Tag Archives: press

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.

 


From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter 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 https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it.

Top House education official Dan Huberty has said private school choice is dead in the House. Representatives showed they overwhelmingly support that sentiment, in a 103-44 budget amendment vote.
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has challenged the House to at least take a vote on the Senate’s “private school choice” bill, one of his priorities for the Texas legislative session.

Early on during Thursday’s marathon budget discussion, House representatives showed him that vote would probably emerge as an overwhelming “no.”

They voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition, in an amendment to the Senate budget. In offering the amendment, with support from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

The amendment is not the last word. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. And separate legislation that would create a public subsidy for private education has yet to be heard in the House. Patrick’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday’s vote.

The House’s vote came a week after the Senate, led by Patrick, voted out Sen. Larry Taylor‘s Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition.

In a statement, Taylor said it was unfortunate that House members didn’t hear the details of SB 3 before Thursday’s vote.

“Our bill saved money, gave more students opportunities to get an education better suited for their specific needs, and left more money in public education as a whole and even in individual schools,” Taylor said in a statement. “I would hope that we would still have an opportunity to have those discussions.”

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said no changes to the bill would persuade him to vote for it.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” he said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The floor substitute the Senate approved was dramatically different than the original, intended in part to appease skeptical rural legislators by carving out rural counties from participating in the programs. Rural constituents consistently oppose using public money to subsidize private education because they do not have access to many private schools.

That tactic worked to get the bill through the Senate. But House members demonstrated Thursday that it wouldn’t be as straightforward in the lower chamber.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a “private school choice” supporter, tried to change Herrero’s amendment Thursday to allow subsidies for students with household incomes below a given baseline. He took language from SB 3 indicating that a family of three with an income below $75,078 would be able to use the tuition subsidy programs.

“A lot of opponents of school choice say, ‘This is only for the rich.’ This amendment allows poor families to have a choice,” Cain said. His proposal failed 117-27.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said a private school choice bill would not make it through his committee, drawing criticism from SB 3 supporters. Asked if it was dead to him as an issue, Huberty said, “I believe so, yes.” He voted for the amendment blocking money to the tuition subsidy programs.

“Quote unquote absolutely not,” said Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, when asked whether the changes to SB 3 carving out his counties from participating would change his vote on the bill. “Just because they sweetened the deal to pull in some people doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • The Senate voted 18-13 Thursday to pass a major private school choice bill, creating two public programs that would subsidize private school tuition.
  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-asked-house-vote-school-choice-he-got-it/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

House committee advances A-F improvements

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a number of bills, including those dealing with special education, and to advance a key piece of legislation relating to accountability.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

During a break in testimony Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute to HB 22, which would modify the “A through F” accountability system. As filed, the bill would collapse the five domains down to three and eliminate the overall, or “summative,” rating for districts and schools.

Chairman Huberty explained the committee substitute would clarify that indicators must be based on disaggregated information and include indicators reflecting access to resources, size and socioeconomics. The substitute would also incorporate policies advocated by ATPE, including a requirement that stakeholders, including teachers, should be involved in the process. ATPE has also advocated for restricting the use of standardized test results and other value-added measures (VAM) for the purposes of evaluating educator performance. The substitute would cap VAM at 25 percent of the educator performance score.

The committee unanimously approved HB 22, along with the following bills:

  • HB 481, which would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.
  • HB 852, which would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program.
  • HB 972, which would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher.
  • HB 1560, which would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
  • HB 2611, which would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days.
  • HB 2649, which would require the governing bodies of charter schools to hold open meetings in the county in which the school is located and subject to the same requirements as regular government bodies.
  • HB 3722, which would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed.
  • HB 1669, which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit.

Also of note, the committee considered HB 713 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle. Specifically, it would prohibit any performance indicator based on the total number or percentage of students enrolled in special education. As the Chronicle reported, an arbitrary 8.5 percent target monitored by TEA resulted in schools inappropriately denying special education services to thousands of children. Although TEA indicated that it will no longer use this information as a performance indicator, Rep. Wu explained HB 713 would prevent the agency from resuming the practice in the future. ATPE supports this bill.

The hearing began Tuesday morning with HB 1886 by state Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade. It would require the TEA designate a dyslexia specialist to provide districts with support and resources, and identify both in-person and online training opportunities. According to the fiscal note, the bill would likely require TEA hire an additional full-time equivalent at a cost of roughly $107,000 per year.

HB 2205 by state Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) would require school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Kuempel argued that too much time may pass between the time a report is filed and DFPS notifies law enforcement of a potentially dangerous situation. In some cases, DFPS has waited up to 72 hours before notifying police.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on the bill. Highlighting the paramount importance of child safety both to educators and police, Wiggins pointed out that the current law orders DFPS to immediately inform local law enforcement. It’s hard to justify calling 72 hours “immediate,” as required by law. Before duplicating efforts, ATPE suggested that addressing the issue within DFPS may be the correct starting point for ensuring that current law is followed and no children are left in potentially dangerous situations.

HB 743 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow a social worker to provide services to students and families in a school district, collaborating with school administrators in order to enhance students’ learning environments. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1720 by state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) would require schools to provide parental notice if a child is found with lice. Furthermore, school officials would be required to notify the parents of every child in the same classroom as a student found with lice. The bill specifies that the child’s identity would be held confidential and not revealed to other parents.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on HB 1720, noting that some teachers have expressed frustration that some school districts prohibit teachers from notifying other parents when a child is found with lice, resulting in recurring outbreaks. ATPE suggested the bill could be improved by granting individual teachers the right to notify other parents if they determine such action is appropriate.

HB 1556 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would require training for foster parents of a child with disabilities before making educational decisions on the child’s behalf. The bill would separate the legal definitions of foster parents and surrogate parents for the purposes of educational decision making. Social workers testified that oftentimes, the law is unclear as to who makes the educational decisions for foster children in certain situations. According to the fiscal note, local districts could find it necessary to invest roughly $230,000 to develop training and $25,000 in subsequent years to maintain and update the training.

HB 1076 by state Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) would revisit the timing of mandatory spinal screenings. While current law requires screenings in grades 6 and 9, HB 1076 would instead order the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to designate the appropriate ages for screening based on the latest scientific research.

HB 1583 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools. The bill would also add private school nurses to the list of positions eligible to serve on the epinephrine auto-injector advisory council.

HB 2395 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would order each district and charter to test their water for lead using a third-party testing service. If too much lead is found, the bill would require schools to provide safe water until lead levels are returned to acceptable parameters. According to the fiscal note, the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) estimated the cost of lead testing to be between $2,000 and $3,000 per building. TEA estimated the statewide cost at approximately $22 million per year, not including remediation.

HB 2130 by state Rep. Kevin Roberts (R-Houston) would order a study on the impact of the statewide assessment program on students in special education. The study would be required to address whether the administration of alternate assessments complies with ESSA and whether state-required assessments provide accurate and helpful information. Many disability advocates argued that current assessments aren’t necessarily appropriate for children with some disabilities. According to the fiscal note, the study would cost the state approximately $230,000. TEA staff testified the study could be paid for out of federal funds. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1342 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would require elementary and high school students to receive mandatory annual sex abuse training “to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, and reduce child pregnancy.” Rep. Parker cited alarming statistics concerning sexual abuse of children, arguing children should be trained how to identify and handle assault.

HB 1033 by state Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) would require the TEA to petition for a waiver of the annual alternative assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Rep. Burns suggested that individual admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees should be empowered to determine which tests, if any, are appropriate. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2623 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care. According to the fiscal note, districts may find it necessary to hire an additional counselor at an average annual salary of $63,000. Rep. Allen explained this is needed to help ensure that students who have been away from a public education setting for an extended period are able to be successfully reintegrated. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 194 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create a special education endorsement. Vice-Chairman Bernal suggested the bill would rectify an oversight that has resulted in some special education students being unable to earn the endorsements needed to graduate.

HB 3439 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would allow school districts to contract with a charter to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities or resources. Such schools would be entitled to the greater of the funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) entitled to the district or the charter. Although the fiscal note projects no state expense through 2019, the program would cost the state $33.3 million in 2020, $44.4 million in 2021 and $55.5 million in 2022.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against HB 3439, pointing out concerns regarding students and educators. Even though students in each attendance zone would be given preference, the new charter campus would still be allowed to cap enrollment and potentially exclude students who would otherwise be entitled to go to that school. Furthermore, the legislation is unclear as to whether district teachers could be transferred to the charter and lose the rights and protections of district employees.

The bill would also allow low-performing charters to take over campus management. Currently, charters rated “C” or “D” on the “A through F” accountability system could participate, and as a result, would benefit from a one-year pause in their accountability ratings. This provides an incentive for poorly-performing charters to partner with poorly-performing districts in order to enjoy an accountability holiday. ATPE suggests confining participation to charters with “A” or “B” ratings.

HB 2442 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would change “minutes of instruction” to “minutes of operation” for the purposes of determining the length of each school day. The TEA commissioner would determine how many minutes of operation are equivalent to a day of instruction. Instruction time would include recess and meals. The bill would also repeal the minimum length of the school day.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 2442, pointing out that the bill helps clarify the length of half-day pre-kindergarten for funding purposes.

HB 3157 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would modify eye exam rules to allow students to be screened using photoscreening. Advocates argued photoscreening is a more accurate and efficient method for detecting eye problems than eye charts, but school policies don’t always allow them.

Before concluding, Chairman Huberty suggested there could be a formal meeting later this week in order to advance additional bills pending in the committee.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate passes private school choice bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Texas senators spent hours on Thursday questioning how a “private school choice” bill would hold private schools accountable or help students with disabilities before voting to give it final passage, 18-13.

They voted out a floor substitute of Senate Bill 3 that limits the scope of the two public programs proposed to subsidize private school tuition. The version passed by the upper chamber would limit eligibility for the programs to students who have attended a public school for at least a year, prevent incoming kindergarteners from participating and would exclude counties with populations under 285,000 from participating unless 5 percent of registered voters petition the county for access.

The changes seemed directed to appeal to rural legislators with constituents who have fewer options for public schools and to those with concerns about the state costs of a major subsidy program.

“Basically, what we’ve done with this floor substitute is narrow it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the bill. “We didn’t add things. We took things away.”

Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Joan Huffman of Houston and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill along with almost every Democrat. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the lone Democratic vote in favor.

SB 3 would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The first program, education savings accounts, would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The current version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, so that a family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate. (The previous version of the bill would have allowed families of any income to participate in the education savings account program.)

The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations. The current version of the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year, instead of $100 million in the previous version.

The current version would also require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services.

Taylor said the bill in its current form would save $55.3 million by 2022 because under the program, the state would be paying just 75 percent of the cost to educate each public school student who decides to take a tuition subsidy for a private school. Only students already enrolled in public schools would be able to access the program, meaning the state would be paying less for each student who moved from public to private school, he said.

Left-leaning policy organization Center for Public Policy Priorities released its own fiscal analysis on Thursday showing the bill would cost the Texas public school system more than $500 million per year.

“As many senators mentioned today by citing CPPP’s analysis, Senate Bill 3 is still undeniably the wrong solution for Texas kids because it would drain state dollars from already under-funded public schools,” executive director Ann Beeson said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system.”

In calculations for previous versions of the bill, the Legislative Budget Board estimated a cost to the state of between $90 million and $330 million; Taylor did not release the new fiscal note to the Senate before taking up the bill.

Most of the almost four-hour debate revolved around whether private schools would be held to state standards and whether the bill would actually help students with disabilities.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, offered up an amendment to require private schools to be held accountable to the state’s A-F rating system, which will soon be in place for public schools. Taylor argued parents would leave any private school that was not working for them, representing a strong accountability system outside of the state.

“I understand Sen. Taylor saying accountability is with the parents,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re not getting to the core of what people would like to see when it comes to these types of programs.” Taylor rejected his amendment, and it failed 13-18 in a subsequent vote.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully amended the bill to require letters be sent to parents who take the subsidies for private schools, letting them know private schools are not required to serve their students with disabilities under federal law. Taylor agreed to that change.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die.

Read more Tribune coverage here:

  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.
  • In a 7-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.
  • Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee debate on private school subsidies lasted more than seven hours and saw experts on both sides arguing they knew best how to educate black and Latino Texas students.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/30/senate-school-choice-bill/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

Tribune_7C2A4971_jpg_800x1000_q100

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
Texas Tribune mission statement
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

ESAs: A bad deal for students in need

NO VOUCHERSEarlier this month, I participated in a debate on the political TV show Capital Tonight about school vouchers. Hosted by Karina Kling and featuring opposing guest Randan Steinhauser, who heads the pro-voucher group Texans for Education Opportunity, the show focused specifically on the topic of education savings accounts (ESAs). During the show I touched on the problem ESAs pose to students with special education needs. Unfortunately there is no way to fully respond to such a complex issue in a 30-second response, so let’s take a closer look here on our blog.

How exactly do ESAs work?

An education savings account is literally a bank account set up for an individual student into which the state puts money for a parent to purchase private education services. The amount of money that goes into the account is a percentage of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure based on state and local funds. The base number does not account for federal dollars or charitable dollars. Additionally, the base number does not account for student weights, meaning it does not reflect what the student accepting the voucher would have actually been entitled to under the public school formulas. While there is no bill language yet filed, the numbers that have been most talked about by proponents of the voucher suggest that a Texas ESA would entitle a student who is neither a special education student nor on free or reduced lunch 70% of the statewide average per student expenditure. A student who is on free or reduced lunch but not receiving special education services would receive 90% of the statewide average per student expenditure, while students identified as needing special education services would receive 100% of the statewide average per student expenditure under ideas being floated.

On the surface, it sounds like special education students come out pretty well under this scenario,. But the truth is that students in every category of students would get far less funding than they would if they attended a public school.

At only 70 percent, it’s easy to see that the student who isn’t entitled to either a free or reduced lunch or special education services is getting a significant reduction in what they would receive under the public school formulas (an amount that is already in the bottom 10% of per pupil expenditures nationwide). However, students who are entitled to the free or reduced lunch program or special education services would also be getting significantly less under this proposal, perhaps even to a greater degree than their peers entitled to 70% – here’s how. The combined effect of student weights, federal funding, charitable funding, and federal special education law creates a scenario where students on free and reduced lunch and students identified as needing special education services draw down far more individual funding through the public system than the statewide average per pupil expenditure that would be used to calculate an ESA.

For students receiving a free or reduced lunch, in addition to only receiving 90% of what is an already underfunded average, they would also lose the benefit of the compensatory education weight. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, they likewise lose the effect of federal Title I funding. Federal funding, which is not included in calculating the statewide average per pupil expenditure, makes up about 10% of the total education funding in Texas, which may not sound like much on a per pupil basis. However, federal dollars are not distributed evenly to all students; rather, they are highly concentrated on children of poverty. Additional, there are federal provisions that preclude the state from using federal dollars to supplant state dollars.

The result is that schools serving kids on the free and reduced lunch program, children of poverty, are getting significant federal dollars in addition to state and local dollars to spend educating those children. We have made these expenditure choices as a society because research very clearly shows that these kids need additional programs, which cost additional dollars, in order to successfully receive a quality education. ESAs, and vouchers in general, do not account for this funding, and children on an ESA voucher would simply lose this funding.

The loss for children receiving special education services is potentially even more dramatic. Kids who have been identified as needing special education services can have some of the highest student weights – as much as 500 percent of what the average student in a Texas school district receives. But it is the effect of federal law with regard to special education students and the loss of those rights under an ESA voucher program that is potentially the most troubling issue. Both the courts and federal statute require public schools to provide students identified as needing special education services a free and appropriate public education. Essentially what that mandate boils down to is a requirement that districts spend whatever is necessary to provide the services these children need to be able to learn. This spending requirement is really separate from the amount of funding districts receive for these students. In fact, most districts currently spend substantially more on special education services than the amount of money they receive from the state funding formulas to provide those services, despite the current special education weights. All of that is to say that special education students frequently have far more than 100% of the statewide average per pupil funding through the public school system under current law, which is clearly more than they would receive under an ESA voucher.

A bad choice can be worse than no choice.

The ESA voucher proponent I was debating on the show pointed out that an ESA is a school choice option and that parents who don’t believe it’s the better choice for their student don’t have to take it. While that is strictly speaking true, it’s a choice with some harsh consequences that many parents may not fully realize until it’s too late. Two universal features of ESA legislation have been the requirement to waive your rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and your right to attend a public school during the year in which you receive ESA funds. What this means for all voucher recipients is that if they take a voucher and then find that what they can buy with it doesn’t in fact meet their needs they will have to sit out of the public school system for an entire year, potentially a real and permanent setback in a child’s education. This is of particular concern in the context of special education. The ESA program allows parents to purchase piecemeal services, which are often very expensive, much more than the average per pupil expenditure. Unlike the public education system that is required to provide a comprehensive program of general education and special education/therapeutic services for an entire school year regardless of overall individual cost, if a parent spends all their ESA funding on ad hoc therapeutic expenses, they will not receive additional state dollars or logistical/administrative assistance to provide for the academic component of their child’s education or even continued therapeutic services should they run out of funding before the next school year.

There are some genuine areas of needed improvement in the delivery of special education services and identification of students with special needs, but dramatically underfunding these or any, students through an ESA voucher program and encouraging parents to relieve their sometimes justified frustrations by giving up their child’s legal right to a free and appropriate education and simply going it alone is not the answer.

Related: If you live in the Austin viewing area and subscribe to TWC-Spectrum cable, you can watch a rebroadcast of this episode of Capital Tonight on Dec. 19, 2016. Also, check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s recent op-ed article about private school vouchers here.

Guest Post: 239,517 Children Trapped in Political Rhetoric

Moak Casey logofrom Moak, Casey & Associates
Dec. 12, 2016

In an effort to solicit support for his voucher plan, the lieutenant governor recently told a group of education and business leaders in Dallas that 239,517 children attend a “failing public school in Texas.” (Source: The Dallas Morning News). Advocates of choice and vouchers often say that students are “trapped” in failing schools. The phrasing takes advantage of an accountability system that is designed to identify at least 5% of all schools in the state as “failing,” regardless of how well the schools, or the students enrolled in them, performed. Perhaps a better assessment is that students are trapped in the political rhetoric around school choice and/or school vouchers. (“School choice” is considered to be a broad term that subsumes vouchers and education savings grants, either or both of which take taxpayer dollars away from public schools and shifts them to the private sector.)

Education Commissioner Mike Morath recently told the TASA/TASB convention audience that, “We get beaten up for what we do, but our public schools are doing as well as they’ve ever done.” The same can be said for the parents and teachers of children in schools that have high educational risk factors. What do the numbers really tell us about Texas students and the accountability system that shadows their daily walk in Texas public schools?

  • During the 2015-16 school year, Texas public schools enrolled 5,284,252 students. That means that over 5 million (5,044,735 or 95%) students were enrolled in campuses that received a TEA rating of Met Standard.
  • In fact, 7,667 out of 8,673 or 88% of Texas public schools in 2015-16, inclusive of charter schools,received a Met Standard rating. When charters are excluded, the figure rises above 89%. (Source: TEA 2016 Preliminary Accountability System State Summary, as of September 14, 2016.)
  • The number of schools not meeting standards has declined each year since 2013, when the count stood at 768 Improvement Required (IR-rated) campuses compared to the most recent count of 467 IR-rated campuses — even as the accountability system has become more rigorous.

Those who indiscriminately cite the 239, 517 figure for shock value fail to tell the REST of the story. While it’s true that 239,517 students are enrolled at one of the 467 public and/or charter schools that received a TEA rating of Improvement Required for the 2015-16 school year, that does not mean that the students, or their schools, are “failing” as some voucher advocates state. Here are the numbers behind the rhetoric that tell the REST of the story.

  • Over half of the IR campuses (259 out of 467 or 55%) were rated IR for the first time. (Table 2)
  • Over half of the 239,517 students (52%) are enrolled in a campus that was rated Improvement Required (IR) for the first time. (Table 2) Historically, Year 1 IR campuses quickly improve and are removed from TEA’s IR list faster than other IR campuses.
  • 72% are enrolled at a Year 1 or Year 2 IR campus. (Table 2)
  • 51 campuses missed only one – out of four possible – index target. (Table 3)
  • Only 35 out of 8,673 campuses missed all 4 index targets. (Table 3)
  • 25,218 students are enrolled in one of the 68 charter schools with an IR rating. (Table 1) To our knowledge, no students are required to attend charter schools.
  • Out of the 467 schools rated in 2016 as Improvement Required, 102 graduated a total of 10,558 students in SY 2014-15. Of those, 8,349 or 79% of the graduates had completed rigorous programs of study, including Recommended High School Plan, Distinguished Plan, Foundation Plan with Endorsements, or Foundation Plan with Distinguished Level of Achievement.
  • The phrasing, “trapped in failing schools” paints a picture of “no way out.” In fact, all 399 IR-rated non-charter campuses were subject to Public Education Grant (PEG) requirements to offer choice options to each one of their enrolled students. Over 1,100 more schools that were not rated as Improvement Required in 2015 also were subject to PEG requirements, due to IR ratings in either of the prior two years and/or performance criteria distinct from state ratings. None of this takes into account any other forms of choice available within the districts right now.

And finally, those who disparage public schools fail to point out that in Texas, at least 5% of the schools will be designated by TEA as “failing” simply by virtue of the accountability system’s design.

  • The current accountability system (based largely on STAAR tests) is designed to identify at least 5% of schools as missing standards, or “failing” – because the targets it uses are built on a quota established in federal law.
  • That means that we can reasonably anticipate that at least 264,000 (5% of Texas enrollment) students will be enrolled in low performing campuses – even if their campuses performed better than they did the year before; and even if their local communities rate them as Exemplary, Recognized or Acceptable on the Family and Community Engagement Ratings that are required by state law.
  • The shift to an A-F rating system, in which both D’s and F’s are statutorily required to signify “unacceptable” performance, automatically ensures that more students will be enrolled in “failing schools” if the bottom 5% of campuses are given F’s and the next 10% are given D’s. This predetermined outcome will feed right into a fresh, new round of rhetoric from “school choice” advocates, even though the “increase” is simply a function of the system’s design.

The original intent of our state’s accountability system was to foster, inform and support continuous improvement efforts in teaching and learning. That seemed to be a universally accepted premise. Having a predetermined failure threshold in the current system seems to 1) subvert that original, positive intent, 2) reinforce a biased narrative about the state of public education, and 3) perpetuate the notion that schools must be punished before improvements will take place. At best, it seems unwise to put faith in a system that generates predetermined results with regard to “failing” schools. Before any school is labeled as a “failure,” we need to critically reconsider the rhetoric (and the hidden agenda) of voucher advocates in using an accountability system to create a certain margin of schools as “failing” the students, parents and communities that they serve.


This article originally appeared at http://www.moakcasey.com/articles/viewarticledoc.aspx?AID=16390&DID=12732 and was reprinted with permission from Moak, Casey & Associates. 

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

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From KUT: Texas Education Groups Encourage More Students, Teachers to Vote

By  & NOV. 1, 2016

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz chatted with six Reagan Early College High School students as they gathered at the ACC Highland Mall campus’ early voting center on Monday afternoon to cast their ballots on their way to class. The students are among 1,963 young adults in AISD schools that are age 18 or older this month.

“I can say that it’s important to vote, and people are going to say ‘That’s an old guy, right?’” Cruz said to the students. “But, if they hear you saying it, I think it’s a different message. Don’t you think?”

The students, who take classes at ACC through their high school, recorded a video with Cruz while standing outside the polling place to encourage other students their age to go to the polls. The video is part of a concerted effort Cruz’s office has made this fall to educate students at AISD schools about the importance of exercising their right to vote. The superintendent’s office plans to share the video on the AISD Twitter account and Facebook page to reach students in a new way.

“In all of our high schools, we have individuals who help students and families understand about voting. It’s something we’ve done for many years,” Cruz said. “This is to use different mediums that students are used to now. It’s just another approach to get the word out.”

Reagan Early College High School Academic Director, Jesse De La Huerta, says many students find the voting process intimidating

“Every time I talk to students who are becoming of-age to vote, it’s scary. They’re like, ‘What if I don’t know what to do? What about this? What about that?’” De La Huerta said.

Teachers at Reagan quell students’ concerns about voting by answering these questions in government classes at Reagan, De La Huerta says. They enthusiastically accepted the challenge from the superintendent’s office this year to talk more to their students about the importance of voting, he said.

AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz poses with students outside of ACC’s Highland Mall campus during an AISD voter awareness event.
CREDIT MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR. / KUT

 

But education groups across the state say teachers also need encouragement to vote, and they want school district superintendents to create a culture of voting on campuses – an effort called Texas Educators Vote.

“When people vote, they often have an issue in mind and it’s not usually education,” said Laura Yeager, the director of Texas Educators Vote. “These are educators who vote and then they often get to school and say, ‘Gee, why aren’t they funding our schools?’ and ‘Why am I only teaching testing?’ and ‘Why are all these things happening?’ And we’re trying to link the issue that’s important to them with their vote.”

The group includes the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Rural Education Association and others. Yeager says she and some others got the idea after the last legislative session.

“We were bemoaning how hard it was to get good public education passed, but we had done a pretty good job stopping some bad legislation,” she said. The idea, Yeager adds, is to educate teachers and hope that education trickles down to students and other school employees.

“We can get them to research and think about who actually supports public education,” she said. “Get them educated, and then encourage the culture of voting for students, educators, bus drivers and custodians and, really, everyone working in Texas public schools. Maybe we’d get to elect people that really did support public schools.”

The group doesn’t endorse any candidates, but encourages teachers to educate themselves on who is running and their views. They also suggest schools provide incentives to teachers to vote through school-wide contests or mini prizes for those who wear an “I Voted” sticker.

“You could go down in history, you could be that person who says later, ‘I voted for the first female,’ if that’s the case, or whatever the case may be,” De La Huerta said.

Last month, Austin School Board trustees approved a resolution to encourage Texas educators to vote.

While this message seems to be inspiring at least some students at Reagan, they may have to do a little digging to figure out how to vote on their own. Celeste Vasquez, one of the students featured in the video, said she used the internet to figure out how to register to vote.

“My government teacher talked to me somewhat about the procedure, but mostly about the importance of voting,” she said. “I pretty much learned how to do all the other stuff on my own through websites. I figured out step by step what I needed to do, one step at a time.”

This story was produced by KUT in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum. It was originally published by KUT and reprinted with permission. View the original article and listen to audio here.