Tag Archives: interim charges

TRS healthcare bill offers fewer options, no savings

Drugs and MoneyLast fall, ATPE reported on an interim legislative study of healthcare programs administered through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Now that the 85th legislative session is in full swing, we’ve had a chance to see actual legislation pursuing some of the dramatic proposals outlined in that interim report. The primary vehicle for these changes would be Senate Bill (SB) 789  by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which seeks to reorganize TRS-ActiveCare, the current health insurance program for many of our state’s actively employed educators.

Under current law, all school districts that did not previously opt out of TRS-ActiveCare offer their employees access to two health insurance options through ActiveCare: one high-deductible plan and one traditional plan featuring co-insurance and co-payments. The state contributes $75 per employee toward the monthly premiums associated with either plan and requires school districts to cover an additional $150 per employee towards premiums; many districts cover more than the minimum $150 contribution that is required, however.

If passed, SB 789 would limit districts that may participate in TRS-ActiveCare to those with 1,000 or fewer employees or fewer. The bill would also eliminate the traditional co-payment insurance plan option, leaving only the high-deductible option for employees who remain covered through ActiveCare. The bill also would give those districts with fewer than 1,000 employees another one-time opportunity to voluntarily opt out of TRS-ActiveCare.

SB 789 does not increase the amount of money the state will be spending toward employee health care premiums, nor does it increase the requirement for the amount that districts must spend toward those premiums. This is significant because compared to the private sector, our state’s employer contribution (the combination of state and district payments) toward public education employees’ health care premium cost is dramatically underfunded. When the TRS healthcare program was started years ago, the ISD/state contribution was in line with average private sector employer contributions. However, as private business has worked to keep pace with healthcare inflation, the state has never increased its contribution on behalf of school employees.

Falling US MoneyIt is also worth noting that SB 789 does not save the state any money. TRS-ActiveCare is considered a pass-through program. That means the state puts in a fixed amount of money and any increases in premiums get passed directly down to educators for them to cover. Restructuring ActiveCare as proposed in Sen. Huffman’s bill will not change this dynamic. The state pays the same amount and any changes in overall premium costs will only impact educators.

Thus, SB 786 takes away choices without saving educators money. The cost for the new high-deductible plan is estimated to be more expensive than the cost of the high-deductible plan offered under the current system. While premiums for this new high-deductible plan may be slightly less than the cost for the traditional co-pay plan under the current system, the premium combined with out-of-pocket costs for educators could very likely be more. Additionally, educators who have currently selected the traditional co-pay plan have voluntarily chosen to pay a higher premium at no additional cost to the state and no required additional cost to the district. Taking away this option without any resulting savings to either the school district or the state makes little sense.

For the 82 school districts that will be required to exit ActiveCare if this bill passes, their administrative costs will increase. Those districts will now have to hire additional personnel to administer an employee healthcare plan at the district level. That additional cost will in turn reduce the amount of money these districts will have to spend in the classroom on other needs. The same will be true of any districts that voluntarily opt out of ActiveCare because they prefer to offer their employees the option of more than one health insurance plan.

SB 789 decreases benefit options for educators while increasing district expenses, and it does so without increasing state support to educators, lowering the healthcare cost for educators, or decreasing the cost to state taxpayers. Therefore, we can find no reason for ATPE to support this bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 27, 2017

Here are this week’s news highlights and a preview of education-related happenings next week:


office binders draft billAmid all the bills that will be filed for this session, the only one that the 85th Texas Legislature must pass is the state budget for the next two years. Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate last week revealed early plans for a new state budget, but the Senate was quick to convene hearings this week to flesh out the details for its proposal, housed in Senate Bill (SB) 1. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended those hearings and testified Tuesday on behalf of ATPE. Read his blog post to learn more about the budget hearings, along with a joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and a Senate Finance work group on school finance that took place today. For the latest developments, you can also follow @TeachtheVote or any of our individual lobbyists on Twitter.

 


President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee the U.S. Education Department (ED) continues to rankle educators and concerned parents nationwide. Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire tapped to become the next Secretary of Education, is now the subject of a deluge of calls and letters to Capitol Hill.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been writing about the confirmation process, including a confirmation hearing last week before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee that did not go smoothly for DeVos. Many Democrats in the Senate have publicly announced their intentions to vote against confirming DeVos, largely due to concerns about her lack of public education experience, her outspoken advocacy for privatization, and concerns about conflicts of interest revealed during a required ethics review.From all indications, however, DeVos continues to enjoy the support of the Republican majority.

The HELP committee is scheduled to take a vote on DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31, after which the full Senate will weigh in on her confirmation. ATPE members who would like to communicate with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos are encouraged to use our simple tools at Advocacy Central (member login is required). Sample phone scripts and email messages are provided for your convenience. Learn more here.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that the State Board of Education (SBOE) will meet next week in Austin, where two new members will be sworn in alongside those reelected in November.

Georgina C. Pérez (D-El Paso) and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) will be the two new faces on the board. ATPE had a chance to visit with each at an orientation meeting before the holiday break. Pérez is a retired teacher, and has many former students on staff. A lifelong El Paso resident, Pérez runs an organization that builds libraries in poor communities. Ellis is a former school board member, and fills the seat previously held by Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). Ellis is an Aggie dad and chiropractor. Both freshmen expressed hope for a productive year on the board.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

Members Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio), Donna Bahorich  (R-Houston), Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson) and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) won reelection to the body. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Bahorich to chair the 15-member board. Resuming her role as chair effective February 1, her new term will expire February 1, 2019. The board will elect a vice-chair and secretary and assign committees after Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.

The board’s agenda next week will include a public hearing and first reading vote on curriculum standards (TEKS) for English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading, as well as a hearing and first reading vote on efforts to streamline the science TEKS. The board will also discuss the schedule and instructional materials to be included in Proclamation 2019.

Any fireworks next week are likely to stem from public testimony on the science TEKS. At the November 2016 meeting, members of the committees assigned to review the TEKS shared their findings and recommendations with the board. Science teachers charged with studying the biology TEKS recommended removing a handful of passages related to evolutionary science over concerns about mastery and grade level appropriateness. Some viewed those passages as encouraging discussion of creationism. At the moment, it’s unclear how the changes in board membership could affect the final vote on the proposed edits.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on next week’s SBOE meetings.

 


NO VOUCHERS

This week saw private school vouchers dominate the discussion in and around the pink dome in Austin.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed private and charter school supporters bused to the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to promote National School Choice Week. The “school choice” verbiage is being used to market a variety of voucher programs this session, most notably education savings accounts (ESAs) and tax credit scholarships.

The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, hosted a legislative briefing and press conference Monday to break down what’s actually being proposed under the school choice slogan. Voucher programs threaten to remove more resources from a school finance system that is already critically underfunded. According to data compiled by Governing, Texas ranked 42 out of 50 states in per-pupil spending in 2014. The state spent $8,593 per student in 2014 dollars, $2,416 below the national average of $11,009.

As reported last week on our Teach the Vote blog, Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) fall into the tax credit scholarship category. Those bills have already been filed, but we’re still awaiting what is expected to be Lt. Gov. Patrick’s signature voucher proposal, likely in the form of an ESA. Senate Bill (SB) 3 has been reserved for the school voucher bill that will be one of Patrick’s top three priorities this session.

The House budget has proposed adding $1.5 billion in public school funding pending meaningful school finance reform, and has shown little appetite for a voucher program that would divert limited public tax dollars to private businesses. On Tuesday, Patrick demanded the House allow an “up or down vote” on vouchers this session. The lieutenant governor could roll out his preferred voucher bill as early as next week. Stay tuned for updates.

 


Today, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote a blog post for Teach the Vote about the status of a politically motivated effort to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. The House Committee on State Affairs has released a new report on the issue after studying it during the interim. The report highlights arguments on both sides of the debate and concludes that legislators should carefully consider such input and, in particular, which groups would be affected by a bill to eliminate payroll deduction options.

Bills now pending in the 85th legislative session would prohibit school district employees from using payroll deduction for association dues – even dues paid to groups like ATPE that support the right to work and are not union-affiliated. At the same time, the bills (SB 13 and HB 510) would ensure that other public employees such as police officers and firefighters could continue to pay union dues via payroll deduction. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees makes it all the more obvious that the sponsors of these bills are really trying to stifle advocacy efforts within the school community.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Read more about ways you can help protect educators’ right to use payroll deduction in today’s blog post, and if you’re an ATPE member, please be sure to check out our additional resources on the payroll deduction bills and communication tools at Advocacy Central.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenThere’s only one week left for ATPE members to sign up for ATPE at the Capitol, happening March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Friday, Feb. 3 is the deadline for housing, registration, and applications for financial incentives. ATPE members won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear from legislative leaders and interact directly with their own lawmakers about the education issues taking center stage this legislative session. Register, view schedule updates, and find all other details here. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central and the registration page for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Texas gets a sneak peek at new A-F campus accountability grades

skd282694sdcToday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) rolled out its long-anticipated list of preliminary ratings under the “A through F” accountability system set to grade schools and districts beginning in the 2017-18 school year. After the passage of House Bill 2804 last session, the current accountability system that rates schools and districts as either “met standard” or “needs improvement” will be replaced by one that assigns letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F across five domains and appoints an overall score. The letter grades released today for campuses across Texas are intended to provide a preview of how schools might fare under the new system once it is fully implemented next year. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath issued a press release today calling this week’s preliminary grade report a “work-in-progress.”

Under the new accountability system, the domains of Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing Performance Gaps are all based on STAAR test results and account for 55 percent of a school’s or district’s overall grade. The fourth domain, Postsecondary Readiness, will be based on sets of criteria, such as chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, that vary by grade level. Schools and districts will be allowed to grade themselves in the fifth domain of Community and Student Engagement. The cumulative results of all five domains will be used for the purpose of designating an overall letter grade.

We know students’ standardized test scores are being used inappropriately for many high-stakes purposes, and this kicks things up to a whole new level. It obscures and oversimplifies the multitude of things that go into judging how a school is doing. It relies too much on flawed tests – and the kids end up having to bear the stigma of failure.

The numbers provided by TEA accompanying the preliminary grades show economically disadvantaged campuses are likely to fare the worst under this system by far. Under the “what if” campus grades shared this week, 89 percent of schools serving fewer than 20 percent economically disadvantaged students scored an “A” or “B” in the first domain, while 57 percent of schools with the poorest student bodies scored a “D” or “F.” While schools serving the most affluent populations don’t perform as well in domain two, which measures growth, they still outperform schools serving the least privileged students with only an 8 percent D or F rating compared to a 39 percent D or F rating. So with all their other challenges, systemically underfunded schools serving the state’s most challenging populations get to be stigmatized as well under the system that will be put in place next year.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeHow will that help those students perform better, or those schools attract the high-caliber teachers they need? The political environment here can’t be overlooked.

According to actual accountability ratings released in August 2016, 94 percent of Texas schools earned the “met standard” designation. That tells us what we already know: The vast majority of Texas schools are performing well. Yet under the new system being previewed this week, more than half of Texas schools in each domain scored a C, D, or F. Suddenly, we have a metric that seems to black the eyes of established well-performing schools – just days before we head into a legislative session in which voucher proponents will try to sell voters on the myth that our schools are failing.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia state government recently overturned that state’s A through F system. The bill’s author, a Republican who initially voted for the system, acknowledged the stigmatization of schools as a reason for upending the law. He also said the system would make it hard for schools to recruit teachers, among other things.

On Thursday, state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed House Bill 843, which would repeal A through F and replace it with the labels Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Needs Improvement.

“There is a dangerous domino effect here — the failing label causes stigmatization and punitive action to schools and their community, which does nothing to promote improvement,” Rep. González said in a press release Friday. “This harmful effect makes repealing A-F urgent and necessary.”

ATPE supports a robust accountability system that gives parents meaningful and unambiguous information, avoids too much reliance on flawed standardized tests, and takes into consideration important factors such as funding inequities and the importance of having well-trained, certified teachers. We strongly opposed the move to “A through F” grades when it was proposed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 and even suggested alternative scoring rubrics and report cards for campuses, which lawmakers unfortunately declined to consider at the time.

Our hope is that the release of these “informational” campus accountability grades this week, however hypothetical they are intended to be, will eventually serve as a wake-up call for the need to enact meaningful testing and accountability reforms that will support rather than penalize the hardworking students and staff in our Texas public schools.

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

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s been a busy education news week. Here are highlights:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Groups looking to ban educators from using payroll deduction have a newly filed bill, and school employees concerned about this need to speak up now! The move is part of a national effort to try to weaken unions and professional associations like ATPE that advocate for public employees. Here in Texas, efforts to ban payroll deduction are taking direct aim at the education community, apparently in response to our outspoken opposition to private school vouchers and other reforms favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and others.

Patrick has identified prohibiting payroll deduction for “collection of union dues” as one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session, reserving a low bill number (Senate Bill 13) for the yet-to-be-filed legislation in the Senate. On the House side, Houston-area Rep. Sarah Davis (R) pre-filed House Bill 510 this week to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for educators’ voluntary association dues. The bill exempts police, firefighters, and EMS workers, allowing them to continue to take advantage of the safety and convenience of payroll deduction, but punishes educators who choose to join professional associations by denying them the same rights.

ATPE is urging members to contact their legislators right away and ask them to oppose these politically charged bills that would serve no purpose other than to further devalue the education profession and attempt to silence the voices of teachers. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and use our new communication tools for members at ATPE’s Advocacy Central to take action today.

17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenRelated content:  While you’re visiting Advocacy Central, check out the details on ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day and political involvement training event in March. Registration is open now, and there is no registration fee for ATPE members to attend the event. This is a great opportunity to learn more about grassroots advocacy and meet with your lawmakers to discuss saving payroll deduction and other ATPE legislative priorities for 2017.


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today for its last meeting of 2016. After more than a year of meetings dedicated to revising rule chapters that pertain to educator preparation and certification, among other issues, the board’s agenda was notably shorter and involved very few action items.

On today’s agenda was a presentation from former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson on the work of the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative; a discussion on developing a certification specific to early childhood education; and an update on the principal and teacher satisfaction surveys that are used to hold educator preparation programs (EPPs) accountable. The only actions taken by the board, aside from rulings on individual disciplinary cases, was adoption of the board’s legislative priorities and approval of EPP monitors. Board members also adopted three legislative priorities: expand reporting requirements on educator misconduct to principals, expand outcome-based accountability to EPPs, and consider other options for demonstrating proficiency with regard to educator certification reciprocity for educators coming from other states and countries.

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Kate Kuhlmann testifying at SBEC, Dec. 9, 2016

On the second priority, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at this morning’s meeting and successfully argued to remove some original language that would have specifically encouraged the use of teacher evaluation results to hold EPPs accountable. Board members understood our concerns that such a move would affect the confidentiality of appraisals, which are meant to serve as an informative and developmental tool for educators. Kuhlmann testified that, among other concerns, the formative nature of appraisals at the local level could be undermined if confidentiality of those results were compromised by legislative changes. To hear the full discussion on any of these topics or others discussed today, access an archived webcast of the meeting here.

The board welcomed two new members recently appointed by Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX). Dr. Scott Ridley, the Dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University, and Tommy Coleman, a citizen member of the board who works as an assistant district attorney for the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, were sworn in before today’s meeting. Gov. Abbott also recently appointed Carlos Villagrana to serve in the non-voting role dedicated to a representative of an alternative certification program. Mr. Villagrana is the Director of the Alternative Educator Preparation Program at YES Prep Public Schools. He was not present for today’s meeting.

Related content:  The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released the latest version of its Teacher Prep Review this week. This go around, NCTQ decided to analyze programs based on their program type (as opposed to grouping them all together like in previous reports) in an effort to offer a more apples-to-apples comparison of data. The report released this week focuses only on 875 undergraduate elementary programs throughout the country. Two of the top rated undergraduate elementary programs, which all scored in the top 99 percentile, hail from Texas: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston. Learn more about the report here, and watch for future reports on the various program types beginning in Spring 2017.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) invited legislative staff and stakeholders to a briefing this week on its actuarial valuation reports for the period ending Aug. 31, 2016. The presentation also included data on the healthcare plans administered by TRS for active and retired educators. TRS officials reported that the pension fund earned a return of 7.3 percent in 2015-16 and ended the 2016 fiscal year at a market value of $134 billion compared to a market value of $128.5 billion in the previous fiscal year.

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While the pension fund investment returns are in good shape, there are more serious concerns about funding for TRS-Care and ActiveCare. This week’s briefing highlighted the fact that TRS-Care is not pre-funded and is facing a shortfall of between $1,088 million and $1,294 million by the end of the 2018-19 biennium. As we have previously reported on our blog, lawmakers are recommending dramatic changes to the design of the health benefit plans.

Learn more about the current status of the funds in these new reports supplied by TRS:

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) finalized its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) rules pertaining to assessments this week. The assessment rules were much less contentious than some of the other rules released by the department, with stakeholders who served as negotiators coming to agreement on the contents of the rule. ATPE submitted comments on the rules during the comment period, supporting the innovative assessment pilot and encouraging the use of sample testing. Our comments were taken and included, in part, in the final innovative assessment pilot rules. You can read ATPE’s comments and learn more about the rulemaking process for assessments here.

As we have previously discussed, the future of ESSA rulemaking remains very unpredictable at this point. When President-elect Trump and his administration take office in January, they will have the ability to carry on with the policies of the Obama administration, forgo them altogether, or pursue some combination of these options.

 


The 12th annual Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) gala took place Wednesday evening, Dec. 7, in Waco, TX. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz contributed this report on the event.

ATPE leaders, volunteers, and staff members were honored to be a part of the FOTPS annual celebration where education allies were honored for their outstanding work supporting the Texas public education system. Three major awards were handed out at the event, which was held at Baylor University’s Baylor Club, located inside McLane Stadium. Those attending the event as part of the ATPE delegation were State President Julleen Bottoms, Region 12 Director Jason Forbis, Region 12 President Patty Reneau, Corsicana ATPE member Suzanne Waldrip, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, Regional Representative Ginger Franks, Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Exter.

The Friend of the Year Award is FOTPS’s highest award and is bestowed to individuals and organizations who step up as champions for those who work and learn in our Texas public schools. The award went to Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) for their continued activism to reduce the state’s overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing. Their work has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the amount of time our students spend on standardized tests and the limited time that is actually left for instruction. During the last two legislative sessions, TAMSA has been a leader in advocating for a reduction in tests, helping to bring the number of required state tests from 15 down to five.

Also recognized that evening were Pamela & Rep. Gary VanDeaver who received the Ambassador of the Year Award. This award was established to highlight the efforts of an educator stepping up as a champion for the Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver and his wife are no strangers to the public education system having both worked as career educators and been an instrumental voice for the 5.3 million children who currently attend Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver’s work on behalf of public education during the last legislative session was relentless, and we look forward to working with him again during the 85th session. Their passion to serve our schoolchildren is inspiring!

Last but not least, the Founder’s Distinguished Service Award went to the Texas Education Service Centers for their outstanding work and support for the continued success of Texas public schools. The 20 Education Service Centers have tirelessly served public schools for the past 50 years by providing vital services that enable each district to educate students in an effective and efficient manner.

Congratulations to all of the honorees for their outstanding work!

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ATPE’s representatives at the FOTPS gala on Dec. 7, 2016, in Waco


 

Guest post: Special education issues facing the 85th legislature

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Janna Lilly

by Janna Lilly, Director of Govermental Relations
Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE)

Special education issues are once again expected to be hot topics in the upcoming Texas Legislative Session including vouchers, special education identification, and (yes, again) cameras.

Vouchers

The lieutenant governor has been very vocal that passing voucher legislation is one of his key priorities. TCASE opposes subsidizing private schools with public funds through vouchers or voucher-like programs such as taxpayer savings plans or scholarship credits. Vouchers are particularly harmful for students with disabilities. Private schools are not required to accept or even appropriately serve students with disabilities. Private schools are not required provide the legal protections mandated by federal and state laws to protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities.

Special education identification

Currently the state’s Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) gives districts a grade or performance level based on an 8.5 percent standard that has come under recent scrutiny in the media. As a result, at least one bill has already been filed to prohibit the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from evaluating districts based on their percentage of students with disabilities.

TCASE recommends TEA continue to provide districts with identification data in PBMAS, but remove the 8.5 percent standard and the corresponding performance level assignment. This would provide necessary information to the state and districts without the reality or perception of a punitive system.

While there are a multitude of state systems designed to gather data on special education, minimal statewide data systems exist to identify the often extensive interventions provided with general education supports only. TCASE recommends the agency develop further statewide data systems to acknowledge these efforts and identify the potential impact on student growth and achievement.

Cameras

Senate Bill (SB) 507 passed last session requiring cameras in certain special education classrooms. The TEA asked the Texas Attorney General (AG) for clarification on several pieces of the law. The AG issued his opinion strictly interpreting the bill, primarily saying one request means cameras must be installed in all eligible classrooms across the district regardless of the bill’s authors stating their intent was that one request applied to one classroom. The AG told lawmakers they would need to change the bill in the next session if they meant something different from what was passed. Lawmakers are drafting bills expected to address some of the concerns including clarifying that one request triggers a camera in a single classroom versus the entire district. Currently, some districts are installing cameras in single classrooms, while some are reporting installing cameras or equipment in all eligible classrooms. Districts are also reporting significant costs associated with the law’s six-month archiving requirement. Community advocates are expected to want some changes of their own, like expanding venues for disagreement beyond the school board including potentially even the ability to file suit. TCASE believes the bill’s current grievance remedies are sufficient, one request should apply to one classroom, and that next legislative session should appropriate funds to cover this unfunded mandate.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 18, 2016

Here’s a look at education news highlights from this busy first week of bill filing in Texas:


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has compiled an update on the board’s actions this week, which covered topics from textbooks to school finance to educator preparation. This was also the last meeting for two members of the board who are stepping down at the end of their terms this year: Martha Dominguez (D) and Thomas Ratliff (R). Read the full SBOE wrap-up here.

 


The Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature yesterday with recommendations for changes to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare to address affordability and long-term viability of the programs. The state’s underfunded health care programs have faced ongoing shortfalls, curtailed in the past by a series of supplemental two-year appropriations and short-term measures. Noting the continuing rise in health care costs and the number of annual new retirees, the committee made up of three state senators and three state representatives is recommending major plan changes by the 85th legislature. The proposed changes are not likely to sit well with affected stakeholders. Citing ambiguous “budgetary constraints the state is facing,” the report offers little hope for increased state funding to alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on active and retired educators, as well as school districts seeking to offer affordable health care benefits to their staffs and their families. But ATPE reminds members that the report is merely a recommendation and that many legislators will be eager to hear from a broad swath of education stakeholders before taking action in the upcoming session. Read more in today’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been conducting a survey regarding state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The online survey is meant to gather public feedback about the new federal law. Today was the last chance to share input with TEA, as the survey is set to close at 5 pm today, Nov. 18. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Monday was the first day of bill pre-filing for the 85th Legislature. ATPE’s Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore has been tracking the new bills and shared some statistics for today’s blog. According to the Legislative Research Library, 525 bills were filed on the opening day of pre-filing. While the bills pertained to a number of issues, several focused on hot topics in the education realm such as vouchers and addressing educator misconduct.

ThinkstockPhotos-93490246School privatization has been in the spotlight heading into the 2017 legislative session with vouchers being lauded by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and President-Elect Donald Trump (R) as a reform priority. HJR 24 by Rep. Richard Raymond (D) moves to tackle the controversial subject by proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the authorization or funding of a school voucher program in Texas. ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools through such programs and has made fighting vouchers a top legislative priority for the 85th legislative session.

Meanwhile, a handful of legislators are filing bills to deal with educator misconduct cases, which were discussed during the interim. HB 218 by Rep. Tony Dale (R) prohibits educators dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district. Legislation banning this type of action, sometimes called “Passing the Trash,” is another one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. HB 333 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) extends the criminal penalty for educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students to those educators lacking certifications, which would cover teachers in charter schools who aren’t necessarily required to be state-certified. Meyer’s bill would amend a section of the Texas Education Code that previously only applied penalties to certified educators.

Other notable bills filed on Monday included HB 77 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R) which is an extension of SB 149 from the 2015 legislative session allowing for alternative paths to graduation. ATPE strongly supported Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 149 last year, which is set to expire without an extension. We’ll be watching Rep. Metcalf’s bill closely, along with any others that help to reduce the emphasis placed on high-stakes testing – another ATPE legislative priority.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more coverage of pre-filed bills in the weeks to come.

 


tea-logo-header-2In other TEA news this week, final accountability ratings have been released for the state’s 1,200+ school districts and charters 8,600+ campuses. Preliminary ratings were revealed back in August, as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported for Teach the Vote. After that announcement, 104 appeals were filed by districts and campuses. The agency granted appeals and changed ratings for nine school districts and 21 campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools received a “met standard” rating. Read more in this Nov. 17 press release from TEA.

Also from TEA, the agency issued correspondence to school administrators this week reminding them of school district responsibilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The letter from Penny Schwinn, TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Academics, addresses “child find” obligations to identify students potentially in need of special education and consequences for districts that fail to comply. The letter also clarifies IDEA provisions aimed at preventing misidentification and disproportionate representation of students as children with disabilities. The state’s Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS), under fire recently, is also mentioned in the correspondence along with a reminder that districts should avoid delaying or denying special education referrals in order to complete Response to Intervention (RTI) phases. The agency writes also that it is creating a new unit with the TEA Division of IDEA Support to provide additional support to districts and education service centers, with further details to be provided “at a later date.” Read the complete Nov. 17 letter from TEA here. Also, watch for a guest post with more on these issues next week on the Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

Interim TRS health care study offers grim prognosis

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThe Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature this week. The committee was formed in response to 2015 legislation calling for a review of the health insurance plans administered by TRS and recommendations for reforms that would address financial soundness of the plans, cost and affordability, and access to health care providers.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R) and Rep. Dan Flynn (R) co-chaired the committee, joined by four additional members: Sens. Craig Estes (R) and Jane Nelson (R) and Reps. Trent Ashby (R) and Justin Rodriguez (D). The committee held two public hearings earlier this year, and ATPE gave invited testimony in April urging lawmakers to boost state funding in order to catch up with the increased costs that have been shouldered by educators for many years.

TRS-Care

For TRS-Care, the state’s health care plan for retired educators, the committee observed predictions of “alarming” shortfalls over the next four years with about 20,000 educators retiring each year and the cost of health care steadily increasing. For the 2018-19 biennium, a funding shortfall is predicted between $1.3 and $1.5 billion, and the deficit for 2020-21 could be as much as $4 billion. The report states as follows:

“As there appears to be no end to the rising costs and financial woes of TRS-Care, long-term solutions must be pursued immediately. Providing supplemental funding each biennium to keep TRS-Care solvent is no longer feasible or fiscally responsible. Major plan design and/or funding changes must be sought in the 85th Legislative Session.”

The interim committee report outlines two options for retiree health care, both of which are likely to be controversial. The first is a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) and Medicare Advantage Plan that would provide a defined contribution of $400 per month for non-Medicare eligible retirees into a reimbursement account in lieu of health insurance, forcing them to obtain their own coverage through the public exchange. For Medicare eligible retirees, the only state-sponsored option under this plan would be to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for medical benefits and a Medicare Part D plan for prescription drugs. The second proposal from the committee is a High Deductible (HD) and Medicare Advantage Plan. It features a high deductible ($4,000 in-network) health plan similar to TRS-Care 1 for non-Medicare eligible participants. As with the HRA option, Medicare Advantage and Part D would be the only benefits available to Medicare-eligible participants via TRS if the HD plan is implemented.

Even if such dramatic changes are adopted, the committee expressed lingering doubts in its report about long-term sustainability and a need for increased contributions going forward:

“With health care costs currently at an unsustainable level and continuing to rise, the state cannot continue to provide supplemental appropriations to keep TRS-Care solvent. Additionally, the financial contributions necessary to keep TRS-Care solvent in its current form will only increase infinitely. Therefore, the Committee finds that the HRA and HD Plans discussed previously are the most viable and realistic options to address the financial soundness and sustainability of TRS-Care. However, even if significant changes are implemented under the HRA or HD Plan, the TRS-Care fund would still face a shortfall moving forward, although dramatically less than the expected shortfall of $1.3 to $1.5 billion. Thus, to address long-term funding of the plan, the Legislature will have to review, and possibly modify, the current funding contributions from the state, school districts, and retirees, or continue to provide supplemental appropriations each biennium.”

TRS-ActiveCare

For TRS-ActiveCare, the committee report focuses largely on affordability for actively employed educators, especially in the context of a dramatic rise in premiums. In a state as large and diverse as Texas, there are significant disparities in health care costs depending on geographic location. The committee observed that “employees who reside in lower cost geographic areas are subsidizing those in higher cost areas,” but “attempting to establish premiums based on age and/or geographic location would not achieve plan affordability for all members.”

The interim report details a proposed High Deductible (HD) Health Plan (TRS-ActiveCare1-HD) for school districts with 1,000 or fewer employees, with all other districts being forced out of TRS-ActiveCare and left to find their own alternative health care plans for employees. The remaining eligible districts would have an initial opt-out period before locking in their decision to remain in or out of the state’s plan. TRS-ActiveCare 2, TRS-ActiveCare Select, and HMO options would be eliminated. As recommended by the committee, state and district funding for employees would remain static at $75 and $150 (minimum) respectively. ATPE and other groups have long advocated for lawmakers to increase the state’s $75 monthly contribution, which has not changed since the inception of the program in 2001. The committee unfortunately declined to recommend an increase in the state’s share.

Ultimately, the committee concludes that its proposed HD Plan would be “the most viable and realistic option” for addressing health care affordability for active educators, noting however that more districts would be looking at offering their own health care plans in lieu of the state program. The report advises that school employees should drive decisions about TRS-ActiveCare changes going forward:

“However, if school districts and active public education employees adamantly oppose the proposed changes in the HD Plan to curb the affordability problem, TRS-ActiveCare may continue operating under the current model. The fact is, premiums for all plan options will continue to increase as health care costs rise. Nevertheless, districts and employees may still prefer the stability that TRS provides and the multitude of coverage options. The decision to make significant changes to the plan, or continue in its current form, must ultimately be left to the active public education employees. The employees are in the best position to recognize what is in their best interest and the legislature should support them in any way possible.”

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Rep. Justin Rodriguez was the lone committee member who declined to sign the final report. He wrote in a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus (R), “I do not believe the solution requires a significant shifting of the burden onto our TRS retirees and active public education employees who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to develop the next generation of Texans.” Rodriguez added, “I would hope that any proposed solution… would entail a shared, and meaningful, contribution of state resources.”

Rep. Trent Ashby

Rep. Trent Ashby

Committee member Ashby supplemented the report with his own letter aimed at offering additional insights to active and retired educators concerned about the proposals. First and foremost, he called the report “a starting point” for further discussions on how to proceed. Ashby wrote, “Though the report contains options I do not support, I look forward to the responses of active and retired teachers who have opinions on how we can best provide stable footing for the programs in perpetuity.” Ashby added his own warning that absent changes, “the result could be catastrophic. Without action, TRS-Care will eventually fail altogether.”

ATPE similarly cautions that the long-awaited interim study report is merely a recommendation and that no decisions have been made at this point for the future of TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. The 85th legislature will have ample opportunity to solicit and consider feedback from education stakeholders before and during the 2017 legislative session, and ATPE will be there to weigh in and advocate for the very best options for active and retired educators.

Read the full interim committee report here, which includes a number of attachments. We invite you to share your feedback with us on this critically important ATPE legislative priority. As always, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for further analysis and updates as the legislative session approaches.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 21, 2016

As you prepare to cast your vote in the general election, we’ve got the latest in education news updates:


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundYour first chance to vote for pro-public education candidates in the general election begins Monday! Start making plans today to take advantage of the convenience of early voting!

Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 24, and runs through Friday, Nov. 4, with Election Day quickly following on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting is a quick and easy way to avoid the hassle of getting to the polls on Election Day, when voters sometimes face last-minute scheduling conflicts that make getting to the polls difficult or lines at the polls once they arrive. Plus, unlike Election Day voting, early voters do not have to vote at their assigned precinct location; they simply cast a ballot at any early voting location in their county. To find early voting locations and hours in your area, check your local newspaper or contact your local voter registrar’s office.

ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou can read more about voting requirements here, but keep in mind that you must present a valid form of photo identification in order to vote and certain voters qualify for a mail in ballot (for example, those who are 65 years or older or those with disabilities). You can also read about the ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member, is encouraging educators to vote. Many districts and campuses are offering incentives for registered educators and students who wear their “I Voted!” sticker to school!

Before you head to the polls, be sure to check out where your state legislators and your member of the State Board of Education stand on public education issues. Visit our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Make your plans to vote during early voting now!

 


NO VOUCHERSEarlier this week the House Public Education Committee met to discuss vouchers in its final interim hearing before the 85th Legislative Session begins in January. The committee was primarily focused on the two forms of vouchers the Senate is expected to push: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports in his recap here, the House panel ultimately seemed to signal that vouchers of any kind continue to face a difficult road in the committee. However, two members are rolling off the committee, the committee’s chairman and a former educator, both of whom have been valued supporters of Texas public schools.

Meanwhile, the Senate remains focused on its push for school choice in the form of ESAs. At a press conference on Thursday before a gathering of Dallas area business leaders, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick outlined his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities. On education, ESAs topped his list, and he vowed to fight session after session for “school choice” initiatives in Texas. Exter offers a recap of his discussion on ESAs and highlights priorities that would be truly effective here. Also on his agenda of education priorities are bills to curb districts accused of failing to report inappropriate student-teacher relationships, a transgender bathroom bill termed the “Women’s Protection Act,” and fine-tuning of the cameras in the classroom bill passed last session (in order to ensure all districts comply).

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann speaking with KXAN's Phil Prazan this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann speaking with KXAN’s Phil Prazan this week.

For more on this week’s voucher developments, catch a sampling of ATPE in the news. Exter spoke to KVUE after this week’s voucher hearing in the House Public Education Committee and to the Dallas Morning News later in the week. Plus, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann visited with KXAN about ESAs following Patrick’s press conference and ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey sat down with KEYE to talk about Patrick’s education priorities, where “school choice” and vouchers top the list.

 


tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is asking for input on the state’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind. Acknowledging that a significant amount of education decision making was returned to states under the new law, TEA wants to hear from parents, taxpayers, and the public as it determines how the law will affect state policies surrounding accountability, funding, and school improvement, among other major issues.

“The passage of ESSA has created a unique opportunity to inform Texas’ education policy,” stated Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath in a press release issued yesterday. “However, we need input from all parts of our state to ensure that, under ESSA, all students in Texas can receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the future.”

TEA developed a survey for collecting input from the public, titled the ESSA Public Input Survey, which will be open through Nov. 18, 2016. The survey is open to anyone interested in providing input on the state’s implementation of ESSA, and data from the survey will be considered as the state develops its plan. The state must submit a final plan to the federal government by July 2017.

U.S. Dept of Education LogoIn related news, the US Department of Education (ED) released two new pieces of non-binding ESSA guidance this week. First, guidelines on how states can invest in early childhood education under the new law, among other things, provides clarification that funding under Title II can be used for professional development for prekindergarten teachers. The second set of guidelines outlines how states can use funding under a new block grant program: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. According ED, the new block grant is intended to help states “1) provide all students with access to a well-rounded education, 2) improve school conditions for student learning, and 3) improve the use of technology in order  to improve the academic achievement and digital literacy of all students.” Access the early education guidance here and guidance on the block grant program here.

 


Many teachers across the state are getting used to a new teacher evaluation system: the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). The new system is in its first year of implementation statewide as the state’s new recommended evaluation system (districts have the option to create their own evaluation systems, but the vast majority of districts use the state-recommended system). Recently, two ATPE state office staff members observed the training that T-TESS appraisers receive and brought back practical tips to assist Texas educators currently navigating the new system. Head over to the ATPE Blog to see Part 1 and Part 2 of the series called “Navigating the T-TESS,” and be sure to check back for helpful tips ahead.

Also, as a reminder, don’t forget to utilize our T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org, where you’ll find details on the T-TESS design, history of the changes, links to news articles, and additional resources.

 


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. 30, 2016

Here is this week’s Teach the Vote wrap-up of education news:


School funding was the center of attention at the Texas State Capitol this week as legislators held interim hearings to consider education-related budget requests and the possibility of changes to the state’s school finance system next session.

Education related hearings began on Tuesday this with week with the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s education staff holding a series of joint budget hearings where they heard from TEA, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and TRS. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath laid out TEA’s appropriations request including exceptional items. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie delivered a presentation on his agency’s appropriations request which covered the trust fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare.

Budget related hearings continued on Wednesday and Thursday as the House Appropriations and House Public Education Committees held a two-day joint hearing on school finance. On day one of the hearing, the committees heard from four panels of invited witnesses covering the following topics: an overview of the school finance system, litigation, and revenue; additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR); recapture; and district adjustments. On day two, the committees heard from an additional three panels of invited witnesses as well as approximately 60 public testifiers, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. The final three panels of invited testimony covered student adjustments, facilities funding, and school finance options for the 85th session.

Note: we will update this post with a link to footage of day two of the joint hearing on school finance as soon as archived video becomes available from the state.


RegisterToVoteOctober 11 is the last day to register to vote (or update your registration if you’ve recently moved) if you plan to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. On our blog this week, we shared a post from ATPE with recommendations from a Texas teacher on how to engage students this election season. Don’t forget that students who will be 18 years old on Election Day can register, too!

Find out more about the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by visiting our 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote. Our candidate profiles are designed to inform voters about the candidates’ views on public education. They include incumbents’ voting records and candidates’ responses to our survey about major education issues. Several candidates vying for contested seats this fall have recently answered our survey, so check out the profiles for races in your area to find out where your candidates stand. Remember also that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for candidates of any party or independent candidates in the November general election.

Your vote is your voice!


Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced this week plans to resign from her House seat in January. Dukes cited lingering health problems following an automobile accident in 2013 in which she injured her back. She has recently been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that she misused state funds and her legislative office employees for personal work. Dukes has had a long record of supporting pro-public education legislation since taking office in 1994, but health issues resulted in her being absent for a good part of the last legislative session. ATPE thanks Rep. Dukes for her service and wishes her a full recovery. If Dukes is re-elected in November, Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy upon her resignation.

 


With the legislative session just a few months away, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is among a host of elected officials making the rounds to tout private school vouchers as a civil rights imperative. He and other Republican senators have given public speeches, appeared on panels at recent events such as the Texas Tribune Festival, and implored their legislative colleagues to support an especially alarming form of voucher known as an Education Savings Account (ESA). ESA programs call for the state to give public funds directly to parents, often in the form of debit cards that can be used for any education-related expense on behalf of their children, including paying for home schooling or private school costs.

Dr. Charles Luke, who heads the Coalition for Public Schools of which ATPE is a member, penned an opinion piece for the Waco Tribune this week in which he debunks the “school choice as a civil right” myth. Luke writes that “vouchers disguised as ‘school choice’ have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income,” citing voucher programs that began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954.

NO VOUCHERSESAs and other voucher proposals fail to create any legitimate options for educationally disadvantaged students, as Luke points out, especially without any requirement that private schools accepting vouchers adhere to state and federal laws that prevent discrimination, protect students with special needs, and impose accountability standards. Private and parochial schools have generally balked at the notion of complying with the same laws as public schools — such as requirements for student testing, providing transportation, and admitting all students regardless of disability, race, or other factors — in exchange for taxpayer funds. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sitting on a panel at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival, pointed out the practical impossibility of ensuring that ESA funds are spent appropriately. She expressed serious doubt that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff would have the necessary resources to scrutinize receipts submitted by parents to back up expenditures made using an ESA.

A much more realistic plan for helping all students, and especially those living in poverty, would be to improve the state’s school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional but deemed only “minimally” acceptable. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the need for lawmakers to increase the weights in our state’s current school finance system, along with creating a new funding weight that would account for campuses with particularly high concentrations of students with greater needs. Campus-based weighted funding of this nature would help districts such as Austin ISD that are forced to share their local tax revenue through the current recapture system on account of having elevated local property values but also include campuses with high populations of students in poverty and English language learners.  Houston ISD, another district negatively affected by recapture, is waiting to see if its voters will reject a local property tax increase next month, which would force the state to reallocate Houston’s tax base toward other school districts. An HISD representative testified at Wednesday’s school finance hearing that nearly 80 percent of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged. Read more about the Houston district’s dilemma here.

With marathon hearings on school finance taking place at the Capitol this week, stay tuned to find out if lawmakers are receptive to making any significant changes next session.

 


Joaquin_Castro_TribFest16

Members of the ATPE lobby team met with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) during last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival to discuss Social Security and other education issues. Pictured from left to right are ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, Castro, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.