Tag Archives: retirement

Latest education developments in the 85th legislature

DASIHSWU0AA4SAhIt was a busy weekend for the Texas House and Senate, which took action to move forward several pieces of high-profile education legislation during meetings on Saturday and Sunday that stretched into the overnight hours. The regular legislative session is slated to end in just one week on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. Here’s a look at some of the latest activity from ATPE’s lobbyists:

Budget

The House was in session for most of the day Saturday. Late that afternoon, senators and representatives serving on the conference committee for Senate Bill (SB) 1, held a public hearing to openly discuss the terms of a compromise for the state’s budget bill. The discussions lasted beyond midnight amid late calls from the governor for additional funding of governor’s office initiatives for economic development. The SB 1 compromise includes adding $480 million for retired educators’ healthcare (consisting of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts), which is contingent upon final passage of the TRS-Care bill. The conferees agreed on tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenditures to repair aging state hospital facilities and purchase bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers. They’ll also use a payment deferral method to free up some needed cash.

The budget compromise entails a $530 million increase for public education, but that’s far less than the additional $1.6 billion that the House had proposed in its budget, contingent upon passage of Huberty’s school finance reform bill, House Bill (HB) 21. The final funding available for public schools will depend largely on what becomes of HB 21 now that the Senate has made dramatic changes to that bill, most notably by harnessing a private school voucher plan to it.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) told senators this afternoon that while the conference committee has adopted its report, there are still some housekeeping items to be worked out before the report is presented to the full House and Senate. She directed senators to the Legislative Budget Board’s website to view documents related to the report on the budget compromise.

Bathrooms

The House was back in session on Sunday, and one of the most watched moments was the debate on a school safety bill that became the vehicle for an amendment relating to gender-based bathroom policies for schools. SB 2078 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was a noncontroversial bill intended to help school districts address their multi-hazard operations plans. But Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) successfully added a floor amendment to address bathroom usage in schools.

As adopted by the House on a 91-50 vote last night, the Paddie amendment requires schools to provide a single-occupancy restroom or changing facility for any student who requests an accommodation because he or she does not wish to use the facility corresponding to the student’s biological sex. Questions remain as to whether school districts will be forced to adopt or change any of their existing policies on bathrooms aside from any such requests for accommodations. The bill as amended passed on second reading late last night, and the House approved SB 2078 with the amendments on third reading today.

Now the bill heads back to the Senate for a determination of whether the House’s language, with its added bathroom-related amendments, will be acceptable or will require referral to a conference committee. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already called the new language “ambiguous” in a statement to reporters today.

Healthcare

The full Senate took Saturday off and reconvened at 7 pm last night, taking up a couple of bills of great interest to the education community. First, the Senate unanimously passed HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) to reform the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. The proposed changes are a tough pill to swallow for many retirees, but will prevent the program from completely running out of money during the upcoming biennium. For more on the TRS-Care bill, read ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s blog post here.

Vouchers and School Finance

At around 11 pm Sunday night, the Senate began debating HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill that is now hosting the Senate’s controversial language calling for an education savings account voucher for students with special needs.

Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the bill’s Senate sponsor and author of the voucher language, emphasized his opinion that the voucher likely would only be used by 5,000 students, or one percent of the current public school student population. He fielded questions from several senators, notably Sens. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), who pointed out the problems with private school vouchers, such as parents being forced to give up the many rights and protections of state and federal law that students with special needs enjoy when they attend public schools. Opponents in the Senate also pointed out that voucher utilization rates have been considerably higher (and costlier) than one percent in other states that have passed vouchers, making the Senate’s version of HB 21 likely to produce a much higher price tag than being claimed. The Senate tabled a Rodriguez amendment that would have stripped the objectionable voucher language from the bill, and similarly rejected a Menendez amendment that called on private schools that receive voucher funds to comply with the laws that would otherwise protect special needs students attending public school. A handful of other floor amendments were added to the bill, mostly representing less significant bills that had died on the calendar this session.

The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 on second reading at around 1 am this morning. After adjourning for a couple of minutes and reconvening, the Senate passed its version of HB 21 on third reading at around 1:30 this morning. The final floor votes on the bill were 21-10 with all Republican senators plus Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voting for HB 21; all other Democratic senators opposed the bill. The bill now heads back to the Texas House where it’s likely to receive a chilly reception.

This afternoon, the House advanced another school finance-related bill on second reading. SB 2144 by Sen. Larry Taylor, sponsored in the House by Rep. Huberty, would create a commission to study school finance during the interim and make recommended fixes to the next legislature. Laying out the less significant study bill today, Rep. Huberty used the opportunity to complain about the Senate’s changes to his HB 21, which had the effect of stripping out much of the extra funding proposed by the House for public schools.

Testing

Upon adjournment of the Senate in the overnight hours, the Senate Education Committee called a last-minute meeting to take a vote on a pending bill relating to student testing. Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 515 as filed was an ATPE-supported bill designed to eliminate some state STAAR tests not required by federal law. Earlier this month, the full House amended the bill to add language from another bill (HB 1776 by Ashby) that would call on school districts to administer the test for U.S. citizenship in lieu of a state-adopted history test. The Senate committee approved a substitute version of HB 515 early this morning that strips out the citizenship test requirement and instead calls for the State Board of Education to study the alignment and coursework of required social studies curricula for grades 8-12. The Senate’s committee substitute bill also allows school districts to use SAT, ACT, and TSI tests as alternative assessments for graduation purposes. The full Senate must still pass HB 515 by Wednesday.

Today, the House gave preliminary approval to Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 aimed at extending the law allowing individual graduation committees for certain students unable to pass STAAR tests required for graduation. The House agreed to a floor amendment by Rep. Huberty that will extend the ATPE-supported law until 2021. The bill must pass on third reading, and then as with many of these other bills, the Senate will have a chance either to accept the House’s version of the bill in its current form or send the bill to a conference committee during this last week of the legislative session.

Now what?

There is a lingering question on many stakeholders’ minds now: “Will there be a special session?” Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made public demands for a special session if the House failed to pass a property tax reform bill and a bill on transgender bathroom policies. Over the weekend, Gov. Abbott took unusual steps to declare an emergency on changing the state’s voter ID laws, signaling that issue as another “must pass” item for the regular session. Now that the House has added language relating to all three of these issues onto other bills, it remains to be seen whether those measures will be deemed acceptable by the Senate or if the governor will be inclined to call a special session. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

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.

 


Update on TRS-Care legislation

Drugs and MoneyThe Texas Senate is expected to vote soon on House Bill (HB) 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), a bill to reform the state’s healthcare program for retired educators. The Texas House approved the bill unanimously earlier this month. Here’s a look at the background and history of the legislation, as well as its current status.

Part I: How did we get here?

For at least the past four years, the TRS retiree health insurance program known as TRS-Care, has been headed toward a financial disaster. During the 83rd legislative session in 2013, the legislature began supplementing formula funding for TRS-Care to cover a projected shortfall. In the 84th legislative session in 2015, lawmakers increased the amount of supplemental funds to $768 million again to cover the TRS-Care shortfall. Covering the projected shortfall this session would take more than $1 billion above and beyond what the current funding formulas call for. That amount, already considered unsustainable, is only projected to rise in future years.

The issues driving TRS-Care toward disaster are runaway health care inflation and a statutory requirement to offer a free health insurance option.

TRS-Care presently has three funding streams: premiums associated with TRS-Care 2 and TRS-Care 3, since TRS-Care 1 is free; formula funding generated from the state, school districts, and active TRS members; and Medicare reimbursements from those over 65 who are on Medicare. The formula funded part of the equation is based on active TRS member payroll. Specifically, the state pays 1 percent of payroll into the fund while school districts pay .55 percent and active members pay .25 percent. Active TRS members’ total payroll generally increases over time at about 2 percent each year. This in turn means the formula funding for TRS-Care similarly increases over time at about 2 percent.

ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-docUnfortunately, healthcare costs have increased at over 7 percent annually for many years. This has led to a situation where the costs for TRS to pay healthcare claims has dramatically exceeded the funding available to pay for those claims, and the gap between funding and costs is only growing.

Without the legislature writing a check to cover the funding gap described above, TRS-Care would go into what is known as a death spiral. TRS would be forced to dramatically raise the premiums on TRS-Care 2 and 3, which are the current paid options offered to retirees, in order to cover the cost of all TRS-Care claims. The dramatic increase in the cost of these optional plans would drive more retirees to choose TRS-Care 1, the free option. As more retirees migrated to TRS-Care 1, the funding stream from premiums would dry up, further increasing the gap between revenueand the cost of paying claims, and the whole system would collapse.

How has the state responded?  The short answer is – not well!

State lawmakers currently have, and have previously had, only three options for addressing the TRS-Care problem. One, they can work to legitimately bring down the costs of retiree health care. Two, they can pay the additionally costs. Three, they can shift the costs to someone other than the state, i.e. retirees, school districts, and active teachers.

Legitimately bringing down healthcare costs, while likely possible, is challenging at the state level and at best a long-term process. Much of what impacts healthcare costs involves federal law over which state legislators have little or no control. Effectively that leaves as the only viable options putting in more money, either from the state or from somewhere else.

Knowing that this problem was approaching, legislators could have taken action six or eight years ago and aggressively pushed TRS-Care participants toward healthier and therefore cheaper outcomes, eliminated the free option under TRS, and at the same time increased the TRS-care formulas. Had they made these changes back then, before TRS-Care was facing a giant funding deficit, the pain to the state and to retirees would have been very minimal. However, back when these issues weren’t yet urgent, it was easier to keep ongoing state costs at a minimum and keep the potent voting block of retired teachers happy by ignoring future realities. Even when deficits between TRS funding and the cost of paying claims began to appear over the last two sessions, while times were good and state coffers were flush, it was easier to simply write one-time checks to prop up the system and ignore the oncoming train wreck.

Now that state revenues are lean and the TRS-Care deficit has grown into a billion dollar hole, it’s too late to reap the slow savings associated with bringing down costs. Lawmakers are unwilling to take on billion dollar ongoing funding increases, and the pain that retirees will experience from the state’s shifting the cost of covering the funding gap to them will be substantial, and in some cases, possibly lethal.

Part II: Where are we now?

The Senate State Affairs committee has legislative oversight for TRS-related issues in the upper chamber, and it is chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). Having no intention of asking her colleagues to fund the TRS-Care deficit for a third session, Sen. Huffman starting crafting a plan during last year’s interim that was designed primarily to shift the cost of paying for TRS-Care to retirees. Stakeholders, including active and retired teachers, were given an opportunity to provide their input at one perfunctory hearing. However, by the time of that hearing, the majority of the plan that was to become Senate Bill (SB) 788 was already in place.

In early February 2017, SB 788 was filed. As originally filed the bill eliminated TRS-Care plans 1-3 and replaced them with two plans: one plan for retirees under the age of 65 and one plan for retirees age 65 and older.

  • The under 65 plan was a high deductible plan with a first deductible of $4,000. After the participant hit $4,000 in out-of-pocket costs, the plan would have transitioned to offering 80/20 coinsurance coverage up to a maximum out-of-pocket cost of $7,150. After hitting the max out-of-pocket cost in a given plan year, the plan would have covered additional in-network costs at 100 percent. Like all high deductible plans, there are no medical or drug co-payments; you simply pay 100 percent (or 20 percent after the first $4,000 deductible has been met) of the full contracted price for the drug or medical service. As filed, the SB 788 plan was projected to require premiums of $430 a month. Thus, the total annual cost for participants covered by the plan would have been between $5,160 and $12,310. (For perspective, the average TRS annuity is approximately $24,000 a year.)
  • The 65 and over plan in SB 788 would have replaced all current TRS plans with a Medicare Advantage plan. Under a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare is the primary insurance and the advantage plan is supplemental insurance designed to cover what Medicare does not. The deducible for this plan was projected to be $500 with monthly premiums of $140.

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsEven with these changes delineated under SB 788, TRS projected that TRS-Care would still have a funding deficit of approximately $300 million during the upcoming biennium and increasing deficits in subsequent years. As filed, the Senate plan did not increase the TRS-Care funding formulas. Instead, the Senate envisioned writing another one-time supplemental check to cover the balance of this biennium’s deficit, leaving a continuing and growing problem for future legislators to address.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of active and retired teacher advocates and receptive House members, the plans for TRS-Care while far from perfect have continued to improve over the course of this legislative session. SB 788 has been left pending, as the House bill, HB 3976, continues to proceed.

As it stands today, the TRS-Care bill moving forward still eliminates the current structure and replaces it with two age-dependent options.

  • The under 65 plan is still a high deductible plan with an out-of-pocket first deductible of $3,000 and maximum out-of-pocket cost of $7,150. The monthly premium will start at $200 a month for the first year and will increase for the following three years to approximately $370 a month. The plan also includes language that lets a TRS retiree opt out of the pre-65 plan and opt back into TRS for the 65-and-over plan once the retiree becomes Medicare eligible. Additionally, members under 65 who have retired due to a disability before January 1, 2017, will not have to pay premiums for the first four years. The plan will also cover a list of generic maintenance drugs, such as blood pressure and cholesterol medications, free of charge.
  • The 65-and-over plan is essentially the same as filed, but TRS at the request of multiple legislators is committed to expanding access to medical providers willing to take the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plan. Restricted access to doctors has been one of the primary concerns about the Medicare Advantage plan.

In addition to better plan design, HB 3976 as it currently stands increases the state’s share of the funding formulas from 1 percent to 1.25 percent and increases the district’s share from .55 percent to .75 percent. The active employee share is not being increased at this time. These increases in formula funding give some assurance of a continued increase in regular appropriated spending in future years. This is a very important step for the continued existence of the retired educators’ health insurance program.

For those educators who have retired, especially those under age 65, or for those considering retirement in the near future, the changes to TRS-Care contemplated in SB 788 and HB 3976 are a lot to consider. ATPE members may contact our Governmental Relations team if you have specific questions about the bill. We also highly encourage you to contact TRS directly for questions about your retirement or your specific coverage questions about TRS-Care. You can contact Senate author Sen. Huffman or House author Rep. Ashby if you want to express your support, opposition, or any commentary on the legislation. Please remember to be courteous and respectful if you choose to contact one or both of the legislators, and remember that while this bill is not by any stretch perfect, TRS-Care health insurance will cease to exist altogether if no bill passes at all.

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.

 


 

 

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.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.

 


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:

 


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

Senate committee approves budget proposal

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashThe committee substitute to Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Senate’s budget bill, was voted favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee on a vote of 15 to 0 this morning. The SB 1 committee substitute, which appropriates $106.3 billion in general revenue, reflects all of the recommended modifications to individual articles of the budget made by the work groups and adopted by the full Finance Committee.

In her comments, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) stated that SB 1 fully funds the Foundation School Program (FSP), including $2.6 billion for enrollment growth. Nelson also touted $25 million in spending for broadband expansion through the e-Rate program; $65 million to a new public / private partnership for pre-K (the committee substitute cuts $180 million in pre-K grants from SB 1 as it was originally filed); and $316 million to fund SB 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would reform TRS-Care.

Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) probed staff from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) on how to reconcile claims that SB1 fully funds the FSP while spending nearly $1.4 billion less in general revenue on the program. In response, LBB staff confirmed that SB 1 does fund the amount that current law calls for in FSP entitlements, but the funding level is $1.4 billion lower this session because increases in local property values mean that less funding is required through state general revenue. Due to this continued supplanting of state funding with local property taxes, the proportion of the state’s share of FSP funding is projected to decline to 38% or less by the end of the biennium.

SB 1 as substituted is expected to be brought up for a vote on the floor of the full Senate on Tuesday, March 28.

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

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


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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

 


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

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

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

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

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

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

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

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

 


In other news this week:

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

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

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

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

 


Are you following ATPE’s Governmental Relations team on Twitter?

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 10, 2017

Today is the deadline for filing bills this legislative session, making it an exceptionally busy week at the Texas State Capitol. Here are stories you may have missed:


Gallery_03-06-17More than 400 educators visited the Texas State Capitol Monday for ATPE at the Capitol. Resolutions honoring ATPE were read in the Texas House and Senate by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) respectively as legislators greeted ATPE at the Capitol attendees dressed in red attire who were seated throughout the galleries above the two chambers. House_03-06-17ATPE members spent the day visiting with legislators and their staffs to discuss legislative priorities such as reducing standardized testing, funding educators’ healthcare needs, preventing private school vouchers, and opposing bills that would needlessly take away educators’ rights to deduct association dues from their paychecks.

On Sunday, ATPE at the Capitol attendees prepared for their meetings with lawmakers by learning more about pending bills and major education issues being debated by the 85th Legislature. John Kuhn, Superintendent of Mineral Wells ISD, delivered an opening keynote address highlighting the need for educators to keep their focus on what’s best for students, even while many lawmakers and wealthy business interests are pursuing reforms aimed at dismantling the public education system. Kuhn_03-05-17A key topic of Kuhn’s speech was the ongoing push for vouchers, which despite being called by many different names such as “education savings accounts” and “opportunity scholarships” are a way to convert a public trust into a private enterprise. Countering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s oft-cited claim that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time,” Kuhn called vouchers a “civil wrongs movement” and akin to “fool’s gold.”

Panel_03-04-17ATPE at the Capitol attendees also heard a presentation by ATPE lobbyists on our organization’s legislative priorities with tips on communicating with lawmakers both in person and using tools such as ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Another highlight of the event was the closing general session, which featured a question-and-answer session with a panel of legislators moderated by TWC/Spectrum News television host Karina Kling. The panel featured Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) who sits on the Article III Subcommittee for the House Committee on Appropriations. Their lively discussion covered topics ranging from the payroll deduction bills to the Teacher Retirement System and the state’s controversial new “A through F” accountability labeling system.

Speaker_03-06-17

ATPE state officers met with Speaker Straus Monday


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met last Friday, March 3, 2017. The board asked the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to step back on its interest in developing a new Pre-kindergarten through Grade 3 certificate for teachers. Learn more about the discussion and other SBEC items in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


The House Public Education Committee has begun hearing a number of bills that could change the state’s belabored school finance system. The legislation includes House Bill (HB) 21, a new bill filed Monday by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the committee. HB 21 aimes to infuse an extra $1.6 billion into public education over the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill and a few others during a hearing on Tuesday. In a show of support for the House members’ effort to address the complicated issue of school finance, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) stopped by the committee hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was also there and provided a complete report on our blog earlier this week.

Also this week, Chairman Huberty filed HB 22, a bill to modify the state’s controversial “A through F” accountability ratings for schools. In addition to delaying implementation of A-F, the bill would compress the number of domains from five to three and prevent schools from receiving a single overall grade. No hearing has been set yet for the bill.

With the passage of today’s 60-day mark for the legislative session, more bills will be eligible for floor consideration now, which includes Sen. Joan Huffman’s anti-educator SB 13 that has already made it out of a Senate committee and could be placed on the Senate’s floor calendar at any time. ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central and send messages to their lawmakers about this legislation and several other bad bills being considered this session.

 


The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill designed to curb inappropriate educator relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that among other things, Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, a practice sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” (ATPE testified in support of SB 7 in committee and offered more on the contents of the bill here.)

SB 7 was amended on the Senate floor this week to add a requirement that educator preparation programs offer training on the topic of misconduct. ATPE supported the addition of the training provision because we hear from educators that too often the topic of appropriate student boundaries and relationships goes unaddressed with students training to enter the education profession.

The Senate also added two amendments by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which clarify reporting language for principals and ensure educators know how to respond when inappropriately approached by a student. Another floor amendment by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) revokes the pensions of those educators convicted of certain felonies involving a student.

SB 7 passed the Senate unanimously, and all 31 senators signed on as co-authors of the legislation. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 


Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a marathon overnight hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), one of the session’s most controversial proposals to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts, municipal governments, and other entities. The committee heard 13 hours of public testimony mostly from witnesses opposed to the bill, before voting 8-1 to send the measure to the full Senate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was the only no vote. Those opposing the bill included all four of the state’s major teacher groups, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the Texas Association of School Administrators. Many education stakeholders believe the bill unnecessarily dictates policies that must be adopted by local school boards rather than providing for local control. SB 6 is another of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

 


Congress voted this week to freeze two ESSA regulations that had been finalized only recently by the Obama administration. The rules pertain to teacher preparation and accountability and are headed to President Trump’s desk for final repeal approval. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the anticipated repeal here.

 


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