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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Sunday 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.