Tag Archives: social security

New tools help educators calculate Social Security benefits after WEP or GPO reductions

Retirement planning written on a notepad.One of the most common questions I get from members calling in to the ATPE state office for guidance is about how their TRS pension will affect their ability to draw either their own or their spouse’s Social Security benefits. When I get these questions I always find myself walking the member through the intricacies of one or both of the provisions in federal law that can reduce the Social Security benefits they would otherwise receive. Additional information about these offsets, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), can be found here on ATPE’s website.

Up until now, I have been able to explain to ATPE members how the WEP and GPO may affect them, but I haven’t been able to provide them with any direct resources that would show them what their personal Social Security benefits are likely to look like after being reduced by one of these offsets, until now. I recently learned of a new suite of online calculators that have been made available by the federal Social Security Administration on its website that allow the public to get a better understanding of what their Social Security benefit will look like. Two of these calculators are specifically designed to help educators and people subject to either GPO or WEP reductions to determine their remaining Social Security benefit.

The calculators are fairly simple and straightforward to use, but you will need some information about your personal Social Security savings that you can find on your Social Security statement. You’ll also need to have information about your TRS pension that you can get from TRS either by calling the agency, using the MyTRS member portal, or looking on your TRS statement.

You can find the WEP calculator here and the GPO calculator here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 23, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867We’re less than a month away from a 30-day special session ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott. Passing sunset legislation to keep a handful of agencies from going out of business during the interim will be the first order a business, after attempts to pass such a bill during the regular session fell victim to a battle of wills over ideological issues. Gov. Abbott has laid out 19 additional issues for lawmakers to consider during the special session, with signs that even more topics could be added to the agenda as we move closer to the start date. The governor’s wish list, featuring a number of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s questionable “priorities” from the regular session, includes regulating local school bathroom policies, funding private school vouchers, mandating that school districts come up with their own funds for a teacher pay raise, tinkering with teachers’ employment and due process rights, and prohibiting educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary membership dues to professional associations like ATPE.

Aside from the need to deal with the agency sunset matters that were allowed to falter during the regular session, the governor’s declaring this particular score of issues as being “extraordinary” and urgent enough to warrant spending a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money to debate is a decision that has left many scratching their heads. Arguably the most important priority that did not get addressed during the regular session was school finance reform, but that issue has barely registered as a blip on the governor’s special session radar. Abbott made it clear during his recent press conference that he intends merely for the legislature to appoint a commission to study the issue over the next two years. Many lawmakers, especially in the House, have indicated that they do not share the governor’s views on the urgency of spending another month arguing about such petty concerns as how local bathroom policies are written and how educators spend their own hard-earned money.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

ATPE weighed in on the merits of the special session plans this week in an opinion piece written by Executive Director Gary Godsey and published by The Texas Tribune on its TribTalk website. Godsey explained that the founders of our state government gave governors the ability to call special sessions “under ‘extraordinary occasions.’ Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors. Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.” Read the full piece republished on our blog here.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1With the renewed attacks on public schools and hardworking educators that are anticipated in the new few weeks, it is important for educators to stay engaged and share their input with legislators. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their own lawmakers about protecting educators’ rights, properly funding the needs of our public (not private) education system, and preserving local control. The special session will convene on July 18.

 


The State Board of Education hears from education commissioner Mike Morath at the board's June 2017 meeting.

The SBOE hears from Commissioner Mike Morath at the board’s June 2017 meeting.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been in attendance to report on all the action.

As Mark reported for our blog on Tuesday, the board began its meeting hearing from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and learning about legislative revisions to the state’s “A through F” accountability system and the recent roll-out of new STAAR report cards by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Much of the SBOE’s work this week has been centered around revisions to the curriculum standards for English and Spanish language arts and reading. The board also looked at its process for TEKS revisions, as Mark described on Wednesday. Appointing board members to serve on a new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee was also on the agenda this week. On Thursday, Mark reported that SBOE committees took a closer look at education bills passed by the 85th Texas Legislature this year and considered impacts on the Permanent School Fund. It was also reported this week that the fund surpassed its investment benchmarks and hit the $32 billion mark for the first time.

For a wrap-up of this week’s SBOE action, check out Mark’s latest blog post here.

 


ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner in Washington, DC

This week, a group of ATPE leaders and staff traveled to Washington, DC to discuss federal education concerns. ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner were joined by Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann and Monty Exter. David Pore, ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist, arranged meetings for the team with several key officials in the nation’s capital.

The team had a jam-packed schedule of more than 20 meetings this week, visiting with both the U.S. House and Senate committees that cover K-12 education issues, staff of the U.S. Department of Education, and a sizable chunk of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE’s representatives primarily focused the discussions on three issue areas: the repeal and replacement of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that limits many educators’ access to Social Security benefits; implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and troubling signs that the country’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing for privatization of the public education system.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

One of the first meetings our team conducted this week was with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chair of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brady has been working with ATPE and other stakeholder groups on a bill that will repeal the current WEP and replace it with a much fairer system. During the meeting, he told ATPE Vice Present Carl Garner that he is looking forward to reintroducing his legislation and that when he does so, he expects it to move through Congress quickly.

Overall the visiting ATPE team reported that they received a very positive reception to our message during their many visits with lawmakers and staff. Executive Director Gary Godsey called it the most productive trip to Washington he’s taken since joining the organization. For more highlights of the Washington trip, check out ATPE’s Facebook page.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Kate Kuhlmann, Julleen Bottoms, Gary Godsey, and Carl Garner in Washington, DC, in June 2017

 


 

 

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

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

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

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

 


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

 


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

 


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

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

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

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 13, 2017

The 85th legislative session began this week. Here are highlights from the week:


Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.

Failing grade wrinkledOne thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.

The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.

We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.

Related: Check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s Jan. 12, 2017 editorial in the Austin American-Statesman about vouchers and why running public education like a business is a bad idea.

 


As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.

On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundEarlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.

As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”

 


The United States Capitol building

The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.

Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.

While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.

 


Monty testifying at a TEA hearingAs we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.

 


 

Federal Update: New Congress kicks off, preps for DeVos confirmation hearing

 

UPDATE: After this story was published, the leaders of the Senate HELP committee announced that the DeVos confirmation hearing had been postponed to Jan. 17 at 4:00 PM CST. Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray stated that the change was made “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.”

 

Congress kicked off a new session last week with two new members from Texas and new members in top ranking positions on committees important to education and educators. This week, Congress is set to proceed with the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education.

The first education-related item up on the new Congress’s agenda is the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will meet Wednesday at 9:00 AM CST to begin the billionaire voucher-advocate’s confirmation process. DeVos remains a provocative pick for public education supporters as she has fought for decades on behalf of voucher proposals in several states, led advocacy organizations that pushed alt-school-choice options, and has no meaningful experience in the classroom or our public schools. Still, most Senate Republicans have praised her nomination and only Democrats are expected to show any opposition on Wednesday.

E

The Senate HELP committee will have the choice to vote to move the nomination to the full Senate or take no action. Since DeVos’s nomination is expected to make it out of committee, the committee will likely report her nomination to the full Senate where she will need a simple majority vote for final confirmation. Watch DeVos’s confirmation hearing live or archived here.

While Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) remain the leaders of the Senate HELP committee in the new Congress, education committees in the U.S. House are experiencing changes in leadership. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will now be led by Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), replacing the previous chair, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who retired at the end of the year. The committee’s Democratic leader remains Ranking Member Bobby Scott of Virginia.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which in previous sessions has seen bills to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), will also have new leadership, but, in this case, only on the Democratic side of the aisle with new Ranking Member Richard Neal of Massachusetts. The House Ways and Means committee continues to be led by Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has worked for years with ATPE and other groups to pass legislation that more fairly distributes Social Security benefits to teachers and other affected employees. ATPE is optimistic that the new ranking member, who co-authored Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA) will fight alongside Chair Brady as they work towards repeal of the WEP this year.

Two new members of Congress from Texas also began work after being sworn in last week. Republican Representative Jodey Arrington of Lubbock and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen both replace retiring members Randy Neugebauer and Ruben Hinojosa, respectively. ATPE sent letters welcoming Reps. Arrington and Gonzalez to Congress and welcomes all of the new members and leaders to their new roles. Stay tuned for updates from Washington as the new administration and Congress get underway.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 4, 2016

It’s the last week in review before Tuesday’s monumental election. Read more of this week’s education news:

 


MontyVote_WEBFinally, the long-awaited general election is less than four days away on Tuesday, Nov. 8. It goes without saying that this Election Day is an important one, but we’ll take a moment to again remind you of how much is at stake for public education and encourage you to get out and vote if you haven’t already. Earlier today on our blog, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter weighed in on the importance of “exercising” the right to vote as often as possible.

Today, Nov. 4, marks the last day for early voting in Texas. Most early voting polls will close at 7 p.m. tonight. It’s also the last chance for ATPE members to get in on our “I voted” selfie photo contest. Visit the ATPE Facebook page for details on our early voting contest in which three randomly selected winners will receive a Target gift card for sharing their early voting selfie.

Additional resources for those who’ve not yet voted:

  • Through the Texas Secretary of State’s Am I Registered website, you can obtain a customized list of polling places and verify your voter registration. Also check out VoteTexas.gov for additional information on voting.
  • Vote411.org is a national website hosted by the League of Women Voters that provides sample ballots, candidate information, and more.
  • Here on Teach the Vote, learn more about your candidates for the Texas legislature and State Board of Education on our 2016 Races page. Candidate profiles include survey responses, endorsement information, and incumbents’ voting records.
  • If you have a government-issued photo ID, be sure to take it with you to the polls! Those who do not have an identification card have other options thanks to recent court decisions. Learn more here.
  • Compare the Presidential candidates’ views on education issues in this feature from the national publication Education Week.
  • Read about Texas candidates who’ve earned the endorsement of the pro-public education advocacy group Texas Parent PAC here.
  • Still looking for ways to address the election in your classroom? Read these tips from ATPE member Kim Grosenbacher. Also, check out ATPE State Past President Cory Colby’s insights in this article from The Texas Tribune.
  • Read the latest voting update from the Texas Educators Vote coalition on efforts to create a culture of voting in Texas public schools this year, and check out the many other resources from the coalition on their website here. We especially like seeing the election countdown!

 


Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) held a conference call yesterday to update educators on his efforts to address the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a federal Social Security offset that reduces the amount of retirement benefits that many educators and other public employees may receive. In his own words, Congressman Brady told educators on the call that he’s “been working on this issue for decades” because he believes it is unfair that public servants do not receive “equal treatment” and are penalized by the WEP. Brady filed H.R. 711, known as the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA), to replace the WEP with a more equitable formula for calculating Social Security benefits.

committee-sealIn July, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, which Congressman Brady chairs, was set to vote on H.R. 711, but the vote was delayed after a few national employee groups opposed and tried to amend the bill. Since that time, the congressman and his staff have continued to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and have requested additional actuarial data from the Social Security Administration. Brady shared with educators participating in yesterday’s call his commitment to keep working to pass the ETPSA this year and refile the bill in the next Congress in 2017 if necessary.

Of particular importance to the chairman is passing a reform measure that will help both current and future retirees. “Many have given up hope that it can be solved, but I’m not one of them,” Brady emphasized. “We’re so close in my opinion, but we’ve still got some serious work to do going forward,” said the chairman to educators and other stakeholders on the conference call on Nov. 3.

Educators affected by the WEP are encouraged to share their own stories and examples of how the unfair law is hurting them. Chairman Brady urged educators to keep sending their stories via email to WEP.feedback@mail.house.gov so that he and other backers of the ETPSA can “make the case to the broader Congress” about the urgent need for WEP reform.

ATPE has joined with a coalition of employee and retiree associations from across the country, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association, working alongside Chairman Brady to increase educators’ Social Security benefits and neutralize the negative consequences of the WEP. The congressman told yesterday’s conference call participants, “It’s absolutely critical that we have a strong, unified coalition” in order to achieve successful legislation to reform the WEP.

ATPE state officers and staff members met with Chairman Brady last month in Washington to discuss the ETPSA.

ATPE state officers and staff members met with Chairman Brady in Washington to discuss the ETPSA.

Among those representing educators on the call was ATPE’s federal lobbyist David Pore, who thanked Chairman Brady for his tireless efforts on behalf of our members and others affected by the WEP. Brady similarly thanked ATPE, TRTA, and others for “staying at the table” as negotiations have continued on the legislation. We at ATPE are very thankful for Chairman Brady’s perseverance and the hard work of his staff. Keep sending in your WEP input, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this very important legislation.

 


Several press releases came out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week. TEA responded to allegations that it has forced districts to meet an arbitrary cap on enrolling students in special education programs. The agency also released several announcements pertaining to school accountability and interventions. Read full details in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Kuhlmann SBEC testimony Aug 2016The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) recently revised its rules pertaining to educator preparation and certification in Texas. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported earlier this week, the rule changes affect preparation, program requirements, pathways to certification, and more. The rules also seek to raise the quality of training all teachers receive before going into the classroom, something that ATPE regularly fights for on behalf of all Texas educators. ATPE recognizes that teachers deserve strong training prior to entering the classroom, because the expectations are high and the work isn’t easy once they’re in it full time. Read Kate’s full story to learn more about ATPE’s position and the changes made to the rules, including changes in rules governing the educational aide certificate.

 


Go vote today or on Tuesday! Every vote matters!

GR_Vote_WEB2

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 30, 2016

Here is this week’s Teach the Vote wrap-up of education news:


School funding was the center of attention at the Texas State Capitol this week as legislators held interim hearings to consider education-related budget requests and the possibility of changes to the state’s school finance system next session.

Education related hearings began on Tuesday this with week with the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s education staff holding a series of joint budget hearings where they heard from TEA, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and TRS. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath laid out TEA’s appropriations request including exceptional items. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie delivered a presentation on his agency’s appropriations request which covered the trust fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare.

Budget related hearings continued on Wednesday and Thursday as the House Appropriations and House Public Education Committees held a two-day joint hearing on school finance. On day one of the hearing, the committees heard from four panels of invited witnesses covering the following topics: an overview of the school finance system, litigation, and revenue; additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR); recapture; and district adjustments. On day two, the committees heard from an additional three panels of invited witnesses as well as approximately 60 public testifiers, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. The final three panels of invited testimony covered student adjustments, facilities funding, and school finance options for the 85th session.

Note: we will update this post with a link to footage of day two of the joint hearing on school finance as soon as archived video becomes available from the state.


RegisterToVoteOctober 11 is the last day to register to vote (or update your registration if you’ve recently moved) if you plan to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. On our blog this week, we shared a post from ATPE with recommendations from a Texas teacher on how to engage students this election season. Don’t forget that students who will be 18 years old on Election Day can register, too!

Find out more about the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by visiting our 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote. Our candidate profiles are designed to inform voters about the candidates’ views on public education. They include incumbents’ voting records and candidates’ responses to our survey about major education issues. Several candidates vying for contested seats this fall have recently answered our survey, so check out the profiles for races in your area to find out where your candidates stand. Remember also that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for candidates of any party or independent candidates in the November general election.

Your vote is your voice!


Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced this week plans to resign from her House seat in January. Dukes cited lingering health problems following an automobile accident in 2013 in which she injured her back. She has recently been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that she misused state funds and her legislative office employees for personal work. Dukes has had a long record of supporting pro-public education legislation since taking office in 1994, but health issues resulted in her being absent for a good part of the last legislative session. ATPE thanks Rep. Dukes for her service and wishes her a full recovery. If Dukes is re-elected in November, Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy upon her resignation.

 


With the legislative session just a few months away, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is among a host of elected officials making the rounds to tout private school vouchers as a civil rights imperative. He and other Republican senators have given public speeches, appeared on panels at recent events such as the Texas Tribune Festival, and implored their legislative colleagues to support an especially alarming form of voucher known as an Education Savings Account (ESA). ESA programs call for the state to give public funds directly to parents, often in the form of debit cards that can be used for any education-related expense on behalf of their children, including paying for home schooling or private school costs.

Dr. Charles Luke, who heads the Coalition for Public Schools of which ATPE is a member, penned an opinion piece for the Waco Tribune this week in which he debunks the “school choice as a civil right” myth. Luke writes that “vouchers disguised as ‘school choice’ have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income,” citing voucher programs that began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954.

NO VOUCHERSESAs and other voucher proposals fail to create any legitimate options for educationally disadvantaged students, as Luke points out, especially without any requirement that private schools accepting vouchers adhere to state and federal laws that prevent discrimination, protect students with special needs, and impose accountability standards. Private and parochial schools have generally balked at the notion of complying with the same laws as public schools — such as requirements for student testing, providing transportation, and admitting all students regardless of disability, race, or other factors — in exchange for taxpayer funds. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sitting on a panel at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival, pointed out the practical impossibility of ensuring that ESA funds are spent appropriately. She expressed serious doubt that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff would have the necessary resources to scrutinize receipts submitted by parents to back up expenditures made using an ESA.

A much more realistic plan for helping all students, and especially those living in poverty, would be to improve the state’s school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional but deemed only “minimally” acceptable. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the need for lawmakers to increase the weights in our state’s current school finance system, along with creating a new funding weight that would account for campuses with particularly high concentrations of students with greater needs. Campus-based weighted funding of this nature would help districts such as Austin ISD that are forced to share their local tax revenue through the current recapture system on account of having elevated local property values but also include campuses with high populations of students in poverty and English language learners.  Houston ISD, another district negatively affected by recapture, is waiting to see if its voters will reject a local property tax increase next month, which would force the state to reallocate Houston’s tax base toward other school districts. An HISD representative testified at Wednesday’s school finance hearing that nearly 80 percent of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged. Read more about the Houston district’s dilemma here.

With marathon hearings on school finance taking place at the Capitol this week, stay tuned to find out if lawmakers are receptive to making any significant changes next session.

 


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Members of the ATPE lobby team met with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) during last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival to discuss Social Security and other education issues. Pictured from left to right are ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, Castro, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 2, 2016

Here are some stories that made education news this week as you started your new school year:

 


committee-sealThe U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees Social Security legislation at the federal level, has shared new blog information on the unfairness of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and why it needs to be overhauled by Congress. Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) are now inviting educators, firefighters, and other public employees affected by the WEP to share stories about how they’ve been affected by this unfair provision in law. We at ATPE encourage Texas educators to share their stories with congressional leaders by emailing them to WEP.feedback@mail.house.gov and also check out the committee’s useful new infographics and WEP data here.

 


The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) has finalized its recommendations and considerations for further study to the governor and state legislature. The commission’s final recommendations include the following:

  1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.
  2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.
  3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.
  5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.
  6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.
  7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.
  8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.
  9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258.

View the commission’s full report here. Stay tuned next week on our Teach the Vote blog as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will provide complete analysis and our association’s reaction to each of these nine recommendations.

 


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Josh Sanderson

It’s a bittersweet day for ATPE as we bid farewell to one of our veteran team members. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is leaving his post in our Governmental Relations department today to become Associate Deputy Executive Director for the Equity Center, a Texas non-profit organization that advocates for school finance equity and adequate public education funding. We at ATPE are grateful to Josh for his decade of outstanding service to our organization, and we wish him all the best in his new endeavors with one of our most respected education allies.

 


Have a safe and relaxing Labor Day Weekend!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 15, 2016

An ultimately anti-climactic week in Washington and other Texas education news is recapped here:


13501817_10154159653265435_2291324175792778665_nOn Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means was scheduled to mark up and vote on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA). Instead, in a disappointing turn of events, the bill was pulled from consideration and postponed as a result of opposition from several national employee associations. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson followed the developments closely this week and reported on them here, here, and here.

If H.R. 711 does not pass, public education employees will continue to be subjected to the punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that can reduce personal Social Security benefits by over $400 per month. If H.R. 711 passes, a fairer formula, one that considers a worker’s entire career and earnings history, will be used to calculate benefits. Further, retirees would receive a benefit increase and the average future retiree would have benefits increased by an average of $900 per year.

ATPE remains dedicated to ensuring Texas educators receive fair and quality benefits in retirement, and we will continue to work with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) on increasing benefits for current and future retirees by passing H.R. 711. Stay tuned for future updates.


The United States Capitol building

The United States Capitol building

In other federal education news this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its fifth of six expected Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation oversight hearings, and the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations held a mark up of the appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

This week’s Senate HELP hearing on ESSA implementation was focused on the Department’s accountability rule proposal. As we reported when it was released, the proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to begin identifying schools in need of support in the following school year. This proposed timeline is unsettling to most because it identifies struggling schools based on data derived from early implementation efforts, rather than data collected once the new state accountability systems are fully implemented. Some also caution that it doesn’t allow enough time for states to truly innovate in their new systems. All of the witnesses invited to share input at this week’s hearing and most senators agreed that delaying the timeline by a year would be beneficial.

Another point of contention in the proposal was the department’s decision to require an overall summative score, rather than allowing states to provide dashboards of information on schools and districts, which provide a more comprehensive look at school accountability. ED is accepting comments on the rule proposal through August 1, and we will continue to provide updates on the proposal as they develop.

In the other chamber of Congress, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill, which includes education funding. The bill funds the Department of Education at $67 billion, a $1.3 billion decrease compared to the previous year’s appropriation. Federal special education funding, however, increased by $500 million compared to the previous level, and the bill includes $1 billion for the student support and academic enrichment grants, authorized under ESSA.

Due to the inclusion of party-specific initiatives and disagreements on funding levels, the appropriations bill mostly broke down on partisan lines. Still, the committee reported the bill favorably to the House floor where it now awaits debate and a vote from the full House. The Senate is simultaneously working on its own version of the funding legislation.


Little girl sitting on stack of books.In a story published this week by the Texas Tribune, Kiah Collier reports that a number of Texas school districts (more than 20) have turned down the funding they were to receive under the high quality prekindergarten grant program.

We reported last week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it had parceled out a total of $116 million to 578 Texas school systems that qualified as grant recipients. We noted at that time that “considering the money is to be dispersed among a large number of school systems, the per pupil dollar amount will be telling in terms of how far the state needs to go to invest in quality and meaningful early education.” According to the Tribune‘s story, per pupil spending under the program totals $367 per year, a fraction of the $1,500 per student originally expected, and districts are turning down the grant because it will not cover the cost of implementing required quality control measures.

Read the full story for more on this latest prekindergarten development.


16_Web_SummitSpotlightThe ATPE governmental relations team is ready for the ATPE Summit and looks forward to seeing participating ATPE members next week! We hope you will stop by the Advocacy Booth in the ATPE Lounge on Wednesday night to say hello and pick up a variety of advocacy resources. We will be there to answer questions and visit with members from 4 to 7 pm on July 20.

Immediately following, you can find us at the 70s-themed dance party! We will be promoting the ATPE-PAC and selling a fun, tie-dyed t-shirt. Speaking of PAC, if you are an ATPE member and you’re coming to the ATPE Summit, be sure to check out our new online auction. Bidding is open now and your voluntary donations will go toward supporting pro-public education candidates through the ATPE-PAC.

The lobby team will also present advocacy updates during the professional development and leadership training sessions on Thursday. We will offer two general advocacy update sessions that will highlight the latest developments in state and federal education policy. Our team will also moderate in a separate session a conversation with ATPE members Jimmy Lee and Casey Hubbard regarding their recent experiences serving as education advocates in their local communities.

Get ready for an educational, productive, and fun-filled week! We hope to see you there!


 

Social Security Update: Hearing tomorrow in D.C. on H.R. 711

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee announced that its members will be hearing and voting on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA), on Wednesday, July 13, at 1 pm. As we have reported in the past, the bill was filed by Congressman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Texas, who now chairs the committee.

The ETPSA would repeal the existing arbitrary and punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and replace it with a new, fairer formula to calculate Social Security benefits for retirees who receive a separate government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. The new formula would acknowledge the portion of a person’s career that they paid into Social Security, and as such ensure that benefits reflect one’s actual contributions, instead of simply having an arbitrary penalty applied to benefits as exists with the current formula.

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Brady discussed the ETPSA with ATPE state officers and lobbyists last month in Washington.

If H.R. 711 passes the committee, it will be sent to the full House of Representatives to be deliberated. This is the most promising Social Security reform we have seen since the WEP was initially put into law in 1983.

ATPE has long advocated for increasing public education employees’ benefits and for using a more equitable system of calculating Social Security benefits. A coalition of employee and retiree associations from across the country, including ATPE, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, and AARP, have worked alongside Chairman Brady to increase benefits and eliminate the WEP; H.R. 711 is a step in the right direction.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on tomorrow’s markup of the bill.