Tag Archives: school board

SBOE long-range planning process to include regional meetings

SBOE logoThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) released the following statement this week about upcoming regional meetings to gather input for the purpose of updating the SBOE’s Long-Range Plan for Education:

Oct. 31, 2017

Regional meetings to gather input for Long-Range Plan 

AUSTIN – Regional meetings begin this week to gather input for the new Long-Range Plan for Public Education now being developed by the State Board of Education.

The first of at least eight community meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at the El Paso Community College in El Paso. The meeting will occur in the Administration Building auditorium located at 9050 Viscount Blvd.

Register to attend this free event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/community-conversation-el-paso-november-2nd-tickets-38839842013 .

Community meetings are also scheduled for 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Nov. 14 – Region 7 Education Service Center, 1909 North Longview St., Kilgore
  • Dec. 5 – Region 11 Education Service Center, 1451 S. Cherry Lane, White Settlement
  • Dec. 6 – Dallas County Community College, El Centro West – Multi Purpose Room 3330 N. Hampton Rd., Dallas
  • Feb. 8 – Region 4 Education Service Center, 7145 West Tidwell, Houston

Additional community meetings will be scheduled in 2018.

“State Board of Education members are meeting with Texans around the state because we want to hear firsthand what their concerns and hopes for the Texas public schools are going forward. Our goal is to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Information gained through these community meetings, a statewide online survey, and the work of the Long-Range Plan for Public Schools Steering Committee will be used to craft a strategic plan for schools through the year 2030, corresponding with the Texas Higher Education 60×30 Strategic Plan,” said SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich.

The 18-member steering committee, made up of educators, parents, state and local board members, business officials, college professors, state agency representatives and a student, will meet at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 to discuss two topics: family empowerment and engagement and equity and access to both funding and advanced courses.

The public meeting will occur at 4700 Mueller Blvd. in Austin at the headquarters of the Texas Comprehensive Center at the American Institutes of Research, which is assisting the board with the development of the long-range plan.

Debbie Ratcliffe, Interim Director
SBOE Support Division, Texas Education Agency
debbie.ratcliffe@tea.texas.gov

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 9, 2017

Here’s your latest news wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


IMG_8509On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans for a special session beginning July 18. This “overtime” period for the 85th legislature is needed only because lawmakers failed to pass an important, time-sensitive agency sunset bill that affects the licensing of medical professionals, a failure many are attributing to deliberate stall tactics and the “bill kidnapping” approach taken by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the final week of the regular session. Lawmakers could address the sunset issue within a matter of days and head home to enjoy the dog days of summer with their families, but Abbott is calling on them to take up 19 additional issues during the 30-day special session, which is estimated to cost taxpayers about $1 million.

During the governor’s press conference, he led off his laundry list of topics for the upcoming special session with a surprise announcement that he wants lawmakers to mandate a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers. The catch, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains in this blog post, is that no additional money would be appropriated for the salary increase. Gov. Abbott made it clear that he intends for school districts to find money within their existing budgets to cover the proposed pay raise. For many districts, that would necessitate cuts in some other area, which would very likely be expenditures for staff pay or benefits, such as healthcare programs that are already becoming increasingly hard for educators to afford. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter added in this video for Twitter that potential offsets could include staff layoffs or higher class sizes, depending on each district’s financial circumstances and priorities.

If the governor planned to use this special session as another shot at meaningful school finance reform, then perhaps legislators could find ways to fund a teacher pay raise and other critical needs of our public schools. Unfortunately, the only school finance-related issue on the governor’s call is legislation to appoint a statewide commission to study school finance during the next interim.

Another surprise topic added to the governor’s agenda for the special session is giving districts greater “flexibility” in their hiring and firing decisions. Teacher contract rights have been targeted in prior legislative sessions, but the topic was hardly broached during the 2017 legislative session.

ATPE representatives testified against a bill to eliminate teachers' payroll deduction rights during the regular session.

ATPE representatives testified against an anti-educator bill to eliminate teachers’ payroll deduction rights during the regular session. The contentious issue is being revived for the upcoming special session.

The remaining school-related items in the special session outline are a trio of controversial, highly partisan scorecard issues from bills that failed to garner enough support to pass during the regular session:

  • One is the anti-educator legislation to do away with teachers’ rights to pay their voluntary professional association dues using payroll deduction. In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Abbott revived tired rhetoric from his Jan. 2017 State of the State address that has already been proven false – the claim that taxpayer dollars are being spent to collect “union dues.” We will continue to refute this unfounded claim and fight this harmful, unnecessary measure aimed at silencing educators’ voices by making it more difficult for them to join associations like ATPE.
  • Also on tap for this legislative overtime is yet another push for private school vouchers for students with special needs. With the Texas House of Representatives having already voted multiple times to reject this idea, it is hard to fathom a sudden change of heart that would give this legislation a greater chance of passing during the special session.
  • Lastly, the governor is also asking lawmakers again to try to restrict local school districts’ adoption of policies on bathroom usage. Both chambers passed versions of a bathroom bill during the regular session, but they could not agree on the extent to which the state should infringe on local control over these decisions. In other words, get ready for even more potty talk.

To read the full list of the governor’s priorities for the special session, view ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post here. Also, check out ATPE’s press release, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for new developments.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there. She provided an update in this blog post on the items being discussed today by the board. They include plans to add a new early childhood teaching certificate mandated by the legislature recently, plus how Districts of Innovation are claiming exemptions from certification laws.

 


 

 

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.

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

Houston throws down gauntlet on school finance reform

I lived in Houston for ten years.

It’s where I finished high school, graduated from college, and began my first career as a fuzzy-cheeked radio broadcaster. It’s where I gleefully watched my alma mater, the Houston Cougars, win a C-USA title, my beloved Astros make their World Series debut, and the Rockets come devastatingly close to a championship season after season. It’s a fantastically diverse and dynamic city; yet to many Houstonians, it seems that no matter what Houston does, few outside its boundaries ever seem to notice.

Now a vote on a relatively obscure proposition on Tuesday’s ballot has arrested the attention of many lawmakers in Austin.

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733On Tuesday, Houston voters decided not to authorize the city’s first recapture payment of $162 billion, part of a roughly $1 billion obligation over the next four years. Under the state’s school finance equalization formula, referred to as “Robin Hood” by some, school districts that are considered “property-wealthy” must return some of the money collected from their local property taxes to the state, which in turn delivers that money to poor districts that lack the tax base necessary to support healthy schools. Ironically, some of those property-wealthy districts still enroll high numbers of students from families living in poverty. Houston ISD officials argue that instead of sending away the funds, their district needs that money instead to educate a high proportion of low-income students in their own district.

It’s a predicament endured for years by Austin ISD, another property-wealthy district that serves a high proportion of economically disadvantaged children, yet is expected to pay more than $400 million in recapture this year. The number of Texas districts paying recapture stands at 250 and rising, and it is a major reason many districts are lobbying the 85th Texas Legislature to reform the school finance system when it convenes in January.

But things are complicated.ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcash

In response to a lawsuit filed by more than 600 school districts, the Texas Supreme Court in May ruled that the state’s school finance system met the minimum requirements under the Texas Constitution. While the final opinion from Justice Don Willett urged lawmakers to fix a “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect” system, it removed the threat of a court mandate to do so.

Houston’s new Mayor Sylvester Turner is no stranger to the Texas Legislature. The long-time state representative and former vice-chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee spearheaded a campaign urging Houston voters living within HISD boundaries to reject authorization of the recapture payment this election and force a standoff — gambling that state legislators will be spurred into action by voters and constituents in Texas’s largest school district publicly rejecting the state’s school finance system.

It’s a big gambit.

After Houston voters on Tuesday declined to authorize the recapture payment, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath notified HISD trustees early Wednesday that under the law, $18.2 billion in taxable property needed to meet the recapture amount will be detached from the district and annexed to one or more property-poor districts.

So will the ruckus raised in Houston Tuesday ring in the ears of important folks beyond Space City’s orbit?

Falling US MoneyThe question of whether the move will increase pressure on lawmakers to initiate a long and complicated school finance overhaul is a big unknown. The recapture amount owed by Houston is dwarfed by Austin’s, yet lawmakers have thus far been unmoved by AISD’s many pleas for change. While some House leaders have expressed interest in reform, a requested four percent across-the-board reduction in state agency spending will complicate things significantly.

ATPE has long advocated for meaningful school finance reforms to make the system more responsive to our students’ needs, as illustrated by our member-adopted legislative program, which includes the following:

ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal, empowers the state to be the primary source of funding, and creates a more stable funding structure for our schools. We strongly support efforts to increase funding levels to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing population and to increase funding equity for all students.

Ultimately, school finance reform could come by degrees, and meaningful progress could be made this session. I expect calls for legislation to update the decades-old Cost of Education Index (COI) and the similarly vintage transportation allotment, as well as a bill by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) that would amend the Texas Constitution to require the state to shoulder at least half the cost of public education. We’ll be keeping an eye out for you. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for updates.

Updates from the Texas Education Agency

Several news reports and announcements came out this week from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Here’s a rundown:

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The big news concerning TEA this week continues to be the agency’s arbitrary cap on students receiving special education services; a story first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. In response to attention from the U.S. Department of Education, TEA sent a letter to the department insisting the agency “has never set a cap, limit or policy on the number or percent of students that school districts can, or should, serve in special education.” The agency argued schools had simply misunderstood policy relating to the state’s reporting system for special education services.

“The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false,” an agency staffer wrote to federal regulators. “Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”

“The Education Department will carefully review the state’s response and, after the review is concluded, determine appropriate next steps,” a department spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday.

The agency has nonetheless vowed to stop enforcing the 8.5 percent “target.” The decision comes after Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing the concerns of the Texas House of Representatives over school districts excluding eligible children from special education services in order to comply.

SUPERINTENDENTS ORDERED TO SCHOOL

Superintendents and school board members from eleven districts have been ordered to attend a class on how to fix their problematic schools. The districts include Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, all of which contained several campuses designated as “improvement required” in the 2016 TEA accountability ratings.

Districts are required to submit turnaround plans for schools that fail to meet minimum standards for two consecutive years. It’s up to the education commissioner whether to approve those plans, and in the event they’re disapproved, the commissioner can replace the entire board or shut down the school.

According to the agency, the eleven districts in question submitted plans the commissioner deemed insufficient to fix their problems. The order for district officers to attend a two-day training session marks a clear crackdown, and appears in keeping with Commissioner Morath’s initial promise to get tough on failing schools.

Read more in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog this week.

TITLE I REWARD SCHOOLS

Earlier this week, the agency identified 300 “Title I Reward Schools” as part of the conditions for the state’s waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain provisions under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Title I campuses are those which serve at least 40 percent low-income students, and the rewards are broken down by “High-Performing” and “High-Progress” schools.

The agency defines a high-performance reward school as “a Title I school with distinctions based on reading and math performance. In addition, at the high school level, a reward school is a Title I school with the highest graduation rates.” A high-progress school is defined as “a Title I school in the top 25 percent in annual improvement; and/or a school in the top 25 percent of those demonstrating ability to close performance gaps based on system safeguards.”

The distinction is given to both public schools and charter schools. The full 2015-16 list is available here.

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE REPORTS

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The agency released preliminary 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) on Thursday. Part of TEA’s statutory reporting responsibility, TAPR “combine academic performance, financial reports, and information about students, staff, and programs for each campus and district in Texas.”

The preliminary statewide numbers indicate 62 percent of STAAR takers in all grades “met or exceeded progress” in all subjects, while 17 percent “exceeded progress.” Students posted a 95.7 percent attendance rate and 2.1 percent high school dropout rate for the 2014-15 school year. The Class of 2015 graduated 89 percent of students, up from 88 percent graduated by the Class of 2014. Roughly 68 percent of 2015 graduates took the SAT or ACT, and scored an average of 1394 and 20.6, respectively. Of students who graduated with the Class of 2014, 57.5 percent enrolled in a Texas institutional of higher education.

Broken down by demographics, Texas’ 5.3 million students are 52.2 percent Hispanic, 28.5 percent White, 12.6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. A total of 59 percent are economically disadvantaged, 18.5 percent are English language learners (ELL) and 50.1 percent are considered “at risk.”

Texas schools employ around 347,000 teachers, with an average of 10.9 years of experience. The average teacher’s salary is $51.891, with the average beginning teacher earning $45,507 and teachers with more than 20 years earning just over $60,000.

Statewide, regional, district and campus-level reports are available via the TEA website. Districts are allowed to appeal their preliminary ratings, and final ratings are scheduled to be released by December 2, 2016.

From The Texas Tribune: Eleven Texas school boards ordered to the classroom

 
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Houston ISD trustees admonish TEA for delaying campus turnaround plan implementation. Graphic by Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune

The superintendents and elected school boards of 11 Texas districts — including Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth — have been ordered by the state education agency to attend two-day training programs to learn how to fix their failing schools.

Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill sent letters to the 11 school boards Oct. 10 saying they need additional governance training because their districts submitted unsatisfactory plans for turning around floundering campuses. All 11 superintendents and boards have agreed to the training, with several members expressing frustration about what they saw as an unfair and vague request.

The letters were sent about two months after TEA released 2016 accountability ratings showing that 467 campuses statewide — including 42 in the targeted districts — were labeled “improvement required,” a decrease from 603 campuses last year. The notices were sent to Brazosport, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hearne, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Nacogdoches, Tyler and Waco.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has promised to crack down on low-performing schools and to halve the number of failing schools over the next five years.

State law requires districts to submit detailed plans in the spring to fix problems at schools labeled “improvement required” for two or more consecutive years. The districts are supposed to include parents and the community in drafting the proposed fixes.

Morath has the final say on approving the plans — by mid-to -late June, according to a TEA timeline — so districts can start implementing them the following school year.

But for the 11 school districts, that implementation will have to wait until board trustees and superintendents attend a two-day, 24-hour governance training session.

In the letters, Crabill said he wasn’t sure the plans the districts submitted would address problems — including low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates, and poor college readiness — within two years. The training sessions will help trustees identify and fix weaknesses in their plans, the letter said.

 

If Morath decides not to approve a plan, he can replace the board of trustees, replace the principal of a school or shut the school down completely, Crabill wrote.

Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees told Crabill it will likely vote to attend the training. But it also admonished the agency for leaving little time to actually turn around its schools. The commissioner said he would respond to the plans in June, and now may not approve them until trainings are completed in December.

“Our ability to make significant changes to the plans for these seven schools at this date may be somewhat limited,” the Houston board wrote Oct. 25. “Since TEA has missed its own published deadline for responding to the turnaround plans by four months, we ask that you provide us with specific concerns that TEA may have with the plans for these seven schools, so that we may begin considering how to make any appropriate adjustments in a way that will cause the least disruption during the school year.”

At an Oct. 27 Dallas Independent School District board meeting, a few trustees said the request for training was too vague.

“While I don’t have a problem with training, I do have a problem with a demand that I implement what it is we are going to be trained on, when I don’t even know what it is,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “We need to know the specifics of what is wrong. We need to know specifics about the training. We need to know specifics of why these eight schools.”

The commissioner did approve campus turnaround plans in other districts around the state, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said. She could not say what the difference was between those plans and the ones the commissioner flagged.

After receiving a flood of questions from district officials across the state, Crabill included a few key explanations in a follow up email to all 11 superintendents. He slashed the training from four days to two, after trustees said it was too hard for them to fit into their schedules. He presented six different dates and locations for the training, in Kilgore, Waco, Fort Worth, Midland, El Paso and Houston, on weekdays and weekends between Nov. 9 and Dec. 17.

All trustees and superintendents from all 11 boards must attend the entire workshop, Crabill said.

“This is a team event so just like in other team events, the whole team has to win together. Completion means that all trustees and the superintendent were present at the same workshop for the entirety of the workshop,” Crabill wrote.

Though all 11 boards have agreed to attend the training, it is not clear whether all trustees will show up.

A veteran Lubbock board trustee said he voted yes to the resolution agreeing to training – but now he’s not sure whether he will actually attend. He called the demand for governance training “unprecedented” in his 14 years on the board.

He said he is not sure whether he can get away from his day job for two 12-hour days. Districts have to cover the cost of any travel required for board members to attend the training session.

TEA does not have a plan in place in case board members don’t show up, Callahan said. “So far, TEA is receiving confirmation that board members will attend and complete the training. As a result, discussions on failure to participate have not been necessary,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Any talk of penalties is premature.”

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday outlined plans to crack down harder on chronically low-performing schools, saying he wants to cut in half the number of them that end up on the state’s failing list over the next five years.
  • More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/02/tea-demands-district-training-delays-turnarounds/.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A Game of Chicken Between Texas, Its Biggest School District

by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
September 26, 2016

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

Voters in Texas’ biggest school district in Texas might do what the nine Republicans on the state’s Supreme Court wouldn’t do: Force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for public education.

Such a move would require some daring. Voters in the Houston Independent School District will have a choice in November to approve spending $165 million raised locally from school property taxes on other, poorer school districts in the state.

The ballot language is opaque, and a pretty good argument for improving the writing skills of the people in charge of state and local governments: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.”

The actual choice presented by that ballot measure? Vote “for” spending $165 million of the district’s money in other districts, or vote “against” spending that money and risk taking $18 billion of the district’s commercial properties from the tax rolls and assigning them to the tax rolls of another district.

A “No” vote in November — urged by many of the HISD’s trustees, the city’s mayor, and others — would spark some political drama.

About one Texas school district in four spends some of its locally raised money to help educate students in districts that can’t raise enough money from their own tax bases. It’s called recapture by the policy wonks, but because it takes from “property rich” districts and gives to “property poor” districts, it’s more commonly called the Robin Hood system.

When a district’s voters refuse to go along — something that hasn’t happened — the Texas Education Agency is required to move part of that district’s property tax base to another, poorer district.

The agency obviously doesn’t move the real estate, but it would assign some of one district’s biggest commercial property taxpayers to pay taxes in another district. The law gives a preference to closer districts.

In HISD’s case, a “no” vote would mean taking an estimated $18 billion in property from that district’s rolls. The TEA would start with the most valuable properties and work its way down until it has taken away enough property to cover the $165 million or so that HISD owes under the Robin Hood system.

Houston’s biggest commercial property taxpayers would be paying taxes in another school district — and they could be asked to pay at a different tax rate up to 15 cents higher than what they’d be paying in HISD.

It means that some school taxes — those used to pay borrowing debts — would probably rise for the taxpayers left behind. The district still has to pay what it owes even with $18 billion pulled out of the tax base. The taxpayers left behind would pay more.

The commercial taxpayers are mobilizing against being moved to a tax roll in another district where they might not own any property. The Austin-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which represents many of them, is warning policymakers of the consequences, both to the departing taxpayers and to those left behind.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district?

Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

Some of Houston’s political leaders think the combination of big, angry taxpayers and a multitude of incensed voters will be enough to force state lawmakers to rework the formulas used to pay for public education and to make sure each district in the state has a reasonably equal financial foundation for its schools.

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

“I’m counting on the business community to step up,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “And I’m counting on conservatives, too. This would be a redistribution without the consent of the people. I have not found one elected official, including the trustees themselves, that is advocating a yes vote on this deal.”

So, one might ask, why would anyone in HISD cast a vote that could result in higher tax bills for every taxpayer now in the district? Because they think the Texas Legislature will blink.

 

If he and others are right, Turner’s former colleagues in the Legislature might take on school finance.

The system is unfair and broken — so much so that half of the state’s districts went to court to try to force an overhaul. The Texas Supreme Court agreed in a May ruling that the financing schemes are “byzantine” and “imperfect” but said the system is not unconstitutional. At the same time, the court’s opinion suggested lawmakers should enact “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”

Cool idea, but Texas lawmakers simply don’t make major reforms to school finance — this is something that arises every decade or so — unless their hands are forced by the courts.

Or, perhaps, by a game of chicken with taxpayers and voters in the state’s largest school district.

 


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/26/analysis-game-chicken-between-texas-its-biggest-sc/.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.