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A-F fix takes center stage in House Public Education

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider more than two dozen bills. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing with more discussion of House Bill (HB) 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to the public school system. Huberty announced that the much-anticipated committee substitute should be posted this week.

The committee heard extensive testimony over the last two weeks regarding how to structure $200 million allocated for hardship grants to ease the burden primarily on schools facing the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. Huberty indicated $125 million would be allocated the first year, and $75 million the second year. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the subcommittee on Educator Quality, explained districts taxing at the max level will get larger prorated grants under the program. Grants could be no larger than the actual amount of the lost ASATR funding, or exceed ten percent of the overall grant.

Huberty added that House budget writers have identified $250 million of additional funds to bring the overall price tag of HB 21 to $1.9 billion. The chairman suggested those funds could be focused toward CTE, computer technology and bilingual education. Huberty concluded by stating his intention to finalize committee substitute language this week and hold a vote on the bill next week. ATPE continues to support HB 21 as an important step toward larger reform of the school finance system.

HB 1776 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees public education funding, would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine. Ashby argued the current U.S. history end-of-course exam is overly burdensome both for students and teachers. According to the fiscal note, the change would save an estimated $2 million through the biennium ending in August 2019.

HB 22 is Chairman Huberty’s answer to addressing some of the unintended consequences of the “A through F” accountability system. In short, the legislation would collapse the number of domains from five to three and eliminate the overall letter grade for schools and districts. The bill would also add a wide variety of additional performance indicators intended to decrease the reliance on standardized test data, and draw distinctions between “D” and “F” ratings – with particular regard to the accompanying accountability triggers.

Calling the system “flawed,” Huberty suggested HB 22 would move the emphasis away from standardized tests and factors influenced heavily by economic disparities. The bill is the product of collaboration between committee members, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath and school administrators. The fiscal note estimates HB 22 would cost $4.5 million over the next biennium, and $3.5 million the following biennium.

The legislation would further delay implementation by another school year. Commissioner Morath told the committee that the legislation fixes “unintended mathematical consequences,” and said the additional time is needed to model changes and write new rules. Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that letter grades fail to adequately capture performance, and were never intended to be part of the five-domain accountability system created by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Responding to concern raised by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) over the elimination of the overall grade, Huberty said “A through F” came with numerous problems. The scheme replaces the current pass/fail accountability system, under which 94 percent of schools are listed as meeting performance expectations. Under “A through F,” many schools and districts received poor grades despite being recognized by the state for outstanding performance during the same year.

“I’m tired of listening to rhetoric about our failing schools,” said Huberty, who suggested lawmakers should focus instead on finding and fixing issues leading to problems. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) agreed “A through F” doesn’t provide a “true picture” of what’s happening within public schools and local communities, and praised the bill as an important step toward improvement.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 22, pointing out that several states have recently repealed “A through F” systems over the same concerns. While grateful for the inclusion of a teacher quality component, ATPE advocated for ensuring value-added metrics (VAM) are not used for teacher quality measurement. ATPE also advocated for a statutory requirement that the commissioner include a panel of stakeholders, including parents and campus-level educators, in the rulemaking and implementation process. Additionally, ATPE advocated for adding a layer of simplistic language that is more descriptive than a single letter, and which would let parents know what each rating is telling them about their particular school.

Acknowledging the need to fix the shortcomings of “A through F,” Huberty told the committee, “We cannot go home without getting this done.” The chairman encouraged interested parties to continue to engage on HB 22, with a goal of finalizing a committee substitute before next week’s hearing.

HB 1336 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law. Leach pointed out policymakers don’t know how much the state is asking local districts to spend indirectly in order to administer tests. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 145 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of “A through F.” Supporters of HB 145 argue that empirical methods should be used to assess the differences in achievement for African-American males as a demographic group, with the goal of closing performance gaps and ending the reliance on anecdotal information. The fiscal note anticipates a cost of $273,000 the first year and $257,000 each subsequent year for the employment of two additional TEA positions to track the data.

HB 61 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system. Guillen argued the bill would give districts an incentive to encourage special education students to advance.

HB 79 by Rep. Guillen would eliminate the cap the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments, as opposed to standard assessments. The bill would further prohibit using the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments for performance, compliance or accountability purposes. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1500 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1057 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1174 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 988 and HB 989 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create a pilot program to develop a portfolio method to assess student performance. HB 988 would create a program for grades three through eight and HB 989 would create a program for high school students. González explained balancing standardized test results with holistic measures would yield a much more useful and accurate picture of student performance. ATPE supports both of these bills.

HB 1650 by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) would allow a student who passes a dual credit course on U.S. history to skip the U.S. history end-of-course exam. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 795 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would require a committee appointed by the education commissioner to review any challenge to academic or financial accountability ratings raised by a school district or charter school, regardless of the issue. A successful challenge raised under this legislation would allow charter schools facing charter revocation due to unacceptable academic or financial accountability ratings to stop the clock on the proceedings under the current “three strikes” law.

HB 1993 by state Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) would require the education commissioner to adopt procedures to identify nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instruments as additional alternative assessment instruments that may be used to evaluate student achievement under “A through F.” The bill would further require the commissioner to apply for federal waivers to allow for multiple instruments for assessing students in the same grade. According to the fiscal note, HB 1993 would cost the state an additional $1.6 million per year.

HB 3607 by Rep. King would eliminate end-of-course exams for high school students. It would also require the commissioner to identify a procedure for districts to select the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) or a nationally recognized norm-referenced exam, such as the SAT or ACT, as the assessment instrument to be administered to students in grade 11. According to the fiscal note, HB 3607 would save the state $2.5 million per year.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. Acknowledging the laudable goal of reducing high-stakes testing, Exter noted that norm-referenced tests are not appropriate for accountability purposes because they are designed so that results will fall along a bell curve. ATPE warned against allowing districts to use multiple assessment instruments. Currently, the only benefit of a statewide testing system is data comparability, which is lost when districts use different tests. ATPE also advocated for educators to have a stronger role helping vet out test deficiencies at the agency level.

HB 1731 by Rep. King (R-Canadian) would exclude students who leave a residential treatment facility and fail to enroll in a nearby school from the calculation of those schools’ dropout rates, provided those students would not otherwise be enrolled there. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 515 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would eliminate writing and social studies assessments and require only end-of-course assessments in reading, math and science as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writing assessment has long been criticized, and VanDeaver argued HB 515 could help reduce overtesting. Agency staff suggested that eliminating writing assessments could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal guidelines, which could potentially result in a financial penalty. Staff suggested the conflict might be ameliorated by removing writing from the state’s English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) guidelines. The fiscal note estimates HB 515 would save the state $23 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2263 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would no longer require campus intervention teams to continue to work with “improvement required” campuses until two years after performance standards are met. Agency staff testified that the process was “resource intensive, without providing much feedback.” Staff suggested that resources may be better spent at the front end of the intervention process, and districts would be able to determine whether additional help is needed to keep campuses from regressing.

HB 3828 by Chairman Huberty would adjust the triggers for commissioner action for failing schools to include those “rated unacceptable” and confine criteria to the “school progress” domain of the “A through F” system. The bill would modify the commissioner’s power to oversee turnaround plans and curtail the commissioner’s power to manage failing districts and require district workshops. Importantly, the bill requires a written turnaround plan with the agency and clear guidelines for implementation. After listening to public testimony, Huberty committed to work on a committee substitute for future consideration.

HB 789 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would allow Highland Park ISD to modify the cut score for an examination for acceleration, placing the limit at 90 percent, rather than 80 percent. Meyer explained that some students who passed with an 80 percent score struggled after advancing.

HB 546 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would also limit state-required assessment instruments to assessments required by federal law. The fiscal note estimates a $2.9 million savings over the biennium. Noting that the language of HB 546 is wholly contained within HB 515 by Rep. VanDeaver, Rep. Deshotel pulled his bill from consideration in favor of supporting HB 515. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 657 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARC) committee of a student who participates in special education to promote a special education student to the next grade level after failing an assessment just once, provided that the committee determines the student has made significant progress in the measurable academic goals contained in the student’s individualized education program. Bernal explained that the passing rate for special education students on state assessments is roughly 30 percent, and scores usually do not improve after the third administration. Rather than subjecting students to multiple unnecessary examinations, Bernal argued parents and educators should be allowed flexibility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3104 by Rep. VanDeaver would require the TEA to adopt or develop exams in English Language Arts (ELA) for grades four and seven and at the end of English I and English II, instead of writing. The bill’s committee substitute would create a one-year pilot program to allow districts and charter schools to choose their own assessment instruments for writing and required to report their results. The fiscal note anticipates HB 3104 would save the state $7.5 million each year.

After listening to testimony on HB 3104, Chairman Huberty briefly paused to read a message from his son’s English teacher pointing out that the STAAR end-of-course assessment is approaching next week. The teacher reported students are stressed, even with her words of encouragement. Regardless of the test results, the teacher said, she’s proud at work they’ve done.

“The teachers are trying, but we’re not arming them with the ability to do their jobs,” Huberty concluded.

HB 3075 by Chairman Huberty would exclude students detained in a juvenile detention facility and educated by a public charter school from the computation of dropout and completion rates for charter school accountability purposes. Huberty explained public schools are already exempt, and HB 3075 would allow the same rule to apply to charters.

All of the above bills were left pending. The committee voted out a number of previously heard bills during a break in Tuesday’s testimony. Members unanimously approved the following:

  • HB 1645, which would allow students to get a varsity letter for participating in the Special Olympics.
  • HB 728, which would create an advanced computer science course to satisfy the third math or science credit.
  • HB 367, which would allow schools to assign a nonprofit to distribute leftover food to hungry students.
  • HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • HB 1270, which would allow excused absences for students to visit a military recruiting facility in the same way they are currently allowed to visit a college or university.
  • HB 264, which would update the information and public outreach materials for HB 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and extend the time period required for reporting.
  • HB 136, which would add CTE and workforce training to the mission of public education.
  • HB 357, which would allow the children of first responders eligible for Star of Texas awards to receive free prekindergarten services.

Those bills will next head to the Calendars Committee to await a date for consideration before the full Texas House of Representatives. Before adjourning, Huberty referred the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality: HB 1799, HB 1869, HB 1918, HB 2209, HB 3769 and SB 7.

Huberty reiterated his intent to vote on a substitute for HB 21 next week. The next meeting will feature a variety of bills, including more legislation affecting charter schools.

House subcommittee takes up educator quality bills

The House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality held its first meeting on Monday. Chaired by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), the committee includes Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Present for Monday’s meeting, Reps. King, Meyer and VanDeaver considered a half dozen bills related to teachers.

HB 333 by Rep. Meyer addresses improper relationships between educators and students. Meyer’s bill expands the law to prohibit romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state.

In the same vein, HB 218 by state Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) increases the reporting requirements related to improper relationships between educators and students. Such incidents involve less than 0.1 percent of Texas teachers, but just one is too many. ATPE is committed to being a part of the solution and has worked with several lawmakers on legislation to address this issue.

Like similar bills, HB 218 prohibits romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state. Administrators who fail to report alleged incidents of improper relationships would face a misdemeanor charge, which could be upgraded to a state jail felony if the administrator is found to have intentionally tried to conceal an alleged incident.

The bill would further require an educator to surrender their certification if they accept deferred adjudication for an improper relationship with a student. Schools would be required to have new hires sign a pre-employment affidavit disclosing any accusations, charges, or convictions for an improper relationship with a student, and employees who assist someone who has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor with obtaining school employment could have their certificates suspended or revoked. The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) subpoena power would be expanded to allow the commissioner to summon witnesses of alleged incidents of misconduct.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified on the bill, stating concern that the requirement to disclose potentially false accusations would have a chilling effect on the career prospects of unfairly accused educators.

Like most bills relating to improper relationships between educators and students, HB 218 would mandate continuing education in understanding appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students. It would also require districts to adopt written electronic communication policies designed to prevent improper communications between school employees and students.

HB 1469 by state Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Coldspring) would allow open-enrollment charter schools to hire a teacher without a baccalaureate degree for a noncore academic career and technical education course if they have experience in the related field and receive at least 20 hours of classroom management training.

HB 972 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 816 by House Public Education Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor program for new teachers in Texas. Texas has a history of successful, if short-lived, mentor programs that have reduced teacher attrition and improved student performance. Studies have shown up to half of educators leave the profession within the first five years, and teacher attrition costs Texas between $200 million and $500 million each year.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 816, pointing out the success of prior initiatives dating back to the 1990s. The Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS) was a $12 million pilot program launched in 1999, which provided support, training, assessment, and $400 per year stipends for roughly 2,000 program participants. Eighty-eight percent of teachers returned after the first year, well over the 81 percent state average for non-TxBESS teachers. After the second year, 98 percent of that cohort continued to teach. Principals reported TxBESS improved teacher performance, with minority teachers and high school teachers showing the most improvement. Funding for TxBESS expired in 2002.

In 2006, the Texas Legislature created the Beginning Teacher Induction and Mentoring (BTIM) program with an initial $15 million per year appropriation. Mentor teachers received up to $750 per year stipends, and districts reported 30 percent increases is new teacher retention. Funding for BTIM expired in 2012.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature commissioned a study on mentoring by the Teacher Mentoring Advisory Committee (MAC). The committee released its final report in 2015, and HB 816 seeks to implement its recommendations.

Bernal’s bill would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note, HB 816 would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. Bernal suggested the estimate was actually too low, and indicated he anticipates higher participation than the fiscal note assumed.

HB 1255 by state Rep. VanDeaver would remove the $450 cap on subsidized teacher training awarded under the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program. VanDeaver stated removing the cap could allow TEA to structure incentives to boost participation in underserved parts of the state. The bill carries a fiscal note indicating a cost of $2.3 million over the biennium. VanDeaver argued the estimate is inaccurate, since the bill would simply grant flexibility to spend existing funding, as opposed to mandating new funding. ATPE supports this bill.

All Monday’s bills were left pending.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 10, 2017

Today is the deadline for filing bills this legislative session, making it an exceptionally busy week at the Texas State Capitol. Here are stories you may have missed:


Gallery_03-06-17More than 400 educators visited the Texas State Capitol Monday for ATPE at the Capitol. Resolutions honoring ATPE were read in the Texas House and Senate by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) respectively as legislators greeted ATPE at the Capitol attendees dressed in red attire who were seated throughout the galleries above the two chambers. House_03-06-17ATPE members spent the day visiting with legislators and their staffs to discuss legislative priorities such as reducing standardized testing, funding educators’ healthcare needs, preventing private school vouchers, and opposing bills that would needlessly take away educators’ rights to deduct association dues from their paychecks.

On Sunday, ATPE at the Capitol attendees prepared for their meetings with lawmakers by learning more about pending bills and major education issues being debated by the 85th Legislature. John Kuhn, Superintendent of Mineral Wells ISD, delivered an opening keynote address highlighting the need for educators to keep their focus on what’s best for students, even while many lawmakers and wealthy business interests are pursuing reforms aimed at dismantling the public education system. Kuhn_03-05-17A key topic of Kuhn’s speech was the ongoing push for vouchers, which despite being called by many different names such as “education savings accounts” and “opportunity scholarships” are a way to convert a public trust into a private enterprise. Countering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s oft-cited claim that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time,” Kuhn called vouchers a “civil wrongs movement” and akin to “fool’s gold.”

Panel_03-04-17ATPE at the Capitol attendees also heard a presentation by ATPE lobbyists on our organization’s legislative priorities with tips on communicating with lawmakers both in person and using tools such as ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Another highlight of the event was the closing general session, which featured a question-and-answer session with a panel of legislators moderated by TWC/Spectrum News television host Karina Kling. The panel featured Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) who sits on the Article III Subcommittee for the House Committee on Appropriations. Their lively discussion covered topics ranging from the payroll deduction bills to the Teacher Retirement System and the state’s controversial new “A through F” accountability labeling system.

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ATPE state officers met with Speaker Straus Monday


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met last Friday, March 3, 2017. The board asked the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to step back on its interest in developing a new Pre-kindergarten through Grade 3 certificate for teachers. Learn more about the discussion and other SBEC items in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


The House Public Education Committee has begun hearing a number of bills that could change the state’s belabored school finance system. The legislation includes House Bill (HB) 21, a new bill filed Monday by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the committee. HB 21 aimes to infuse an extra $1.6 billion into public education over the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill and a few others during a hearing on Tuesday. In a show of support for the House members’ effort to address the complicated issue of school finance, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) stopped by the committee hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was also there and provided a complete report on our blog earlier this week.

Also this week, Chairman Huberty filed HB 22, a bill to modify the state’s controversial “A through F” accountability ratings for schools. In addition to delaying implementation of A-F, the bill would compress the number of domains from five to three and prevent schools from receiving a single overall grade. No hearing has been set yet for the bill.

With the passage of today’s 60-day mark for the legislative session, more bills will be eligible for floor consideration now, which includes Sen. Joan Huffman’s anti-educator SB 13 that has already made it out of a Senate committee and could be placed on the Senate’s floor calendar at any time. ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central and send messages to their lawmakers about this legislation and several other bad bills being considered this session.

 


The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill designed to curb inappropriate educator relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that among other things, Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, a practice sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” (ATPE testified in support of SB 7 in committee and offered more on the contents of the bill here.)

SB 7 was amended on the Senate floor this week to add a requirement that educator preparation programs offer training on the topic of misconduct. ATPE supported the addition of the training provision because we hear from educators that too often the topic of appropriate student boundaries and relationships goes unaddressed with students training to enter the education profession.

The Senate also added two amendments by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which clarify reporting language for principals and ensure educators know how to respond when inappropriately approached by a student. Another floor amendment by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) revokes the pensions of those educators convicted of certain felonies involving a student.

SB 7 passed the Senate unanimously, and all 31 senators signed on as co-authors of the legislation. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 


Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a marathon overnight hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), one of the session’s most controversial proposals to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts, municipal governments, and other entities. The committee heard 13 hours of public testimony mostly from witnesses opposed to the bill, before voting 8-1 to send the measure to the full Senate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was the only no vote. Those opposing the bill included all four of the state’s major teacher groups, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the Texas Association of School Administrators. Many education stakeholders believe the bill unnecessarily dictates policies that must be adopted by local school boards rather than providing for local control. SB 6 is another of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

 


Congress voted this week to freeze two ESSA regulations that had been finalized only recently by the Obama administration. The rules pertain to teacher preparation and accountability and are headed to President Trump’s desk for final repeal approval. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the anticipated repeal here.

 


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

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


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

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

 


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

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

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House committee hears from ATPE, others on education funding challenges

Dollar fanThe House Appropriations committee began meetings this week for its subcommittees assigned to work on various parts of the Texas state budget. This includes the Article III Subcommittee, which covers education funding and began taking testimony on Monday, Feb. 20. The subcommittee’s first day agenda involved looking at funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), including the Foundation School Program; the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including both pension and health insurance funds; the state schools for the visually impaired and the deaf, the Windham School District; and community and junior colleges.

After the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the budget documents on TEA and the Foundation School Program, the committee heard from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath began by thanking the committee and restating his dedication to the goal of improving student outcomes for all students. The commissioner then laid out his agency’s priorities beginning with ensuring and improving teacher quality as the “most important in-school factor” in a student’s education outcomes. Next, Morath addressed the agency’s second key priority to promote a strong foundation in reading and math, and spoke about the affect of achieving this goal on closing the achievement grant. To facilitate this goal, the commissioner talked about continuing to push for expanding high quality pre-K. He also promoted TEA’s goal to scale the math innovation zones program statewide. The agency’s third priority is to connect K-12 education to higher education and career opportunities. The next priority is to improve struggling schools, Morath explained. He reported that TEA is working to do this through systemic system-wide improvements. In addition to budget items tied to the agency’s larger priorities, Morath also addressed specific targeted budget requests like funding the E-rate match to complete the build-out of statewide broadband access.

Early Childhood EducationThe Commissioner was well received by the subcommittee. The majority of questions to the commissioner from committee members tended to focus on supporting pre-K. In responding to an offshoot of this questioning, the commissioner indicated that the State Board for Educator Certification will likely institute a new certificate for grades EC-3 that would be more focused on early childhood education.

Later in the hearing, the committee heard from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Guthrie gave brief remarks about the overall performance of the TRS trust fund before turning to the more pressing issue of the billion dollar shortfall in the TRS-Care fund. He impressed upon the committee that TRS has done everything it can do internally to control costs without legislative action. On TRS-Care the plan laid out to the House budget committee would include a “shared pain” approach where the state would cover half of the cost of the shortfall, retirees would cover 25 percent of the costs, and districts and active teachers would each cover 12.5 percent of the cost. While this plan is more generous than what has already been laid out in the Senate, it still puts additional pressure on active teachers, many of whom are drowning in the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Additionally, the strategy laid out did not contemplate changing the state paid formula for TRS-Care, which is currently set at 1 percent of payroll for all school districts statewide. The TRS board of directors is also meeting this week.

After hearing from LBB and invited witnesses, the Article III subcommittee took public testimony, including testimony from ATPE. Our testimony focused on the need to address active teacher health care costs through additional state funding, not just a denigration of benefits; the benefits of closing the education gap early in a student’s career thorough pre-K; and finally the need to address equity through more appropriately funding students based on their needs, individually and at the campus level.

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

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The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.

 

Speaker Straus announces House committee assignments

Today, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) shared his much-anticipated announcement of committee assignments for the 85th Legislature.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) will chair the House Public Education Committee, a post vacated by the retirement of former chairman Jimmie Don Aycock. Huberty has served on the committee since being first elected in 2011, and he previously served as a school board member for Humble ISD. ATPE looks forward to working with Chairman Huberty on education issues and appreciates the experience he brings to the position. We’re also looking forward to having Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) in the vice chairman’s role this session.

The House Appropriations Committee will be chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Simonton). This is yet another leadership position that opened up with the retirement of former chairman John Otto. The committee oversees state funding issues, including the public education budget.

Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) will continue to oversee the House Committee on State Affairs, which is likely to hear anti-teacher bills to eliminate payroll deduction for educators this session. Another chair held over is Chairman Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), who will lead the House Calendars Committee that plays an important role in getting bills through the legislative process. Chairman Dan Flynn (R-Van) continues in his role as chairman of the House Pensions Committee, overseeing many aspects of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

View the complete list of committee assignments here.

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

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

 


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

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

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

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

 


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

Education investment: The key to real tax relief

Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document.If there’s one thing most Texans can agree on, it’s that property taxes are too dang high.

What gets dicey is trying to sort through the myriad schemes put forth in the last few years by state lawmakers trying to cut local taxes over which they have little direct control. They’ve proposed tweaks to the rollback rate, increased the homestead exemption, and filed bills targeting local appraisal districts. That’s a lot of work by a lot of smart people you’ve sent to Austin with your tax dollars.

So.

Does your tax bill look any better?

In 2013, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ranked Texas as having the 15th highest per capita property tax in the country. Despite our high property taxes, Texas ranks 45th in overall K-12 education spending and 49th in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, according to our performance on the “Quality Counts” state report card from Education Week.

Why is that?

Speaking to a joint hearing of the House Public Education and Appropriations Committees in September 2016, outgoing Appropriations Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton), put it simply. “The burden is shifting to the locals,” he said.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, local school spending, as approved by local voters and their elected school boards, increased 34 percent from 2008 to 2015. During the same period, the amount the state spent on local schools increased by just 4.8 percent.

The school finance relationship is like a see-saw, with state funds on one side and local tax dollars on the other. When state spending goes down, local school districts have to raise taxes in order to fund services at the same level. This year, the state will pay 38 percent of the cost to fund schools, while the burden that falls to local property owners will be 52 percent.

Under the state’s recapture rules for maintaining equity in our school finance system, those local taxes you pay are also tied to school districts all over the state. That means in cities with high property values such as Austin and now Houston, a significant chunk of local property tax revenue must be shipped out of town to help fulfill the state’s obligation to maintain funding equity in other districts.

The total amount of transfers under recapture – commonly referred to by some as “Robin Hood” – has grown to $2 billion, with Austin ISD accounting for $583 million of recaptured funds in 2016. The math works out to 28 percent of statewide recapture falling on the shoulders of local taxpayers in Austin alone.

This week, the House and Senate each submitted their proposals for the 2018-19 state budget, and financial wonks are still crunching the numbers to determine whether either plan would effectively fund school services at current levels. Both claim to do so.

What we do know is that in the House plan, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has proposed an additional $1.5 billion boost in education funding “contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system.”

If legislators are serious about reducing local property taxes, this is where it starts. It’s simple math.

Back to the see-saw: The only way to achieve meaningful property tax relief is for the state to assume more responsibility for the share of school funding it has passed on to you through local property taxes. Any other proposals you hear – and you will hear plenty – are empty measures meant to delay your outrage over your property tax bill for another two years.

In a December 2016 column, The Texas Tribune’s executive editor Ross Ramsey concluded, “Had the state kept its share of school funding constant for the past 10 years, voters might not be griping about rising property taxes.”

Tired of griping? Then let’s get serious. By boosting state investment along with taking a real shot at reforming the school finance system, the House is on the right track. We’ll find out if the rest of the legislature is serious as well.