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

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

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

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ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


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ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

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

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 21, 2017

Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE lobby team:


Falling US MoneyThe Texas House of Representatives this week passed a comprehensive school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. HB 21 is the House’s opening salvo in what the bill’s author calls a multi-session school finance reform effort. The bill is now on its way to the Senate where it is expected to receive a less than certain reception.

HB 21 picked up 10 floor amendments over the course of more than four hours of debate on Wednesday evening. The bill was approved on second reading by a vote of 134 to 16, and then the House passed HB 21 the following day on third reading by a vote of 132 to 15. Stay tuned later this week for a blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter describing the details of the bill as approved by the House.

The next steps will be for HB 21 to be accepted by the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee, where we hope that Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will schedule it for a public hearing. Taylor’s committee heard his own school finance bill this week, Senate Bill (SB) 2145. A hearing on HB 21 would likely include a discussion of the differences and merits of the two school finance plans.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week, also. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog earlier this week, the board’s agenda includes high-profile reviews of some of the state’s curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

This morning, the board held a final vote on proposed changes to the TEKS for science. The biology portion in particular has been the focus of debate over the discussion of evolution. Board members began the week seeking compromise language that would satisfy scientists as well as those wishing to allow for some discussion of creationism.

The board voted down an amendment this morning by member SBOE Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) that would have instructed teachers to “compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity.” The board then adopted an amendment by SBOE member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) instructing teachers “to compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) assured the board that the compromise language still encourages criticism of the theory of evolution.

On revisions to the TEKS for English and Spanish language arts and reading, the board has opted to delay a final vote until May. For more on this week’s SBOE deliberations, check out the latest update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here on our blog.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee education policy for the Texas House and Senate have been busy hearing numerous bills and voting a number of them through for floor consideration.

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard bills that included such topics as charter school authorizations and educator certification. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on our blog, the committee heard both a bill that could restrict the expansion of charter schools in certain areas and a bill that would make it easier for charters to be approved. The committee also considered an educator certification bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become certified in Texas without necessarily passing an exam.

As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on Twitter, the Senate Education Committee also voted yesterday to give favorable approval to several Senate bills, many of which have been changed from their original versions that were filed: SB 653, SB 754, SB 1122, SB 1267, SB 1398, SB 1882, SB 2142, SB 2143, SB 2188, and SB 2270.

The House Public Education Committee held a full hearing for several bills on Tuesday and then met again yesterday for the purpose of voting on pending bills. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog, Tuesday’s agenda included hearing HB 306, known as David’s Law, to prevent cyber-bullying and harassment that encourages youths to commit suicide. ATPE testified in support of the bill, as we similarly supported the Senate version, SB 179, during a prior hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read Mark’s blog post for more on the bills that were heard and voted upon by the committee on Tuesday. During Thursday’s formal meeting of the same committee, members voted to send 11 additional bills to the full House for consideration. For a list of those bills, check out Mark’s follow-up blog post on Teach the Vote.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday for consideration of several bills. The agenda includes bills pertaining to testing, instructional materials, pre-K, and Districts of Innovation. ATPE will be there to testify and will provide updates next week on Teach the Vote and on Twitter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Both the House and Senate have announced which of their members will serve on a conference committee for the state’s budget bill. The two chambers recently passed competing versions of Senate Bill (SB) 1, which necessitates a conference committee of 10 members to try to iron out the differences and forge a compromise to keep the government in operation for two more years and avoid the need for a special session.

Announced first this week were the Senate conferees for SB 1: Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), along with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen). On the House side, the conference committee appointees are House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), plus Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

 


Football RefereeAlso this week, the Senate approved a measure known as the Tim Tebow bill, which requires the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to allow the participation of home-schooled students. SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) received the Senate’s approval on Wednesday by a vote of 23 to 8. The bill still has to be considered in the House.

ATPE has opposed SB 640 and similar legislation in previous sessions based on long-standing positions in the ATPE Legislative Program adopted each year by our members. Specifically, ATPE members object to letting home-schooled students participate in extracurricular activities without being held to the same standards as their public school counterparts, such as no pass/no play laws.

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Related: The ATPE Legislative Committee will be meeting in Austin this weekend to review the ATPE Legislative Program and make recommendations for any changes to the House of Delegates. Learn more about the ATPE Legislative Program and our member-owned, member-governed philosophy here.

 

 


State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

The State Board of Education is meeting this week while the Texas Legislature is session. Across the street from the Capitol inside the Texas Education Agency (TEA) building, the board began its week-long meeting Tuesday morning with public testimony on proposed changes to the science TEKS.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

Some creationism supporters took issue with the changes proposed after first reading earlier this year. Biology teachers on the curriculum writing committee have proposed changes they explained would streamline the TEKS and focus on grade-level appropriate discussion. Creationism supporters argued Tuesday that the changes watered down criticism of evolution, and asked the board to retain proposed language to require students to “evaluate” various subjects related to evolution. Physics and chemistry teachers also recommended more mundane tweaks to their respective TEKS.

Wednesday began with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner informed the board of upcoming changes to the STAAR confidential student report card (CSR), aimed to make the report more parent-friendly and easy to understand. The report will now contain student lexile levels for the current year and over a student’s academic history. The report will include information for parents regarding how to help improve a child’s reading level, as well as guidance regarding how to maximize the impact of parent-teacher conferences. The agency has also changed terminology to replace the terms for Level I through Level III standards with “does not meet grade level,” “approaching grade level,” “meets grade level,” and “masters grade level.” These changes have already been adopted in rule and will be reflected in report cards due out in June.

Commissioner Morath also announced TEA is readying a new website that will allow parents to see every STAAR question their student was asked, along with what they answered and what other students answered, compared to the correct answer. This website is expected to roll out in mid- to late June. The agency is also working on a separate site for teachers and administrators. The separate website would help teachers and administrators unpack and understand the streamlined English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS. The site will feature sample assessment questions and is intended to help teachers understand vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum standards, as well as distinguish the meaning of verbs used in the TEKS insofar as how they affect instruction. The agency plans to activate the site in advance of the school year in which the TEKS are scheduled to go into effect.

The commissioner responded to questions from the board regarding the rollout of the “A through F” accountability standards passed by the Texas Legislature last session. House Bill 22, which would pare down the five domains to three and eliminate the overall grade, has passed out of the House Public Education Committee this session and is expected to be up for debate on the House floor within the next two to three weeks. At this point, Morath indicated he has participated in at least 70 stakeholder meetings regarding rulemaking for the version of A through F currently undergoing implementation. Some changes have been suggested to specific components, such as the calculation of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level and adjustments for children of military families and those who are absent due to illness.

As far as legislative priorities, both the House and Senate budget proposals include $25 million requested by the agency to access matching funds for rural broadband internet. Other priorities for which TEA is seeking funding in either one or both chambers include math innovation zones, high-quality pre-K, additional staff to investigate inappropriate student-teacher relationships, IT support for the Texas Student Data System (TSDS) to facilitate additional automation, cybersecurity enhancements to safeguard student data and funding to allow the STAAR test to be released annually as opposed to every three years.

On Wednesday, the board resumed discussion on second reading of the science TEKS. After hearing testimony the day before, the board unanimously adopted an amendment adding compromise language to a key section of the biology TEKS dealing with evolution. The amendment changed “evaluate” to “examine” scientific explanations for the origin of DNA. The board also adopted an amendment that would delay implementation of the streamlined science TEKS to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The board completed discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS for elementary and middle school Wednesday evening, approving amendments on second reading before adjourning.

Breaking up into committees Thursday morning, the board’s committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) heard an update to the bond guarantee program (BGP). As of February 28, roughly $70 billion of the program’s $100 billion capacity had been allocated. After setting aside $5 billion as required, roughly $24 billion remained available to back school bonds with the PSF. Last year, the board voted to increase the multiplier used to calculate the amount available to charter schools, which resulted in increasing that amount from $165 million to $510 million.

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) questioned staff regarding HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), which would use the PSF to guarantee school lease-purchase agreements through the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA). Staff advised that current law likely allows for the PSF to be encumbered to guarantee short-term commercial debt, and debt under this program would likely be cumbersome on the TPFA. The bill was voted out of the House Public Education Committee during a formal hearing Thursday afternoon at the Texas Capitol.

After Thursday’s committee meetings, SBOE’s committee of the full board gathered to take up discussion of the English and Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language TEKS for high school on first reading.

House Public Education votes out 11 more bills Thursday

The House Public Education Committee met briefly this afternoon during a break in proceedings on the House floor in order to vote out several pending items of legislation. The committee approved the following bills:

  • CSHB 310, which would allow compensatory education allotment funds to be used to fund a district’s school guidance and counseling program.
  • HB 933, which would ban rolled or shaved baseball bats for use in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities.
  • CSHB 1075, which would require sports officials registered with UIL to undergo an additional criminal background check once every three years.
  • HB 1451, which would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.
  • HB 1569, which would require a residential treatment facility to provide a student’s school, behavioral and arrest records to a district or open-enrollment charter school that provides educational services to a student placed in the facility.
  • HB 1886, which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade.
  • CSHB 2087, which would protect student data. Specifically, the bill would protect students’ personally identifiable information from being gathered by web sites or providers for targeted advertising.
  • CSHB 3438, which would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses.
  • CSHB 3476, which would require students who are required to take a physical under UIL rules to take an electrocardiogram. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the substitute introduces additional flexibility.
  • HB 3548, which would grant immunity from personal liability to a director, officer or employee of the nonprofit corporation established by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The bill would specify that the nonprofit corporation itself is subject to liability only in the manner that applies to school districts.
  • HB 3706, which would allow community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs to at-risk students online, in addition to at a campus.

The committee will meet next at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, and again the following Thursday to vote on additional bills.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.

 


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:

 


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it.

Top House education official Dan Huberty has said private school choice is dead in the House. Representatives showed they overwhelmingly support that sentiment, in a 103-44 budget amendment vote.
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has challenged the House to at least take a vote on the Senate’s “private school choice” bill, one of his priorities for the Texas legislative session.

Early on during Thursday’s marathon budget discussion, House representatives showed him that vote would probably emerge as an overwhelming “no.”

They voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition, in an amendment to the Senate budget. In offering the amendment, with support from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

The amendment is not the last word. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. And separate legislation that would create a public subsidy for private education has yet to be heard in the House. Patrick’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday’s vote.

The House’s vote came a week after the Senate, led by Patrick, voted out Sen. Larry Taylor‘s Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition.

In a statement, Taylor said it was unfortunate that House members didn’t hear the details of SB 3 before Thursday’s vote.

“Our bill saved money, gave more students opportunities to get an education better suited for their specific needs, and left more money in public education as a whole and even in individual schools,” Taylor said in a statement. “I would hope that we would still have an opportunity to have those discussions.”

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said no changes to the bill would persuade him to vote for it.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” he said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The floor substitute the Senate approved was dramatically different than the original, intended in part to appease skeptical rural legislators by carving out rural counties from participating in the programs. Rural constituents consistently oppose using public money to subsidize private education because they do not have access to many private schools.

That tactic worked to get the bill through the Senate. But House members demonstrated Thursday that it wouldn’t be as straightforward in the lower chamber.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a “private school choice” supporter, tried to change Herrero’s amendment Thursday to allow subsidies for students with household incomes below a given baseline. He took language from SB 3 indicating that a family of three with an income below $75,078 would be able to use the tuition subsidy programs.

“A lot of opponents of school choice say, ‘This is only for the rich.’ This amendment allows poor families to have a choice,” Cain said. His proposal failed 117-27.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said a private school choice bill would not make it through his committee, drawing criticism from SB 3 supporters. Asked if it was dead to him as an issue, Huberty said, “I believe so, yes.” He voted for the amendment blocking money to the tuition subsidy programs.

“Quote unquote absolutely not,” said Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, when asked whether the changes to SB 3 carving out his counties from participating would change his vote on the bill. “Just because they sweetened the deal to pull in some people doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • The Senate voted 18-13 Thursday to pass a major private school choice bill, creating two public programs that would subsidize private school tuition.
  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-asked-house-vote-school-choice-he-got-it/.

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Texas House prepares for lengthy budget debate

Dollar fanThe Texas House of Representatives will debate the budget on Thursday, April 6, which will determine the state’s investment in priorities such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure for the next two years.

The Senate approved its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), unanimously on March 28. The House Appropriations committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), made a number of changes to the bill that would result in greater funding for public education. Now the full House is set to debate the budget bill tomorrow, and more than 400 floor amendments have been pre-filed for additional consideration.

ATPE has supported the House version of SB 1 over the Senate’s plan. In this bill, we believe the House leadership has demonstrated a stronger commitment to prioritizing the needs of public education, including a willingness to conservatively use the state’s rainy day fund to help address current shortfalls, such as the need for funding retired educators’ healthcare, while still maintaining a healthy balance in that savings account for future needs.

Among the floor amendments likely to be considered tomorrow, ATPE is urging support for amendments that would provide even more funding for TRS-Care and other public education needs. We are also asking legislators to reject any amendments that would divert taxpayer funds for any type of voucher program for unregulated private and home schools. A list of major budget amendments that ATPE supports and opposes can be found here.

The House version of SB 1 was approved unanimously by the bipartisan House Appropriations Committee, but it still faces a long road ahead. ATPE hopes that the House will send a strong message tomorrow by supporting the additional investments in public education and responsible use of the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund.

For updates on the budget debate, be sure to follow the ATPE Governmental Relations team on Twitter:

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Related: ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send their state representatives a message about SB 1 and the funding needs of public education.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 31, 2017

Wrapping up a full week at the Texas State Capitol, here are stories from ATPE that you might have missed while you were STAAR testing:


Two major pieces of anti-public education legislation hit the Senate floor this week. First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), an anti-educator bill that prevents school district employees from using payroll deduction for their association dues at no cost to taxpayers. ATPE Governmental Relations Director provided a summary of Wednesday’s debate of the bill on second reading, during which a number of Democratic senators questioned the author’s decision to exempt “first responders” from the punitive bill and tried unsuccessfully to expand that exemption to cover educators, too.

The lively debate highlighted ATPE’s advocacy against the bill before senators voted on party lines to approve the measure, ironically just hours after take time to honor retired teachers visiting the Senate that day. Those voting for the anti-educator SB 13 were Sens. Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Burton, Campbell, Creighton, Estes, Hall, Hancock, Huffines, Huffman, Hughes, Kolkhorst, Nelson, Nichols, Perry, Schwertner, Seliger, Larry Taylor, and Van Taylor. Those voting against SB 13 were Sens. Garcia, Hinojosa, Lucio, Menendez, Miles, Rodriguez, Uresti, Watson, West, Whitmire, and Zaffirini.

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundThe Senate was back in session yesterday evening to take a final vote on SB 13, again along party lines with 20 Republican senators voting to send SB 13 to the House and 11 Democratic senators voting against the bill. It was another opportunity, though, for some Democrats in the Senate to ask why teachers were being picked on with SB 13 and why business groups in the private sector like NFIB should care about how public employees spend their paychecks. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. called the legislation “a show of disrespect” toward hard-working teachers. Sen. Royce West pointed out the highly partisan motives behind the bill, and Sen. Kirk Watson stated that it was wrong for lawmakers to try to silence certain groups and not others simply because you disagree with their message. Sen. John Whitmire warned his Senate colleagues of the bill’s “intended consequences” of silencing only those politically active groups who are deemed to be working against Senate Republicans’ legislative priorities this session. But Whitmire also warned of some unintended fallout during the next election cycle, observing that many educators do tend to vote in Republican primaries and saying, “You’ve awakened a sleeping giant.”

Thursday’s floor action in the Senate also brought up a high-profile voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which has been deemed on of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities this session. The bill’s author presented a brand new version of the bill on the floor, designed to limit the availability of the vouchers to larger urban and suburban counties. The changes were designed to lower the bill’s very high cost and garner support from a few rural Republican senators who had been objecting to SB 3.

The new voucher bill ultimately passed yesterday on an 18 to 13 vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. was the lone Democratic senator to vote for the bill. All other Democrats voted against SB 3, joined by Republican Sens. Robert Nichols, Kel Seliger, and Joan Huffman. (Although Huffman voted against the bill, she earlier joined with Republicans in voting to suspend the rules to allow the voucher bill to be heard on the floor.) For more on the voucher bill that passed the Senate and is headed next to the House, read this story from The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog about SB 3.

 


While the Senate was focusing its attention on questionable “priorities” of the lieutenant governor that would harm public education, the House Public Education Committee was attempting to find solutions to real problems, such as improving the state’s malfunctioning school finance system. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) school finance measure, House Bill 21, by a vote of 10 to one on Tuesday. The committee also heard a number of bills relating to charter schools this week and resumed discussion of Huberty’s HB 23 aimed at improving the A-through-F accountability system. Next week, the committee plans to consider bills dealing with health and safety, as well as special education.

The committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality also met this week for further discussions of bills dealing with improper relationships between teachers and students. Again, Mark Wiggins has a blog post with details on Monday’s hearing.

 


Stack of $100 billsThe Texas House and Senate continue to take differing approaches on the state budget. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports, the full Senate took up Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the Senate’s budget bill, this Tuesday, March 28, for second and third reading. After offering no amendments, the Senate passed SB1 unanimously. The bill was then sent to and received by the house later that day where it was read for the first time on the House floor and referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Appropriations took up House Bill 1 (HB1), the House budget, and House Bill 2 (HB2), the House supplemental appropriations bill, on Wednesday, March 29. Chairman Zerwas laid out SB1 in lieu of HB1 and then substituted the language in SB1 with the language in HB1, plus some of the language that was originally in HB2, essentially making SB1 the House Bill with the Senate’s caption. The committee then voted unanimously to send SB1, as substituted, and HB2 to the full House for consideration.

Yesterday, March 30, House Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter adopted a calendar rule on the House floor that impacts SB1, which will be considered by the full House next Thursday, April 6. The rule, which was adopted, does two things. One, it memorializes the House rule requiring a 72-hour layout for any amendment to a general appropriations bill. This means that any amendment to the budget will have to be filed with the House Clerk’s office by 10 a.m. Monday, April 3, or be subject to a challenge. Second, the rule requires that any amendment to the budget that proposes additional spending in one area must cut an equivalent or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. This means that the overall amount of the budget cannot increase on the House floor without support of the supermajority required to suspend the calendar rule.

Follow @TeachTheVote or individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter next Thursday for live updates on the budget as they occur from the floor of the Texas House.


tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the availability of 2016 Snapshot: School District Profiles on its website. The online resource annually compiles characteristics of every school district and charter school in Texas. View the data here.

 


The Senate Education Committee also met yesterday, hearing bills pertaining to virtual schools, special education, and the scheduling of teacher work days. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided this blog update with full details on the hearing.