Tag Archives: Greg Abbott

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
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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.

Senate committee hears from dozens opposed to payroll deduction bill

On Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), conducted a public hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 13, Huffman’s own bill to eliminate the rights of some public employees to use payroll deduction for voluntary association dues. Dozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin to attend the hearing. Among the many witnesses who testified against SB 13 were ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, State President Julleen Bottoms, State Vice President Carl Garner, State Secretary Byron Hildebrand, and State Treasurer Tonja Grey.

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Early in the hearing, Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) questioned the bill’s author on why she chose to file a bill that would prohibit payroll deduction by some public employees (such as educators, correctional officers, and CPS workers) while exempting fire, police, and EMS employees from the prohibition. ”I just think it’s problematic to say this group of people does it this way and this group of people does it that way,” Sen. Estes said, noting that he would prefer to see a bill without an exception for first responders that would apply equally to all public employees. “Why?” Estes asked the bill’s author about the discriminatory impact of her bill.

 

In response to the questions from Estes and her other fellow senators, Chairwoman Huffman explained that she was comfortable excluding law enforcement and emergency personnel from the bill because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Huffman added that groups representing first responders don’t interfere with “business issues,” which was a complaint raised by a pair of business lobbyists who testified against SB 13.

It is not clear what type of “business interference” the supporters of this bill believe ATPE has been guilty of organizing. The examples cited by a representative of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) were federal minimum wage and equal pay laws that she claimed unions were opposing nationally. ATPE has not taken a position on any such legislation in Washington, and ATPE’s Godsey pointed out in his testimony that our organization has been supportive of business. “We love small business,” Godsey emphasized to the committee. “We have never spent one dime lobbying against small business.”

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Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) asked a number of questions during the hearing about why this bill was needed. They illustrated, for example, that no school board members or superintendents have complained about the current law requiring districts to let educators deduct association dues from their paychecks. Several of the teachers who testified during Monday’s hearing pointed out that their school leaders were supportive of leaving the current law alone and letting school employees continue the practice of using payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE State President Bottoms, for example, noted that her own superintendent had even traveled to Austin Monday to support her appearance at the SB 13 hearing.

Although not a member of the committee, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) also sat in on the hearing and  asked a number of questions about why the bill targets certain associations while allowing payroll deductions for other purposes, such as insurance premiums and taxes. ATPE appreciates the support of those senators from both parties who have taken issue with SB 13, principally for the discriminatory message that it sends to hardworking educators and the fact that the bill is wholly unnecessary. It solves no identified problems and does not produce any cost savings to the state. Interestingly, Chairwoman Huffman conceded during her opening remarks about SB 13 that there are no taxpayer costs associated with public employees using payroll deduction for their association dues. In admitting this, Huffman openly contradicted recent claims by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott that this legislation would prevent “taxpayer resources” from being used to collect union dues.

While the committee heard testimony from numerous ATPE members and other educators on Monday, members of the law enforcement community were also on hand to express opposition to SB 13. Even though law enforcement officials are currently exempted from Huffman’s bill, they nevertheless urged lawmakers not to discriminate against teachers and expressed disappointment that the Senate was even hearing such a bill as SB 13. ATPE sincerely appreciates the support of police, fire, and EMS employee associations to defeat this unnecessary bill.

Click here to watch archived video of the hearing. Sen. Huffman’s introduction of SB 13 begins at the 13:45 mark during the broadcast. The testimony on this bill begins at 1:11:28 during the broadcast. Also, visit ATPE’s Facebook page for video highlights and links to news reports about the hearing. ATPE members are urged to continue calling and writing to their legislators about SB 13 and its House counterpart, House Bill 510. For additional resources on communicating with lawmakers, check out ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 29, 2016

Here is this week’s recap of federal and state education developments:

 


This week, Governor Greg Abbott appointed four new members to serve on the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), replacing outgoing members whose terms expired last year but remained on the board until the appointments were made. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that Rohanna Brooks-Sykes, a counselor at Klein High School; Arturo J. “Art” Cavazos, superintendent for the Harlingen CISD; Sandie Mullins Moger, a former Houston Community College Trustee who will serve as a public member; and Laurie J. Turner, an American history teacher at Gregory-Portland Junior High School, will all begin their terms set to expire in 2021 next week when SBEC convenes for its August meeting.

BradAllard

Brad Allard

Among the outgoing board members are Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Bonnie Cain, the current chair of the board. The board elects its own chair and is expected to conduct that election at a future board meeting after the new appointees are sworn in as SBEC members. Jill Druesedow, the board’s vice-chair and a teacher at Haskell High School, will oversee meetings until a new chair is elected. Also on the list of outgoing members is ATPE member and Burleson teacher Brad Allard. ATPE thanks Brad and all of the outgoing members for their service to the profession and wishes Brad the best in his retirement!

SBEC will hold its next meeting a week from today. Stay tuned for an update on that meeting and other SBEC developments.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) notified stakeholders earlier this week of new guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths program, which was reauthorized and amended under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance is a part of a series of documents that ED intends to release in an effort to assist states and districts as they seek to understand and implement the new federal law.

Among the new requirements, states and districts will be required to identify the graduation rates of homeless student populations, provide professional development, ensure access to support services for preschool-aged homeless children, maintain privacy of student records, and expand school stability services such as transportation. The Department also released a fact sheet covering expanded information on how teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff can support homeless youth.

View ED’s fact sheet and guidance on this and other ESSA provisions for more information.


ThinkstockPhotos-111939554The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held its final meeting on Wednesday, July 27, to vote on recommendations to the 85th legislature for changes to our state’s accountability system and student testing. Despite early indications that the commission might recommend scrapping the state’s unpopular STAAR tests, commission members ultimately opted for a different route. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and reported on this week’s final meeting. For more on the commission’s vote, check out the coverage from our friends at The Texas Tribune, republished here.


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundThe country’s two primary political parties have released and approved their respective party platforms, documents that assert the party’s principle policy goals and guide party members’ policymaking at all levels of government. On education, the party platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties differ greatly. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has provided a comparison of the two party platforms here.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met today, and ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson provided the following update. The board met in part to continue discussions on the budget request that TRS will submit to the legislature when it convenes for the 2017 biennial session in January. TRS projects public education aggregate compensation to increase by 3.5% over the 2018-19 biennium, and as such is requesting that the required additional funding be appropriated to pay the state’s 6.8% contribution to the pension trust fund. This is a common occurrence as long as schools are hiring staff to accommodate the increasing student population, but there have been years in the recent past where payroll was projected to remain flat, largely because of state budget cuts. As long as there is no political manipulation of the assumption values TRS uses to calculate the status of the fund, the trust fund remains healthy. However, there have already been proposals made by political appointees that would potentially unfairly harm TRS. ATPE is working to ensure that your benefits are accurately calculated and that the state meets its end of the bargain in contributing to your retirement and health care benefits. As it relates to health care, legislative interim committee reports are expected to be released soon, and after submitting testimony to the committee appointed to work on active and retiree health insurance issues, we are hopeful that elected officials will include our request to increase state investment in both plans to equal that of other private and public plans.

Next week, the Senate Education Committee holds an interim hearing on August 3 at which the topic will be “a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes.” The discussions will include performance-based funding and “mandates,” along with an examination of the effectiveness of the state’s only two county-based school systems in the counties of Harris and Dallas. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week on this and other upcoming interim hearings.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 1, 2016

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced details this week on summer training academies for certain teachers. The programs include Literacy Achievement Academies for kindergarten and grade one teachers and Mathematics Achievement Academies for teachers of students in grades two and three. Teachers who complete an academy this summer will receive a $350 stipend through their school district or charter school. In selecting eligible teachers, TEA will give priority to teachers working in schools that enroll at least 50% educationally disadvantaged students (those eligible for free/reduced lunch). For additional information on the academies, click here or contact Chelaine Marion, TEA’s Director of Foundation Education, at (512) 463-9581.


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundLongtime Texas Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) is seeking a new role as a County Commissioner for Harris County. He recently won the Democratic party nomination for that post in Houston’s Precinct 1. The Houston Chronicle reported on the move saying, “Although Ellis will be giving up 26 years of seniority in Austin, he will wield significant clout as Precinct 1 commissioner, where he will represent some 1.2 million people, control a budget of more than $200 million and help govern the nation’s third-largest county.”

Ellis has held his Senate seat since 1990, but will be removing his name from the November general election ballot for re-election. That has resulted in a flurry of activity among state representatives interested in the opportunity and a chance for local Democratic precinct chairs to decide which candidate is best suited to replace Ellis on the ballot.

Today, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) announced that she intends to seek Ellis’s seat in the upper chamber. Thompson is one of the most senior members of the Texas House of Representatives, currently serving her 22nd term; she is also considered the longest-serving female elected official in Texas history. Also vying for the seat is another state representative from Houston, Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston), who has served in the Texas House since 2006. Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who had been rumored to be another possible candidate, announced this week that he intends to remain in the Texas House. Former Houston City Controller Ron Green is also eyeing the nomination. The outcome has the potential to cause another reshuffling of offices around the Capitol and yet another special election heading into the 2017 legislative session.


The Texas Senate Education Committee has scheduled a series of upcoming interim hearings that include reform issues of high priority to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

First, on August 3, 2016, the committee will discuss “a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes.” The hearing will  include looking at “performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance” and “any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.” Performance-based funding and “mandate relief” have long been favored concepts in the Senate. During the same meeting, senators will take a closer look at the state’s only remaining county-based school systems, the Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools to determine whether their services are overlapping with regional education service centers. Finally, the committee will be following up on the implementation of a new law last year (HB 2610) that changed the requirement for a minimum number of school days to a minimum number of school minutes.

Next, the Senate Education Committee will meet August 16, 2016, to study school board governance policies and practices and how they can help improve student outcomes, especially for low-performing schools. Expect the Districts of Innovation (DOI) law and how schools are using it to be a topic of discussion. The committee will also talk about pre-Kindergarten grants and legislation to raise the standards for educator preparation programs.

Teacher teaching schoolboy computer in the library

On September 13, the committee will take up the issue of digital learning. Discussions will include access to broadband in school districts around the state and how to build “the necessary infrastructure to provide a competitive, free-market environment in broadband service.” The committee will also evaluate the implementation of the law that allows graduation committees to determine if certain students who failed STAAR tests may be allowed to graduate. That ATPE-supported law is set to expire in September 2017 unless the legislature reauthorizes or extends it.

Finally, on September 14, the Senate Education Committee is holding an interim hearing on vouchers. The agenda includes looking at education savings accounts and tax credit scholarship programs that have been adopted in other states. NO VOUCHERS Lt. Gov. Patrick has said that vouchers and other privatization plans will continue to be one of his top legislative priorities for the Senate in 2017. The Sept. 14 hearing will also focus on interventions for schools that have had unsuccessful academic ratings under the accountability system and the implementation of the DOI law, which allows acceptably rated schools to exempt themselves from various state laws.

All of the aforementioned meetings will begin at 9 a.m. and public testimony will be limited to two minutes. Most hearings can be viewed live or in an archived format through the state legislature’s website. Watch for additional interim hearings of the House Public Education Committee to be announced later this summer for early fall. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates after all of these hearings.


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyIn related legislative interim news, the heads of state agencies are being asked to “engage in a thorough review of each program and budget strategy and determine the value of each dollar spent” as they prepare their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) for the 2017 session. That’s the message in a June 30 joint letter from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Lt. Gov. Patrick (R), and Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R) to agency directors, appellate court judges, and university leaders. In what has become a sort of tradition in interim years, despite our state’s often-touted economic successes, the directive calls for state agencies to cut four percent from their base appropriation levels, but notes that exceptions will be made for ”amounts necessary to maintain funding for the Foundation School Program under current law” and a few other priorities.

At the same time, a group of conservative political organizations are warning lawmakers that they will not be viewed as conservative if the 85th Legislature does not limit appropriations for the next biennium to $218.5 billion or less, including federal funds. The coalition includes groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and National Federation of Independent Business-Texas, which have often taken decidedly anti-public education stances on issues such as school funding, class-size limits, payroll deduction for public employees, and more.


Many thanks to those of you who participated in the SBOE survey on student testing and accountability. The survey ended yesterday, and the board will review the results of the feedback received at its next meeting, scheduled for July 19-22, 2016. The SBOE survey was conducted in concert with the effort by the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability to make testing and accountability recommendations to the 85th Legislature. The commission is expected to hold its last meeting on July 27 to adopt final recommendations. A set of draft recommendations with rationales and timelines can be viewed here. The commission has struggled to find consensus on many difficult questions relating to student testing, the original meeting schedule for the commission has been extended, and now at least one member of the commission has voiced concerns about the process. In a recent letter to Dr. Andrew Kim, the commission’s chairman, commissioner Theresa Trevino, who also serves as president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), shared her belief that some recommendations were being given short shrift. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on both upcoming meetings of the SBOE and the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability.


Happy Independence Day!

Boys Holding Sparklers

From The Texas Tribune: Amid STAAR Upheaval, Panel Working on Fixes

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As displeasure with Texas’ standardized testing regime mounts, all eyes are on a special panel the Legislature created last year to figure out whether to scrap the widely reviled STAAR exam.

The 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, scheduled for its second-to-last meeting Monday, has been studying alternatives to the high-stakes tests, which state law requires 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers to pass to move to the next grade level or to graduate. The panel includes a diverse mix of educators, elected officials, business leaders and anti-testing activists.

Its work couldn’t be better timed, with parents and school officials up in arms over wide-ranging problems reported with this spring’s STAAR administration — issues that prompted Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Friday to waive the requirement that 5th and 8th pass the tests to move on to the next grade. The panel first convened in January, the month after Congress passed a new federal law giving states far more freedom to determine what their testing and accountability systems should look like. And many educators, parents and elected officials agree that major overhauls are necessary, even if they don’t entirely agree on what they should be.

Commission members have expressed high hopes for devising meaningful changes to a system that assesses students and holds them and schools accountable. Many view that system as unnecessarily stressful, overly punitive and developmentally inappropriate. Their recommendations are due to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature by Sept. 1.

“I really am excited about the potential for this,” said commission member and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in an interview ahead of the panel’s April meeting. “It’s really a varied group with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds on there, and it’s what I had envisioned as far as having a meaningful dialogue of stakeholders that bring their own perspectives to it and try to come up with some type of consensus.”

Teacher, school and parent groups also have been excited by the opportunity to make big changes. But some say their hope for revolutionary reform has waned over the months — particularly after the panel’s May meeting, when members struggled to hammer out a list of recommendations. Several panelists said it will be crucial to make progress at Monday’s meeting, as they are set to finalize their guidance at a meeting in July.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said it quickly became clear after the panel’s first monthly meeting that it was not looking to eliminate statewide testing and that it would likely keep STAAR, or something like it, in the lower grades.

“I do think they will reach consensus around some areas,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s probably going to be groundbreaking.”

The federal government has required states to assess students in grades 3 through 8 annually and once in high school since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 — at least if they want to receive federal funding. Many other states are also tinkering with their testing plans amid pressure from parents to reduce testing time and make the overall experience less taxing.

The commission has coalesced around some larger concepts, such as the importance of accounting for improvement in student scores; that exams should be more developmentally appropriate and diagnostic rather than summative; and that there should be multiple different measures of student performance with consequences for poor outcomes falling more heavily on teachers and administrators than on students. But they have struggled with specifics, getting hung up on recommendations that would cost districts a lot of time or money or pose other problems.

Scott Placek, an Austin-area lawyer representing a group of parents who recently sued the state over STAAR, said they are concerned by the interest panelists have expressed in having a series of smaller assessments throughout the year rather than one big, end-of-year exam. (Education Commissioner Mike Morath also has expressed support for the concept.)

“Some of the things that have been discussed in terms of more continual assessment, more data-driven assessment, you know, it’s concerning to parents who I think believe the system is already too data-driven,” said Placek, adding that his own son struggled with STAAR. 

“I think that parents were initially very supportive of the idea of re-examining assessment,” he added. “I think as the work of the commission has gone on, that’s sort of shifted to caution and suspicion.”

Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, the panel’s chairman, said he’s tried to remind the panel that many of the things under discussion — including smaller, diagnostic assessments throughout the year — have been tried and rejected before.

“This is a very complex topic,” he said. ”There’s not, in my opinion, one silver-bullet solution that’s going to meet the needs of various constituents out there in our state, and … it probably merits further discussion going forward even beyond the commission.”

He also said that there’s a desire among educators to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or risk overcorrecting the problem.

Taylor, too, said he’s “not huge on reinventing the wheel.” Still, he foresees a potentially “massive” impact from the commission’s work, including possibly getting rid of the five end-of-course exams high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can graduate and instead using an exam like the SAT or ACT. Nearly half of all states now require students to take either of these two college entrance exams in lieu of, or in addition to, some other type of test, according to a 2015-16 Education Week survey.

“I don’t want this to just be an exercise of what ifs,” Taylor said.

Panel member Theresa Treviño, president of the influential anti-testing group Texans Advocating For Meaningful Student Assessment, said the recommendations the panel will make “are probably not as grand as I would have hoped” but that she still thinks they will make an impact.

“I think it’s going to be more than a tweak, which is what I was really afraid of,” she said. “I’m hoping that with this next meeting we can sit down and hammer out those recommendations that could make a bigger difference and they don’t have to be huge.”

Commission member and outgoing House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said striking an appropriate balance has been challenging but that he thinks the commission will produce recommendations to “get rid of some of the craziness” that has created such a stressful testing environment, including some high-stakes provisions. 

Even if the panel does recommend big changes, some teacher and school groups worry they may fall victim to House-Senate gridlock next year, with leadership already publicly butting heads over public education priorities. 

“The work of the commission will have a challenging road ahead of it in the 85th session,” said education lobbyist David Anderson.


Last week, after House Speaker Joe Straus directed representatives to study improvements to the state’s school funding system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a vocal school choice proponent — issued a news release that praised Straus’ move but also said it “must be packaged with education reform.”

Amy Beneski, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said that even if the recommended changes are smaller, they still could make a huge difference.

“The bottom line is, the majority of people I’ve ever talked to aren’t happy with the current system, and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re just going to have to keep plugging away. This is hard work.”

 


Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/11/amid-staar-upheaval-panel-working-fixes/.

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

Here’s your weekly review of education news stories from ATPE and Teach the Vote:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended this week’s board and committee meetings of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) where topics of discussions included investment strategies, returns, and the upcoming legislative budget process.

TRS regularly evaluates its various investment managers to measure their performance against benchmarks, the market, and their peers. Much like any other investment, the rates of return on TRS investments fluctuate over time, but over the long-term returns have exceeded the 8% return assumption. During the last seven years following the 2008 recession U.S. and world markets have experienced incredible growth, and pension funds, such as your TRS pension, have done very well. The challenge TRS investment staff face is to continue with their diversified asset allocation in order to maintain these returns needed to pay for current and future pension benefits. The data support the TRS board’s strategy and return assumptions, which is good news for public education employees in order to sustain these benefits over time.

The board and staff also discussed the legislative budget process and how the TRS budget, which includes assumptions for public education employee payroll growth as well as employee and state contributions to the pension trust fund, is beginning to be developed for the 2017 legislative session. There is a chance that TRS is going to include in their budget request to the legislature, known as the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), the approximately $1.6 billion that is going to be needed to sustain TRS-Care for the next two years. This issue was discussed last week in an interim legislative hearing where ATPE presented information to House and Senate members on the need to craft a long-term solution that does not increase the burden on active employees or retirees. This  issue is going to be ongoing throughout the 2017 legislative session, but it must be addressed if the retiree health insurance program is intended to survive.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The State Board of Education (SBOE) and its three committees met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was there covering all the activity. According to Exter, the discussion ranged from recent policy and technical issues with STAAR testing to several core subject TEKS, particularly English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), Math, and Science.

The ELAR TEKS are currently undergoing a scheduled rewrite. The board heard testimony from representatives of organizations representing subject area educators and from representatives of the TEKS writing teams. Subsequently, the board briefly discussed the upcoming streamlining process for the Science TEKS. Board members have until May 6 to recommend to TEA staff nominees to serve on the streamlining writing team. The Board also heard from testifiers during Friday’s meeting about concerns with the new Math TEKS. Particularly, that the new TEKS omit computational requirements in favor of focusing on process. That the shift may violate current law, which prohibits the board from dictating methodology. The Board will likely have an upcoming workshop on this subject.

In addition to testimony on TEKS subject areas, the board heard from parents and educators about validity, reliability, and methodological problems with the STAAR test. The board was very sympathetic to this well-researched and well-delivered testimony and ultimately decided to postpone an item in which they would provide comment for the legislature on the subject. The board postponed the item to its next meeting so that their discussion and comments will be stronger and more robust.


We’ve been reporting on our blog about recent problems with administration of the STAAR tests. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on problems experienced by some students whose test answers in progress were lost. Those issue prompted TEA to issue two news releases and advise districts that they were not required to force affected students to retest. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the testing problems during remarks to the State Board of Education. Morath also shared with SBOE members that the agency is changing its course on asking test administrators to clock students’ bathroom breaks during the test. TEA is expected to release a new press statement about the decision within the next few days. Read Monty’s blog post from Wednesday to learn more about what’s happening with STAAR.



Rulemaking continues as part of the process to implement various changes made by the Texas Legislature in 2015. First, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has distributed adopted rules for new suicide prevention training that will take effect on April 17, 2016. The rules implement changes authorized by House Bill (HB) 2186, which Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed at the request of ATPE last year to help educators address the epidemic of youth suicides.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceAlso released this week were proposed commissioner’s rules to implement last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Click here to view the proposed rules. Public comments will be accepted on the rule proposal until May 9. As we reported last week, Commissioner Morath has also requested an Attorney General’s opinion to guide the Texas Education Agency and school districts in complying with the new law.

We are still awaiting adopted rules for implementation of T-TESS, the state’s new recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for rulemaking updates.


Several education-related meetings and events are coming up next week and beyond.

  • On Wednesday, April 13, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will once again be the subject of multiple interim hearings on a single day. First, the House Pensions Committee will hear testimony related to its charge to study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. The Senate State Affairs Committee will look at proposed TRS reforms. Also, ATPE will be giving invited testimony about TRS-ActiveCare to the Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. Watch for updates on these hearings next week from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.
  • On Friday, April 15, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meets. The rather lengthy SBEC agenda includes consideration of requests for waivers of a new law limiting how many times one can repeat a certification exam, discussion of comprehensive changes to be considered this summer for educator preparation program (EPP) rules, and assignment of accreditation ratings to EPPs. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will be there to follow all of the action and report back to Teach the Vote.
  • If you live in the Abilene area, mark your calendar for April 25, when Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is sponsoring a community meeting to discuss the value and future of public education in Texas. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson will be the featured speaker. The event is taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, 701 South Pioneer Drive, Abilene, TX 79605. Register to attend at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-24488621125.
  • Don’t forget, also, that April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Learn more about voter registration at VoteTexas.gov, and be sure to check out profiles of the runoff candidates here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-146967884_teacherThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) shared details this week on math and reading academies planned for teachers starting this summer. The academies are being created as a result of legislation passed last year and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott. They are designed for certain teachers who provide reading or math instruction at specific grade levels, and participating teachers will be eligible for stipends.

TEA will begin launching the academies this summer with assistance from the state’s regional Education Service Centers. Read TEA’s April 7 press release here, and learn more about the academies on the agency’s webpage.


As we mentioned above, April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the primary runoff elections taking place on May 24. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday shared her thoughts on the biggest challenge we face heading into these runoffs:

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Jennifer Canaday

“While voter apathy and low turnout are challenges we must address in every election, runoffs are notorious for producing extremely small numbers of voters. Active participation and turnout by a relatively small, but engaged group of voters with a special interest can heavily influence the outcome of a runoff. Their influence becomes very significant when the overall number of people voting in that election is expected to be low. The question is, ‘Which group’s voters are going to show up at the polls next month – pro-public education voters who support our students, schools, and teachers, or voters who follow extremist groups such as Empower Texans and Texans for Education Reform that want to cripple, privatize, or starve off funding for public education?’ Some very key races are going to be decided as a result of those runoffs in May, and it’s imperative that educators and our allies make a point to get to the polls.”

ATPE is working with other groups, including the Texas Educators Vote coalition, to help remind educators about the importance of voting not once, but twice, during the month of May. The first election on May 7 covers local ballot proposals and races such as those for school board seats. The second election is the May 24 runoff election for Republican and Democratic primary races in which no candidate earned at least 50 percent of the vote on March 1.

You can learn much more about the upcoming runoffs and determine your eligibility to vote in a runoff by reading ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s informative new blog post, “Am I eligible to vote in a runoff?


Accountability and testing commission gains new member, plans first meeting

We’ve reported recently on the creation of the new entity called the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. Mandated by House Bill 2804 (2015), the commission is supposed to make recommendations for new testing and accountability systems for the Texas legislature to consider when it meets again in 2017.

The commission has scheduled its first meeting for next week, Jan. 20, in Austin. No public testimony will be taken during this initial gathering of the commission members. Meanwhile, the State Board of Education is continuing its series of community conversations to gather input for the commission. An event took place in San Antonio this week, and another is scheduled for Austin next week.

We also reported before the holidays that Gov. Greg Abbott had selected Mike Morath to preside over the commission, but that was before Abbott decided to name Morath as the new commissioner of education. Morath’s assumption of the commissioner’s role left a vacancy on the commission. We learned today that Abbott has tapped Andrew Kim of New Braunfels to take over as the presiding officer of the commission, replacing Morath. Kim, the current superintendent of Comal ISD, was one of Abbott’s original appointees to the commission. To fill the additional spot on the commission, Abbott has appointed Stacy Hock, a businesswoman and technology consultant from Austin. View the other members of the commission here.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from the ATPE lobby team on next week’s commission meeting.

Governor selects Mike Morath to be new Texas commissioner of education

It was announced today that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped Mike Morath to serve as the state’s next commissioner of education. Morath will succeed Commissioner Michael Williams who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Morath is a business executive with a background in finance. He has been a member of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) board of trustees since 2011. Morath gained notoriety when he joined reformers in voicing strong support for an effort last year to make DISD the first-ever home rule charter district in Texas. That effort, which was underwritten in large part by the Arnold Foundation, failed, as we reported on Teach the Vote. Morath also serves on the advisory board of Texans for Education Reform (TER).

Today’s announcement comes just one month after Abbott also selected Morath to chair the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which the legislature created to recommend changes to our state’s student testing and accountability systems. The governor’s press release today states that “Morath is a product of Texas public schools” and that he once briefly taught computer science at Garland High School “during a school year when the previous teacher unexpectedly resigned.”

There has been much speculation lately as to whether the governor would select an education insider or a reformer/business leader to head the Texas Education Agency going forward. Morath’s name was not one that was more widely circulated, but his selection sends another signal that Abbott is very interested in the agenda of the education reform and pro-privatization crowd. Morath joins the list of other recent reform-minded appointees we’ve written about on Teach the Vote, such as newly-minted Pension Review Board chair Josh McGee.

As the state’s largest educator association, ATPE looks forward to an opportunity to meet with Morath and share our members’ input and experiences with him. We anticipate that he will want to pursue innovative approaches to regulations dealing with such issues as charter schools, teacher appraisals, and student testing. We hope that Morath will be the type of commissioner who is receptive to educators’ voices in matters of policy and will support local control.