Tag Archives: school safety

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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 26, 2016

Here’s a look at some stories that made news this week in the world of Texas education:


ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashTexas’s much-maligned standardized tests were once again the focus of media attention this week. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week that it is imposing harsh financial penalties against the vendor that administers the state’s STAAR tests after a number of problems occurred during test administrations this spring. Also this week, a judge assigned to a lawsuit filed by parents objecting to the STAAR test refused to grant the state’s motion to have that case dismissed. Read more about the latest STAAR-related developments in this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Exter also discussed the testing company fines in an interview with KVUE News, which you can view here.

 


Texas lawmakers involved in the biennial budget-writing process are starting to look more closely at education funding as the 85th legislative session approaches. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended a meeting this week of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the education portion of the state budget. Wednesday’s hearing was a discussion of an interim charge dealing with public education programs that are funded outside the Foundation School Program (FSP). Learn more about the hearing in our blog post from yesterday.

 


ATPE_Logo_Stacked_Tag_ColorATPE members and employees have been showcased in a number of media features this week with the start of a new school year. Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe talked to KEYE TV in Austin about how she engages students using popular “Pokemon Go” characters. Stoebe also joined ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey on Time Warner Cable Austin to discuss how the use of technology in the classroom can also increase opportunities for bullying. They urged educators and parents to talk to children about the risks of cyberbullying, which some lawmakers hope to address in the upcoming legislative session. Also on TWC news, a number of ATPE members contributed to a recent story about how teachers can talk to their students about difficult currrent events, such as problems of racism and violent attacks. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also talked to KSAT about new education laws that are taking effect this school year. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and ATPE on Facebook for coverage of these and other stories about how ATPE members are making a difference in the lives of students.

 


 

Final rule for video surveillance of special education classrooms

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has finalized a Commissioner’s Rule implementing Senate Bill 507 in 19 TAC Chapter 103, Health and Safety, Subchapter DD, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings, §103.1301, Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings. The rule will be published in the August 12, 2016 issue of the Texas Register, and will become effective on August 15, 2016.

As we’ve reported on previously (here, and here, for instance), the 2015 bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) mandated that certain classrooms serving students in special education programs be equipped with video surveillance systems, requiring districts to maintain the video footage on file. The agency worked closely with a diverse stakeholder group, including ATPE, in developing the rule. (Read ATPE’s written comments on the original proposed rule here.)

Stakeholder recommendations resulted in several changes to the regulation, including instances where the rule was made less broad or more specific as to which classrooms and classroom educators will be affected by a request for video surveillance under the new mandate. Examples of these changes were often as simple as changing “a” to “the” in some sentences. For example, in the following section the change of this one word narrowed the scope of the bill from any staff member working in a special education setting to only staff members associated with a classroom where a request for a camera had been made:

§103.1301. (b)(2)
Staff member means a teacher, related service provider, paraprofessional, or educational aide assigned to work in the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting. Staff member also includes the principal or an assistant principal of the campus at which the [a] self-contained classroom or other special education setting is located.

The final rule text can be viewed here. The red double underlines in the document represent changes made from the original rule proposal based on public comments received by the agency.

Note: The agency is still waiting for an Attorney General’s opinion related to notice and implementation time-frames that school districts must comply with under the bill.

Texas House committees receive interim charges

IMG_8509Yesterday, Texas House Speaker Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) released his list of interim charges for House committees to study before the 2017 legislative session. The education-related charges include studying “ways to increase parental choice in education,” funding for school facilities and other needs, post-secondary readiness, and the risks of “inappropriate teacher-student relationships.” Payroll deduction for professional association dues will be studied by at least one House committee. The House Appropriations committee will study several issues that affect educators, including paying for programs that are funded outside the Foundation School Program addressing retired educators’ costs of living and health care needs. Similarly, the House Committee on Pensions will look at factors relating to the solvency of pension programs such as TRS.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) already issued interim charges to Senate committees back in October. As we reported here on our blog, the upper chamber’s interim charges call for the Senate Education Committee to study such issues as school choice and expanding charter schools. Additionally, Patrick has directed the Senate Committee on State Affairs to study the controversial payroll deduction issue.

View the full list of House interim charges here. Excerpts are posted below.

House Public Education Committee Interim Charges

1. Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Cost of Education Index (CEI). Determine if other mechanisms or methodologies could better achieve the intended purpose of this public school finance driver. Make recommendations for improvements or elimination of the CEI.

2. Evaluate the current state of school district facility needs and debt. Determine what constraints or limitations exist across the state, particularly in communities experiencing rapid growth, to fund facilities at the local level. Examine state laws, rules and best practice models for facility efficiency and long term taxpayer savings. Review the current facility funding programs, the Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA) and the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA), to address school districts’ facility needs and provide property tax relief.

3. Examine the accessibility to broadband services for schools, libraries, and institutions of higher education. Study the feasibility and affordability of providing scalable broadband to schools and other public institutions. Research federal and state funding opportunities to support increased access to broadband. Review innovative efforts by school districts to integrate technology in the classroom. Explore ways to enhance high-tech digital learning opportunities in the classroom to improve student achievement and fulfill future workforce demands.

4. Review current policies and rules to protect students from inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Examine efforts by the Texas Education Agency, school districts, law enforcement and the courts to investigate and prosecute educators for criminal conduct. Recommend needed improvements to promote student safety, including examining current criminal penalties, superintendent reporting requirements, teacher certification sanctions and the documentation provided in school district separation agreements. Review school employee training and educational efforts to promote student safety.

5. Examine partnerships between higher education institutions, public school districts, and workforce that promote postsecondary readiness. Provide coordination recommendations to ensure vocational, career, and technical education programs are more accessible. Determine the most effective ways to invest in these partnerships and programs to direct at-risk students to stable career paths. Examine current rules and laws limiting employers from providing meaningful internships, apprenticeships, and other opportunities. Consider new methods to finance workforce training programs and associated assets in high schools and postsecondary schools, including ways to reduce or eliminate these costs and options to incentivize businesses to invest in training equipment for schools. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Economic & Small Business Development)

6. Review the state’s current education policies and initiatives regarding middle grades. Make recommendations to ensure a comprehensive, research-based state strategy for preparing students at the middle grades for high school retention, success, and postsecondary readiness. This review should include an examination of school-based strategies and best practices that encourage at-risk youth to finish school.

7. Review current public education programs that address the needs of high performing students. Identify the adequacy of these programs statewide in meeting the needs of this specific student group and explore additional means to promote high quality programs designed to meet the educational needs of these students. Study ways to increase the recognition of the performance of higher performing students on test-based and non-test based measures. Examine whether the current and proposed state accountability systems adequately promote districts’ addressing the needs of students across the performance spectrum, including those students significantly outperforming their peers. Recommend whether the academic performance of high achieving students should be specifically addressed as a separate indicator in the accountability system.

8. Study ways to increase parental choice in education, and review the successes and failures of school choice programs in other states. Examine the benefits and costs of implementing such a program in Texas. Recommend whether an expansion of school choice in Texas is needed, and suggest ways to ensure that any school receiving public support is held accountable for its academic and financial performance.

9. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementing of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature, specifically including HB 4, HB 743, HB 2205, and SB 149. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

House Appropriations Committee Interim Charges

1. Evaluate potential fiscal policy challenges or economic disruptions in the 2016-17 biennium, including the long-term impact of price declines in oil and natural gas on the Texas economy and any fiscal implications for the state budget. Examine options to mitigate the risk of unexpected downturns in state revenue. Examine further progress made during the 84th legislative session to reduce reliance on general revenue dedicated accounts for budget certification. Recommend new or alternative methods to further reduce reliance on dedicated accounts for budget certification purposes and maximize usage of dedicated funds for their intended purposes. Examine other accounts and funding streams utilized by state agencies and institutions of higher education for opportunities to further increase budget transparency.

2. Develop recommendations to codify the Strategic Fiscal Review process. Conduct additional Strategic Fiscal Reviews of selected state agencies to further examine and assess agency performance, and ensure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively.

3. Examine Texas constitutional spending limits compared to limits utilized in other states, evaluate their effectiveness in maintaining fiscal discipline, and recommend potential modifications, if needed.

4. Evaluate deferred maintenance and physical plant needs of state buildings. Evaluate the appropriate funding mechanisms and timing that should be used to address the ongoing maintenance needs of state assets.

5. Monitor the accumulation of available funds within the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), particularly in light of the passage of HB 903 (84R). Determine the accuracy of prior ESF revenue predictions, the feasibility of long-term projections for the fund, and the effectiveness of proposed investments strategies utilized by the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Study the impact, if any, on the state’s credit rating when the ESF is utilized at various thresholds including usage for one-time expenses versus recurring costs. Examine potential limits in utilizing the ESF for specific uses, such as addressing unfunded liabilities or retiring state debt.

6. Monitor the implementation of HB 9 (84R) and study updated projections towards actuarial soundness of the Employees Retirement System. Examine issues and costs associated with granting cost of living adjustments or “13th Checks” to retired state employees and teachers.

7. Monitor the implementation of HB 2 (84R) as it pertains to the short-term funding provided to TRS-Care. Evaluate additional methods to address the health care needs of retired teachers in light of the current health insurance market, including the feasibility and costs associated with retired teachers not eligible for Medicare remaining on a school district’s health care plan until Medicare eligible.

8. Monitor the ongoing implementation of SB 20 (84R) and Article IX, Sec. 7.12 of the General Appropriations Act, HB 1 (84R). Study trends in state contracting as developed by the Legislative Budget Board and recommend new and/or modified strategies to ensure all contracting is executed in a transparent and judicious manner.

9. Review hospital reimbursement methodologies, including supplemental payments and the Medicaid add-on payments directed by HB 1 (84R) for safety-net and trauma facilities. In the review, include reimbursement methodologies for rural and children’s hospitals. Also, monitor the extension of the Texas Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement 1115 waiver.

10. Review the Texas Medicaid programs providing long-term services and support to adults or children with medical, physical, or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Study reimbursement methodologies, the historical appropriated slot allocation compared to the actual fill rate, the procedure of releasing slots to providers, and the impact and timeline of carving services into Medicaid managed care. Identify potential obstacles for the delivery of community long-term services and support, including the availability of community care workers. Make any needed recommendations to improve community long-term services and supports.

11. Study the trauma system in the State of Texas, including financing, service delivery, planning, and coordination among Emergency Medical Services providers, Trauma Services Area Regional Advisory Councils, The Emergency Medical Task Force, and hospitals. Determine strengths and weaknesses including challenges for rural areas of the state. Make recommendations to reduce any duplicated services, improve the coordination of services, and advance the delivery of trauma services in Texas. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Public Health)

12. Examine the historical growth of the Texas Medicaid program, including factors affecting caseload and cost trends. Review legislative or policy initiatives created to detect or deter waste, fraud and abuse; to reduce cost; or improve the quality of healthcare in the Texas Medicaid program. Evaluate the effectiveness of, and identify savings associated with, these initiatives.

13. Conduct a review of current public education programs administered by the Texas Education Agency that are funded outside of the Foundation School Program. Make recommendations to increase, decrease, or eliminate programs based on measurable performance and effectiveness.

14. Conduct a review of current funding formulas for community colleges. Specifically, focus on the elements of the instructional funding structure created by the 83rd Legislature: core operations, student success points, and contact hour funding and also the adequacy of state funding to sustain community colleges in light of the variance in resources available to individual colleges. Make recommendations for possible changes to the funding structure of community colleges or changes in the levels of current funding given the future workforce and higher educational needs of the state. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Higher Education)

15. Examine the formulas used to fund institutions of higher education. Study the initial development of the formulas and the underlying assumptions used. Make recommendations for new discipline weights, if necessary, evaluating any discrepancies in formula funding for the same program offered at different types of institutions and the inclusion of new medical schools on general academic campuses.

16. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Department of Public Safety’s use of funds appropriated during the 84th legislative session for border security operations. Examine existing data and reporting on border security metrics, and recommend improvements to ensure the availability of accurate information in considering sustaining or increasing border security funds.

17. Review historic funding levels and methods of financing for the state parks system. Study recent legislative enactments including the General Appropriations Act (84R), HB 158 (84R), and SB 1366 (84R) to determine the effect of the significant increase in funding, specifically capital program funding, on parks across the state.

18. Study the various methods of funding the state’s transportation network including recent legislative enactments such as Proposition 1 (83(3)) and Proposition 7 (84R). Review the current budget structure for the Texas Department of Transportation as it relates to transportation funding categories and make recommendations for future allocations to accurately address the transportation needs in the state.

19. Monitor the performance of state agencies and institutions, including operating budgets, plans to carry out legislative initiatives, planned budget reductions (if directed), caseload projections, performance measure attainment, implementation of all rider provisions, and any other matter affecting the fiscal condition of the agencies and the state. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

House Committee on Pensions Interim Charges

1. Study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. Analyze assumed rates of return on investments, structures among asset classes, long-term and shorter-term investment goals, and make appropriate recommendations to ensure the investment structure of public pension funds are meeting fiduciary responsibilities.

2. Examine Texas pension funds’ compliance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Financial Reporting Statements 67 and 68, and identify the effect the reporting requirements are having on the state’s pension systems.

3. Examine the immediate and long-term fiscal impact to the state of the unfunded liabilities for the Law Enforcement and Custodial Officer Supplemental Retirement Fund (LECOS) as part of the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS). Make appropriate legislative recommendations.

4. Examine the fiscal and policy impacts of structural reforms that would increase state public pension plans’ ability to achieve and maintain actuarial soundness. Evaluate the feasibility, costs, and benefits of utilizing one-time funding increases to reduce or eliminate unfunded liabilities.

5. Evaluate the investment performance benchmarks utilized by the state’s pension funds and the impact portfolio diversification and short- and long-term market assumptions have had on achieving expected investment returns. Analyze the fee structure and investment strategy for various investment classes to ensure the costs are reasonable and competitive versus other large public and private pension trust funds.

6. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementing of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

 

Of note, the interim charges issued to the House Committee on State Affairs also call for study of the payroll deduction issue that was the subject of highly contentious legislation earlier this year. The specific charge to that committee is as follows: “Examine payroll deductions from state or political subdivision employees for the purpose of labor organization membership dues or fees as well as charitable organization and nonprofit contributions. Determine if this process is an appropriate use of public funds.”

The interim charges issued to the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues exhibit some overlap with education concerns. They include a charge to “examine evidence-based practices around early education and parenting support and education programs;” a charge to “make recommendations to increase community and regional options and strengthen community services to reduce commitments to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department;” and another charge to “review juvenile justice penalties and sanctions determined by or disallowed by age of the juvenile.”

TTVStay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as interim committee hearings convene in both the House and Senate to examine these issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 11, 2015

Did you enjoy this shortened work week? Here’s a recap of this week’s top Texas education news.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday through Friday of this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and provided an update for Teach the Vote earlier today. Among topics discussed by the board were the length of STAAR tests, how graduation rates are calculated, and funding a long-range education plan.


As we have reported on Teach the Vote, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is considering changing its rules for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The proposal would eliminate requirements for graduate degrees and prior experience as a teacher and principal. We encourage ATPE members concerned about the controversial proposal to submit written comments to SBEC now through Oct. 5. Click here for instructions on how to submit your comments via e-mail.


hb 2186 testimony infographicNational Suicide Prevention Week has been observed this week. Many Texas public schools marked the occasion with training programs, and several ATPE representatives spoke to the media about renewed efforts to help prevent suicide among schoolchildren.

Earlier this year, ATPE worked successfully to pass House Bill 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), which aims to help educators become trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide in students. We asked Rep. Cook to carry the bill on behalf of one of our members, Coach Kevin Childers from Fairfield ISD. Coach Childers lost his teenage son Jonathan to suicide in 2013, and their family’s story was featured in a recent issue of ATPE News. The new law that ATPE lobbied to pass this year is officially called the Jason Flatt Act, in memory of Jonathan Childers.

With suicide as the second leading cause of death for teens, prevention and education are critically important. Click on our infographic above to learn more about the teen suicide epidemic and our efforts to stop it. For additional coverage of National Suicide Prevention Week, watch News 4 San Antonio’s interview with Kevin Childers; KGBT’s story on McAllen High School’s #youmatter suicide prevention initiative this week; KXXV’s report on the new training requirements for educators featuring ATPE Media Relations Coordinator Stephanie Jacksis; KWTX’s article featuring ATPE Region 12 Director Jason Forbis talking about how educators can help spot those warning signs; and this week’s post on Inquisitr.com featuring ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey also discussing prevention of teen suicide. Additionally, click here to read ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson’s post about TEA guidance recently issued for implementation of the new suicide prevention training law.

For additional resources to #stopsuicide, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the  American Association of Suicidology.


Finally, here are a few more highlights you may have missed this week from Teach the Vote and ATPE on social media:

Tweets for 9-11-15 wrap-up

 

Suicide prevention training in schools

There is no better way to show the magnitude of a problem than to put a face to it, to show how the problem could affect anyone at any time. We regularly discuss the many issues that students and educators face every day in our schools while attempting to succeed, although too seldom do we have conversations about a problem that is tragic, irreversible, and growing.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in high-school-age students.

Since 1960 teen suicide rates have tripled in the United States.

20 percent of all teenagers in the United States Contemplate Suicide every year.

The most important of these statistics is this:

4 out of 5 who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

And, 90 percent of all teen suicides have been linked to diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorders.

These numbers clearly show that we have a serious problem that affects too many lives, too many families every year. The good news is that as educators and advocates we have the ability to do something about it. We have the ability to address this plague in a way it has never been taken on before in Texas; through a coordinated approach that brings educators and numerous health-related organizations together to tackle the issue head-on.

In 2015, ATPE worked alongside Coach Kevin Childers – a long-time educator and ATPE member – to pass legislation that would require periodic training in suicide prevention for educators. The result is the Jason Flatt Act, in memory of Jonathan Childers (HB 2186), a monumental step forward at preventing the senseless loss of young lives. HB 2186 requires suicide prevention training for all new school district and open-enrollment charter school educators annually and for existing school district and charter school educators on a schedule to be determined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

This week the TEA issued guidance on how this new requirement would be implemented, as it required coordination with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in identifying and making available best practice information to school districts. A link to the best practice-based programs and guidance for independent review can be found at the TEA Coordinated School Health Website at Coordinated School Health Requirements and Approved Programs.

The official schedule for training will not be adopted until later this fall; school districts and open-enrollment charter schools may begin training new and existing educators as soon as a training program has been selected by the district or school. The sooner training begins, the sooner these proven tools can be used by educators to save precious lives.

Cameras in the classroom: FAQs on Senate Bill 507

In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), sponsored in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D), a bill that requires school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. After the two chambers passed different versions of the bill, a conference committee was appointed to iron out the differences. Eventually, agreed-upon language in the conference committee report was adopted by the Senate by a vote of 21 to 10 and by the House by a vote of 140 to 3. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill into law on June 19.

Since SB 507 was finally passed, ATPE members have asked us a number of questions about the implementation of this new law. Below is additional information compiled by ATPE’s Governmental Relations and Member Legal Services departments to try to address the questions we’ve fielded and to help you understand more about the bill that was adopted and will take effect in 2016.

What prompted SB 507 to be filed?

A small number of high-profile cases involving allegations of intentional abuse of students with special needs, including some who are non-communicative, galvanized a small group of committed parent activists to seek new statutory protections at the state level. A similar bill was filed in 2013 that did not pass.

What does SB 507 do?

SB 507 requires districts to install audio/video monitoring equipment in any self-contained classroom in which special education services are being provided to at least 50 percent of the students for at least 50 percent of the school day. The requirement is triggered in the event that a parent, school board member, or staff member on the campus requests that audio/video monitoring equipment be installed. The bill also requires school districts to store the audio and video recordings for not less than six months and to release the footage to persons specified by the bill. Additionally, the bill specifies that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment and that the commissioner of education shall provide a grant program in the event that excess Foundation School Program funds are available from the state.

Must the school give notice that video monitoring is occurring in the classroom?

Yes, while the statute specifically exempts districts from having to obtain consent from parents before monitoring occurs, it does require that notification be given in writing to both parents and campus staff.

Will there be audio or just video on the recordings?

There will be audio captured on the recordings. Under SB 507, Texas Education Code Section 29.022 (c)(2) requires that the camera equipment be capable of “recording audio from all areas of the classroom or other special education setting.”

Who can request to view the footage and through what process?

The following groups of people may have access to certain footage in certain situations:

  • A school district employee or a parent or guardian of a student who is involved in an incident documented by the recording for which a complaint has been reported to the district, on request of the employee, parent, or guardian, respectively;
  • Appropriate Department of Family and Protective Services personnel as part of an investigation of child abuse or neglect in a school setting under Section 261.406 of the Texas Family Code;
  • A peace officer, a school nurse, a district administrator trained in de-escalation and restraint techniques as provided by commissioner rule, or a human resources staff member designated by the board of trustees of the school district or the governing body of the open-enrollment charter school in response to a complaint or an investigation of district or school personnel or a complaint of abuse committed by a student; or
  • Appropriate agency or State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) personnel or agents as part of an investigation.

The process for requesting access to a recording is not specified in SB 507. However, the bill does grant the commissioner of education rulemaking authority with regard to implementation. Therefore it is likely that the process for requesting access will be part of a commissioner’s rule that is yet to be drafted.

Who will pay for the equipment, monitoring, storage, and other administration required under SB 507?

School districts are required to foot the bill using existing funds. The legislature appropriated no extra dollars to fund SB 507.

The bill does specify that districts may accept donations and grant money to fund the purchase of equipment. Districts, however, were already able to accept grants and donations for virtually any educational purpose prior to this legislation and did not need statutory authority to receive or spend philanthropic dollars in this way.

The bill also directs the commissioner of education to create a grant program that would be funded in the event and to the degree the state appropriates more money to the Foundation School Program than what districts are owed based on the formulas. If funded, the program would be used to repay some districts for some of the upfront costs of implementing SB 507. There is no way to say how much or even if there will be any funding available for this grant program at this point.

When does SB 507 go into effect?

The bill’s requirement to install video equipment and monitor classrooms under TEC Section 29.022 doesn’t apply until the 2016-17 school year.

The Commissioner’s grant program, should there be any funding for it, would begin in the 2015-16 school year.

Does the bill require video surveillance of life skills and behavior unit classrooms for students in special education programs?

Most likely, yes. Under TEC Section 29.002(a), the bill requires that districts ”place, operate, and maintain one or more video cameras in each self-contained classroom or other special education setting in which a majority of the students in regular attendance are:

(1)  provided special education and related services; and

(2)  assigned to a self-contained classroom or other special education setting for at least 50 percent of the instructional day.”

However, under Section 29.002(k), the commissioner may adopt rules to implement and administer this section, including rules regarding the special education settings to which this section applies. That would likely include a determination on whether life skills and behavior unit classrooms constitute special education settings under SB 507. Stay tuned for updates once the rulemaking process is completed.

Can a parent opt his or her child out of being recorded?

It is very unlikely that a parent would be able to opt not to have his child monitored by video. There is no opt out provision in the statute and no practical way for a school district to comply with the law and ensure access to an unmonitored classroom setting covered by SB 507. Under the bill, a classroom must be monitored by video surveillance even if only a single parent requests it. While it is theoretically possible for a district to set up a classroom designed for only those children of parents who object to video monitoring, it is not really practical and the bill doesn’t require such an accommodation.

What implications does FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) have on viewing a video under SB 507?

There is no way to definitively say at this point whether common situations that would occur under SB 507 would violate the FERPA privacy protections, but likely the bill can be implemented without causing a violation of the federal law.

In any event, it is important to remember that potential FERPA violations caused by SB 507 are ultimately not something that should cause much worry for an individual educator. FERPA very specifically makes the institution (i.e. the school district, in this case) responsible for maintaining confidentiality – not individual educators. The only problem an educator could have is if the educator violates a school district policy with regard to the bill and the district then tries to take negative employment action against the educator; similarly, SBEC could pursue sanctions against an individual educator for violation of a local school district policy.

For those still interested in whether the law might create a violation under FERPA, it is important to distinguish between the legality of making a recording and the legality of showing that recording to a specific individual. Because FERPA regulates disclosure, it is unlikely that requiring districts to create a recording implicates the federal law at all. FERPA only applies when an educational record (in this case the video of the classroom) is shared with someone who is not the maker of the video (i.e. the district).

So the questions that follow are these: What obligations does a school district have when deciding who gets to see the videotape, and what must a district do to redact such a videotape before allowing someone without a legitimate educational purpose or one of the other exceptions written into the regulations to see it? A parent seeing a child, other than his own, in a self-contained special education setting likely establishes that the child is receiving special education services, which might be characterized as a violation of confidentiality. A district could likely avoid this potential violation by only sharing the video after blurring the images of other students. In fact, there are already instances in which school districts have provided video recordings involving students after blurring out the students’ faces to protect their anonymity, ostensibly to avoid any potential FERPA violations.

You can read more about common FERPA questions at this FERPA FAQ posted online by the U.S. Department of Education.

What was ATPE’s official position on SB 507?

As is often the case with high-profile legislation, SB 507 presented both positive and negative implications. After careful consideration of the pros and cons, ATPE chose not to register a formal position for or against the bill as part of official testimony before the House Public Education Committee or Senate Education Committee when those committees considered the bill this legislative session. In fact, no representatives of the state’s major educator groups registered a position for or against this bill. Most of the testimony was provided by parents, educators with particular expertise in special education, and representatives of school districts. SB 507 is likely to have a far greater impact on school districts and school boards, which ATPE does not directly represent, than it is expected to have on individual educators, which make up the majority of our membership.

ATPE certainly agrees with the intent of the bill – to deter classroom violence, aggression, or abuse. Our decisions on how to respond to SB 507 were based in part on how the bill addressed the issue of classroom violence – not whether or not that issue should be addressed. Any level of classroom violence, whether perpetrated by a teacher or student or against a teacher or student, is without question unacceptable and should not be tolerated. A few important questions that must be considered, however, when tackling this issue include these: 1) Is requiring video monitoring of classroom the most efficient and effective way of addressing classroom violence?  2) Does requiring video monitoring do more harm or good on balance?

SB 507 requires that certain classrooms as detailed above be equipped with audio and video monitoring equipment. However, the bill also provides that an area of a monitored room that is used to change a student’s clothing or to facilitate a student using the restroom may not be visually monitored. Even considering that SB 507 requires such “no view” areas, the bill will almost certainly have some deterrent effect on classroom violence. However, it is ATPE’s informed opinion that video surveillance is neither the most efficient nor the most effective means of deterrence. In the vast majority of cases, enhanced educator and administrator training would be less costly and equally effective at decreasing the incidents of classroom violence. Training would also likely have positive spillover effects within the educational environment that cameras do not offer. Likely the most effective deterrent, though not less expensive, would be to require that each self-contained special education setting be staffed by a trained para-professional in addition to the classroom teacher. Many organizations have a policy of requiring two adults to be present with a group of children in order to achieve this exact deterrent effect. Even more than training, this alternative would also provide massive additional benefits to the educational environment that a camera simply can’t provide.

While some educators feel that cameras are a justified expense to promote student and educator safety, other educators feel that SB 507 creates an unnecessary invasion of privacy, implies that they are incapable of performing their jobs in a responsible manner, or perpetuates a myth about widespread child abuse occurring in school settings. However, it’s important for educators to consider that video recordings may be just as likely or even more likely to exonerate them from false accusations as they are likely to result in new allegations of educator misconduct. Having access to an objective record of actual events in the classroom can eliminate “he said/she said” complaints otherwise devoid of hard evidence and can also provide educators with valuable support in instances where educators have been assaulted by students. Additionally, it’s important to remember that school districts have already had authority – even before passage of this bill – to videotape their classrooms. Video cameras are commonly found in school hallways, cafeterias, and other common areas. Cost constraints have been one of the primary reasons that schools have not previously chosen to deploy additional cameras both for security and educational purposes; and concerns about inadequate funding were the primary reason that administrator and school board associations voiced opposition to SB 507 during the legislative session.

Ultimately, ATPE concluded during the legislative session that SB 507, on balance, would not result in vastly greater harm or good than the status quo. The new law is a somewhat expensive diversion of limited education resources (as the state appropriated no additional dollars to fund this very specific mandate), but it will likely have some deterrent effect. The bill does involve a loss of educator (and student) privacy, but it is also likely to exonerate far more educators than it convicts. It was for these reasons that ATPE did not take an official position supporting or opposing the bill but instead worked behind the scenes this session to improve it. Some of the positive changes made to SB 507 included giving educators access to any tape capturing an incident in which they are implicated, as well as giving access to experts trained in proper restraint techniques who can more accurately identify what they are seeing on the video.

We hope that some of the unanswered questions about SB 507 will become clearer after the commissioner of education proposes rules for implementation of the new law. Stay tuned for updates from Teach the Vote when that process occurs.

 

*ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp contributed additional information for this post.

Press release: ATPE weighs in on completion of 84th legislative session

Today, ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey issued the following remarks to the media about the end of the 84th regular legislative session:

“For the education community, legislative sessions in Texas–at least in recent years–are when we find ourselves defending the great work that is being done in our schools and fighting off harmful attempts to deregulate and defund the programs that help students, devalue the education profession, and detour state resources for the benefit of private entities and vendors. The 84th was no exception, with some in the legislature choosing to focus their energy on pushing forward vouchers, proposals to convert public schools to privately managed charters with little accountability to local parents and voters, bills lowering the minimum wage for teachers, and vindictive attempts to pass a payroll deduction ban with no public benefit aimed only at discouraging educators from being politically active.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at the capitol. We were able to defeat harmful legislation while making progress in areas of genuine need for public education. We helped pass bills to further reduce the emphasis on standardized tests and the high stakes those tests have imposed on our students and staff; we enhanced the funding and quality of early education; we secured additional money to help cover retired educators’ rising healthcare costs; and we prioritized students’ well-being through nutritional support programs, suicide prevention, and a host of other health and safety measures.

It was not a perfect session for public education. The legislature failed to address our broken school finance system, left billions of dollars on the table that could have been used to shore up underfunded schools, and made a few changes we hoped to avoid, such as moving to a system of labeling schools with ‘A through F’ grades. However, we believe those choices will eventually be corrected, and in the meantime, we are thankful for the lawmakers and legislative leaders who stood up for public education. In a session that had the potential to fling public education backward, the small steps forward that were taken have enormous significance.

Despite the attempts of some to use politics to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters, ATPE believes that the majority of the members of the 84th Legislature acted in the best interest of their districts’ schools, students, and school staffs. We are grateful for their dedication to our cause and the progress that was made.”

Download ATPE’s June 2 press release here.

Big developments on education bills in the Texas House today, including a defeated “local control school district” bill

We reported yesterday on many of the education bills that are still in motion at the state capitol. A number of high-profile bills were acted upon today by the Texas House, and we’ve provided a few updates below on these topics:


State budget

Negotiators on the budget bill, HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), may be nearing a compromise, according to media reports. As we reported yesterday, the main sticking points are differences between the House and Senate on how to approach tax cuts. Watch for updates tomorrow.

School finance

We also reported yesterday that HB 1759 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) was not yet listed on a House calendar and in danger of dying. Because of strict end-of-session deadlines, the school finance overhaul bill must be heard by the House no later than tomorrow, May 14. We can now report that HB 1759 has been placed on the calendar for possible floor debate tomorrow, if time permits.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) is still on the House calendar today but hasn’t yet been heard. Aycock’s HB 1842 relating to sanctions and interventions for low-performing schools was approved on second reading yesterday. It was brought up today, May 13, on third reading. An amendment was added without a record vote that stripped ATPE-supported language from the bill allowing for use of a community schools model for school turnaround.  The House finally passed HB 1842 as amended by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill.

“Local control school districts”

Today the House considered HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D), a bill to make it easier for school districts to be converted to home rule charter districts using the proposed new moniker of “local control school districts.” The high-profile school deregulation bill is one that has been backed by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and opposed by ATPE and other educator groups. After three hours of debate, the bill failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Prior to the final vote on the bill, several floor amendments were considered. Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D) offered a floor amendment to require local control school districts to comply with class-size laws, but the amendment was defeated by a vote of 73 to 67. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Donna Howard (D) to increase transparency in petitions to convert a school district to a local control district, but rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) to ensure that teacher contract rights would be preserved in local control school districts. The defeat of the bill is a significant blow to education reform groups that have proposed a host of bills to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters.

Based on preliminary reports, these are the state representatives who supported educators by voting to kill this bill today: Allen, Alma(D); Alonzo, Roberto(D); Anchia, Rafael(D); Ashby, Trenton(R); Bell, Cecil(R); Bernal, Diego (D); Burns, DeWayne (R); Canales, Terry(D); Clardy, Travis(R); Coleman, Garnet(D); Collier, Nicole(D); Cook, Byron(R); Craddick, Tom(R); Cyrier, John (R); Darby, Drew(R); Davis, Yvonne(D); Farias, Joe(D); Farney, Marsha(R); Farrar, Jessica(D); Frullo, John(R); Giddings, Helen(D); Gonzalez, Mary(D); Guerra, Bobby(D); Gutierrez, Roland(D); Harless, Patricia(R); Hernandez, Ana(D); Howard, Donna(D); Israel, Celia (D); Johnson, Eric(D); Kacal, Kyle(R); Keffer, Jim(R); King, Ken(R); King, Susan(R); Landgraf, Brooks (R); Larson, Lyle(R); Longoria, Oscar(D); Lucio III, Eddie(D); Martinez Fischer, Trey(D); Martinez, Armando(D); McClendon, Ruth Jones(D); Metcalf, Will (R); Miles, Borris(D); Minjarez, Ina (D); Moody, Joe(D); Munoz, Sergio(D); Murr, Andrew (R); Naishtat, Elliott(D); Nevarez, Poncho(D); Oliveira, Rene(D); Otto, John(R); Paddie, Chris(R); Phillips, Larry(R); Pickett, Joe(D); Price, Four(R); Raney, John(R); Raymond, Richard(D); Reynolds, Ron(D); Rodriguez, Eddie(D); Rodriguez, Justin(D); Romero, Ramon (D); Rose, Toni(D); Sanford, Scott(R); Schubert, Leighton (R); Sheffield, J.D.(R); Simpson, David(R); Smithee, John(R); Spitzer, Stuart (R); Thompson, Ed(R); Thompson, Senfronia(D); Turner, Chris(D); Turner, Sylvester(D); VanDeaver, Gary (R); Walle, Amando(D); Workman, Paul(R); Wray, John (R); and Wu, Gene(D).

These representatives voted in favor of the TER-backed reform bill, HB 1798: Anderson, Doc(R); Anderson, Rodney(R); Aycock, Jimmie Don(R); Bohac, Dwayne(R); Bonnen, Dennis(R); Bonnen, Greg(R); Burkett, Cindy(R); Burrows, Dustin (R); Capriglione, Giovanni(R); Dale, Tony(R); Davis, Sarah(R); Deshotel, Joe(D); Dutton, Harold(D); Elkins, Gary(R); Faircloth, Wayne (R); Fallon, Pat(R); Fletcher, Allen(R); Flynn, Dan(R); Frank, James(R); Galindo III, Rick (R); Geren, Charlie(R); Goldman, Craig(R); Guillen, Ryan(D); Huberty, Dan(R); Hughes, Bryan(R); Hunter, Todd(R); Isaac, Jason(R); King, Phil(R); Klick, Stephanie(R); Koop, Linda (R); Krause, Matt(R); Laubenberg, Jodie(R); Leach, Jeff(R); Lozano, Jose(R); Meyer, Morgan (R); Miller, Rick(R); Morrison, Geanie(R); Murphy, Jim(R); Parker, Tan(R); Paul, Dennis (R); Pena, Gilbert (R); Phelan, Dade (R); Riddle, Debbie(R); Rinaldi, Matt (R); Schaefer, Matt(R); Schofield, Mike (R); Shaheen, Matt (R); Sheets, Kenneth(R); Simmons, Ron(R); Springer, Drew(R); Stephenson, Phil(R); Stickland, Jonathan(R); Tinderholt, Tony (R); Turner, Scott(R); Villalba, Jason(R); White, James(R); White, Molly (R); Zedler, Bill(R); and Zerwas, John(R).

NOTE: If your state representative is not listed above, he or she may have been absent at the time of the vote. Keep in mind that the list above is not an official record of the vote.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) regarding school usage of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, was passed by the House today. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously. Next, the Senate must decide whether to accept the House changes to the bill or send it to a conference committee.


Your outreach to legislators on these education bills is making a difference, and ATPE encourages you to keep it up! Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for even more information about pending legislation.

Journalists again dispute Dan Patrick’s education claims, turn to ATPE for facts

Back in September, we reported to you that the national fact-checking website PolitiFact had reviewed claims by Sen. Dan Patrick, a candidate for Texas Lieutenant Governor, about his education-related record in the State Senate. The PolitiFact journalists rated Patrick’s claim that he had worked to restore public education funding in 2013 as ridiculously false using its “Pants on Fire” rating. In researching the claim, PolitiFact turned to education experts, including ATPE’s lobby team for details about any efforts that were made in 2013 to restore massive funding cuts to public education the previous session.

Once again, PolitiFact has called into question an education-related claim by Patrick and interviewed several education experts, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, to uncover the truth. Patrick’s most recent claim, offered in a television campaign ad, is directed at his opponent in the contentious race for Lieutenant Governor, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. Patrick claims in the ad that Van de Putte “voted to stop schools from removing teachers convicted of a felony,” but PolitiFact rated Patrick’s claim as “Mostly False.”

The controversy stems from a bill passed in 2011 that relates to school district employees who have been convicted of felonies. House Bill (HB) 1610 enables schools to fire educators convicted of felonies almost immediately without going through the normal due process channels that exist for other educators with employment contracts. Attorneys for school districts requested the legislation, insisting that it would save them the time and money of dealing with termination hearings and appeals for those employees. Several educator groups, including ATPE, voiced opposition to the bill because it called for a strict, zero-tolerance approach that would automatically terminate the employment of anyone with a felony conviction, regardless of the nature of the offense, how long ago it might have occurred, or whether it was the result of a plea bargain or deferred adjudication agreement. The bill did not give school districts the right to fire employees with felonies because they already had that right; in fact, under a major school safety bill passed in 2007 (Senate Bill 9), districts were already required to investigate educators’ criminal backgrounds and remove any dangerous employees from the classroom.

Patrick’s claim about the 2011 vote largely fails because of the fact that districts already had the ability to fire teachers before HB 1610 was proposed. As passed, HB 1610 now allows schools to void a teacher’s contract based on an offense that might be unrelated to the classroom or may have happened decades ago. ATPE and other educator groups were early opponents of the bill, since it cuts off contract rights owed to every other teacher because of an event potentially unrelated to the educator’s job performance. Further, the 2011 bill at the heart of Patrick’s claim was largely unnecessary, because under SB 9 that preceded HB 1610, school districts already know about any felony offenses in an educator’s background at the time of hire or contract renewal and can make the appropriate decision.

In 2011, Van de Putte voted for HB 1610 at one stage but voted against the bill when it moved through the Senate floor. She wanted to amend the bill to allow educators who had been convicted as a result of deferred adjudication to retain their due process rights under the contract laws and be entitled to a hearing prior to being terminated, but Patrick defeated her proposed amendment. Deferred adjudication cases often differ from ordinary convictions handed down by a judge or jury, because defendants may accept deferred adjudication simply because they cannot afford the time and money it takes to hire lawyers to defend their cases in court. It is, ironically, the same reason cited by school districts that pressed the legislature to make it easier for them to fire teachers without due process. As Van de Putte stated during Senate floor debate on HB 1610, “Deferred adjudication does not imply guilt.” When her amendment was killed, Van de Putte and eight other senators subsequently voted against the bill.

PolitiFact asked education experts to weigh in on whether a vote against HB 1610 could be considered a vote to prevent schools from firing teachers with felony convictions, as Patrick claimed in his campaign ad. They universally agreed that HB 1610 merely dealt with the due process provisions in existing law, not the schools’ underlying ability to fire teachers. ATPE’s Exter told reporters, “Voting down HB 1610 would not have stopped schools from removing teachers convicted of a felony; it would have simply required districts to continue to observe the teachers’ due process rights in situations not already covered by” the 2007 law (SB 9) that serves to keep violent and sex offenders out of our schools – a bill that that ATPE and other educator groups supported and Van de Putte voted in favor of passing. ATPE has consistently defended educators’ due process and contract rights, which have been slowly eroded over time, especially during budget crises. We and the legislators who opposed HB 1610 believed that educators employed under contracts should be entitled to due process before being systematically fired and that districts should consider the specific circumstances of each case before ultimately making the employment decisions that are best for their students and staff.

Based on factual information from ATPE and other sources about HB 1610, PolitiFact concluded, “There was never a vote to stop schools from firing teachers convicted of a felony.” They noted that “Van de Putte voted against making it easier to terminate such teachers – a toughening that was supported by Patrick to wipe out the right of teachers to request an independent hearing before being let go.” Patrick’s claim was rated by PolitiFact as “Mostly False.”