Tag Archives: Mike Morath

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 5, 2017

Here are education news stories you might have missed this week from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelA settlement agreement was executed Wednesday between ATPE and three other teacher groups that sued the state over the commissioner’s T-TESS rules for teacher evaluation. Under terms of the settlement, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will revise the T-TESS rules to eliminate requirements that districts use four specific methods, including controversial Value-Added Measures, to evaluate student growth for purposes of teacher appraisals.

Read more about the settlement here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144We’ve reached the 117th day of the 85th legislative session with only three full weeks left for lawmakers to pass a state budget. Monday, May 8, is the first of several important session deadlines approaching quickly: the last day for House committees to report out House bills. House bills that don’t make it out of a House committee by then will be considered procedurally dead, although many “dead” bills can still resurface in the form of companion bills or amendments to other bills. Committees, especially on the House side, had a busy week of hearings ahead of the deadlines, and several late nights of floor debate. The House is scheduled to hold a Saturday session tomorrow, too.

Several significant education bills made it through either the House or Senate chamber this week, as reported by ATPE’s lobbyists. In the Senate, a popular bill passed to extend the law allowing the continuation of individual graduation committees for certain high school students unable to pass all required STAAR tests. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved an amended version of SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-bullying measure known as David’s Law. Other bills passing the Senate this week dealt with educator certification, charter schools, and a study on school finance. For more about the Senate’s work this week, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

In the lower chamber, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) saw two more of his most significant bills pass the full House this week. HB 22 improves the state’s “A through F” accountability system for schools by condensing the number of domains from five to three and eliminating the overall summative grade that would have been assigned to schools. An ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) also calls for the Texas Education Agency to supply narrative descriptions of the ratings assigned in an effort to help parents and the public better understand their significance. Another ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) that would have further reduced the emphasis on student test scores in the accountability system was rejected. Huberty’s HB 23 also got a nod of approval from the House; the bill creates a grant program to help public schools, including charter schools, offer specialty services for students with disabilities. An attempted floor amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) that would have funded private school vouchers was withdrawn during the debate. The House also approved Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 515, an ATPE-supported bill that reduces mandatory testing. Also, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), offering changes to try to shore up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators, passed the House on a 140-0 vote yesterday.

Numerous bills made it past the House Public Education Committee this week as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For complete details, check out his latest blog posts here, here, and here.

 


 

 

ATPE settles lawsuit over state’s teacher evaluation system

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingATPE and other parties to a lawsuit over the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS have reached a settlement agreement.

ATPE and three other teacher associations sued the state in April 2016 alleging that new commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS violated state laws and were against public policy. Through the Office of the Attorney General, which represented the Texas Education Agency in the lawsuit, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has agreed to revise the rules in exchange for the four teacher groups’ suspending their legal challenges.

The terms of the settlement agreement call for removal of language in the commissioner’s rules that require districts to employ four specific student growth measures in evaluating teachers under the T-TESS model. One of those four criteria was “value-added data based on student state assessment results,” often called Value-Added Measurement or Value-Added Modeling (VAM). ATPE has long criticized the use of VAM for high-stakes purposes based on concerns about the validity and fairness of the controversial model.

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday at the time the lawsuits challenging the rules were filed.

ATPE Member Legal Services Director Donna Derryberry described the compromise struck this week as one that “will give districts more local control over their appraisal process” without being required to use VAM. “This is a great victory for all Texas teachers,” added Derryberry, “and ATPE is proud to have been instrumental in this settlement.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 28, 2017

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from the ATPE lobbyists:

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

Wiggins_HPE_4-25-17

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


Kuhlmann_SenEd_04-27-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

The State Board of Education is meeting this week while the Texas Legislature is session. Across the street from the Capitol inside the Texas Education Agency (TEA) building, the board began its week-long meeting Tuesday morning with public testimony on proposed changes to the science TEKS.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

Some creationism supporters took issue with the changes proposed after first reading earlier this year. Biology teachers on the curriculum writing committee have proposed changes they explained would streamline the TEKS and focus on grade-level appropriate discussion. Creationism supporters argued Tuesday that the changes watered down criticism of evolution, and asked the board to retain proposed language to require students to “evaluate” various subjects related to evolution. Physics and chemistry teachers also recommended more mundane tweaks to their respective TEKS.

Wednesday began with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner informed the board of upcoming changes to the STAAR confidential student report card (CSR), aimed to make the report more parent-friendly and easy to understand. The report will now contain student lexile levels for the current year and over a student’s academic history. The report will include information for parents regarding how to help improve a child’s reading level, as well as guidance regarding how to maximize the impact of parent-teacher conferences. The agency has also changed terminology to replace the terms for Level I through Level III standards with “does not meet grade level,” “approaching grade level,” “meets grade level,” and “masters grade level.” These changes have already been adopted in rule and will be reflected in report cards due out in June.

Commissioner Morath also announced TEA is readying a new website that will allow parents to see every STAAR question their student was asked, along with what they answered and what other students answered, compared to the correct answer. This website is expected to roll out in mid- to late June. The agency is also working on a separate site for teachers and administrators. The separate website would help teachers and administrators unpack and understand the streamlined English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS. The site will feature sample assessment questions and is intended to help teachers understand vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum standards, as well as distinguish the meaning of verbs used in the TEKS insofar as how they affect instruction. The agency plans to activate the site in advance of the school year in which the TEKS are scheduled to go into effect.

The commissioner responded to questions from the board regarding the rollout of the “A through F” accountability standards passed by the Texas Legislature last session. House Bill 22, which would pare down the five domains to three and eliminate the overall grade, has passed out of the House Public Education Committee this session and is expected to be up for debate on the House floor within the next two to three weeks. At this point, Morath indicated he has participated in at least 70 stakeholder meetings regarding rulemaking for the version of A through F currently undergoing implementation. Some changes have been suggested to specific components, such as the calculation of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level and adjustments for children of military families and those who are absent due to illness.

As far as legislative priorities, both the House and Senate budget proposals include $25 million requested by the agency to access matching funds for rural broadband internet. Other priorities for which TEA is seeking funding in either one or both chambers include math innovation zones, high-quality pre-K, additional staff to investigate inappropriate student-teacher relationships, IT support for the Texas Student Data System (TSDS) to facilitate additional automation, cybersecurity enhancements to safeguard student data and funding to allow the STAAR test to be released annually as opposed to every three years.

On Wednesday, the board resumed discussion on second reading of the science TEKS. After hearing testimony the day before, the board unanimously adopted an amendment adding compromise language to a key section of the biology TEKS dealing with evolution. The amendment changed “evaluate” to “examine” scientific explanations for the origin of DNA. The board also adopted an amendment that would delay implementation of the streamlined science TEKS to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The board completed discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS for elementary and middle school Wednesday evening, approving amendments on second reading before adjourning.

Breaking up into committees Thursday morning, the board’s committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) heard an update to the bond guarantee program (BGP). As of February 28, roughly $70 billion of the program’s $100 billion capacity had been allocated. After setting aside $5 billion as required, roughly $24 billion remained available to back school bonds with the PSF. Last year, the board voted to increase the multiplier used to calculate the amount available to charter schools, which resulted in increasing that amount from $165 million to $510 million.

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) questioned staff regarding HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), which would use the PSF to guarantee school lease-purchase agreements through the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA). Staff advised that current law likely allows for the PSF to be encumbered to guarantee short-term commercial debt, and debt under this program would likely be cumbersome on the TPFA. The bill was voted out of the House Public Education Committee during a formal hearing Thursday afternoon at the Texas Capitol.

After Thursday’s committee meetings, SBOE’s committee of the full board gathered to take up discussion of the English and Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language TEKS for high school on first reading.

A-F fix takes center stage in House Public Education

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider more than two dozen bills. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing with more discussion of House Bill (HB) 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to the public school system. Huberty announced that the much-anticipated committee substitute should be posted this week.

The committee heard extensive testimony over the last two weeks regarding how to structure $200 million allocated for hardship grants to ease the burden primarily on schools facing the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. Huberty indicated $125 million would be allocated the first year, and $75 million the second year. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the subcommittee on Educator Quality, explained districts taxing at the max level will get larger prorated grants under the program. Grants could be no larger than the actual amount of the lost ASATR funding, or exceed ten percent of the overall grant.

Huberty added that House budget writers have identified $250 million of additional funds to bring the overall price tag of HB 21 to $1.9 billion. The chairman suggested those funds could be focused toward CTE, computer technology and bilingual education. Huberty concluded by stating his intention to finalize committee substitute language this week and hold a vote on the bill next week. ATPE continues to support HB 21 as an important step toward larger reform of the school finance system.

HB 1776 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees public education funding, would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine. Ashby argued the current U.S. history end-of-course exam is overly burdensome both for students and teachers. According to the fiscal note, the change would save an estimated $2 million through the biennium ending in August 2019.

HB 22 is Chairman Huberty’s answer to addressing some of the unintended consequences of the “A through F” accountability system. In short, the legislation would collapse the number of domains from five to three and eliminate the overall letter grade for schools and districts. The bill would also add a wide variety of additional performance indicators intended to decrease the reliance on standardized test data, and draw distinctions between “D” and “F” ratings – with particular regard to the accompanying accountability triggers.

Calling the system “flawed,” Huberty suggested HB 22 would move the emphasis away from standardized tests and factors influenced heavily by economic disparities. The bill is the product of collaboration between committee members, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath and school administrators. The fiscal note estimates HB 22 would cost $4.5 million over the next biennium, and $3.5 million the following biennium.

The legislation would further delay implementation by another school year. Commissioner Morath told the committee that the legislation fixes “unintended mathematical consequences,” and said the additional time is needed to model changes and write new rules. Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that letter grades fail to adequately capture performance, and were never intended to be part of the five-domain accountability system created by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Responding to concern raised by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) over the elimination of the overall grade, Huberty said “A through F” came with numerous problems. The scheme replaces the current pass/fail accountability system, under which 94 percent of schools are listed as meeting performance expectations. Under “A through F,” many schools and districts received poor grades despite being recognized by the state for outstanding performance during the same year.

“I’m tired of listening to rhetoric about our failing schools,” said Huberty, who suggested lawmakers should focus instead on finding and fixing issues leading to problems. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) agreed “A through F” doesn’t provide a “true picture” of what’s happening within public schools and local communities, and praised the bill as an important step toward improvement.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 22, pointing out that several states have recently repealed “A through F” systems over the same concerns. While grateful for the inclusion of a teacher quality component, ATPE advocated for ensuring value-added metrics (VAM) are not used for teacher quality measurement. ATPE also advocated for a statutory requirement that the commissioner include a panel of stakeholders, including parents and campus-level educators, in the rulemaking and implementation process. Additionally, ATPE advocated for adding a layer of simplistic language that is more descriptive than a single letter, and which would let parents know what each rating is telling them about their particular school.

Acknowledging the need to fix the shortcomings of “A through F,” Huberty told the committee, “We cannot go home without getting this done.” The chairman encouraged interested parties to continue to engage on HB 22, with a goal of finalizing a committee substitute before next week’s hearing.

HB 1336 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law. Leach pointed out policymakers don’t know how much the state is asking local districts to spend indirectly in order to administer tests. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 145 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of “A through F.” Supporters of HB 145 argue that empirical methods should be used to assess the differences in achievement for African-American males as a demographic group, with the goal of closing performance gaps and ending the reliance on anecdotal information. The fiscal note anticipates a cost of $273,000 the first year and $257,000 each subsequent year for the employment of two additional TEA positions to track the data.

HB 61 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system. Guillen argued the bill would give districts an incentive to encourage special education students to advance.

HB 79 by Rep. Guillen would eliminate the cap the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments, as opposed to standard assessments. The bill would further prohibit using the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments for performance, compliance or accountability purposes. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1500 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1057 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1174 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 988 and HB 989 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create a pilot program to develop a portfolio method to assess student performance. HB 988 would create a program for grades three through eight and HB 989 would create a program for high school students. González explained balancing standardized test results with holistic measures would yield a much more useful and accurate picture of student performance. ATPE supports both of these bills.

HB 1650 by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) would allow a student who passes a dual credit course on U.S. history to skip the U.S. history end-of-course exam. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 795 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would require a committee appointed by the education commissioner to review any challenge to academic or financial accountability ratings raised by a school district or charter school, regardless of the issue. A successful challenge raised under this legislation would allow charter schools facing charter revocation due to unacceptable academic or financial accountability ratings to stop the clock on the proceedings under the current “three strikes” law.

HB 1993 by state Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) would require the education commissioner to adopt procedures to identify nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instruments as additional alternative assessment instruments that may be used to evaluate student achievement under “A through F.” The bill would further require the commissioner to apply for federal waivers to allow for multiple instruments for assessing students in the same grade. According to the fiscal note, HB 1993 would cost the state an additional $1.6 million per year.

HB 3607 by Rep. King would eliminate end-of-course exams for high school students. It would also require the commissioner to identify a procedure for districts to select the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) or a nationally recognized norm-referenced exam, such as the SAT or ACT, as the assessment instrument to be administered to students in grade 11. According to the fiscal note, HB 3607 would save the state $2.5 million per year.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. Acknowledging the laudable goal of reducing high-stakes testing, Exter noted that norm-referenced tests are not appropriate for accountability purposes because they are designed so that results will fall along a bell curve. ATPE warned against allowing districts to use multiple assessment instruments. Currently, the only benefit of a statewide testing system is data comparability, which is lost when districts use different tests. ATPE also advocated for educators to have a stronger role helping vet out test deficiencies at the agency level.

HB 1731 by Rep. King (R-Canadian) would exclude students who leave a residential treatment facility and fail to enroll in a nearby school from the calculation of those schools’ dropout rates, provided those students would not otherwise be enrolled there. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 515 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would eliminate writing and social studies assessments and require only end-of-course assessments in reading, math and science as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writing assessment has long been criticized, and VanDeaver argued HB 515 could help reduce overtesting. Agency staff suggested that eliminating writing assessments could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal guidelines, which could potentially result in a financial penalty. Staff suggested the conflict might be ameliorated by removing writing from the state’s English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) guidelines. The fiscal note estimates HB 515 would save the state $23 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2263 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would no longer require campus intervention teams to continue to work with “improvement required” campuses until two years after performance standards are met. Agency staff testified that the process was “resource intensive, without providing much feedback.” Staff suggested that resources may be better spent at the front end of the intervention process, and districts would be able to determine whether additional help is needed to keep campuses from regressing.

HB 3828 by Chairman Huberty would adjust the triggers for commissioner action for failing schools to include those “rated unacceptable” and confine criteria to the “school progress” domain of the “A through F” system. The bill would modify the commissioner’s power to oversee turnaround plans and curtail the commissioner’s power to manage failing districts and require district workshops. Importantly, the bill requires a written turnaround plan with the agency and clear guidelines for implementation. After listening to public testimony, Huberty committed to work on a committee substitute for future consideration.

HB 789 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would allow Highland Park ISD to modify the cut score for an examination for acceleration, placing the limit at 90 percent, rather than 80 percent. Meyer explained that some students who passed with an 80 percent score struggled after advancing.

HB 546 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would also limit state-required assessment instruments to assessments required by federal law. The fiscal note estimates a $2.9 million savings over the biennium. Noting that the language of HB 546 is wholly contained within HB 515 by Rep. VanDeaver, Rep. Deshotel pulled his bill from consideration in favor of supporting HB 515. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 657 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARC) committee of a student who participates in special education to promote a special education student to the next grade level after failing an assessment just once, provided that the committee determines the student has made significant progress in the measurable academic goals contained in the student’s individualized education program. Bernal explained that the passing rate for special education students on state assessments is roughly 30 percent, and scores usually do not improve after the third administration. Rather than subjecting students to multiple unnecessary examinations, Bernal argued parents and educators should be allowed flexibility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3104 by Rep. VanDeaver would require the TEA to adopt or develop exams in English Language Arts (ELA) for grades four and seven and at the end of English I and English II, instead of writing. The bill’s committee substitute would create a one-year pilot program to allow districts and charter schools to choose their own assessment instruments for writing and required to report their results. The fiscal note anticipates HB 3104 would save the state $7.5 million each year.

After listening to testimony on HB 3104, Chairman Huberty briefly paused to read a message from his son’s English teacher pointing out that the STAAR end-of-course assessment is approaching next week. The teacher reported students are stressed, even with her words of encouragement. Regardless of the test results, the teacher said, she’s proud at work they’ve done.

“The teachers are trying, but we’re not arming them with the ability to do their jobs,” Huberty concluded.

HB 3075 by Chairman Huberty would exclude students detained in a juvenile detention facility and educated by a public charter school from the computation of dropout and completion rates for charter school accountability purposes. Huberty explained public schools are already exempt, and HB 3075 would allow the same rule to apply to charters.

All of the above bills were left pending. The committee voted out a number of previously heard bills during a break in Tuesday’s testimony. Members unanimously approved the following:

  • HB 1645, which would allow students to get a varsity letter for participating in the Special Olympics.
  • HB 728, which would create an advanced computer science course to satisfy the third math or science credit.
  • HB 367, which would allow schools to assign a nonprofit to distribute leftover food to hungry students.
  • HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • HB 1270, which would allow excused absences for students to visit a military recruiting facility in the same way they are currently allowed to visit a college or university.
  • HB 264, which would update the information and public outreach materials for HB 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and extend the time period required for reporting.
  • HB 136, which would add CTE and workforce training to the mission of public education.
  • HB 357, which would allow the children of first responders eligible for Star of Texas awards to receive free prekindergarten services.

Those bills will next head to the Calendars Committee to await a date for consideration before the full Texas House of Representatives. Before adjourning, Huberty referred the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality: HB 1799, HB 1869, HB 1918, HB 2209, HB 3769 and SB 7.

Huberty reiterated his intent to vote on a substitute for HB 21 next week. The next meeting will feature a variety of bills, including more legislation affecting charter schools.

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.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 24, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from ATPE:


Sen Ed Teacher MisconductThe Senate Education Committee met yesterday to look at two educator misconduct bills involving inappropriate relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified in support of the bills.

Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) and SB 653 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, an act sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” The bills would also require more ongoing education for educators on the subject, add reporting requirements for principals, require that schools develop an electronic communication policy, and further penalize associated misconduct.

In her testimony, Kuhlmann highlighted the importance of ongoing education, beginning in educator preparation programs and continuing throughout educators’ careers, and the work ATPE does to educate both future and active educators about maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships with students. While she reminded Senators that an extremely small percentage of educators in Texas account for such misconduct, she stated that ATPE knows one incident is too many and is committed to being a part of the solution.

Discussion during the hearing did raise the need for some additional clarity with regard to certain language in the bill. For more, watch an archived recording of the hearing here.

 


HPE02-21-17The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the session on Tuesday, taking invited testimony only. The committee announced plans for upcoming hearings on school finance, to be followed by an examination of accountability, including the controversial “A through F” labeling system that was adopted last session for campuses. Read more about Tuesday’s hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Girl showing bank notesATPE weighed in this week on discussions for education-related items in the state budget. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Article III Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Monday. In addition to school finance and the need to fund pre-Kindergarten programs, Exter also discuss the looming problem of healthcare affordability for education employees. The Teacher Retirement System board of trustees is also gathering this week to discuss similar issues. Read more in Exter’s most recent blog post for Teach the Vote.

 


FU5A8792_SB13hearing-crop1The fight to protect educators’ voices continues at the Texas Capitol, where ATPE continues to monitor two anti-teacher bills that would restrict educators’ control over their own paychecks while protecting other groups of public employees.

After forceful testimony in opposition by ATPE members, the Senate State Affairs Committee nonetheless advanced Senate Bill 13 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) last week by a vote that split along party lines. Sens. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined Huffman voting in favor of the bill. Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who expressed concern earlier in the week over the bill’s unequal treatment of educators, was absent for health reasons and unable to vote. Due to Senate rules, the earliest SB 13 is likely to be heard on the Senate floor is March 10.

On the other side of the Capitol, the companion House Bill 510 by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) was referred to the House State Affairs Committee, where the payroll deduction bill was unable to gain the traction needed to advance last session. No hearings have been scheduled so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is critical that ATPE members continue to contact your legislators through Advocacy Central and voice your opposition to both SB 13 and HB 510. The best way to fight these teacher-bashing bills is to join us March 5 and 6 for ATPE at the Capitol Day and visit your legislators in person!

 


Today is the last day to submit input to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. For more information and historical context on the topic, revisit ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here. The survey can be accessed here.

 


Next week, stay tuned to Teach the Vote for the latest updates from the 85th legislative session, as well as the upcoming March 3 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will also have an article about new efforts at the federal level to fund private school vouchers. We’re also gearing up for our lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on March 5-6, 2017. ATPE members can find the complete schedule and updates on the event here.

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House committee hears from ATPE, others on education funding challenges

Dollar fanThe House Appropriations committee began meetings this week for its subcommittees assigned to work on various parts of the Texas state budget. This includes the Article III Subcommittee, which covers education funding and began taking testimony on Monday, Feb. 20. The subcommittee’s first day agenda involved looking at funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), including the Foundation School Program; the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including both pension and health insurance funds; the state schools for the visually impaired and the deaf, the Windham School District; and community and junior colleges.

After the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the budget documents on TEA and the Foundation School Program, the committee heard from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath began by thanking the committee and restating his dedication to the goal of improving student outcomes for all students. The commissioner then laid out his agency’s priorities beginning with ensuring and improving teacher quality as the “most important in-school factor” in a student’s education outcomes. Next, Morath addressed the agency’s second key priority to promote a strong foundation in reading and math, and spoke about the affect of achieving this goal on closing the achievement grant. To facilitate this goal, the commissioner talked about continuing to push for expanding high quality pre-K. He also promoted TEA’s goal to scale the math innovation zones program statewide. The agency’s third priority is to connect K-12 education to higher education and career opportunities. The next priority is to improve struggling schools, Morath explained. He reported that TEA is working to do this through systemic system-wide improvements. In addition to budget items tied to the agency’s larger priorities, Morath also addressed specific targeted budget requests like funding the E-rate match to complete the build-out of statewide broadband access.

Early Childhood EducationThe Commissioner was well received by the subcommittee. The majority of questions to the commissioner from committee members tended to focus on supporting pre-K. In responding to an offshoot of this questioning, the commissioner indicated that the State Board for Educator Certification will likely institute a new certificate for grades EC-3 that would be more focused on early childhood education.

Later in the hearing, the committee heard from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Guthrie gave brief remarks about the overall performance of the TRS trust fund before turning to the more pressing issue of the billion dollar shortfall in the TRS-Care fund. He impressed upon the committee that TRS has done everything it can do internally to control costs without legislative action. On TRS-Care the plan laid out to the House budget committee would include a “shared pain” approach where the state would cover half of the cost of the shortfall, retirees would cover 25 percent of the costs, and districts and active teachers would each cover 12.5 percent of the cost. While this plan is more generous than what has already been laid out in the Senate, it still puts additional pressure on active teachers, many of whom are drowning in the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Additionally, the strategy laid out did not contemplate changing the state paid formula for TRS-Care, which is currently set at 1 percent of payroll for all school districts statewide. The TRS board of directors is also meeting this week.

After hearing from LBB and invited witnesses, the Article III subcommittee took public testimony, including testimony from ATPE. Our testimony focused on the need to address active teacher health care costs through additional state funding, not just a denigration of benefits; the benefits of closing the education gap early in a student’s career thorough pre-K; and finally the need to address equity through more appropriately funding students based on their needs, individually and at the campus level.

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.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.