Tag Archives: John Otto

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

HPE02-21-17

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.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

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.

 

Education investment: The key to real tax relief

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

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

So.

Does your tax bill look any better?

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

Why is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both chambers release versions of proposed Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed yesterday that Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) will continue to serve as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 85th legislative session. Upon her reappointment, Sen. Nelson filed the Senate’s budget bill, Senate Bill 1.  SB 1 spends $103.6 billion in state revenue over the next two years, which is $1.3 billion less than the Comptroller’s 2018 and 2019 revenue projection.

The Senate issued a press release highlighting the fact that the budget includes “$2.65 billion to cover enrollment growth in public schools and $32 million more for high-quality pre-k programs.” This is $86 million less than the additional $118 million that would be needed to extend current pre-k funding to cover both years of the upcoming biennium.

Girl showing bank notesAs filed, SB 1 represents a continuation of current school funding formulas. However, according to the Senate press release, Nelson calls  “making sure the school finance system better meets the needs of students” a critical decision to be made by lawmakers this session.

Other specific items outlined in the budget per the SB 1 press release include:

  • $1 billion to address state hospital and mental health facility needs;
  • $63 million to clear the waitlist for community mental health services;
  • $20 million for a program to help veterans dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues;
  • $260 million to improve Child Protective Services;
  • $25 million for high caliber bulletproof vests for Texas law enforcement officers;
  • $800 million for border security measures approved last session; and
  • A 1.5 percent across-the-board spending reduction for all expenditures not related to public education.

The Senate press release on SB 1 can be found here.

On the House side, Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named which representative will replace former Rep. John Otto (R – Dayton) as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Otto did not seek re-election in 2016. Still, the House did release its version of a plan for the base budget yesterday, too. The Speaker’s press release touts the House budget plan as one that “puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.”

The House budget proposal:

  • Funds enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years;
  • Includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system; and
  • Includes $108.9 billion in general revenue.

The Speaker’s press release can be found here.

Legislative Update: Senate committee approves “A through F;” House hears payroll deduction; suicide and early education bills progress while reform bills languish

The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:


“A THROUGH F” SCHOOL RATINGS

Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ’”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”

This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.


OTHER BILLS IN THE SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.

PAYROLL DEDUCTION

The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.

STATE BUDGET

Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.

BILLS IN THE HOUSE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.

In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

There have been major developments on a couple of bills ATPE supported this session pertaining to early childhood education. First, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

BILLS IN JEOPARDY

A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.

Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.


This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

School finance, you were always on my mind

A few years after the very first school finance lawsuit was filed in Texas, Gwen Mcrae and Brenda Lee recorded the first version of a song later made famous by Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind. Now, I am too young to remember the early version, and every time I think of that song, I hear the red-headed stranger. So, as you read this post, let Willie’s Always on My Mind play along in the background of your thoughts. I bring up the country crooner’s classic hit because this morning as I sat in yet another press conference discussing the need to “fix” the system by which Texas funds public education, I couldn’t help but think, “School finance, you are always on my mind — even when I don’t want you to be.”

Always the friend of Texas schoolchildren, House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don  Aycock (R-Killeen) has decided that the 84th Legislature should not wait on the Texas Supreme Court to issue a final ruling in the ongoing school finance lawsuit before attempting to make progress on school finance reform. This Wednesday morning, Chairman Aycock, flanked by a diverse and bipartisan group of House members including House Appropriations Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton), described to an anxious crowd of education stakeholders and press his intention to advance a school finance bill this session. It was a surprising and obviously press-worthy announcement, considering that the general consensus going into this session was that the legislature would not act on school finance until sometime next year after a Supreme Court ruling.

Aycock press conf 03-25-15

The specifics of the new finance plan have yet to be disclosed. House Bill 1759 will be the vehicle; the bill in its current form is merely a shell that will be fleshed out soon with more details. At this morning’s press conference, Chairman Aycock focused on discussing the importance of updating many of the antiquated aspects of the overall school finance system, including the Cost of Education Index (CEI). The CEI was first utilized in 1991, was based on 1990 cost data, and hasn’t been updated since then. Most, if not all, of the weights, allotments, and adjustments that have been used to calculate how much funding each student receives are not research-based; they instead reflect whatever the political will was at the time of adoption. In other words, there is no sound basis for our state’s education allocations, and the flaws in the system have clearly resulted in under-funding rather than over-funding.

Chairman Aycock pointed out this morning how Texas is almost last in the country in per-pupil expenditures and how this has a serious effect on instruction. What he did not mention is that Texas is absolutely dead last in spending on employee benefits when measured on a per-pupil basis. These political decisions in Austin have a real-world effect on each and every child and each and every school employee. It is why many children remain in crowded classrooms with outdated instructional materials, and why public education employees pay significantly more for health insurance than their private sector counterparts. Elections have consequences, and the elections of late in Texas have resulted in a education funding system only slightly better than the worst states.

Public school finance is an extremely volatile issue, even in the legislature where factions do not simply divide Republicans and Democrats, but also urban and rural districts, rich and poor districts, and those policymakers who acknowledge the problems we face versus those with their heads in the sand. The good news is that this issue is getting the attention it deserves in the Texas House, along with an additional $800 million in new dollars that will be tied to today’s proposal. The not-so-good news is that there is a chasm between the House and Senate versions of the budget, with the Senate showing no intention of increasing funding for public education or addressing the overall school finance system at this time.

Maybe it is appropriate that I couldn’t help but think of Willie pouring out a heartfelt plea to some unidentified stranger while our state leaders talked about the needs of our schools. Maybe those lyrics pining over lost opportunities aren’t merely about love lost. Or maybe I have simply sat through one too many committee hearings, read one too many press statements on our children’s needs, and am relying a little too heavily on cheap coffee. Regardless, the fact remains that this is a perennial issue too often settled by compromise based on the lowest common denominator —finding solutions that present the lowest possible cost, both in terms of actual tax dollars and political capital, instead of listening to what practitioners in the field know our state needs in order for its schools to be successful.

Today’s announcement that the House of Representatives will get to work on this issue is encouraging. Here’s to Chairmen Aycock and Otto, Speaker Joe Straus, and the rest of the House taking this proposal and moving forward in the direction of creating a public education system that is worthy of a state as great as Texas.

More legislators express support for funding retired educators’ healthcare

As we reported yesterday, Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, announced this week that the House budget will contain full funding for TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired educators.

Soon thereafter, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who chairs the corresponding Senate Finance Committee, was quoted as saying, “It is important to several members, myself included, that we devote resources to TRS-Care and our teachers. The Senate Finance Committee is working very hard on these and other budget issues.”

Today, Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), who chairs the House Committee on Pensions that oversees the Teacher Retirement System, joined the chorus of legislators pledging support for increasing educators’ healthcare funding. Flynn stated in part, “I am glad that the House is going to address the shortage of funding for retiree health care over the next two years as we continue to assess long-term solutions in my committee for those who served our state and our school children for so many years.”

House budget leader: Retirees’ healthcare will be fully funded

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton) announced this morning that the House budget will contain full funding for the program that provides health insurance to retired public school employees, TRS-Care.

TRS-Care covers more than 240,000 retired education employees and is projected to run out of funding in 2016 if the state does not intervene. Although it is still very early in the process of developing the state budget, Chairman Otto’s pledge means that $768 million will be included in the House version of the state’s 2016-17 budget. The Senate’s version of the budget does not currently include this amount; however, Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has indicated that she is willing to work toward finding a solution to the funding crisis.

ATPE has testified in front of both the House and Senate budget committees this session calling upon the state to act now to increase funding for both active educators’ and retirees’ health insurance programs. Increasing healthcare funding was also one of the legislative priorities discussed at ATPE’s Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day activities earlier this week. Many ATPE members visited the Capitol on Monday to share ATPE’s message about the need to properly fund TRS-Care and ActiveCare.

Both programs are facing financial problems largely because state funding for both TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare has seriously lagged the actual cost of coverage and typical employer contribution rates. Active education employees’ health insurance funding from the state has not changed since 2001, remaining at $75 per employee per month. State funding for retirees’ health insurance was temporarily reduced in 2011 and has not followed health insurance trends.

The state budget is not expected to be finalized until May, so there are still many weeks of negotiations left. ATPE will continue delivering the message that it is vital that these programs be properly addressed by the state. We encourage each of you to contact your elected officials to share your personal experience as an educator dealing with employee health insurance costs, and urge the state to increase its contributions to both programs.

Legislative Update: TX Congressman pursues Social Security fix, NCLB talks continue in Washington, plus more TX Legislature news

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has re-filed his “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act” this week. H.R. 711 is a bill to address the controversial Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) in federal law that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some educators may receive. As we reported when it was first introduced in November, Brady’s legislation would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady on this proposed legislation. Read our most recent letter in support of the bill, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as we work to get the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act passed.


Congress continues to discuss reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is strong bipartisan support for giving states more spending flexibility and room to construct their own policies around issues such as accountability system designs, educator qualifications, and evaluations. Despite the public backlash over standardized testing, many in Congress still favor keeping the requirement for annual testing of most students, which is expected to be the key focus of the ongoing debates.

ATPE has submitted testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in conjunction with its recent hearings, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” and “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” We also weighed in on the discussion draft of a reauthorization bill proposed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), deemed the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” Earlier this week, the Senate committee also hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Testimony included a discussion of various innovative ideas that have been tested in schools around the nation, including alternatives to traditional school environments, professional learning communities for teachers, improving students’ morale in order to foster discipline, blended learning models, and dropout prevention strategies.

On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has filed another proposal to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. The bill is H.R. 5, coauthored by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), and known as the “Student Success Act.” It is a revival of a 2013 House proposal that similarly aims to give states more control over school accountability and funding decisions, while also promoting charter school expansion. Kline’s bill is scheduled for a committee markup on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Watch for additional information about the House proposal on Teach the Vote next week.


As we reported Wednesdaythis week, members of the Texas House of Representatives learned their committee assignments for the 84th session. While the House Public Education Committee chairmanship remained unchanged from last session, there are some new faces heading other important committees that handle education-related bills. Rep. John Otto (R–Dayton), an accountant by profession, takes over the House Appropriations Committee, which has budget oversight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus also tapped Rep. Dan Flynn (R–Van) to chair the House Pensions Committee, which oversees matters related to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE looks forward to working with all the new and returning chairs this session.


Early voting begins Monday for special election runoffs in four legislative districts with vacancies. Voters in House Districts 13, 17, and 123, along with Senate District 26, are urged to familiarize themselves with the candidates and cast an early vote. Visit our 2014 Races pages to view profiles of the candidates.