single High Deductible Plan for non-Medicare participants and a Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Plan for Medicare participants.

Under HB 3976, TRS cannot charge a premium during the 2018-2021 plan years to disability retirees who retired as a disability retiree effective on or before January 1, 2017, who are currently receiving disability retirement benefits, and who are not eligible to enroll in Medicare. The bill eliminates the statutory requirement to provide a free healthcare plan for retiree-only coverage, but will provide free generic preventative maintenance medications for enrollees in the high deductible plan. The new program provides an opt-in window for retirees under the age of 65 who choose coverage elsewhere to opt-in to the Medicare Advantage Plan at age 65.

What’s next

On Friday, the board approved the new TRS-Care plans created under HB 3976. From September 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, the agency will maintain the current TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 Plans, such that FY 2017 will be an extended 16-month plan year. Deductibles and out-of-pocket accumulators will not restart on September 1, 2017. The agency plans to maintain current retiree premium contributions by plan, Medicare status, family size, and years of service.

New TRS-Care plans

Non-Medicare participants on the TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 plans will be absorbed into the new TRS-Care Standard Plan. In-network coverage will include a $3,000/$6,000 deductible, $7,150/$14,300 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 80/20% coinsurance. Out of network coverage will include a $6,000/$12,000 deductible, $14,300/$28,600 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 60/40% coinsurance.

Medicare participants will be absorbed into the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part D Plan, which includes a $500 deductible, $3,500 maximum out-of-pocket limit, 95/5% coinsurance, $500 IP hospital copay per stay, $250 OP hospital copay per visit, $65 ER copay, $35 urgent care copay, $5 PCP office visit copay, $10 specialist office visit copay, $0 preventive services copay, $5/$25/$50 retail pharmacy copay, and $15/$70/$125 mail order pharmacy copay.

TRS will make an alternative plan available for certain participants who are Medicare eligible but not enrolled in either Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, or cannot access a provider through the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage Plan.

New premiums are scheduled to take effect January 1, 2018. A non-Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $200, and a Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $146. Premiums for retiree and spouse are $739/$590, retiree and children $433/$504, and retiree and family $1,074/$1,106.

The TRS-Care Medicare Advantage network is a PPO plan network with an out-of-network benefit equivalent to the in-network benefit. Providers do not need to be in network as long as a provider accepts Medicare and agrees to bill Humana, the TRS-Care vendor.

The agency has already begun the first phase of implementation, which involves communicating to participants the changes that will take effect January 1, 2018. These communications will include a monthly e-newsletter, direct mail correspondence, and online information. While these changes will increase the burdens on plan participants, they are estimated to keep TRS-Care positively funded until 2021.

TRS-ActiveCare Changes

The legislature did not pass any legislation affecting TRS-ActiveCare, which is a self-funded program, but the board did make significant plan changes on Friday.

The sole source of funding for TRS-ActiveCare is premiums. The state contributes $75 per month per employee through the school finance formulas, and districts contribute a minimum of $150 per month per employee, with some districts contributing more. Employees contribute the remainder of the projected gross premiums. Funding requirements for the state and districts have not changed since the program’s inception in 2002.

While in much better shape than TRS-Care, TRS-ActiveCare is facing a shortfall of just under $100 million in 2018, which has placed pressure on premiums. The agency’s goal is to balance premium increases against the need to build the fund balance to protect the plan. The target fund balance at the end of FY 2018 is one month of claims, or $158 million. Without plan design changes, staff suggested an average rate increase of 9.9 percent would be required to achieve the target ending fund balance.

With that in mind, the board approved a number of changes based on agency recommendations. Those on the TRS-ActiveCare-Select and TRS-ActiveCare-2 plans will see increased costs associated with out-of-network providers, and will see ER copays increase to $200 from $150. There are no changes planned regarding prescription drug benefits.

These changes will allow for a slightly smaller 8.1 percent average rate increase. TRS-ActiveCare-1HD rates will increase 2.9 percent for employee only, 8.4 percent for employee and spouse, 9.1 percent for employee and children, and 6.9 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare Select rates will increase 6.2 percent for employee only, 10.2 percent for employee and spouse, 7.1 percent for employee and children, and 16.8 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare-2 rates will increase 10.7 percent for employee only, 9.1 percent for employee and spouse, 1.9 percent for employee and children, and 25.5 percent for employee and family.

Other legislative changes

At Thursday’s meeting, executive director Brian Guthrie told board members “we are very pleased” with how the legislative session turned out for TRS. Three key bills related to the system passed within minutes of a crucial deadline late in the session. Debriefing the board, TRS governmental relations director Merita Zoga identified several additional items passed by the legislature related to TRS:

  • HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from contracting with or investing in a company that boycotts Israel.
  • SB 253 adds to the existing divestment statute, prohibiting TRS from investing in companies designated as terrorist organizations.
  • SB 252 prohibits government entities from contracting with companies doing business with Iran, Sudan, or a foreign terrorist organization.
  • SB 7, the teacher misconduct bill, includes language related to TRS. The bill strips the service retirement annuity from a TRS member who is convicted of felony sexual abuse, sexual assault, or improper relationship between educator and student. All or part of the annuity may be awarded instead to an innocent spouse.
  • SB 500 would strip the service retirement annuity of a member of a public retirement system, such as TRS or ERS, if the member is an elected official and is convicted of certain qualifying felonies, including bribery, corruption, perjury, and other offenses related to their official capacity.
  • HB 1428 would allow TRS to act as a mediator in balance billing disputes.

Staff pointed out that the legislature did not pass any bills related to a cost of living adjustment (COLA), TRS-ActiveCare, or pension studies. Other major bills affecting TRS include the following:

SB 1954

This bill allows Optional Retirement Program (ORP)-eligible employees who are not notified properly additional time to elect ORP participation. The proposed bill creates an error correction process for reporting an ORP employee to TRS when the employee is not eligible for TRS. The person would be restored to ORP participation and member, state, and employer contributions related to the incorrect reporting, plus interest, would be paid to the employee’s ORP account. Amounts contributed to TRS that are in excess of participant contributions due to ORP would be refunded to the individual.

SB 1663

SB 1663 provides a number of member friendly benefit and administrative changes. It allows the TRS board to go into executive session to discuss particular investment transactions, strategies, portfolios, and other potential transactions related to private investments if the board determines that deliberating or conferring in an open meeting would have detrimental effect on TRS’s negotiations with third parties or place TRS at a competitive disadvantage in the market. The bill provides TRS with the authority to charge late fees on late reports by reporting entities.

It further allows TRS to add an additional five years of service credit when determining whether an early age reduction is applicable and the amount of the reduction, for a 100 percent joint and survivor annuity payable at the death of an active member. The bill amends current law to provide that disability retirees with less than 10 years of service credit who choose a $150 per month annuity for the number of months of membership to allow their beneficiaries to receive any remaining member contributions as an additional death benefit if the disability retiree dies before the period ends. The bill also moves the TRS sunset review to 2025.

SB 1664

SB 1664 bill provides IRS code compliance, statutory corrections, and member friendly benefit changes. It provides additional time for TRS members to purchase sick and personal leave service credit at retirement and corrects an error referencing the TRS board rather than the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to certify state contributions to the ORP.

SB 1665

This bill continues the use of derivatives and external managers capped at 30 percent of total assets and repeals the sunset dates on the authorities.

85th Texas Legislature adjourns sine die

Today the 85th Texas Legislature ended its 140-day regular session. While all legislative sessions provide the backdrop for intense political battles, this session seemed marked by more conflict than usual, especially among the leadership of the two chambers.Austin, Texas

On education issues, the House chose to focus its energy on fixing the state’s troubled school finance system and improving an unpopular accountability system. The Senate prioritized passing a private school voucher bill and legislation to regulate the use of school bathrooms by transgender individuals. In the end, only one of those four objectives made it beyond the finish line, with House Bill 22 becoming one of the very last bills approved this session and offering changes to the A-through-F accountability system.

The impasse between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus spelled ultimate failure for some key sunset legislation to keep certain state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, operational for two more years. That alone will necessitate the calling of a special session to keep our state’s doctors in business. Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he will make an announcement later this week about a special session.

The governor and lieutenant governor both waited until the final week of the session to declare that providing property tax relief and passing a bathroom bill would be treated as two “must pass” items before the regular session ended. But both chambers finished their work today without achieving either objective. The Senate dealt with the two issues by passing high-profile bills earlier this spring. The House offered alternative proposals on each issue, which the Senate rejected. The governor is facing tremendous pressure from conservatives to add both of these issues to any call for a special session. Lt. Gov. Patrick has already said that he will ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, including private school vouchers, to be added to any call for a special session. It’s unclear whether the governor will bow to that pressure and authorize a special session filled with hot-button ideological battles, or if he will direct lawmakers to focus only on legislation that is truly “must pass.”

Of course, school finance reform is one of the most obvious ways to address concerns about soaring property taxes. That was the approach taken by the House this session when it proposed a comprehensive rewrite of the state’s system for funding our public schools in legislation spearheaded by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty. But the Senate largely refused to negotiate on the school finance bill, taking a hard-line stance in favor of vouchers. It is certainly possible that lawmakers will have another chance to discuss the complex issue of school funding in the near future.

Of the bills that did pass during the regular legislative session that ended today, HB 22 and another measure to keep the healthcare program for retired educators afloat for a couple more years are among few standouts for public education. Lawmakers also agreed to allow Individual Graduation Committees to exist for two more years, helping students graduate who otherwise would not. ATPE and other pro-public education groups successfully stopped all voucher legislation and the anti-educator bills to do away with payroll deduction for professional membership dues. The remainder of the bills that passed offer a mixed bag for public education.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote this week for complete analysis from the ATPE lobby team on the entire legislative session and its anticipated impacts on public education. We will also bring you any news about special session plans when they are announced.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

 


We wish you all a peaceful Memorial Day!