Tag Archives: innovation districts

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.

 

Preparation, training, and support that educators deserve

Students School College Teaching Learning Education ConceptAs we reported following the board’s meeting last month, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) recently revised a number of rules involving educator preparation in Texas. The lengthy and thorough process to rewrite the rules lasted about a year. The rules cover preparation, program requirements, pathways to certification, and more, and they seek to raise the quality of training all teachers receive before going into the classroom where they are expected to excel.

One of ATPE’s policy priorities involves a strong focus on all aspects of the teacher pipeline, and that starts with high-quality training for Texas educators. ATPE recognizes that we do a disservice to our teachers and our students when inadequately prepared educators are placed in the classroom and expected to achieve excellence. We also recognize that we cannot expect teachers to stay in the profession if they aren’t strongly prepared to enter the classroom in the first place.

ATPE knows that Texas teachers are incredible and work hard in their classrooms (and beyond!) every day to provide a great education for the students they teach; they deserve high-quality preparation that will provide them with a strong, solid base and great potential from which they can continue to grow.


Research also backs ATPE’s focus on ensuring all Texas teachers receive the high-quality preparation and support they deserve. A sampling of those findings include: that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting a student’s success; that we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for educator preparation; that candidates seeking certification through the state’s most popular pathway, alternative certification (or a post-baccalaureate path that can currently involve as little as two weeks of training), are leaving the classroom at a faster rate than their peers; and that teacher turnover could be costing our state up to billions of dollars.


SBEC’s new rules are not extreme and they represent a lot of compromise with interests that thought original proposals went too far. Still, they set a foundation and represent a positive step. Here are some of the ways SBEC’s new rules seek to improve preparation:

  • a two-tiered system of probationary certification for alternative certification candidates, which better identifies a candidate’s level of training and requires supplementary support for less prepared candidates;
  • revised measures of accountability for EPPs, such as a newly established new-teacher survey;
  • a more appropriate definition of “late hire” candidates, who are put in the classroom as the teacher-of-record with significantly less coursework and training; and
  • an increase in the number of coursework hours a candidate must receive prior to an internship or clinical teaching.

The rule revisions and rationale for the changes can be read in their entirety here. They now go to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which will review them at its meeting in two weeks and can affirm the proposals or send them back to SBEC for further review.

Educational Aide Certificate

The SBEC rules also include recent changes to educational aide certificates. The new rules specify that beginning Sept. 1, 2017, all educational aide certificates issued will be valid for two years. The current validity period of an educational aide certificates is five years. Concurrently, the fees associated with renewing an educational aide certificate will be reduced to $15 (from $30). Those aides with lifetime certificates will not be affected by this change.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided several reasons for this move in their rationale to SBEC, including a large number of unused certificates and the issues this can cause with TEA’s investigations and prosecutions divisions. According to TEA staff, a total of 227,910 educational aide certificates were issued in the 2014-15 school year, but only approximately 53,791 educational aides were actively employed.

As TEA has explained it, although only 53,791 educational aides were employed in schools, the investigations and prosecutions divisions remain responsible for all 227,910 certificate holders, meaning they are using resources to pursue any certificate holder accused of wrongdoing. As TEA put it, “Shortening the validity period for the educational aide certificate would focus TEA investigative and prosecutorial resources only on those who are actively using the educational aide certificate in a Texas public school.”

Districts of Innovation

Regardless of the SBOE’s actions on these newly revised certification rules, another piece of education policy has the potential to interfere with SBEC’s work: Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law was created by the Texas legislature last session, and it allows certain school districts to opt out of the majority of the Texas Education Code, including provisions requiring quality teacher preparation and certification. ATPE will continue to advocate for high-quality educator training for all Texas educators and will encourage the upcoming legislature to join SBEC in its quest toward raised standards as they consider the potential negative effects of the broad exemption opportunities created under the DOI statutes. Fore more on DOI, visit our DOI Resource Page at atpe.org.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 14, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are education news stories you might have missed this week:


Road sign toward election 2016We’re only 10 days away from the start of early voting for the 2016 general election. Many thanks to all of you who helped get pro-public education voters registered. Read more about Texas’s record-setting voter registration statistics in this recent article from The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. The early voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4. Early voting enables you to visit any polling place within your county or political subdivision. In most counties, if you wait until Election Day to vote, you’ll be required to vote in the assigned polling location for your precinct. Voters over the age of 65 or those unable to make it to the polls due to certain circumstances such as illness may apply for a ballot by mail. Learn more about the requirements for voting here. Also, click here to find out about ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, which includes ATPE, is encouraging school leaders to help get their employees to the polls during the early voting period.

I votedNow is a great time to find out where legislative and State Board of Education candidates stand on public education issues. Use our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that unlike the primary elections held earlier this year where voters had to choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election regardless of party affiliation, including independent candidates.


The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, where the main topic of discussion will be private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote next week. In the meantime, check out this video press release where Monty explains why ATPE remains committed to fighting efforts to implement a publicly funded voucher or private school scholarship program in Texas.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education has released new federal rules for teacher preparation, which include requirements for states to hold educator preparation programs accountable for a number of factors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been following the development of the rules over the last couple of years and provided a full report for Teach the Vote earlier this week.


Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants teachers to help students learn how to interact with law enforcement officers in the hope of decreasing violent incidents. Whitmire has announced plans to file a bill that would make lessons on police interaction part of the required curriculum for students in the ninth grade. The topic was discussed at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Whitmire chairs. Read more about the idea in a recent story from KVUE News here, and check out a related interview with ATPE member Cristal Misplay, who worked as a law enforcement officer before becoming a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD. We want to hear your thoughts on requiring the ninth grade curriculum to include lessons on interacting with police. Post your comments below.


Rent on red business binderAustin ISD is considering ways to foster teacher retention by partnering with the City of Austin to explore future affordable housing options for educators and other public employees. Austin ATPE President Heidi Langan spoke to KXAN News this week about the local cost of teacher turnover. Her district has struggled to keep teachers who often leave for neighboring districts that offer higher salaries and where houses are more affordable. Check out the full interview here.


Are you a teacher or parent in a school district that is considering a District of Innovation (DOI) designation? ATPE has a resource page dedicated to helping stakeholders navigate the DOI process and learn about the types of laws that can be waived in districts that avail themselves of the new DOI law. Our resource page includes examples of some Texas school districts that have become DOIs and provides tips on how to share input with your district through the DOI process. Check out the DOI resource page here.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

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ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

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Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

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Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.

 


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.

 


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.

NO VOUCHERS

At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!

 


 

Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 12, 2016

Happy Friday! Read highlights of this week’s education news:


skd282694sdcOn Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released preliminary financial accountability ratings for the state’s public schools for the 2015-16 school year. As was the case with the 2014-15 ratings, TEA announced that nearly 98 percent of Texas school districts and charter schools have earned superior ratings under the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

Under the FIRST rating system, 15 financial indicators are used to assign each school district or charter school a letter grade of A, B, C, or F, along with a corresponding financial management rating of Superior, Above Standard Achievement, Meets Standard, or Substandard Achievement. In the most recent analysis, four districts and four charter schools were assigned an “F” grade through the FIRST rating system. Seventeen districts and 10 charters earned “B” grades, and there were no “C” grades assigned this year. Districts and charters that are displeased with their assigned ratings may appeal the preliminary findings before TEA releases the final financial accountability ratings in October.

View TEA’s full press release about FIRST ratings here.

 


ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann were in Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) 2016 Legislative Summit. The NCSL Summit is the largest gathering of its kind where legislators, staff, and policy stakeholders from all over the country meet to discuss, learn about, and share perspective on national, state, and local policy issues.

Exter and Kuhlmann attended a variety of sessions within the education and election tracks this week, met with Texas legislators and their staffs, and networked with other policy and education professionals throughout the country. Session topics included, to name a few, a presentation of opposing views on the constitutionality of vouchers, discussions on new opportunities and limitations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the rollout of a new NCSL report on what states can learn from policies common among the highest performing nations. Kuhlmann and Exter are excited to bring back what they’ve learned and utilize the connections they’ve made to help ATPE achieve its policy goals.

 


As more school districts opt to pursue designation as Districts of Innovation (DOI), we want to remind you about ATPE’s DOI resource page available here. View updated information on school districts that are using the DOI law to claim exemptions from various state laws, including school start date provisions, requirements to hire certified teachers, and elementary class-size limits. Each DOI is required to notified the Commissioner of Education of its local innovation plan, although no formal approval by the commissioner is required by law. TEA is also providing a list of those DOIs that have supplied their innovation plans to the agency. Commissioner Mike Morath still has not yet finalized administrative rules for implementation of the DOI law, but 23 school districts have already adopted their innovation plans and filed them with TEA. The DOI law will be among topics discussed at upcoming interim hearings of the Senate Education Committee.

 


Next week, the Senate Education Committee is holding another interim hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The interim study topics for this meeting are school board governance and training; local policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly for low-performing schools; pre-kindergarten grants, and raising standards for teacher preparation programs. ATPE will be participating in the meeting and will provide a full report next week.

 


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationTwo ATPE members are among Texas finalists announced for the 2016 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). ATPE congratulates Kirk Evans, a teacher at David and Lynda Olson Elementary School in Allen ISD, and Andrea Miller, a teacher at B.J. Smith Elementary School in Mesquite ISD. Evans and Miller both teach fifth-grade science and have been recognized for their achievements in elementary science teaching. View TEA’s press release about the award finalists here.

 

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Teacher teaching schoolboy computer in the library

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

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

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


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

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


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


Happy Independence Day!

Boys Holding Sparklers

Commissioner recognizes first batch of Districts of Innovation

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today announced that eight school districts have become Districts of Innovation (DOI) under a new law passed in 2015. Included in last year’s House Bill 1842, the law allows acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws in the Texas Education Code. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has proposed rules to implement the DOI statute, which have not yet been finalized. ATPE testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments on the proposed rules, urging the commissioner to address concerns about consequences of the broad waiver authority being sought by some districts through their innovation plans.

Canton ISD, El Paso ISD, Mabank ISD, Palmer ISD, Point Isabel ISD, San Antonio ISD, Spring Branch ISD, and Victoria ISD were recognized in today’s TEA press release for having submitted their adopted five-year innovation plans to the commissioner. Commissioner Morath stated in today’s press release, “This initial wave of notifications is just the beginning of what will be many districts that elect to go through this innovative process.” The press release explains that DOIs cannot exempt themselves from some laws such as those dealing with curriculum, assessments, or the state accountability system.

TEA has established a new webpage with a list of school districts that have completed the DOI process and links to their innovation plans. You can also visit ATPE’s updated DOI resource page to learn more about the law, read examples of how some districts are using the DOI statute to take advantage of regulatory exemptions, and find out how you can help influence the DOI process in your school district.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 10, 2016

These are stories making news this week in the Texas education world:


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting this week with possible changes to educator preparation and certification rules on the agenda. On Thursday, the board held a work session to consider the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs), the educator preparation experience through both traditional and alternative EPPs, national trends, and other matters relating to educator preparation and certification.

SBEC is holding its regular board meeting today, and the agenda includes anticipated rule changes for the criteria to enter an EPP, as well as the ways that EPPs are held accountable. Another agenda item calls for a new format for the Core Subjects EC-6 certification exam. TEA staff has recommended removing one of the five domains currently covered by the test to focus on the core subjects of English Language Arts and Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. SBEC will also discuss possible changes to the Educators’ Code of Ethics and disciplinary rules, which will encompass tweaks to existing rules against inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending both of the SBEC meetings this week and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote.

Related content: SBEC’s review of educator disciplinary rules comes at a time when there is great media interest in stories about educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students. Recent interim legislative hearings have also drawn attention to the issue. This week, ATPE Media Relations Specialist Stephanie Jacksis spoke to both KVUE News in Austin and Fox29 in San Antonio about the problem and ways teachers can separate their personal and professional use of social media.

 


Josh Sanderson

We’ve been writing about the Texas Supreme Court’s recent decision on school finance and how some lawmakers are looking at ways to tweak the funding system in light of the court’s finding that the system barely meets constitutional standards. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson was a special guest on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight program talking about the challenges inherent in the current school funding system. This week, Josh also spoke to KVUE News about a related topic: comparing how schools spend the money they receive. A new website established by former state Comptroller Susan Combs seeks to provide Texans with tools to do just that, but much of the school performance data on the website is focused on student test scores. Watch video of Josh’s interview with KVUE’s Mark Wiggins here.

 


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundWe reported last week on some of the recounts that have been sought following the May 24 primary runoff elections. First, Rep. Wayne Smith‘s (R-Baytown) recount request was not fruitful, as the recount confirmed his loss to challenger Briscoe Cain (R) by only about two dozen votes. This week, we await updates in another recount underway in House District 54 for the seat being vacated by current House Public Education Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). In that race, Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) on runoff election night by 43 votes. We’ll bring you the results of that recount as soon as they are announced. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Do you work in a school district that is pursuing a designation as a District of Innovation (DOI)? Keep in mind that ATPE has a resource page to help educators and parents learn about the new DOI law, which allows certain acceptably-rated districts to exempt themselves from various state laws. Many districts in Texas are already taking steps to create and adopt innovation plans. The exemptions most commonly claimed so far include the school start date law – with districts looking to start the school year earlier in August – along with requirements for the assignment of certified teachers, class-size limits in elementary grades, and teacher evaluation requirements. Visit ATPE’s newly updated DOI resource page to learn more and read examples of some districts that are using the DOI statute to avail themselves of exemptions from these and other laws.

 


Monday, June 13, is shaping up to be a busy day. First, the House Pensions Committee is holding an interim meeting in Houston. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson will be there and will provide updates next week on the retirement matters discussed. Also on Monday, the Texas Education Agency will hold a public hearing on proposed rule changes for the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS). Last but not least, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability has scheduled a final work session to develop its recommendations to the 85th Legislature. The commission’s gathering is an add-on meeting not originally planned, but as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported recently on our blog, commission members have struggled to reach consensus on a number of issues related to testing and accountability measures. Watch for updates next week on the commission’s deliberations.


16_Web_SummitSpotlightDon’t forget to register for the ATPE Summit, taking place July 20-22 in Austin, where you can earn valuable professional development credits and learn more about hot issues affecting public education. Learn more at ATPESummit.org