Tag Archives: healthcare

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 8, 2017

Here’s this week’s education news wrap-up from ATPE:

 


Drugs and MoneySignificant changes are coming soon for participants in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) healthcare program. In case you missed our coverage during Hurricane Harvey, the TRS Board of Trustees met last week to adopt changes to the TRS-Care health insurance plan for retirees. Read more about the changes here. Video of the Sept. 1 TRS board meeting is also available for viewing here. TRS staff have also announced a schedule of workshops to help retirees understand the changes coming in January to TRS-Care. Learn more in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE members and other educators affected by Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to check out our Hurricane Harvey resources page for answers to questions and links to additional information. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced that certain schools and districts within the disaster areas would be granted an extension of time to file appeals to 2017 academic and financial accountability ratings. Find additional information on the TEA website here.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet next week in Austin. Click here for the agenda for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meetings of the board and its committees. Ahead of that meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 12, will be the first meeting for the newly announced SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee. The committee will discuss the purpose and scope of the long-range plan and look at sample plans during the initial meeting. Learn more about the steering committee here. The ATPE lobby team will have coverage of all these meetings here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter next week.

 


 

TRS-Care info tour coming to a city near you

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsWith TRS-Care set to undergo significant changes in 2018, TRS staff have designed a comprehensive communications plan to ensure that all  plan participants have access to the information they will need to make decisions about their healthcare coverage. TRS has designed the communications plan to “touch” the 270,000 TRS-Care participants nearly two million times between now and January.

In addition to reaching out to participants through print and electronic communications, TRS staff will be going on the road to conduct in-person seminars. The seminar schedule includes 31 locations all across the state between October 9 and November 2, 2017.

The seminars will be presented in four parts and are divide into two segments of approximately 90 minutes each. The first hour and a half focuses on participants covered by Medicare; the second hour and a half covers plan changes for the pre-Medicare population. In many of the stops, the three hour seminar will be offered once in the morning from 9 am to noon, and once in the afternoon from 1:30 to 4:30 pm. Here is a list of the scheduled meetings released by TRS. To attend an in person event will require an RSVP by phone. Seating is limited. ​Please call 1-800-850-1992 Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Central time to reserve your seat.

For those who wish to participate in the TRS-Care seminar but are not able to attend one in person, TRS will also hold a minimum of eight webinars. TRS is adding additional webinars during the week of Nov. 6 to help offset its inability to hold more onsite seminars in the Houston area due to Hurricane Harvey.

For additional questions, please visit the TRS website or call TRS at 1-888-237-6762.

Those interested in the recent changes adopted for TRS-Care may also view video of the last TRS board meeting. The board’s discussion on TRS-Care begins around the 3 hour and 46 minute mark on the video and lasts approximately 45 minutes.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 1, 2017

Here’s your Labor Day weekend edition of ATPE’s education news wrap-up:



17-18_web_HurricaneHarveyAs millions are dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Harvey, ATPE wants to help educators find resources they need. Check out our new Hurricane Harvey Resources page on atpe.org, which will be updated as additional information becomes available to us. There you’ll find information from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well as answers to questions such as how to file for unemployment benefits or how school closures might affect an educator’s paycheck. TEA has also published a Hurricane Harvey resources page with information geared toward school district administrators, parents, and others affected by the storm.

ATPE advises those wishing to help hurricane victims to support reputable relief organizations, such as those listed on our resource page and in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For a related and inspiring read, check out this article also by Mark, who is a native of Southeast Texas and writes about his hometown’s resiliency.

 


TRS logoThe board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has been meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided a preliminary report for our blog, which will be updated as needed upon the conclusion of the meeting. Topics of discussion today include rules for 403(b) providers and changes to the TRS-Care program for retirees in light of additional money appropriated during the special session.

 


Today is your last chance to share feedback with TEA on its draft state ESSA plan. As we have reported here on Teach the Vote, the deadline for public input was extended on account of Hurricane Harvey, and all comments must be submitted to TEA by email by 5 pm today. Click here to read more from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann about the state’s draft plan for compliance with the federal education law, or read ATPE’s formal comments on the draft plan here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-78479954With the 2018 primary elections only a few months away, ATPE is urging educators to make a plan to vote for pro-public education candidates. We are members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition aimed at increasing voter turnout among the education community.

One project of the coalition has been to encourage school boards around the state to adopt a resolution in support of creating a culture of voting in their schools. Read more about the effort in this blog post, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates coming soon to our website with information on candidates and officeholders.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-92037734The ATPE staff wishes everyone a restful Labor Day holiday and our best wishes for all those recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

 


Embed from Getty Images

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 25, 2017

Welcome back to school, educators! Here’s this week’s ATPE wrap-up of education news:

 


TRS logoTRS has posted info on its website and social media telling plan participants in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey that they can fill prescriptions in advance of the storm.

Both CVS Caremark and Express Scripts are allowing one-time emergency refills of medications for those in areas affected by the hurricane.

The article on TRS’ website informing participants they can pick up medications in advance of the storm and which provides the PBMs’ phone numbers can be found here.

Participants with questions about how to access prescriptions, can contact TRS pharmacy benefit managers at the following numbers:

• Active employees: CVS Caremark 1-800-222-9205 (option 2)
• Retirees: Express Scripts 1-877-680-4881

TRS participants can get to the article from the “What’s New” section of the TRS homepage and from the health care news main page.

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) was scheduled to meet today for the first time following the conclusion of the 85th legislature’s special session. However, the meeting has been postponed until Sept. 1 on account of Hurricane Harvey and the inability to secure a quorum.

To learn more about changes the board is expected to consider for TRS-Care when it meets next week, check out this recent post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE Input on the Texas ESSA Plan_FINAL_Page_1As we reported yesterday, ATPE has submitted formal input this week on the draft Texas state plan for ESSA compliance recently shared by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Click here to read ATPE’s feedback, prepared by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, which focuses on aspects of the federal such as student assessment, setting long-term performance goals for students, and analyzing school climate as a quality indicator.

 


tea-logo-header-2This week, TEA also announced the availability of a new Equity Toolkit to help school districts comply with ESSA requirements to submit equity plans reporting on whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers” in the district. Learn more about the toolkit in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE state officers and staff have been talking to the media about the 85th legislature recent special session and how educators feel about issues heading into the 2018 election season.

Jennifer Canaday

Jennifer Canaday

A guest editorial by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was published this week by both the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. In her piece entitled “Maybe it’s time for a legislative gap year,” Canaday writes about the legislature’s decision not to make any major changes to the state’s school finance system in a way that would also provide local property tax relief. “The Legislature, unfortunately, punted on an opportunity to make structural changes to our beleaguered school finance system, opting to study the issue for two more years,” writes Canaday. “Like a seventh- or eighth-year college student still living at home, at some point the Texas Legislature must complete its studies and start working on the real job of fixing what is broken.”

Tonja Gray

Tonja Gray

The legislature will instead appoint a new commission to study and recommend improvements to the school finance system. ATPE State Secretary Tonja Gray spoke to reporters with KTXS in Abilene  about the commission and about her experiences testifying at committee hearings during the regular and special sessions. Gray said she was happy to see the legislature’s passage of a measure to provide additional funding for retired teachers’ healthcare needs.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

Byron Hildebrand

Byron Hildebrand

ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand and ATPE Executive Director also taped an appearance for the debut episode of “In Focus,” a new public affairs program produced by Spectrum News Austin and Spectrum News San Antonio. Local viewers can catch the program at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 3, 2017. For a sneak preview, check out this clip featuring Hildebrand discussing retired teachers.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 18, 2017

Here’s your post-special session edition of ATPE’s Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelTuesday night marked the end of the 85th Legislature’s special session, and ATPE is pleased that a number of anti-public education proposals were defeated. The legislature declined to grant Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for a private school voucher program for students with special needs, opting instead to fund state grant programs that will aid public school students with autism, dyslexia, and other challenges. Also blocked were discriminatory bills to take away educators’ access to payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE is thankful for the educators who called and wrote to their lawmakers or visited the capitol to take a stand for educators having the same rights as other public employees and being able to continue to manage their own money as they choose.

The special session also resulted in some gains for public education through the passage of House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Although the Senate would not agree to the $1.8 billion in additional public school funding that the House approved or to tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, the final bill does add $563 million over and above the budget passed by lawmakers during the regular session. That extra money will help some districts facing the loss of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funds this year, provide assistance for charter school facilities, and significantly, inject $212 million into the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators. The Senate rejected any long-term structural changes to our school finance system, which were favored by the House, but they included language in HB 21 to create a school finance commission that will study the issue over the next two years.

The Senate approved its version of HB 21 by a vote of 25 to 6 late Monday night. The House voted 94 to 46 to accept the Senate’s version of HB 21 Tuesday evening, with a number of representatives expressing disappointment that the bill did not do more, and many who stated they were reluctantly voting for it in the interest of preserving some modest gains for the schools in their districts. Shortly thereafter, the House surprised many by adjourning sine die upon a motion by Chairman Huberty, one day before the expiration of the 30-day special session. The Senate similarly adjourned sine die a few hours later after declining to accept a House version of a property tax bill. In a press conference late that night, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to blame the House and its leadership, including Speaker Joe Straus, for preventing more of the governor’s special session agenda from being passed. For his part, Gov. Abbott similarly complained that the House had obstructed bills, despite the fact that legislators gave final approval to bills covering half the items on the governor’s special session call.

With the governor’s signature on the bill, the next step for HB 21 will be for the Commissioner of Education and TRS board to propose and adopt rules implementing various aspects of the law. (Read more about the TRS-Care changes being considered next week in the next section of today’s wrap-up.) We’ll keep you posted on all the rulemaking developments and let you know how you can provide input to state policymakers during that process here on Teach the Vote.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey said in a press statement, “We appreciate those in the legislature who fought for additional funding and structural improvements to our school finance system. ATPE looks forward to working with lawmakers during the interim to recommend longer-term solutions that will help all Texas students excel and enable us to recruit, reward, and retain the best educators in our public schools.”

 


Drugs and MoneyThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees will be meeting next Friday, Aug. 25, to consider changes to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. As noted above, the passage of HB 21 during the special session means that TRS will have an extra $212 million this biennium to offset rising costs of TRS-Care. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has been attending meetings with TRS staff to learn how the additional money will be used to help retired teachers. Check out his blog post for more on the specific changes the TRS board is expected to adopt next week.

 


tea-logo-header-2On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced the 2017 accountability ratings for school districts and campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools (95 percent) earned a “Met Standard” rating this year, and there were fewer campuses receiving an “Improvement Required” rating in 2017. Final 2017 ratings will be shared in December following an appeal period for schools seeking to change their ratings.

View the complete accountability ratings on the TEA website here. ATPE congratulates the students and staff of all our high-achieving public schools!

 


During the special session, ATPE's Governmental Relations staff presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

During the special session, ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff presented Texas House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

 

TRS to vote on changes to retiree healthcare plan next week

Drugs and MoneyIf you are a retired educator or someone planning to retire soon from the profession, you’ll be interested in next week’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The board will meet Friday, Aug. 25, to discuss and adopt modifications to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retirees.

As we reported on Teach the Vote back in June, TRS recently announced several changes to the design of its healthcare plans after the legislature failed to completely fill a funding shortfall during the regular session. But in response to outcries from educators, legislators convinced Gov. Greg Abbott to add retiree healthcare costs to his call for the special session that ended Tuesday. The legislature passed House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty during special session that will funnel $212 million in additional money to TRS for healthcare.

TRS logoThe attached document from TRS staff provides details on plan changes that TRS board members are expected to adopt next week. Changes to TRS-Care will go into effect on Jan 1, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 4, 2017

Here’s a look at this week’s education news as reported by the ATPE lobby team:


The Texas House passed several bills relating to school funding and narrowly rejected a bill to extend payments to some districts today on the floor.

Most importantly, the House passed school finance House Bill (HB) 21, which would put an additional $1.8 billion into the public school system. The bill would raise the basic allotment to $5,350 from $5,140, provide $200 million hardship grants to districts losing additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR), expand career and technology education (CTE) allotment funds to the eight grade, and increase weighted funding for dyslexia and bilingual education. This legislation was killed by the Senate during the regular session after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refused to allow a school finance bill to pass without a voucher attached. Earlier this week, the committee reconsidered HB 21 in order to remove controversial charter school facilities funding that had been attached to the bill filed at the beginning of the special session. The House also passed HB 30, which would pay for HB 21 by deferring payments to school districts through the Foundation School Program (FSP).

“This bill is the most important legislation, I believe, we’re debating during this session,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told members on the House floor.

The House also approved HB 23, which would create a grant program for students with autism and related disorders. The House voted down HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding for an additional biennium. Some school districts which rely heavily upon ASATR funding have warned they may have to close schools once the funds expire this year. After initially passing on a vote of 73 to 70, HB 22 was voted down 67 to 61 after a vote verification was requested.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the meeting and provided this update on the board’s activity.

The board met to cover a fairly lengthy agenda, as it begins the process of writing rules to implement laws passed during the regular session of the legislature. Laws involving teacher misconduct, professional development, educator preparation, and more were passed and now require a sometimes lengthy process of developing and finalizing SBEC rules that reflect the new laws. While no final decisions were made with regard to new laws, the process was initiated for many and the board gave preliminary approval to a new law regarding military spouses seeking educator certification in Texas. The board also gave preliminary approval to the continuing professional education pieces of three laws involving cyber-bullying, educator misconduct, and digital literacy. Still, not all actions taken by the board were the result of changes to law. Preliminary approval was granted to a new rule proposal regarding diagnostician and counseling certification, and final approval was given to new requirements regarding English language proficiency for educator preparation candidates.

Yesterday, many of the board members also convened for a work session organized and directed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff that support the board. Staff presented items on ethics, the mission of the board, certification structure and requirements, and legal sanctions. On a few items, TEA staff sought feedback from the board that will play out in future meetings. Those include decisions to revisit an additional route to certification for non-traditional superintendents (three already exist), add fines to sanctions regarding certain principal and superintendent reporting requirements (authority granted to them by the 85th Texas Legislature in the instance of inappropriate relationship reporting), and restructure the current Texas certification design. The latter involves the addition of the EC-3 certification required by the legislature. Staff also pressed the board to consider a multi-tiered certification structure that involves standard, accomplished, distinguished, and master certifications. The conversation was linked to implementation of performance-based assessments for certification, inclusion of national board certification, and student data.

Watch for more on all of thee topics at future meetings. The agenda for today’s meeting can be viewed here and an archived video of the meeting will be posted here.

 


Earlier this week, the Texas House voted to approve additional funding for TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided additional information in this blog post on Tuesday.

Retirement planning written on a notepad.The two bills approved by the lower chamber, House Bill (HB) 20 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 80 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), will head next to the Senate where their future is uncertain. Ashby’s HB 20 calls for pulling $212 million from the state’s rainy day fund in order provide one-time relief for retired educators who are facing higher deductibles as a result of a longtime shortfall in TRS-Care funding. The Senate has demonstrated little interest in using the rainy day fund for lowering healthcare costs or any other education-related expenses. Darby’s HB 80 would make it easier for TRS to provide its members with a cost-of-living adjustment in the future.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on both these bills in the latter part of the special session.

 


The Texas Education Agency has released its draft of a state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As we reported last week, TEA is inviting stakeholders to submit their feedback on the draft plan, and, this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the draft plan. The comment period ends Aug. 29, 2017. Comments can be submitted by email to essa@tea.texas.gov. For additional information and to view the draft ESSA plan, click here.

 


The House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting after the House adjourned Friday to strip the controversial voucher from SB 2. The committee substituted state Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 320 into SB 2, replacing all of the language approved by the Senate. VanDeaver’s bill would create an education enhancement program for certain students with disabilities. The program would cover costs for transportation, private tutoring, educational therapies and related services for students with dyslexia, autism, speech disabilities, and learning disabilities. Program participants would continue to be public school students and would retain IDEA rights. The program would be funded at $10 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. The bill will now head to the full House for consideration.

In addition to the substituted SB 2, the committee approved CSHB 60, HB 98, HB 145, HB 149, HB 157, HB 204, CSHB 272, HB 324, CSHB 320, and HB 232.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

Dan Patrick’s Texas Senate plows ahead

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlines special session proposals.

In a matter of days, the Texas Senate, under the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, plowed through Governor Greg Abbott’s special session priorities on education. The blitz began late last week and continued through the wee hours of this morning, when several more contentious education items were granted final approval. The pieces of legislation now head to the Texas House, where the lower chamber began work with a significantly different focus: on a meaningful approach to fixing the state’s broken school finance system and state-funded, sustainable options for increasing teacher pay and the state’s contributions to retirees.

The Senate worked until 2am this morning, passing a voucher proposal that was paired with needed funding for certain school districts and facilities funding for charter schools; a prohibition on educators’ ability to utilize payroll deduction to pay professional association dues; a teacher pay bonus bill that includes one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care; a “bathroom bill” that would dictate related local school policies; and not a fix, but another commission to study school finance. Here’s more:

SB 19: teacher bonus & TRS-Care

After spending a significant amount of time yesterday debating Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority legislation regarding the use of bathrooms in public schools, among other public spaces, the chamber moved on to several other pieces of legislation affecting public schools, students and educators. It started with its teacher pay bill, SB 19, authored by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The bill was originally marketed by its author and the Lt. Gov. as a teacher pay raise, but ATPE, among others, pushed back against that notion when it was heard in committee over the weekend.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in the Texas Senate.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter told members of the committee that educators appreciated two portions of the bill, the state-funded bonus for teachers and the needed one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care, but he expressed opposition to the piece termed a “teacher pay raise,” which wasn’t state-funded and required school districts to “re-prioritize” funding. ATPE State Secretary and Abilene educator Tonja Gray also testified on the bill in committee, telling members: “I don’t want a pay raise on the backs of my students.” She explained that in an environment where Texas schools are already underfunded, an unfunded mandate to provide teacher pay raises would result in cuts to valuable programs or educators.

When the bill hit the full Senate floor for debate, the empty pay raise portion was removed and the bill was passed out of the chamber with overwhelming support. Senator Nelson, as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Finance who writes and passes the state’s biennial budget, assured educators that she will prioritize a pay raise next session. ATPE looks forward to working with her to deliver on that promise to educators in 2019 as the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, and we will continue to fight on behalf of educators for a state-funded, sustainable, and meaningful pay raise. The House has its own versions of bills to address teacher pay and retiree benefits that are already on the move.

Related, the Senate also hosted a hearing over the weekend to consider proposals to fund a teacher pay raise in the next legislative session. ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to the proposals, saying that “ATPE believes the legislature should pivot its focus on teacher pay to developing plans for long-term investments that do not come out of existing money already dedicated to public schools.” Both proposals received initial skepticism and one was in the process of being written as it was heard in committee. Both were left pending in committee and may stay there since the Senate removed the unfunded pay raise from its teacher pay bill.

SB 7: prohibition on payroll deduction for educators

A mere hour after praising educators endlessly as senators worked to approve the teacher pay bill on the floor of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick turned the chamber’s attention to SB7, the bill by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) that selectively targets educators in an attempt to silence their collective voice. Unlike the teacher pay bill, which received no attention during the regular session, the bill to eliminate educators’ right to utilize payroll deduction to pay voluntary professional association dues has been a priority of the Lt. Gov. and Texas Senate for years now.

G3 testimony B&CDuring both the committee hearing and as the bill was debated on the floor of the full Senate, the discriminatory, purely political, and completely unnecessary nature of the bill was highlighted once again. ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey testified to the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce that educators feel “besieged, besmirched and really like they’re second class citizens.” Testifier after testifier pushed back against the proponents’  rhetoric about busting unions and glass claims about eliminating associated costs to government. Educators, police officers, fire fighters, and many other public servant employees showed up to prove that this bill isn’t wanted by anyone, aside from a couple of heavily funded special interest groups that have made it their top priority to silence educators, which they see as too effective at fighting harmful policies like vouchers.

During floor debate, more truths emerged. Senator Hughes shared Governor Abbott’s promise to veto any bill that includes first responders, a status of employment he and others deem superior to educators and other public servants like CPS workers and correctional officers. Amidst questioning on why the bill picks winners and losers, Senator Hughes finally admitted that some people “don’t like the advocacy of labor unions,” acknowledging that the bill is about silencing the advocacy efforts of the public employees targeted under the bill, which amounts primarily to educators. And as all involved continued to push back against the lie that payroll deduction for association dues costs the state, the bill author could only say that he wants to get the government out of the process for the targeted professions only.

Democratic members of the Senate offered amendments to exempt educators under the bill, broaden the definition of first responder to include educators, null the targeted prohibition until associated costs can be identified, delay the legislation’s enacting date to give the targeted labor organizations more time to adjust, and more, but Senator Hughes rejected them all and the bill remained unchanged. The bill passed the Senate with support from all Republicans, except for one, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). He joined the Democratic members of the Senate to stand with educators in opposition. During the regular session, a nearly identical bill was sent to the House where it received no attention during the regular session. The House version of that bill died in committee and the Senate bill never received a hearing once it made it over. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the special session version of this legislatio.

SB 2: special education voucher & certain school funding

NO VOUCHERSFirst up in the Senate was SB 2, the voucher bill authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Paired with the $10,000 voucher for special education students was continued ASATR funding for certain schools that stress the funding is necessary. The bill also contains $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a grant program termed the ”educational expense assistance program” for public school special education students to access up to $500.

The voucher portion of the bill is, this time, in the form of a “tax credit scholarship.” Certain entities could receive tax credits in return for contributions made to the voucher program. Students with special needs could then access vouchers to pay for private school tuition. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expressed ATPE’s concerns with the voucher portion of the proposal, saying that we should be focused on fixing things for special education students within public schools, rather than offering them money to go elsewhere. Tax credit scholarships, like all vouchers, are guilty of funneling public tax dollars out of the public school system. Offering tax credits to corporations will lower the general revenue Texas earns through taxes, and unless funds are raised elsewhere, cuts will have to be made in order to cover the deficit.

ATPE also encouraged legislators to take up the issues of ASATR and facilities funding independent of the politically charged voucher proposal. The Senate pressed ahead with the combined voucher and funding proposal, instead, and SB 2 passed the chamber 19-12. Two Republicans voted against the proposal, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and one Democrat supported the bill, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville). The bill heads to the House where the chamber took several overwhelming votes to reject vouchers during the regular session.

SB 16: commission to study school finance

The Senate also began with work on school finance, but unlike the House that is working on a bill to fix the system, the Senate bill would create a commission to further study school finance in Texas. SB16 is authored by Senator Larry Taylor, who filed a permanent fix supported by ATPE during the regular session. However, he chose not to advance that bill during the regular session, instead altering the House’s school finance bill by adding his voucher proposal. In the special session, he maintains that more studying of school finance should be done prior to passing a fix to the system. ATPE submitted written testimony that said it is time for legislators to act on school finance. We also encouraged the legislature to include educators on any commission that passes.

When SB 16 was debated on the Senate floor Monday, legislators agreed with our request to add an educator and amended the bill to include an active or retired educator to the commission. The chamber passed the legislation unanimously and sent it to the House where more extensive work to fix school finance is underway.

SB 3: bathrooms

The Senate chamber spent the better part of yesterday debating SB 3 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). After hours of testimony in committee and hours of debate on the Senate floor only days later, the Senate advanced the proposal, 21-10, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (R-Brownsville), voting to advance the legislation. Speaker of the House Joe Straus has sided with business and school districts and made his feelings on the legislation fairly clear, saying he just doesn’t think it is needed legislation. The House offered a bathroom proposal limited to public schools that it was willing to advance during the regular session, but it did not receive the seal of approval from the Senate.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is important that members of the legislature hear from you on these issues deemed priorities by Governor Abbott. ATPE is encouraging all members to visit Advocacy Central to send a message to state legislators about these proposals as they continue to make their way through the process during the special session. Tell them to focus on meaningful pay and benefits for your profession and adequate school funding for your local schools. Let them know that vouchers and targeted prohibitions on payroll deductions for educators are distractions from the real issues faced by Texas public school children. You can also utilize the resource to thank your individual senators who voted with public education and educators!