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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.

Graduation committees advance in House hearing

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning to consider a large agenda of Senate bills as the session winds down. The committee also approved the following bills Tuesday evening:

  • CSSB 463, which was heard earlier in the day. The bill would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) through 2019.
  • SB 436, the Senate companion to HB 4226, which would require meetings of the Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee to be conducted in compliance with open meetings laws.
  • CSSB 529, the Senate companion to HB 2209, which would incorporate “universal design for learning” into the required training for all classroom teachers.
  • SB 585, the Senate companion to HB 545, which would require principals to allow “patriotic societies” such as Boy Scouts to speak to students about membership at the beginning of the school year.
  • SB 748, the Senate companion to HB 4027, which would add additional guidelines to the transition plan for special education students preparing to leave the public school system.
  • CSSB 1481, the Senate companion to HB 4140, which would rename the instructional materials allotment (IMA) the “instructional materials and technology allotment” and require districts to consider “open education resources” before purchasing instructional materials.
  • SB 1942, the Senate companion to HB 1692, which would allow a licensed handgun owner to store a firearm in a vehicle parked in the parking lot of a public school, open-enrollment charter school or private school. State Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) voted against the bill.
  • SB 2080, the Senate companion to HB 69, which would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

The meeting began with SB 1566 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would hand broad powers to local school boards to compel the testimony of district officials and obtain district documents. It would also require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) develop a website for boards to review campus and district academic achievement data.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

SB 2131 by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add requirements to counseling regarding postsecondary education, encouraging a focus on dual credit programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1294 by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit “exclusive consultation,” ensuring that educators on campus-level advisory committees do not all belong to a single professional association. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1660 by Sen. Taylor would allow districts to choose between using either minutes or days to calculate operation. According to the fiscal note, SB 1660 could cost the state $1.7 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2019.

SB 195 by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) would allow additional transportation allotment funding to districts with children living within the two mile zone who are at a high risk of violence if they walk to school. In the fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board indicated that there is insufficient data regarding the number of students who are at risk of violence to be able to calculate a fiscal impact. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1854 by state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) would require district-level committees to review paperwork requirements annually and recommend to the board of trustees instructional tasks that can be transferred to non-instructional staff. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 384 by state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) would give the State Board of Education (SBOE) flexibility in scheduling end-of-course exams to avoid conflicts with AP/IB national tests.

SB 1883 by Sen. Campbell would modify the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE opposes the bill because the removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible. Adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

SB 1005 by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow the use of the SAT or the ACT as a secondary exit-level assessment instrument to allow certain public school students to receive a high school diploma. The fiscal note estimates an annual cost of $2 million per year.

SB 1839 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would create a certification for early childhood through grade three, and would grant the commissioner authority to set reciprocity rules regarding the ability of teachers from outside the state to obtain a certificate in Texas. ATPE believes that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), as the official state body charged with the oversight of educator standards, is the more appropriate authority to set these rules.

SB 2270 by Sen. Lucio would create a pilot program in ESC Region 1 to provide additional pre-K funding for low-income students.

SB 1784 by Sen. Taylor would encourage the use of “open-source instructional materials.”

SB 2188 by Sen. Taylor would specify that a student who is 18 or older in an off home campus instructional arrangement is a full-time student if they receive 20 hours of contact a week. Part-time would be defined as between 10 and 20 contact hours per week. According to the fiscal note, SB 2188 would cost roughly $7 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 463 by state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) to 2019 and order the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to compile a report tracking the progress of IGC graduates. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2039 by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would develop instructional modules and training for public schools on the prevention of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1483 by Sen. Taylor would establish a grant program to implement a technology lending program to provide students with electronic instructional materials. The program would be funded through instructional materials fund. The fiscal note anticipates no additional cost, but indicated the commissioner could use up to $25 million of existing funds from the instructional materials fund each biennium.

SB 1398 by Sen. Lucio makes lots of clarifying and limiting changes to the classroom video camera law. Among them, the bill would require requests in writing and only require equipment in classrooms or settings in which the child is in regular attendance or to which the staff member is assigned.

SB 1122 by state Sen. Donald Huffines (R-Dallas) would create a mechanism to abolish Dallas County Schools, one of two remaining county school districts in the state, which primarily provides transportation services to multiple independent school districts in the Dallas area.

SB 1886 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would create an office of the inspector general at TEA appointed by the commissioner to prevent and detect criminal activity in districts, charter schools, and education service centers (ESCs). The bill would allow the new TEA inspector general to issue subpoenas in order to secure evidence.

SB 490 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would require a report on the number of school counselors at each campus. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1484 by Sen. Taylor would create a web portal and instructional materials repository to assist schools in selecting open education resources. The bill provides for a third party to provide independent analysis regarding TEKS alignment. According to the fiscal note, SB 1484 would not require additional state funding, but would result in an additional cost of $1.85 million in fiscal year 2018 and $450,000 in subsequent years that would be paid from existing instructional materials funding.

SB 1658 by Sen. Taylor would make changes to laws regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school.

SB 2078 by Sen. Taylor would require TEA develop a model multi-hazard emergency operations plan and create a cycle of review. The fiscal note anticipates a fiscal impact of roughly $215,000 per year.

SB 2144 by Sen. Taylor would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. ATPE supports this bill.

This week in the Texas Senate

The Senate wrapped up its work week today after two Senate Education Committee meetings with modest agendas and a number of education bills getting the green light from the full Senate chamber.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee heard a total of twelve bills this week during its regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. ATPE supported three bills: SB 1699, which establishes a framework of available resources for districts and campuses to use when addressing students’ non-academic barriers to learning; SB 927, which would set up a process for reevaluating any students who may have been denied necessary special education services because of the 8.5% cap uncovered last year; and SB 2052, which adjusts the school start date to not before the third (it’s currently set at the fourth) Monday in August and prohibits Districts of Innovation (DOI) districts from opting out of the provision.

ATPE opposed a bill, SB 1963, that would roll back a rule recently adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that requires all educator preparation programs to conduct one in-person, face-to-face observation of all principal, counselor, diagnostician, and other non-classroom teacher candidates.

The committee also passed its first House bill, sending that bill and 13 other Senate bills to the full Senate.

Texas Senate

On the floor of the full Senate this week, several education bills were approved and sent to the House for consideration by the body. ATPE is advocating for a number of the bills:

  • SB 463 by Sen. Seliger (R-Amarillo) is a top priority of ATPE and many other public school advocates. The bill would extend individual graduation committees available to those students who otherwise demonstrate mastery, but fail to pass up to two STAAR exams required for graduation. Read more about the bill here. Senators Konni Burton, Donna Campbell, and Jane Nelson were the only senators to oppose final passage.
  • SB 196 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) would require schools to notify parents if the school does not have a full-time nurse, school counselor, or librarian. The measure ultimately passed 19-12.
  • SB 2144 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) establishes a commission to study school finance in Texas. The bill passed the chamber unanimously. During debate, Chairman Taylor indicated his larger school finance bill, SB 2145, would be debated on the Senate floor next week.
  • SB 1854 by Sen. Uresti (D-San Antonio) would reduce unnecessary paperwork currently required of classroom teachers in schools. Senators Robert Nichols and Van Taylor were the only senators to oppose the bill.
  • SB 179 by Sen. Menendez (D-San Antonio), which aims to prevent and criminalizes school aged bullying and cyberbullying, passed unanimously out of the Senate after substantial changes.

The chamber advanced a few additional bills this week. SB 1839 by Sen. Hughes (R-Mineola), creates an EC-3 certification, gives the Commissioner authority to determine certain out-of-state certification reciprocity standards, and addresses educator preparation data collection. ATPE testifed neutrally on this piece of legislation in committee, sharing that the SBEC is already in the process of thoughtfully considering the best approach to adequately training early childhood teachers. We have also shared that all other certification authority is granted to SBEC, and it makes little sense to parse out reciprocity responsibility to the commissioner instead of the board.

SB 1882 puts into statute a process for schools to partner with a charter campus. Such partnerships already exist in Texas, but the bill would encourage them by granting financial and accountability incentives. ATPE has maintained that if we want to incentivize districts to implement turnaround models or try new approaches, we shouldn’t pick winners and losers by incentivizing one model or approach over others when many other valuable methods exist. The Senate floor debate included the adoption of an amendment advocated for by ATPE that ensures partner charters have been rated acceptable for the three preceding years. The Senate also contemplated an amendment that would have clarified that the district would remain the educators’ employer. However, that amendment lacked support and was pulled from consideration. The bill passed unanimously.

Finally, SB 1883 involves approval and review processes for charter schools. ATPE opposed the bill as originally filed because it removed the State Board of Education from the charter review process and revoked the board’s veto power over charter approvals. The review process issue was altered before the bill passed, but many of ATPE’s additional concerns remain.

The Senate begins its work again next week on Monday afternoon. Stay tuned as we head into the final three weeks of session.

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/.

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 21, 2017

Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE lobby team:


Falling US MoneyThe Texas House of Representatives this week passed a comprehensive school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. HB 21 is the House’s opening salvo in what the bill’s author calls a multi-session school finance reform effort. The bill is now on its way to the Senate where it is expected to receive a less than certain reception.

HB 21 picked up 10 floor amendments over the course of more than four hours of debate on Wednesday evening. The bill was approved on second reading by a vote of 134 to 16, and then the House passed HB 21 the following day on third reading by a vote of 132 to 15. Stay tuned later this week for a blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter describing the details of the bill as approved by the House.

The next steps will be for HB 21 to be accepted by the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee, where we hope that Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will schedule it for a public hearing. Taylor’s committee heard his own school finance bill this week, Senate Bill (SB) 2145. A hearing on HB 21 would likely include a discussion of the differences and merits of the two school finance plans.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week, also. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog earlier this week, the board’s agenda includes high-profile reviews of some of the state’s curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

This morning, the board held a final vote on proposed changes to the TEKS for science. The biology portion in particular has been the focus of debate over the discussion of evolution. Board members began the week seeking compromise language that would satisfy scientists as well as those wishing to allow for some discussion of creationism.

The board voted down an amendment this morning by member SBOE Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) that would have instructed teachers to “compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity.” The board then adopted an amendment by SBOE member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) instructing teachers “to compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) assured the board that the compromise language still encourages criticism of the theory of evolution.

On revisions to the TEKS for English and Spanish language arts and reading, the board has opted to delay a final vote until May. For more on this week’s SBOE deliberations, check out the latest update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here on our blog.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee education policy for the Texas House and Senate have been busy hearing numerous bills and voting a number of them through for floor consideration.

Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard bills that included such topics as charter school authorizations and educator certification. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on our blog, the committee heard both a bill that could restrict the expansion of charter schools in certain areas and a bill that would make it easier for charters to be approved. The committee also considered an educator certification bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become certified in Texas without necessarily passing an exam.

As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported on Twitter, the Senate Education Committee also voted yesterday to give favorable approval to several Senate bills, many of which have been changed from their original versions that were filed: SB 653, SB 754, SB 1122, SB 1267, SB 1398, SB 1882, SB 2142, SB 2143, SB 2188, and SB 2270.

The House Public Education Committee held a full hearing for several bills on Tuesday and then met again yesterday for the purpose of voting on pending bills. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog, Tuesday’s agenda included hearing HB 306, known as David’s Law, to prevent cyber-bullying and harassment that encourages youths to commit suicide. ATPE testified in support of the bill, as we similarly supported the Senate version, SB 179, during a prior hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read Mark’s blog post for more on the bills that were heard and voted upon by the committee on Tuesday. During Thursday’s formal meeting of the same committee, members voted to send 11 additional bills to the full House for consideration. For a list of those bills, check out Mark’s follow-up blog post on Teach the Vote.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday for consideration of several bills. The agenda includes bills pertaining to testing, instructional materials, pre-K, and Districts of Innovation. ATPE will be there to testify and will provide updates next week on Teach the Vote and on Twitter.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Both the House and Senate have announced which of their members will serve on a conference committee for the state’s budget bill. The two chambers recently passed competing versions of Senate Bill (SB) 1, which necessitates a conference committee of 10 members to try to iron out the differences and forge a compromise to keep the government in operation for two more years and avoid the need for a special session.

Announced first this week were the Senate conferees for SB 1: Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), along with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen). On the House side, the conference committee appointees are House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), plus Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

 


Football RefereeAlso this week, the Senate approved a measure known as the Tim Tebow bill, which requires the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to allow the participation of home-schooled students. SB 640 by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) received the Senate’s approval on Wednesday by a vote of 23 to 8. The bill still has to be considered in the House.

ATPE has opposed SB 640 and similar legislation in previous sessions based on long-standing positions in the ATPE Legislative Program adopted each year by our members. Specifically, ATPE members object to letting home-schooled students participate in extracurricular activities without being held to the same standards as their public school counterparts, such as no pass/no play laws.

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Related: The ATPE Legislative Committee will be meeting in Austin this weekend to review the ATPE Legislative Program and make recommendations for any changes to the House of Delegates. Learn more about the ATPE Legislative Program and our member-owned, member-governed philosophy here.

 

 


Charter schools, educator certification top Senate Education Committee hearing

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday, April 20, to hear a number of bills pertaining to charter schools, educator training and certification, and more. ATPE weighed in on several measures.

Review, approval, and expansion of open-enrollment charter schools

The committee heard a handful of bills pertaining to charter schools on a number of issues. First up was Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 1883, pertaining to the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE testified against the bill. Our opposition was based on two primary themes: (1) removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible and (2) adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

Charter schools are not governed by an elected board of trustees, as is the case for traditional public school districts, so State Board of Education (SBOE) involvement in the charter applicant approval process is among the few opportunities for elected officials beholden to the Texas taxpayers to offer charter oversight. As was pointed out during the hearing, a recent out-of-state charter applicant that received approval three separate times from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, was then vetoed by SBOE each time based on reasonable concerns about the charter’s inappropriate profiteering in other states. Clearly, SBOE’s involvement plays a valuable role on multiple levels.

SB 1883 also creates new appeal and review processes for charters. The current process for charter approval offers sufficient opportunity for charter applicants to showcase the worth of their application. Further, charter schools and school districts have sufficient time to correct or address data or calculation errors prior to it affecting the entities’ academic or financial accountability ratings. ATPE believes that the additional appeal and review processes provided under Sen. Campbell’s bill are unnecessary and would only result in government waste at TEA, an agency that is already taxed for resources.

ATPE supported a charter bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), SB 2130, which would establish a process for first determining regional need before approving a new charter applicant or charter expansion effort. The bill would require the TEA commissioner to first consider a number of factors aimed at determining whether a current traditional school is sufficiently serving the educational needs of students who live in the district. If it is determined that the existing schools are sufficient to meet those needs, a charter applicant would not be granted approval to establish or expand in the area, a measure that is intended to address over-saturation of charter schools in specific geographic areas.

Early childhood certification, reciprocity for out-of-state certificate holders

SB 1839 by Sen. Brian Hughes (R-Mineola) was originally filed as a measure aimed at improving educator preparation program practices in Texas. It also addressed reciprocity for educators trained and certified in other states or countries seeking to teach upon moving to Texas. Current law requires those our-of-state teachers to pass the relevant Texas certification exam(s) before teaching, unless their out-of-state certification is deemed “at least as rigorous” as a comparable Texas certification. Sen. Hughes’s bill, under the committee substitute presented yesterday, would omit the “at least as rigorous” exception, allowing any teacher certified in another state or country to teach in a Texas classroom upon arrival. ATPE expressed concerns, saying that some standard, be it passing the Texas certification exam or another form of showcasing qualifications, must be in place to ensure teachers entering Texas classrooms meet our state’s standards.

The committee substitute language also adds the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate, which is among one of several avenues the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is currently reviewing in order to ensure early childhood teachers receive the specific instruction needed to best teach early childhood students. ATPE told the committee the thorough review process by SBEC is the best route to address this issue, because many factors play into this certification and SBEC is considering them all, including potential impacts on the supply of certified teachers at other grade levels.

Assessment flexibility, sex trafficking instruction

ATPE offered its support to two additional bills heard during yesterday’s hearing. Sen. Campbell’s SB 1005 would give certain students, those who must still pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to graduate, the opportunity to meet graduation requirements by instead passing the SAT or ACT. ATPE also supported Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) SB 2039, which would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.

The full Senate Education Committee agenda from yesterday can be found here. A list of the bills voted out of the committee during the hearing can be found here. Among the bills advanced by the committee was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) SB 653, which he changed to only address pension revocation for certain individuals formerly employed as educators. Some of his original bill was rolled into the Senate’s priority bill pertaining to educator misconduct, SB 7, which is already moving through the process. ATPE supported both bills when they were previously heard in the Senate Education Committee.

House Public Education votes out 11 more bills Thursday

The House Public Education Committee met briefly this afternoon during a break in proceedings on the House floor in order to vote out several pending items of legislation. The committee approved the following bills:

  • CSHB 310, which would allow compensatory education allotment funds to be used to fund a district’s school guidance and counseling program.
  • HB 933, which would ban rolled or shaved baseball bats for use in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities.
  • CSHB 1075, which would require sports officials registered with UIL to undergo an additional criminal background check once every three years.
  • HB 1451, which would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.
  • HB 1569, which would require a residential treatment facility to provide a student’s school, behavioral and arrest records to a district or open-enrollment charter school that provides educational services to a student placed in the facility.
  • HB 1886, which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade.
  • CSHB 2087, which would protect student data. Specifically, the bill would protect students’ personally identifiable information from being gathered by web sites or providers for targeted advertising.
  • CSHB 3438, which would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses.
  • CSHB 3476, which would require students who are required to take a physical under UIL rules to take an electrocardiogram. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) explained the substitute introduces additional flexibility.
  • HB 3548, which would grant immunity from personal liability to a director, officer or employee of the nonprofit corporation established by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The bill would specify that the nonprofit corporation itself is subject to liability only in the manner that applies to school districts.
  • HB 3706, which would allow community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs to at-risk students online, in addition to at a campus.

The committee will meet next at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, and again the following Thursday to vote on additional bills.

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.

 


 

School finance bill on its way to full House

The House Public Education Committee convened Tuesday morning with a focus on legislation concerning charters. At the outset, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) vowed to advance House leadership’s priority school finance bill, HB 21. Members approved the bill during a brief break Tuesday morning by a vote of 10-1.

HPE 03-28-17

Huberty hearkened back to his days as a school board member to explain his longstanding goal of finding a grand fix for the state’s troubled school finance system. The chair noted, “While we’re not there, this is a good first step.”

Casting the lone vote against the committee substitute to HB 21, state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) noted HB 21 increases recapture payments by Highland Park ISD. According to model runs produced by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), Highland Park ISD would lose $1.6 million in fiscal year 2018, worth $80 per student weighted average daily attendance (WADA).

HB 21 now heads to Calendars, where it will be scheduled for debate on the House floor. With the exception of state Rep. Harold Dutton casting a vote of “present” on HB 1291, the committee unanimously approved the following bills heard previously:

  • HB 1291, which would add a course on “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  • HB 657, which would allow ARD committees to advance a student in a special education program after a single exam.
  • HB 1469, which would allow charter schools to hire teachers without a baccalaureate degree for non-core CTE courses.
  • HB 2263, which would shrink the role of campus intervention teams.
  • HB 789, which would allow Highland Park ISD to raise acceleration exam cut scores.
  • HB 1731, which excludes students leaving a residential facility from dropout rate calculations.
  • HB 3075, which excludes students in juvenile facilities from charter school dropout rate calculations.

The first new bill heard was HB 1669 by Rep. Tracy King (D-Batesville), which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit. It would add language to the law regarding complaints that protects school districts from complaints concerning a student’s participation in an extracurricular activity that doesn’t involve a violation of parental rights.

HB 2611 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days. VanDeaver argued the flexibility would allow districts to reach more potential buyers, and he noted that cities and counties are already allowed to do this.

HB 2051 by Chairman Huberty would raise the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $1,000 from $250. Huberty introduced a committee substitute that would allow the funds to go toward remodeling of facilities. Fast-growth districts and charters argue the funding is needed to keep up with the growing need for new instructional facilities. The allotment is funded off of a set number, and HB 2051 would not increase the total available in the fund. For that reason, HB 2051 has no fiscal note.

Similar to the committee substitute for HB 2051, HB 1081 by Rep. Diana Arévalo (D-San Antonio) would add renovated or repurposed facilities and leased facilities to the New Instructional Facility Allotment (NIFA) under the FSP. The bill makes no change to the amount of the allotment. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. While ATPE supports the ability to use NIFA dollars for renovation and repurposing of buildings, Exter raised concern with the lease language of HB 1081 and allowing state dollars to pay for renovations to facilities that districts will not actually own.

HB 481 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.

HB 3722 by Rep. King would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed. Under HB 3722, TEA would be able to provide additional funding by allowing such districts to make use of the local fund assignment (LFA) adjustment for the annexed district.

HB 1039 by Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would change the funding calculation for open-enrollment charter schools from a calculation based on the state average adjustment and tax effort to the lesser of the state average adjustment and tax effort or that of the school district in which the charter’s largest campus is located. González argued that the bill is needed to reduce funding advantages for certain charter schools and bring funding more in line with local ISDs, with the goal of returning charter schools to the original mission of identifying innovative education practices. According to the fiscal note, HB 1039 would save $161 million in state funds over the next two years, which González suggested could be returned to school districts.

HB 2649 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) 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. The bill would require charters to broadcast their governing meetings over the internet and provide archived audio/video recordings online. Capriglione argued the bill closes a loophole that allows charters to avoid open meetings laws. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2298 by Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) would prohibit anyone associated with a charter school from serving on a local school board or the State Board of Education (SBOE). The prohibition would apply to an employee, officer, or member of a governing body of a charter school, as well as anyone who lobbies on a charter school’s behalf or has a business interest in a charter school. Uresti argued the rule is needed to prevent a board member’s financial interest in a charter school from creating a conflict of interest with the member’s responsibility to students. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1059 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) would allow for the reattachment of property that has been detached from one district and annexed to another for the purposes of meeting the equalized wealth level. Reattachment can occur if the original district’s wealth per student drops $10,000 or more below the equalized wealth level that applies to maintenance and operation tax effort. Houston ISD faces the detachment of property worth $17.4 billion in order to meet the equalized wealth level after the district decided not to make its first recapture payment. A majority of the board is reported to support an upcoming “second-chance” election to authorize the recapture payment in order to avoid detachment.

Rep. VanDeaver pointed out concerns regarding the effects of reattachment on districts to which property had been annexed. If a district were to issue bonds based on property annexed from another district, then later lost that property through reattachment, taxes on property remaining within that district would necessarily increase.

HB 1023 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) would allow the TEA commissioner to grant more than one charter for an open-enrollment charter school to a charter holder if the additional charter is for an open-enrollment charter school that serves a distinct purpose or student population. This would allow a charter school operator to be granted an additional charter for programs such as a virtual open-enrollment charter school or an open-enrollment charter school for at-risk students. Current law restricts charter holders to a single charter for an open-enrollment charter school. Rep. Simmons noted there is plenty of room under the charter cap, which is scheduled to be set at 305 charters beginning September 1, 2019. Opponents of the bill voiced concerns regarding the ability of charter holders to skirt accountability through the use of multiple charters. According to the fiscal note, HB 1023 would cost the state roughly $20.7 million through 2019.

HB 2340 by Chairman Huberty would require school districts to maintain a minimum balance of undesignated funds that is no less than the district’s operating expenses for 90 days. The chairman explained the combined amount of money in undesignated school district fund balances across the state has grown to more than $20 billion and continues to increase. HB 2340 aims to encourage districts to spend down their fund balances by defining the balance in statute and outlining a list of acceptable uses for undesignated funds, such as paying off debt. Some indicated concern that cash-strapped Chapter 41 districts currently without a fund balance could face a problem building one up. Chairman Huberty acknowledged that some districts could have legitimate cash flow concerns, and pledged to continue the dialogue with stakeholders.

HB 852 by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program. The current cap limits the program to 150 individuals. According to Rep. VanDeaver, the bill directly affects the Goodwill Excel Center in Austin, which has graduated more than 205 students who would not otherwise have been able to obtain a high school diploma. After emotional testimony submitted by two adult students, a representative from the center testified the school would like to expand the program to additional locations in order to serve more adult students.

HB 171 by Rep. Dutton would require all school districts to lease or sell unused or underused facilities to charter schools. Current statute requires districts to allow charters an opportunity to purchase or lease underutilized facilities, but there is no requirement as outlined in Dutton’s bill. The bill would also require the TEA commissioner to produce a list each year of eligible facilities and post it on the agency website. Dutton said the bill’s committee substitute removes the requirement on districts and allows districts to determine what constitutes “unused” or “underutilized” facilities, which many stakeholders found objectionable. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 2337 by Rep. Dutton would entitle open-enrollment charter schools to facilities funding equal to the number of students in average daily attendance (ADA) multiplied by the guaranteed level of state and local per-student funds provided to school districts, resulting in an additional $170 per pupil. According to the fiscal note, HB 2337 would cost the state $411 million over the next biennium in Foundation School Program (FSP) funds that would no longer be available to traditional public schools. Dutton argued that charter schools face a structural disadvantage when it comes to facilities funding, and announced that the committee substitute would reduce the program cost to $100 million. Opponents pointed out that traditional public schools also face funding challenges that HB 2337 would make worse. For example, 80 percent of the state’s enrollment growth is occurring in less than 100 school districts. Yet these fast-growth traditional public schools do not receive additional facilities funding from the state. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 467 by Rep. Murphy would adjust the language regarding the capacity available to charter holders under the bond guarantee program to back bonds with the Permanent School Fund (PSF). It removes language that limits the calculation to capacity available after subtracting the total amount of outstanding guaranteed bonds. Murphy introduced a committee substitute that would move the distribution of funds to a period of five years instead of one year, increase by 50 percent the contributions charters make to the charter reserve fund and expand the TEA commissioner’s discretionary oversight to deny access. The bill would have the effect of increasing the amount available to charters to guarantee bonds using the PSF, which would increase access to better interest rates.

HB 1269 by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would allow a charter school to be eligible for supplemental funding if its students perform better than the state average college readiness standard as measured by test performance. The supplemental funding would be capped by the maximum amount received by nearby districts. Participating charters would be prohibited from expelling students in most cases and would be required to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the local juvenile justice board to operate a juvenile justice alternative education program on behalf of the charter. Participating charters would also be allowed to contract with a local school board to operate a district campus, which would be immune to action by the commissioner against a failing campus for the first three years. The bill would also expand the scope of reporting for new charter schools to include superintendents, districts, and legislators within a three mile radius of proposed campus locations. Opponents pointed out that HB 1269 would increase facilities funding for charters without addressing charters’ existing advantage in maintenance and operation (M&O) funding provided by the state. According to the fiscal note, HB 1269 would cost the state $450 million through 2019. ATPE opposes this bill.

HB 480 by state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) would allow the TEA commissioner to grant a charter for prekindergarten-only programs. These programs would be exempt from the annual charter cap. The cap limit beginning September 1, 2017, is 270 charters. According to the fiscal note, the cost of providing half-day pre-K to an additional 5,000 students would cost the state roughly $39.7 million over the next two years. TEA staff explained many existing private pre-K providers would likely opt to become charters instead.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. While ATPE supports efforts to expand pre-K, Exter identified a number of concerns. If charters are limited to only serving the students who qualify for the funding they receive, they may be set up to fail. Additionally, if providers receive a subsidy for half-day pre-K and are allowed to “upcharge” for the remainder of the day, the program could begin to resemble a pre-K voucher. Finally, certain accountability factors – such as teacher certification requirements – don’t apply to charter schools, and that has been a point of contention about public-private partnerships to provide pre-K in the past.

HB 1560 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE). This bill would not change the law in any material way.

Concluding Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Huberty indicated the committee will consider legislation related to special education and health and safety next week.

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

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


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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

 


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

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

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

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

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

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

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

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

 


In other news this week:

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

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

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

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

 


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