Tag Archives: Larry Taylor

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersOn Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, a voucher bill by the committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is among the lieutenant governor’s highest priorities to pass this legislative session, and educators are being urged to contact their senators to oppose this bill. ATPE members can use our communication tools at Advocacy Central to quickly message their senators about this bill.

NO VOUCHERSAs reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in a blog post earlier this week, SB 3 has been called a “school voucher on steroids,” because it authorizes both Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for parents to spend on their children’s home or private schooling and tax credit scholarships to pay for private schools. To learn more about the dangers of these two programs, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent analysis of the bill here.

The Senate Education Committee had originally planned to hear SB 3 this week, but the voucher bill was postponed to next Tuesday. During yesterday’s hearing, the committee instead heard testimony on three bills pertaining to reporting on counselors, the use of epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) in private schools, and the sequencing of high school math and English courses. ATPE supported SB 490 that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus, which is aimed at collecting data on counseling in order to better understand the role counselors play on a campus.

 


HPE_03-14-17On Tuesday, March 14, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins in a blog post this week. ATPE weighed in on a number of the bills that included such subjects as curriculum standards, pre-kindergarten programs, and the school start date.

Next week, the committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, March 20, to consider bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the importance of high-quality mentoring for new teachers. The full committee’s hearing on Tuesday, March 21, will cover two dozen bills, including a number of measures aimed at changing the state’s accountability system. The highest profile bill on that list is House Bill (HB) 22 by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) to modify the controversial “A through F” accountability grading system. The committee also plans to resume its discussion of the chairman’s school finance reform bill, HB 21.

 


cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundAlso this week, Congress got its first formal look at President Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget. As expected, the 2018 budget proposal includes significant cuts to education funding as a whole and significant increases to initiatives preferred by the president. Trump’s plan includes an overall $9 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education while a total of $1.4 billion would be added to fund charter school expansion, Title I funding portability, and likely vouchers. Read more about President Trump’s budget proposal as well as the latest developments involving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s most recent federal update blog post.

 


As the both chambers of the 85th Legislature continue to work on their respective budget proposals, the full Senate Finance committee met this week to adopt the suggestions of its subject area work groups, including the Article III work group on public and higher education.

The full Senate Finance Committee cut an additional 276 million net dollars in programmatic and grant funding out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) budget. Those cuts are in addition to programmatic cuts not related to the Foundation School Program (FSP) already found in the Senate’s base budget bill as filed. The largest cuts were a net cut of $140 million from non-formula pre-K funding, $104.6 million out of the Instructional Materials Allotment, and $47.5 million from the New Instructional Facilities Allotment. The cuts to all other programs in TEA’s budget totaled approximately $37 million and included things like substantial cuts to the Math and Reading Academies.

The Senate did add dollars to some TEA programs above its introduced budget. The additions totaled approximately $50 million and included items like $25.2 million for the E-rate program that will draw down a $250 million federal match to provide broadband to school districts currently lacking it; $391,000 on two additional investigators and one support staff member to address cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students investigated by TEA; and $10 million restored to the Student Success Initiative, which had been zeroed out in the introduced budget.

While TEA program and grant funding took the largest cuts ($276 million) this week, TRS got the biggest boost, a net increase of $290 million over the Senate’s introduced bill after additions and cuts. The Senate added $316 million in funding for TRS-Care contingent on the passage of legislation that makes significant structural changes to the retiree healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, the House adopted very few changes to its version of the proposed public education budget this week, but did adopt one very important contingency rider. That rider would allow an additional $1.47 billion of General Revenue to be appropriated to the FSP; for the Basic Allotment to be increased from $5,140 to $5,350; and for implementation of a statutory FSP payment deferral in fiscal year 2019 which reduces the cost of the budget by $1.87 billion. The rider is contingent on the passage of school finance legislation such as Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB 21 plus a bill that would enact the FSP deferral. ATPE has advocated for such a deferral to help address budget deficits this session.

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

Related: Read a recently published op-ed by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, in which he urges lawmakers to consider using the state’s rainy day fund to address imminent education funding needs.

Also check out this Spectrum News story in which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is interviewed about the Senate’s proposed pre-K cuts.

 


In other news this week:

The Texas Senate passed another of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through Senate Bill (SB) 6. The controversial bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts and other governmental entities was approved by a vote of 21-10, despite considerable public opposition to the measure.

Among the flurry of new bills filed just before last Friday’s deadline for lawmakers to submit new legislation were two TRS-related bills that have caused a minor stir on social media. Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) SB 1750 and SB 1751 revive the concept of converting the TRS defined-benefit pension plan in the future to a defined contribution program, more like a 401(k) plan, or a hybrid of the two. The first bill calls only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would authorize TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. At this point, there are no indications that SB 1751 will gain traction this session when lawmakers are much more focused on the funding challenges associated with the TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about the bill this week by Spectrum News.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

The Senate also voted unanimously this week to confirm Donna Bahorich’s continuation as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Bahorich was first elected to the SBOE in 2012, and she has held the role of board chair, a gubernatorial appointment, since 2015. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was also confirmed.

 


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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 3, 2017

ATPE members are heading to Austin this weekend to advocate for their profession. Here’s a look at the current climate for education policy and politics in Texas:


With voucher interest on the rise in Washington, DC, all signs point to public opinion in Texas being mixed, at best, about the idea of privatizing education. More Texans seems to have insurmountable concerns about using public tax dollars to fund private or home schools, whether the objection is the lack of accountability on the part of those entities, the belief that public schools will suffer from a reduction in their funding, or the fear that vouchers will lead to government intrusion into private institutions that have not historically had to worry about being regulated.

This week on our blog, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared information about two voucher bills filed at the federal level. Both the proposed “Choices in Education Act of 2017” (H.R. 610) and the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or CHOICE Act (S. 235) have members of the Texas congressional delegation as cosponsors. Also, President Trump has voiced clear support for funding vouchers at the federal level.

Kuhlmann and Sampley at Tribune 02-28-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann and Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley attended Tuesday’s Texas Tribune interview with Rep. Dan Huberty.

In Texas, however, the outlook for vouchers is darker. On Tuesday, ATPE helped sponsor the Texas Tribune‘s interview with Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Asked about the likelihood of voucher bills being considered this session, Huberty expressed his belief that vouchers are a dead issue on the House side, as noted in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. (Click here for video of the exchange between Huberty and the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.)

Huberty’s remark drew ire from supporters of the so-called “school choice” legislation that both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have prioritized this session. Pro-voucher groups like Texans for Education Opportunity have been using robo-calls and letters to try to urge House members to take a vote this session on vouchers, and now they are hoping to convince the state’s Republican Party to discipline Chairman Huberty over his anti-voucher sentiments.

Also this week, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) held a press conference with a gaggle of other state representatives to tout his House Bill 1335 that would fund vouchers for at-risk students or those with special needs through an Education Savings Account (ESA). That bill has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which Huberty chairs.

The voucher debate is one of several high-profile education issues being discussed today during another event hosted by the Texas Tribune. In Houston, both Chairman Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) are participating in “A Symposium on Public Education,” where their differing views on vouchers are being showcased. Huberty and Taylor will have a chance to debate the issue again on Sunday when the two of them will sit on a panel of legislative leaders speaking during ATPE at the Capitol.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for an update.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The agenda includes a discussion of the possibility of adding a new certificate for teachers of early childhood education. As we reported on our blog recently, the Texas Education Agency solicited input from stakeholders about the idea and will share the results of those surveys at today’s meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there and will have a detailed report for our blog after today’s SBEC meeting.

 


On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee conducted an initial hearing on school finance. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote a summary of the hearing, which featured invited testimony from panelists representing several school districts. The committee will be meeting again next Tuesday, March 7, to hear a handful of bills pertaining to school funding mechanisms. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has also announced that he will introduce a new school finance bill on Monday. Huberty and Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee report that they are working together to craft some ideas for improving the state’s school finance system, but they also concede that it will likely take multiple legislative sessions to solve the current problems.

 


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

This week, the Texas Senate Committee on Nominations had an opportunity to review the performance of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and State Board of Education (SBOE) chairwoman Donna Bahorich. Bachorich is an elected member of the SBOE but has been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the board’s chair. The commissioner is an appointed position.

Chairwoman Bahorich and Commissioner Morath both gave testimony before the Senate Nominations Committee yesterday in support of their respective confirmations. Both were fairly well received by the committee members.

Chairwoman Bahorich in particular, who has chaired the board through one of its least contentious periods in recent memory, received a warm reception with only short positive interactions from the senators and no opposition from public testifiers.

While receiving plenty of support from the committee members, Commissioner Morath drew tougher questions from multiple senators on the new A-F accountability system. Additionally, the commissioner drew much more criticism from the public on issues as diverse as special education, hiring decisions at the Texas Education Agency that he oversees, and his own qualifications and appointment process.

While both nominations were left pending in the committee, there is no indication that either appointee will face any serious opposition in the Senate to getting confirmed this session.

 


ATPE at the Capitol squreSunday and Monday, hundreds of ATPE members are traveling to Austin for ATPE at the Capitol, our biennial political involvement training and lobby day event. Sunday’s agenda includes networking opportunities and training sessions for ATPE members on legislative issues; an opening keynote presentation by Superintendent John Kuhn; and a panel discussion with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) to be moderated by TWC/Spectrum News host Karina Kling. On Monday, ATPE members will visit the Texas State Capitol for meetings with their legislators to discuss issues such as education funding, testing and accountability, privatization, healthcare, and anti-educator bills prohibiting payroll deduction for association dues.

 


 

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

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

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

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

 


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

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

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

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

 


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

Texas Senate committee assignments for the 85th legislature

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released his Senate committee assignments yesterday for the 85th Legislature.

As expected, Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will continue to chair the Senate Education Committee, and Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) will continue to serve as vice-chair. Senators Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carols Uresti (D-San Antonio) were added to the committee in lieu of Senators Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) who served on the committee last session but were not reappointed. The number of committee members stays the same, but the balance of power is tilted further toward Republicans who picked up a seat while Democrats lost one. Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Van Taylor (R-Plano), and Royce West (D-Dallas) make up the remainder of the committee.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, which is expected to receive Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority Senate Bill (SB) 13 to ban payroll deduction for educators, also maintains a chair in Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), but newly elected Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) will take over as vice-chair. Chairwoman Huffman is the author of SB 13 and authored and passed out of her committee the same bill last session.

View all of the Senate committee assignments here.

 

From The Texas Tribune: Amid STAAR Upheaval, Panel Working on Fixes

Tribune_STAAR_Classroom_jpg_312x1000_q100

As displeasure with Texas’ standardized testing regime mounts, all eyes are on a special panel the Legislature created last year to figure out whether to scrap the widely reviled STAAR exam.

The 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, scheduled for its second-to-last meeting Monday, has been studying alternatives to the high-stakes tests, which state law requires 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers to pass to move to the next grade level or to graduate. The panel includes a diverse mix of educators, elected officials, business leaders and anti-testing activists.

Its work couldn’t be better timed, with parents and school officials up in arms over wide-ranging problems reported with this spring’s STAAR administration — issues that prompted Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Friday to waive the requirement that 5th and 8th pass the tests to move on to the next grade. The panel first convened in January, the month after Congress passed a new federal law giving states far more freedom to determine what their testing and accountability systems should look like. And many educators, parents and elected officials agree that major overhauls are necessary, even if they don’t entirely agree on what they should be.

Commission members have expressed high hopes for devising meaningful changes to a system that assesses students and holds them and schools accountable. Many view that system as unnecessarily stressful, overly punitive and developmentally inappropriate. Their recommendations are due to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature by Sept. 1.

“I really am excited about the potential for this,” said commission member and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in an interview ahead of the panel’s April meeting. “It’s really a varied group with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds on there, and it’s what I had envisioned as far as having a meaningful dialogue of stakeholders that bring their own perspectives to it and try to come up with some type of consensus.”

Teacher, school and parent groups also have been excited by the opportunity to make big changes. But some say their hope for revolutionary reform has waned over the months — particularly after the panel’s May meeting, when members struggled to hammer out a list of recommendations. Several panelists said it will be crucial to make progress at Monday’s meeting, as they are set to finalize their guidance at a meeting in July.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said it quickly became clear after the panel’s first monthly meeting that it was not looking to eliminate statewide testing and that it would likely keep STAAR, or something like it, in the lower grades.

“I do think they will reach consensus around some areas,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s probably going to be groundbreaking.”

The federal government has required states to assess students in grades 3 through 8 annually and once in high school since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 — at least if they want to receive federal funding. Many other states are also tinkering with their testing plans amid pressure from parents to reduce testing time and make the overall experience less taxing.

The commission has coalesced around some larger concepts, such as the importance of accounting for improvement in student scores; that exams should be more developmentally appropriate and diagnostic rather than summative; and that there should be multiple different measures of student performance with consequences for poor outcomes falling more heavily on teachers and administrators than on students. But they have struggled with specifics, getting hung up on recommendations that would cost districts a lot of time or money or pose other problems.

Scott Placek, an Austin-area lawyer representing a group of parents who recently sued the state over STAAR, said they are concerned by the interest panelists have expressed in having a series of smaller assessments throughout the year rather than one big, end-of-year exam. (Education Commissioner Mike Morath also has expressed support for the concept.)

“Some of the things that have been discussed in terms of more continual assessment, more data-driven assessment, you know, it’s concerning to parents who I think believe the system is already too data-driven,” said Placek, adding that his own son struggled with STAAR. 

“I think that parents were initially very supportive of the idea of re-examining assessment,” he added. “I think as the work of the commission has gone on, that’s sort of shifted to caution and suspicion.”

Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, the panel’s chairman, said he’s tried to remind the panel that many of the things under discussion — including smaller, diagnostic assessments throughout the year — have been tried and rejected before.

“This is a very complex topic,” he said. ”There’s not, in my opinion, one silver-bullet solution that’s going to meet the needs of various constituents out there in our state, and … it probably merits further discussion going forward even beyond the commission.”

He also said that there’s a desire among educators to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or risk overcorrecting the problem.

Taylor, too, said he’s “not huge on reinventing the wheel.” Still, he foresees a potentially “massive” impact from the commission’s work, including possibly getting rid of the five end-of-course exams high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can graduate and instead using an exam like the SAT or ACT. Nearly half of all states now require students to take either of these two college entrance exams in lieu of, or in addition to, some other type of test, according to a 2015-16 Education Week survey.

“I don’t want this to just be an exercise of what ifs,” Taylor said.

Panel member Theresa Treviño, president of the influential anti-testing group Texans Advocating For Meaningful Student Assessment, said the recommendations the panel will make “are probably not as grand as I would have hoped” but that she still thinks they will make an impact.

“I think it’s going to be more than a tweak, which is what I was really afraid of,” she said. “I’m hoping that with this next meeting we can sit down and hammer out those recommendations that could make a bigger difference and they don’t have to be huge.”

Commission member and outgoing House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said striking an appropriate balance has been challenging but that he thinks the commission will produce recommendations to “get rid of some of the craziness” that has created such a stressful testing environment, including some high-stakes provisions. 

Even if the panel does recommend big changes, some teacher and school groups worry they may fall victim to House-Senate gridlock next year, with leadership already publicly butting heads over public education priorities. 

“The work of the commission will have a challenging road ahead of it in the 85th session,” said education lobbyist David Anderson.


Last week, after House Speaker Joe Straus directed representatives to study improvements to the state’s school funding system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a vocal school choice proponent — issued a news release that praised Straus’ move but also said it “must be packaged with education reform.”

Amy Beneski, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said that even if the recommended changes are smaller, they still could make a huge difference.

“The bottom line is, the majority of people I’ve ever talked to aren’t happy with the current system, and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re just going to have to keep plugging away. This is hard work.”

 


Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/11/amid-staar-upheaval-panel-working-fixes/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 4, 2015

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from Texas and beyond:


This week the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step forward in the longstanding effort to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The new compromise, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 359 to 64.

The ESSA would do away with controversial federal accountability mandates, such as the requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress that have stymied states and school districts for years, forcing Texas and most other states to seek waivers. Under the new law, states would have more authority for creating their own accountability systems and sanctions but would still be required to test students in many grades. The bill aims to drastically reduce the federal government’s control over education policies by preventing federal mandates such as national curriculum standards (e.g. Common Core) and the types of conditional funding grants (e.g. Race To The Top) that have prevailed under the current administration.

During Wednesday’s tally, all of the opposing votes in the House were cast by Republicans, including nine members of the Texas delegation who voted against the ESSA: Reps. Brian Babin, John Culberson, Blake Farenthold, Louie Gohmert, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Ted Poe, John Ratcliffe, and Randy Weber.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) quickly issued statements praising the passage of the ESSA on Wednesday. Kline said, “Today, we helped turn the page on a flawed law and a failed approach to K-12 education.” Scott called the vote “an embodiment of what we can achieve here in Washington – a workable compromise that does not force either side to desert its core beliefs.”

The bill as passed by the House represents a compromise between earlier reauthorization bills filed in the House and Senate respectively, but the final negotiated version more closely resembles the Senate’s draft. For that reason, it is expected that the ESSA will receive approval from the U.S. Senate next week, with plans to take up the measure on Tuesday, and be headed to President Obama’s desk for signature in short order. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE’s Austin and Washington-based lobby teams.


The Center for Public Policy Priorities has scheduled a free webinar next week to discuss its new Texas Education Scorecard. The interactive web tool is intended to help Texans compare how various counties are faring in areas such as school readiness, education funding, and transitions to college. To participate in the webinar at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 9, click here to register.


Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday that he has appointed Josh McGee of Houston, Stephanie Leibe of Austin, and Ernest Richards of Irving to serve on the Pension Review Board. McGee will serve as presiding officer of the board, which reviews all public retirement systems in Texas for actuarial soundness and compliance with state law. Liebe and Richards are both attorneys. The appointment of McGee is controversial because of his position as vice president with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that has actively advocated for legislation that many believe would weaken public retirement systems around the country; the foundation staff’s recommendations in many states have included such changes as converting defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans. In the governor’s press release about the appointments, Abbott’s office described McGee somewhat differently, as one who “leads the organization’s nationwide efforts to improve retirement security.” The appointment quickly raised eyebrows among ATPE and other stakeholder groups that represent public employees, such as the Texas Retired Teachers Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. Read more about why the appointment is controversial in Ross Ramsey’s editorial today for The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

The governor’s recent appointments to education-related committees do appear to signal his continuing interest in reform agendas. As we reported last month, Abbott chose Dallas ISD board member Mike Morath, an outspoken proponent of home rule charter districts, to lead the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. (As an interesting side note, it was widely reported that the Morath-supported move to try to convert Dallas ISD to a home rule charter district last year was financed by John Arnold, founder of the aforementioned Arnold Foundation.) Abbott also generated unfavorable and national media attention after tapping home-school advocate Donna Bahorich to chair the State Board of Education; Bahorich previously worked as a staff member for Dan Patrick prior to his election as lieutenant governor. The latest appointment of another member of the reform crowd is certain to fuel ongoing speculation on whom the governor might select as a new commissioner of education.


With the holidays right around the corner, next week features a busy schedule of high-profile hearings dealing with education issues.

First, on Monday, Dec. 7, the Senate Education Committee will conduct a public hearing to address two of its interim charges. The committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor, will take up the issues of charter schools and dealing with inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. ATPE will be providing testimony at the hearing and will report on the meeting in detail next week. The Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief will also conduct an organizational meeting on Monday; no testimony will be taken. Additionally, the TRS Board of Trustees will meet in Richardson, Texas, on Monday; view its agenda here.

On Friday, Dec. 11, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) holds its next regular meeting. (SBEC’s Committee on Educator Discipline will meet on the afternoon of Dec. 10.) SBEC’s lengthy agenda for Friday includes revisiting a controversial proposal to change the requirements for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The revised rule, which ATPE opposed, was struck down by the State Board of Education last month after SBOE members heard testimony from ATPE and other education groups concerned about watering down the superintendent certification standards. Stay tuned for updates from the SBEC meeting next week.

As always, we encourage you to follow Teach the Vote and our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the latest developments.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 20, 2015

It’s been a busy week for education ThinkstockPhotos-144283240policy watchers in Texas and around the country. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and members of our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the very latest. Here are updates on the week’s big news stories that you might have missed:

 


 

The outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which should have been reauthorized back in 2007, is finally a step closer to being updated. Yesterday, a bipartisan conference committee in the U.S. House and Senate voted 39 to 1 to move forward a negotiated reauthorization bill.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a recap of the conference committee action for our blog both Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The full text of the negotiated bill has not yet been released, but we will provide updates on our blog as soon as that occurs.

The full House will take up the bill on Dec. 2 or 3; there is no scheduled date for Senate floor debate, but leaders expect the discussions to proceed quickly with a goal of getting a bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.


 

The State Board of Education met this week in Austin. Its agenda included review of a recent SBEC decision to change the qualifications for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE opposed the SBEC rule change, which would allow individuals with no education experience to become certified. Texas law provides for all SBEC rules to be reviewed by the elected SBOE, which may veto a rule by a two-thirds vote. Today was one of those rare occurrences in which the SBOE voted to reject the SBEC rule and send it back to the certification board for further revision.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, the Texas Association of School Administrators, other education group representatives, and education experts testified against the SBEC proposal, arguing that an existing waiver process, tweaked by the legislature just this year, already provides a mechanism for non-traditional superintendents to be hired in exceptional circumstances. The SBOE board agreed, voting 10 to 5 in favor of rejecting the rule and sending it back to SBEC. The motion was made today by board member Thomas Ratliff (R).

SBOE has the statutory power to reject SBEC rules but cannot modify them. The last time an SBEC rule was vetoed was in September 2014, when ATPE also successfully lobbied the SBOE to reject a proposal to water down entrance requirements for educator preparation programs. The SBOE veto today means that SBEC must now choose whether to stick with current rules on superintendent certification or rewrite the rule revision and send it back to SBOE for another review.

This week, the SBOE also considered adopting a new definition to try to qualify those who may sit on panels to review textbooks and instructional materials. As with the review of curriculum standards, the board’s procedures for reviewing and adopting textbooks have faced immense scrutiny over the years, often plagued by disputes over political ideologies. Recent news stories about inaccuracies in adopted texts have also spurred renewed discussion of the SBOE’s review processes. Board member Erika Beltran (D) attempted to craft a definition to ensure that textbook reviewers would meet certain minimum academic qualifications. Unfortunately, SBOE members in favor of specifying a standard for who meets the term “qualified individuals” were short by two votes. This item will come back to the SBOE for second reading and final adoption at the next board meeting. ATPE’s Exter reports that there may be further efforts to put in place some standard for textbook reviewers at that time.


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The Board of Trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas also met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided information about the Nov. 19 and 20 meetings, which he described as “fairly uneventful.”

The board heard updates on the status of the pension trust fund and both active and retiree healthcare programs that were discussed in depth last week at a briefing provided to stakeholder groups, legislative members, and staff. The board adopted an incentive pay plan for the TRS executive director, which includes member satisfaction measures, as well as several other metrics that are used to evaluate the director’s performance. A slate of rule changes, including an improvement to the rule that is used to calculate compensation during the final year before retirement, were also adopted by the board.

Sanderson added that there have been problems reported concerning active employee enrollment with Aetna’s health insurance plan. At this week’s board meeting, Aetna representatives presented information on how they are addressing these issues and what their plans are to remedy the problem. The TRS board met in an executive session at length to discuss how they plan to deal with Aetna, but no final decision was delivered. Sanderson says that a more detailed update is expected during the next TRS board meeting in Dallas on Dec. 7.

In related news, the coalition known as Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) also met earlier this week. The group advocates for the security of pension programs for public employees in Texas, including preventing them from being converted to defined-contribution plans. ATPE’s Sanderson has served as a member of the board for TSR and was selected this week to continue in that role for another year.


 

Announced today was an upcoming hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee, the first interim hearing to be scheduled this year by one of the state’s education committees. The meeting is slated for Dec. 7 and will be focused on charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Here are the two specific interim charges that are to be addressed by the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland):

  • Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
  • Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.

 

TEA is soliciting input on rules to implement grants for pre-Kindergarten under Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 4 that passed earlier this year. Under the program, school districts and charter schools that implement certain quality standards for curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement may apply for grant funding starting in 2016. The commissioner will adopt rules to determine parameters for the grant program.

TEA will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the new rules on Dec. 1, starting at 11 a.m. Click here for more details on the hearing and how you may sign up to testify. Through the same link, you may find TEA’s Family Engagement Survey, which is open until Nov. 25. The survey allows you to share input on proposed definitions and strategies for the family engagement component of the pre-K grants. Finally, you may also submit feedback to TEA on draft pre-K guidelines that are posted on the same website. The guidelines address curriculum and are broken into ten domains. Again, the deadline for submitting feedback via email to TEA is Nov. 25.


 

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThree senators and three state representatives have been appointed to serve on a new Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. The committee is tasked with reviewing the healthcare plans administered by TRS and proposing reforms to address their financial solvency, costs, and affordability. The legislatively mandated committee will also look at whether access to physicians and other healthcare providers is sufficient under those plans. Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R) has appointed Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) to co-chair the committee, along with Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio). Senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) for the special committee are Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who will co-chair it, joined by Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls). The committee will report its findings back to the legislature by January 15, 2017.

Lieutenant governor issues interim charges to Senate Education committee

Today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) released his list of interim charges that the Senate Education Committee is expected to study and report on before the next regular legislative session begins in January 2017. The subject matter includes predictable issues such as school choice and expanding charter schools, as well as monitoring legislation that passed earlier this year. Here is the full list:

Senate Education Committee Interim Charges

  • School Choice: Study school choice programs enacted in states across the nation, examining education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs in particular. Examine the implementation process used in other states and what impact these programs have had on student academics and state and local district budgets. Make recommendations on which choice plan could best serve Texas students.
  • Charter School Approval, Expansion, Revocation: Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
  • Teacher Preparation, Retention, Shortages: Study teacher shortage and retention issues in Texas and evaluate educator preparation programs to determine if these programs are preparing educators for the rigors of the 21st century classroom. In particular, examine the shortages of ELL, special education, and STEM educators across the state and identify the issues creating a shortage. Make recommendations to improve educator preparation throughout the state and increase certification rates. (Joint Charge with Senate Higher Education)
  • Efficiency/Productivity Review: Conduct a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes. Study performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance. Identify any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.
  • Broadband Access: Evaluate digital learning opportunities in classrooms and examine existing barriers to schools’ ability to provide a digital learning environment. In particular, study the availability of affordable broadband access to school districts across Texas. Examine different options for improving access to broadband service in all areas of the state, for districts and student homes. Make recommendations on a statewide plan for building the necessary infrastructure to provide a competitive, free-market environment in broadband service.
  • Teacher-Student Relationships/Student Safety: Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.
  • County School Systems: Examine the structure and performance of the two remaining county-based school systems, Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. In particular, study the efficiency of these entities and determine whether those services are duplicative with education service centers or could be absorbed by education service centers.
  • School Board Governance, Low-Performing Schools: Examine current school board governance policies and practices and make recommendations that could improve the focus, attitudes, and outcomes of Texas school boards, districts, and students. Study existing board training requirements for public schools and make suggestions to educate school board trustees of policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly within the framework set for low-performing schools in House Bill 1842 (HB1842)(84R).
  • Monitoring Charge: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Specifically, monitor the following: 1) Legislation establishing state intervention procedures for public schools with academically unsuccessful ratings of at least two consecutive school years; and providing school districts the ability to be designated as a district of innovation; 2) Initiatives to build a high-quality pre-kindergarten grant program; 3) Legislation to raise standards of teacher preparation programs and establish a more consistent, high-quality accountability system; 4) Program to require the placement and use of video cameras in self-contained classrooms or other settings providing special education services to students; 5) Legislation to address training support for counselors, and advising courses for middle school students; and 6) Legislation to establish criteria for alternative measures of assessments to meet high school graduation requirements.

ATPE looks forward to working with Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and other members of the committee to study these issues over the next year.

Legislative Update: Sine die edition!

We’ve survived 140 long days and can now wrap up the 84th legislative session! Shortly after noon today, the Texas Senate adjourned sine die. The House followed suit about 20 minutes later, after several speeches and recognition of legislators who are not returning next session. Among those who announced their retirement from the House are Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who chaired the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Sylvester Turner (D), who served since 1988 and held several leadership posts. We’ll have more on our friends’ announcements and will be posting a complete wrap-up of education bills here on Teach the Vote this week. In the meantime, here’s what happened to the remaining school-related bills that saw action over this last weekend of the session.


Money matters

We reported over the weekend on final passage of the state’s appropriations bills. With the budget finalized, there were a few lingering pieces of that compromise still pending. On Friday, May 29, both the House and Senate approved a conference committee report on SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R), which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, subject to voter approval. It was part of the legislature’s compromise on a combination property tax and franchise tax cut that adds up to almost $4 billion; HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), the franchise tax vehicle, was already sent to the governor.

Also related to funding, there was another high-profile bill still pending this weekend to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), was designed to restrict the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. It languished in a conference committee this weekend until an announcement came that House and Senate conferees could not reach an agreement.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) bill to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. The Senate adopted a conference committee report on the bill Saturday, and the House followed suit on Sunday. The Senate’s vote to approve the final version of the bill was unanimous. The House’s final vote on HB 2804 was 119 to 17. As finally passed, the bill includes a requirement, which ATPE opposed, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. “Under the bill,” as described in an article by Morgan Smith in The Texas Tribune yesterday, “student performance on state standardized exams would remain the primary measure of school performance. But it would no longer be as dominant a factor in determining a school’s accountability rating. About 45 percent of the rating would take into account a variety of additional information — such as community engagement, AP course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.”

The legislature also gave final approval to HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), which deals with a five-year timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions for low-performing traditional and charter schools. The bill includes replacing a school board or charter governing board with an appointed board of managers if the district fails to improve the performance of a persistently low-performing campus. While the bill contemplates potentially much harsher sanctions at the district level, it deletes provisions from current law that mandated or strongly encouraged the indiscriminate removal of principals and classroom teachers from struggling campuses. ATPE has long opposed the current statutory language, which only served to destabilize already struggling schools.

After the House passed its version of HB 1842 with only a single no vote, the Senate passed a substitute version on May 26 that added numerous floor amendments, most taken from other bills that would otherwise have died. The controversial amendments included Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241; Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  ”School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669; and language expanding charter and virtual schools. On Friday, Chairman Aycock announced that the House would not accept all of the Senate’s changes and sent the bill to a conference committee.

As negotiated by the House and Senate conferees, the final version of HB 1842 preserves the district-wide version of Sen. Larry Taylor’s “innovation zone” plan. ATPE previously opposed both multi-campus and district-wide “innovation zones” in Taylor’s standalone bill; however, of all the numerous alternative management and deregulation proposals that were advanced this session, the “innovation zones” concept was perhaps one of the least objectionable ideas. Unlike the remainder of HB 1842 that focuses on struggling campuses, “districts of innovation” or “innovation zones” are limited to those with acceptable or higher accountability ratings. ATPE will monitor the implementation of the bill should any school district choose to take advantage of the new option. The final version of HB 1842 does not include any of the controversial language creating an “opportunity” or “school turnaround district” (OSD/STD); nor does it include language on charter school closures or reauthorizations or on the expansion of virtual schools.

The Senate’s final vote to adopt the conference committee report on HB 1842 was 26 to 5, with Sens. Chuy Hinojosa (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. In the House, the motion passed by a vote of 125 to 18; click here to find out how your House member voted on the final version of HB 1842.

Student testing and curriculum

The House and Senate both approved a bill that attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) also calls for auditing of state contracts with test vendors and aims to limit the breadth of curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are included on standardized tests. The Senate voted 27 to 4 to adopt a conference committee report on the bill on Saturday; Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Kelly Hancock (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against it. On Sunday, the House accepted the conference committee report by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. David Simpson (R) casting the only vote against it. As finally passed, the ATPE-supported bill requires state tests to be validated before being administered and also designed so that 85 percent of students can complete the test within an allotted time frame. HB 743 also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a comprehensive study of the tests and the TEKS.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified substantially in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. The House and Senate passed differing versions of this bill in May. On Friday, May 29, the House voted to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 2349; Reps. Matt Schaefer (R) and David Simpson (R) were the only representatives who opposed the motion to concur. ATPE supported the bill.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. Yesterday, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on the bill. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against the motion to approve the agreed-upon bill in the Senate. The House vote was 86 to 50. The bill as finally passed requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the TEKS for foundation curriculum subjects. SB 313 also calls for TEA to provide individual students with a detailed performance report for each TEKS standard affiliated with a state test. The conference committee’s final version of the bill stripped out a House floor amendment providing students in special education programs with a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, which might have conflicted with federal law.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

A conference committee was appointed to iron out differences between House and Senate language for HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), which requires a survey of new teachers’ satisfaction to be factored into the accountability system, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs.  As it did with several other bills, the Senate amended several of its own dying bills onto HB 2205 last week, and most of those changes survived the conference committee. Principally, the Senate added language from Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 892 to lower the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The bill adds a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain a 3.0 GPA, however. The Senate also integrated Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified CTE teachers and his SB 1222 giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The conference committee stripped out language that would have required 30 hours of field-based experience delivered in a classroom setting before an alternative certification candidate could be hired as a teacher of record. The bill as finally passed also limits retakes of certification exams to four attempts.

Yesterday, the Senate approved the conference committee report on HB 2205 by a vote of 19 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the motion to approve HB 2205 except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) who voted for it; while Sens. Jane Nelson (R) and Robert Nichols (R) were the only Republican senators to break ranks with their party and vote against the motion to approve the conference committee report on HB 2205. On the House side, the final vote was 125 to 16, with Reps. Diego Bernal (D), Garnet Coleman (D), Nicole Collier (D), Harold Dutton (D), Joe Farias (D), Mary Goznalez (D), Roland Gutierrez (D), Abel Herrero (D), Todd Hunter (R), Trey Martinez-Fischer (D), Poncho Nevarez (D), Justin Rodriguez (D), Toni Rose (D), David Simpson (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Armando Walle (D) voting against it. While were are disappointed in the decision to lower individual admission standards for alternative certification programs, ATPE appreciates that the bill likely contains more positive changes than negative ones in the long run.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-requested legislation to try to deter youth suicide is heading to the governor soon. HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) deals with training educators in spotting and responding to warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. After the upper chamber made minor changes to the bill, the House voted Friday, May 29, to concur in the Senate amendments. The vote was 141 to 5, with Reps. Larry Phillips (R), Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Tony Tinderholt (R) opposing it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) will require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The ATPE-supported bill was sent to a conference committee after the House and Senate could not agree on language. However, the committee was later discharged and the House voted unanimously on Saturday, May 30, to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. On Sunday, May 31, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on HB 18, which preserves most of the Senate’s language. The final vote on the negotiated bill was 135 to 8 in the House and 30 to 1 in the Senate.

Charter schools

A pair of bills by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) dealing with charter schools were finalized on Friday. First, HB 1170 includes certain charter schools in the definition of local governmental entities in order to allow them to enter into contracts and risk pools with other local entities. The move is meant to allow charter schools to save money on needed purchases, services, and liability insurance. The House voted Friday to accept Senate changes to the bill and finally pass it. The vote was 140 to 2, with opposition coming from Reps. Terry Canales (D) and J.D. Sheffield (R). HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools. Once again, the House voted 143 to 1 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill; Rep. Larry Phillips (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, notify parents and staff of the installation of the cameras, and keep recorded video footage on file for at least six months. The House and Senate voted yesterday to approve a conference committee report on the bill. The vote was 23 to 8 in the Senate and 140 to 3 in the House.

Ethics reform

An attempt to pass an ethics reform bill died after House and Senate leaders could not agree on language. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). After the two chambers passed dramatically different versions of the bill, a conference committee failed to reach a compromise. Negotiations fell apart over “dark money,” with the House wanting to shed light on secret contributions to non-profit groups advancing political agendas and the Senate refusing to budge on the contentious issue.


We at ATPE are so grateful to all the members who helped us advocate for legislation to help public education students and staff and stop numerous bad bills from becoming law. Thank you for being engaged educators, parents, and citizens and for reaching out to your legislators with input when others were trying to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters.