Tag Archives: suicide prevention

House Public Education Committee hears cyberbullying bill

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider and vote on several bills, including a high-profile bill aimed to reduce cyberbullying.

HB 306 by state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) would crack down on bullying and cyberbullying. The bill defines “cyberbullying” as “bullying that is done through the use of electronic communication, including through the use of a cellular or other type of telephone, a computer, a pager, a camera, electronic mail, instant messaging, text messaging, a social media application, Internet website, or other Internet-based communication tool.” Cyberbullying may occur outside of a school or school-sponsored event if it interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a classroom, school or school activity.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) lays out anti-cyberbullying bill.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) lays out anti-cyberbullying bill.

The bill would further require districts to provide for anonymous reporting of bullying behavior. HB 306 would allow for a student to removed or expelled if they encourage a minor to commit suicide, incite violence through group bullying or threaten to release intimate visual material of a minor. The bill would require schools to report bullying to police, and would hold parents liable for damages and legal fees if their child engages in bullying another child. The bill would create a new Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for “inducing suicide or attempted suicide of a minor by nonphysical bullying.”

Last session, ATPE successfully advocated for HB 2186, which required suicide prevention training for school staff. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for high school-aged children, and it is often prompted by bullying. Several parents of children who committed suicide after being bullied offered emotional testimony in support of HB 306. ATPE also testified in support of the bill.

Before adjourning, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) led the committee in advancing several bills. Chairman Huberty indicated the committee would vote on additional bills in a formal meeting Thursday upon adjournment of the House. The committee approved the following bills Tuesday:

  • HB 61, which would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system.
  • HB 156, which would establish a pilot program in a certain South Texas high schools for placement of students in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs as an alternative to placement in disciplinary or juvenile justice alternative education programs.
  • HB 209, which would require every high school to make voter registration applications available to students and employees.
  • HB 441, which would ban schools from providing student instruction on Memorial Day.
  • HB 1057, which would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less.
  • HB 1114, which would reduce the number of service days required of teachers in a district that anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, while preserving the teacher’s salary. Rep. King voted no.
  • HB 1174, which would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system.
  • HB 1336, which would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law.
  • HB 1500, which would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.”
  • HB 1540, which would add the importance of quickly selecting a major or field of study into the list of post-secondary education information required to be provided to high school students.
  • HB 1583, which would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools.
  • HB 1638, which would order TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop statewide goals for dual credit programs, along with a program to evaluate them.
  • HB 2614, which would waive the requirement that school districts administer a free nationally norm-referenced preliminary college preparation assessment instrument to students entering high school and students in the 10th grade.
  • HB 2623, which would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care.
  • HB 3145, which would require each district’s board of trustees to adopt a school recess policy with a minimum number of minutes.
  • HB 3318, which would require a district of innovation (DOI) to post its innovation plan online and maintain it in public view on the district’s website.
  • HB 3369, which would require additional training and supports for special education teachers and district personnel responsible for determining eligibility for special education programs.
  • HB 3381, which would order the governor to designate a Texas Military Heroes Day in public schools.

The hearing began with HB 1010 by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), which would give rules, bylaws and written policies adopted by a local school district’s board of trustees the force of law in relation to the district. Under current law, parents are often forced to file a challenge in a state district court if a school district does not comply with its own stated policy. The bill could allow parents to seek relief instead from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner. According to the fiscal note, HB 1010 would cost roughly $365,000 a year. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3209 by state Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) would require TEA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the regional day school programs for the deaf regarding performance evaluation requirements for accountability purposes. The fiscal note estimates HB 3209 would cost about $107,000 per year.

HB 1569 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would require a residential treatment facility to provide a student’s school, behavioral and arrest records to a district or open-enrollment charter school that provides educational services to a student placed in the facility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3706 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) would allow community-based dropout recovery education programs to provide alternative education programs to at-risk students online, in addition to at a campus.

HB 1075 by state Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) would require sports officials registered with UIL to undergo an additional criminal background check once every three years.

HB 933 by state Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) would ban rolled or shaved baseball bats for use in University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities. Both are methods of doctoring metal bats. “Shaving” is the process of mechanically thinning a bat’s inner walls, while “rolling” is the process of mechanically compressing a bat’s barrel. Both can significantly increase the power of a metal bat while reducing the bat’s lifespan. Rep. Longoria argued this significantly increases the danger to players on the field.

HB 3887 by state Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would add physical and emotional trauma training to the mental health training requirements for school staff.

HB 310 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would allow compensatory education allotment funds to be used to fund a district’s school guidance and counseling program.

HB 2767 by state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) would allow TEA to delay the implementation of any accountability rule by an additional two years following the school year in which the rule is adopted unless otherwise required by law.

HB 2683 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would exempt school buses from paying a toll for the use of a toll project. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2014 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would allow the TEA commissioner to designate a campus as a “mathematics innovation zone.” Such a campus would be exempt from accountability interventions for two years and would be allowed to use a “pay for success” program approved by the commissioner. The bill sets up a framework for creating such pay for success programs funded by private investors. TEA commissioner Mike Morath testified that districts would essentially take out a loan from an investor, and repayment would depend upon achievement of measurable outcomes. According to the fiscal note, HB 2014 would cost the state roughly $10 million per year.

HB 3548 by Rep. Parker would grant immunity from personal liability to a director, officer or employee of the nonprofit corporation established by the Texas Public Finance Authority. The bill would specify that the nonprofit corporation itself is subject to liability only in the manner that applies to school districts.

HB 413 by vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow instructional materials allotment (IMA) funds to be used to pay for educator training and salaries, including counselor salaries.

HB 1451 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require SBOE adopt criteria to allow a student to earn one of the two foreign language credits required for high school graduation by successfully completing a dual language immersion program at an elementary school.

HB 884 by Educator Quality Subcommittee Chair Ken King (R-Canadian) would order the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and revise the foundation curriculum Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to be narrower and require less time than the TEKS adopted as of January 1, 2017. As part of this process, SBOE would be required to examine the time necessary for instruction and mastery of each TEKS, whether college and career readiness standards have been adequately met and whether each assessment instrument adequately assesses a particular student expectation.

HB 4064 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would add a digital education requirement to the qualifications for teacher certification and add a continuing education credit for instruction in digital technology. The bill would also include digital learning in the requirements for staff development. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3434 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would require TEA adopt uniform general conditions adopted by the Texas Facilities Commission for use in all building construction contracts made by school districts.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 8, 2016

Here’s your weekly review of education news stories from ATPE and Teach the Vote:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended this week’s board and committee meetings of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) where topics of discussions included investment strategies, returns, and the upcoming legislative budget process.

TRS regularly evaluates its various investment managers to measure their performance against benchmarks, the market, and their peers. Much like any other investment, the rates of return on TRS investments fluctuate over time, but over the long-term returns have exceeded the 8% return assumption. During the last seven years following the 2008 recession U.S. and world markets have experienced incredible growth, and pension funds, such as your TRS pension, have done very well. The challenge TRS investment staff face is to continue with their diversified asset allocation in order to maintain these returns needed to pay for current and future pension benefits. The data support the TRS board’s strategy and return assumptions, which is good news for public education employees in order to sustain these benefits over time.

The board and staff also discussed the legislative budget process and how the TRS budget, which includes assumptions for public education employee payroll growth as well as employee and state contributions to the pension trust fund, is beginning to be developed for the 2017 legislative session. There is a chance that TRS is going to include in their budget request to the legislature, known as the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), the approximately $1.6 billion that is going to be needed to sustain TRS-Care for the next two years. This issue was discussed last week in an interim legislative hearing where ATPE presented information to House and Senate members on the need to craft a long-term solution that does not increase the burden on active employees or retirees. This  issue is going to be ongoing throughout the 2017 legislative session, but it must be addressed if the retiree health insurance program is intended to survive.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

The State Board of Education (SBOE) and its three committees met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was there covering all the activity. According to Exter, the discussion ranged from recent policy and technical issues with STAAR testing to several core subject TEKS, particularly English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), Math, and Science.

The ELAR TEKS are currently undergoing a scheduled rewrite. The board heard testimony from representatives of organizations representing subject area educators and from representatives of the TEKS writing teams. Subsequently, the board briefly discussed the upcoming streamlining process for the Science TEKS. Board members have until May 6 to recommend to TEA staff nominees to serve on the streamlining writing team. The Board also heard from testifiers during Friday’s meeting about concerns with the new Math TEKS. Particularly, that the new TEKS omit computational requirements in favor of focusing on process. That the shift may violate current law, which prohibits the board from dictating methodology. The Board will likely have an upcoming workshop on this subject.

In addition to testimony on TEKS subject areas, the board heard from parents and educators about validity, reliability, and methodological problems with the STAAR test. The board was very sympathetic to this well-researched and well-delivered testimony and ultimately decided to postpone an item in which they would provide comment for the legislature on the subject. The board postponed the item to its next meeting so that their discussion and comments will be stronger and more robust.


We’ve been reporting on our blog about recent problems with administration of the STAAR tests. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on problems experienced by some students whose test answers in progress were lost. Those issue prompted TEA to issue two news releases and advise districts that they were not required to force affected students to retest. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the testing problems during remarks to the State Board of Education. Morath also shared with SBOE members that the agency is changing its course on asking test administrators to clock students’ bathroom breaks during the test. TEA is expected to release a new press statement about the decision within the next few days. Read Monty’s blog post from Wednesday to learn more about what’s happening with STAAR.



Rulemaking continues as part of the process to implement various changes made by the Texas Legislature in 2015. First, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has distributed adopted rules for new suicide prevention training that will take effect on April 17, 2016. The rules implement changes authorized by House Bill (HB) 2186, which Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed at the request of ATPE last year to help educators address the epidemic of youth suicides.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceAlso released this week were proposed commissioner’s rules to implement last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Click here to view the proposed rules. Public comments will be accepted on the rule proposal until May 9. As we reported last week, Commissioner Morath has also requested an Attorney General’s opinion to guide the Texas Education Agency and school districts in complying with the new law.

We are still awaiting adopted rules for implementation of T-TESS, the state’s new recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for rulemaking updates.


Several education-related meetings and events are coming up next week and beyond.

  • On Wednesday, April 13, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will once again be the subject of multiple interim hearings on a single day. First, the House Pensions Committee will hear testimony related to its charge to study the impact that fluctuations in global financial markets have had on public pension funds. The Senate State Affairs Committee will look at proposed TRS reforms. Also, ATPE will be giving invited testimony about TRS-ActiveCare to the Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. Watch for updates on these hearings next week from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.
  • On Friday, April 15, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meets. The rather lengthy SBEC agenda includes consideration of requests for waivers of a new law limiting how many times one can repeat a certification exam, discussion of comprehensive changes to be considered this summer for educator preparation program (EPP) rules, and assignment of accreditation ratings to EPPs. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will be there to follow all of the action and report back to Teach the Vote.
  • If you live in the Abilene area, mark your calendar for April 25, when Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is sponsoring a community meeting to discuss the value and future of public education in Texas. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson will be the featured speaker. The event is taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, 701 South Pioneer Drive, Abilene, TX 79605. Register to attend at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-24488621125.
  • Don’t forget, also, that April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Learn more about voter registration at VoteTexas.gov, and be sure to check out profiles of the runoff candidates here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-146967884_teacherThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) shared details this week on math and reading academies planned for teachers starting this summer. The academies are being created as a result of legislation passed last year and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott. They are designed for certain teachers who provide reading or math instruction at specific grade levels, and participating teachers will be eligible for stipends.

TEA will begin launching the academies this summer with assistance from the state’s regional Education Service Centers. Read TEA’s April 7 press release here, and learn more about the academies on the agency’s webpage.


As we mentioned above, April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the primary runoff elections taking place on May 24. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday shared her thoughts on the biggest challenge we face heading into these runoffs:

JC

Jennifer Canaday

“While voter apathy and low turnout are challenges we must address in every election, runoffs are notorious for producing extremely small numbers of voters. Active participation and turnout by a relatively small, but engaged group of voters with a special interest can heavily influence the outcome of a runoff. Their influence becomes very significant when the overall number of people voting in that election is expected to be low. The question is, ‘Which group’s voters are going to show up at the polls next month – pro-public education voters who support our students, schools, and teachers, or voters who follow extremist groups such as Empower Texans and Texans for Education Reform that want to cripple, privatize, or starve off funding for public education?’ Some very key races are going to be decided as a result of those runoffs in May, and it’s imperative that educators and our allies make a point to get to the polls.”

ATPE is working with other groups, including the Texas Educators Vote coalition, to help remind educators about the importance of voting not once, but twice, during the month of May. The first election on May 7 covers local ballot proposals and races such as those for school board seats. The second election is the May 24 runoff election for Republican and Democratic primary races in which no candidate earned at least 50 percent of the vote on March 1.

You can learn much more about the upcoming runoffs and determine your eligibility to vote in a runoff by reading ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s informative new blog post, “Am I eligible to vote in a runoff?


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 12, 2016

Days away from the start of early voting, the stakes are high for candidates with primary opponents. Read the latest news about the election and education policy developments.



Early voting for the March 1 primary elections begins Tuesday.

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh Background

It’s vital to remember that in Texas, numerous races will be decided by the upcoming primary election, making the November ballots nearly meaningless in many races since the winners will have already been determined in March. Voter turnout among the education community is essential to positioning ourselves for successful outcomes for public education, especially during the 2017 legislative session. Funding for public schools, student testing, educators’ retirement and healthcare benefits, teacher evaluations, your payroll deduction rights, and private school voucher plans are all issues that are highly likely to be on the table next session. The outcome of those debates depends overwhelmingly on who wins the upcoming primary elections.

We encourage voters who care about public education to check out our legislative and State Board of Education candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote to help you make informed choices at the polls. Click on the 2016 Races button to search for candidates by district, last name, map, or using your address. Our candidate profiles include incumbent legislators’ voting records on major education bills and candidates’ responses to ATPE’s survey. Several additional candidates have responded to the survey in the past week, and their responses can help you determine their stances on education issues that are likely to be discussed during their terms of office, if elected. The profiles also highlight major endorsements.

ATPE members attending last night's Region 2 meeting showed off the oaths they signed to support public education by voting.

ATPE members attending last night’s Region 2 meeting showed off the oaths they signed to support public education by voting.

Because there is so much at stake in these Texas primaries, ATPE has joined forces with other education groups to promote the effort known as Texas Educators Vote. We are urging school districts and school administrators to facilitate early voting and informed voting by all school employees. Read more about ATPE’s participation in the effort here and the latest update from the coalition here. Don’t forget to visit TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to vote in 2016.

In the coming days, Teach the Vote will feature additional resources to help you exercise your right to vote in these critical primary elections. Check back frequently for new content and updated candidate profiles. Also, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and @TXEducatorsVote on Twitter for timely election updates.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported earlier today on three education hearings that took place in Texas and in Washington, D.C. this week

First, the Texas House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday in Austin to discuss two interim charges pertaining to best practices in middle school grades and educating high-performing students. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee traveled to McAllen, Texas, for an interim hearing focused on supporting counselors and middle school students, as well as implementation of a new law requiring cameras in some special education classrooms.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing in Washington entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control.” The subcommittee meeting was the first oversight hearing following the passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Read more about the hearings in Kate’s full report on our blog.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. Its agenda includes acting on rule changes pertaining to educator preparation and certification, assignments, and categories of classroom teaching certificates. Disciplinary rule changes are also being considered, for which ATPE has provided input to the board. In addition, SBEC has an opportunity today to propose a rule change to implement a requirement limiting educator certification candidates to five attempts to pass a certification exam unless they can show good cause to justify an additional attempt. The test-taking limit was mandated by the legislature in 2015 as part of House Bill 2205.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending today’s meeting and will provide additional information for Teach the Vote on any significant actions taken by the board. You can also follow @ATPE_KateK on Twitter for real-time updates.


New Commissioner’s rules have been proposed to implement suicide prevention training for educators. The proposed rules are tied to House Bill 2186 that the Texas legislature passed in 2015. Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) filed the bill at ATPE’s request to help educators become better trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide in students. Click here to read the proposed rules. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is accepting public comments on the rules now through Tuesday, Feb. 16.


Finally, here’s an early Happy Valentine’s Day wish to you from ATPE and Teach the Vote!

ThinkstockPhotos-145153410_heart

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.

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.

Legislative Update: Sine die edition!

We’ve survived 140 long days and can now wrap up the 84th legislative session! Shortly after noon today, the Texas Senate adjourned sine die. The House followed suit about 20 minutes later, after several speeches and recognition of legislators who are not returning next session. Among those who announced their retirement from the House are Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who chaired the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Sylvester Turner (D), who served since 1988 and held several leadership posts. We’ll have more on our friends’ announcements and will be posting a complete wrap-up of education bills here on Teach the Vote this week. In the meantime, here’s what happened to the remaining school-related bills that saw action over this last weekend of the session.


Money matters

We reported over the weekend on final passage of the state’s appropriations bills. With the budget finalized, there were a few lingering pieces of that compromise still pending. On Friday, May 29, both the House and Senate approved a conference committee report on SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R), which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, subject to voter approval. It was part of the legislature’s compromise on a combination property tax and franchise tax cut that adds up to almost $4 billion; HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), the franchise tax vehicle, was already sent to the governor.

Also related to funding, there was another high-profile bill still pending this weekend to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), was designed to restrict the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. It languished in a conference committee this weekend until an announcement came that House and Senate conferees could not reach an agreement.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) bill to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. The Senate adopted a conference committee report on the bill Saturday, and the House followed suit on Sunday. The Senate’s vote to approve the final version of the bill was unanimous. The House’s final vote on HB 2804 was 119 to 17. As finally passed, the bill includes a requirement, which ATPE opposed, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. “Under the bill,” as described in an article by Morgan Smith in The Texas Tribune yesterday, “student performance on state standardized exams would remain the primary measure of school performance. But it would no longer be as dominant a factor in determining a school’s accountability rating. About 45 percent of the rating would take into account a variety of additional information — such as community engagement, AP course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.”

The legislature also gave final approval to HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), which deals with a five-year timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions for low-performing traditional and charter schools. The bill includes replacing a school board or charter governing board with an appointed board of managers if the district fails to improve the performance of a persistently low-performing campus. While the bill contemplates potentially much harsher sanctions at the district level, it deletes provisions from current law that mandated or strongly encouraged the indiscriminate removal of principals and classroom teachers from struggling campuses. ATPE has long opposed the current statutory language, which only served to destabilize already struggling schools.

After the House passed its version of HB 1842 with only a single no vote, the Senate passed a substitute version on May 26 that added numerous floor amendments, most taken from other bills that would otherwise have died. The controversial amendments included Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241; Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  “School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669; and language expanding charter and virtual schools. On Friday, Chairman Aycock announced that the House would not accept all of the Senate’s changes and sent the bill to a conference committee.

As negotiated by the House and Senate conferees, the final version of HB 1842 preserves the district-wide version of Sen. Larry Taylor’s “innovation zone” plan. ATPE previously opposed both multi-campus and district-wide “innovation zones” in Taylor’s standalone bill; however, of all the numerous alternative management and deregulation proposals that were advanced this session, the “innovation zones” concept was perhaps one of the least objectionable ideas. Unlike the remainder of HB 1842 that focuses on struggling campuses, “districts of innovation” or “innovation zones” are limited to those with acceptable or higher accountability ratings. ATPE will monitor the implementation of the bill should any school district choose to take advantage of the new option. The final version of HB 1842 does not include any of the controversial language creating an “opportunity” or “school turnaround district” (OSD/STD); nor does it include language on charter school closures or reauthorizations or on the expansion of virtual schools.

The Senate’s final vote to adopt the conference committee report on HB 1842 was 26 to 5, with Sens. Chuy Hinojosa (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. In the House, the motion passed by a vote of 125 to 18; click here to find out how your House member voted on the final version of HB 1842.

Student testing and curriculum

The House and Senate both approved a bill that attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) also calls for auditing of state contracts with test vendors and aims to limit the breadth of curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are included on standardized tests. The Senate voted 27 to 4 to adopt a conference committee report on the bill on Saturday; Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Kelly Hancock (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against it. On Sunday, the House accepted the conference committee report by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. David Simpson (R) casting the only vote against it. As finally passed, the ATPE-supported bill requires state tests to be validated before being administered and also designed so that 85 percent of students can complete the test within an allotted time frame. HB 743 also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a comprehensive study of the tests and the TEKS.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified substantially in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. The House and Senate passed differing versions of this bill in May. On Friday, May 29, the House voted to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 2349; Reps. Matt Schaefer (R) and David Simpson (R) were the only representatives who opposed the motion to concur. ATPE supported the bill.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. Yesterday, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on the bill. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against the motion to approve the agreed-upon bill in the Senate. The House vote was 86 to 50. The bill as finally passed requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the TEKS for foundation curriculum subjects. SB 313 also calls for TEA to provide individual students with a detailed performance report for each TEKS standard affiliated with a state test. The conference committee’s final version of the bill stripped out a House floor amendment providing students in special education programs with a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, which might have conflicted with federal law.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

A conference committee was appointed to iron out differences between House and Senate language for HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), which requires a survey of new teachers’ satisfaction to be factored into the accountability system, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs.  As it did with several other bills, the Senate amended several of its own dying bills onto HB 2205 last week, and most of those changes survived the conference committee. Principally, the Senate added language from Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 892 to lower the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The bill adds a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain a 3.0 GPA, however. The Senate also integrated Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified CTE teachers and his SB 1222 giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The conference committee stripped out language that would have required 30 hours of field-based experience delivered in a classroom setting before an alternative certification candidate could be hired as a teacher of record. The bill as finally passed also limits retakes of certification exams to four attempts.

Yesterday, the Senate approved the conference committee report on HB 2205 by a vote of 19 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the motion to approve HB 2205 except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) who voted for it; while Sens. Jane Nelson (R) and Robert Nichols (R) were the only Republican senators to break ranks with their party and vote against the motion to approve the conference committee report on HB 2205. On the House side, the final vote was 125 to 16, with Reps. Diego Bernal (D), Garnet Coleman (D), Nicole Collier (D), Harold Dutton (D), Joe Farias (D), Mary Goznalez (D), Roland Gutierrez (D), Abel Herrero (D), Todd Hunter (R), Trey Martinez-Fischer (D), Poncho Nevarez (D), Justin Rodriguez (D), Toni Rose (D), David Simpson (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Armando Walle (D) voting against it. While were are disappointed in the decision to lower individual admission standards for alternative certification programs, ATPE appreciates that the bill likely contains more positive changes than negative ones in the long run.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-requested legislation to try to deter youth suicide is heading to the governor soon. HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) deals with training educators in spotting and responding to warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. After the upper chamber made minor changes to the bill, the House voted Friday, May 29, to concur in the Senate amendments. The vote was 141 to 5, with Reps. Larry Phillips (R), Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Tony Tinderholt (R) opposing it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) will require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The ATPE-supported bill was sent to a conference committee after the House and Senate could not agree on language. However, the committee was later discharged and the House voted unanimously on Saturday, May 30, to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. On Sunday, May 31, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on HB 18, which preserves most of the Senate’s language. The final vote on the negotiated bill was 135 to 8 in the House and 30 to 1 in the Senate.

Charter schools

A pair of bills by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) dealing with charter schools were finalized on Friday. First, HB 1170 includes certain charter schools in the definition of local governmental entities in order to allow them to enter into contracts and risk pools with other local entities. The move is meant to allow charter schools to save money on needed purchases, services, and liability insurance. The House voted Friday to accept Senate changes to the bill and finally pass it. The vote was 140 to 2, with opposition coming from Reps. Terry Canales (D) and J.D. Sheffield (R). HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools. Once again, the House voted 143 to 1 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill; Rep. Larry Phillips (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, notify parents and staff of the installation of the cameras, and keep recorded video footage on file for at least six months. The House and Senate voted yesterday to approve a conference committee report on the bill. The vote was 23 to 8 in the Senate and 140 to 3 in the House.

Ethics reform

An attempt to pass an ethics reform bill died after House and Senate leaders could not agree on language. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). After the two chambers passed dramatically different versions of the bill, a conference committee failed to reach a compromise. Negotiations fell apart over “dark money,” with the House wanting to shed light on secret contributions to non-profit groups advancing political agendas and the Senate refusing to budge on the contentious issue.


We at ATPE are so grateful to all the members who helped us advocate for legislation to help public education students and staff and stop numerous bad bills from becoming law. Thank you for being engaged educators, parents, and citizens and for reaching out to your legislators with input when others were trying to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters.

Legislative Update: House skirts payroll deduction issue, suicide prevention bill passes, Senate resurrects bad education bills

Much attention was focused on the Texas House last night, where legislators faced a midnight deadline for most Senate bills to pass the House on second reading. On the calendar for consideration last night were pieces of high-profile legislation including an ethics reform bill declared an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a controversial college campus carry bill, an agency sunset bill rumored to be a vehicle for an amendment widely viewed as discriminatory, and a divisive abortion-related bill. The House activity garnered most of the attention but resulted in very little impact on educators; meanwhile, the Senate took a number of dismaying actions around the midnight hour that are of real concern to education stakeholders. One of few positive highlights to report today is the advancement of an ATPE-supported bill to try to deter teen suicides.

House activity: ethics reform, campus carry, and retribution

The ethics bill, SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). Educator groups watched the House floor debate closely last night after rumors surfaced that legislators might try to add a payroll deduction ban from Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) SB 1968 onto the bill. No such amendment was proposed last night, but the lengthy and often boisterous debate centered on major differences between the two chambers’ versions of SB 19. The Senate’s version of the bill focused on conflicts of interest, imposing a two-year cooling off period before lawmakers can become employed as registered lobbyists, and incorporating a few odd provisions such as an amendment by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require all candidates for public office to undergo drug testing. The House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Cook, replaced SB 19 with its own version, stripping out the drug-testing mandate, aiming to protect lawmakers against secret video recordings, and requiring disclosure of so-called “dark money” contributions, which the Senate opposes. The most vocal opponents of dark money regulations have been conservative groups, typically aligned with the Tea Party, who rely on secret contributions to non-profit organizations that aren’t required to report their political spending and activities to the Texas Ethics Commission in the same manner as highly regulated political action committees. Cook and his colleagues in the House were unsympathetic to dark money groups such as Empower Texans. They voted 96 to 48 to accept the House version of SB 19 with its dark money regulations last night, infuriating the bill’s author and the Senate leadership. (An earlier vote on an amendment by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) that would have reverted SB 19 back to its Senate incarnation with no dark money reporting requirements failed convincingly with only 33 representatives in support.) Today, the House approved the bill on third reading by a vote of 94 to 49 after adding one more amendment.

Last night’s ethics debate lasted several hours, to the dismay of conservatives in the House who were anxious to take up bills dealing with hot-button issues of gun rights and abortion. Sen. Brian Birdwell’s (R) SB 11 to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry guns on college campuses, later passed in a compromise format, and time ran out before the House had a chance to debate the abortion bill. With conservatives lamenting the demise of politically charged Senate bills in the more moderate House and Democrats fuming over last-minute attempts to pass legislation unfavorable to gay and lesbian couples, tempers are certainly flaring at the capitol. Debates have been punctuated by name-calling and shouting, with retribution appearing to be the order of the day. A manifestation of the tension today has been a handful of legislators knocking others’ seemingly innocuous bills off the House’s “local and consent” calendar.

Senate activity: ed prep, school turnaround, and supplemental funding

While many were tuned into the House last night, the Senate was quietly and quickly passing bills of major significance to public education. First, the Senate took up HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The Senate approved a version of the bill last night that incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After taking a break to confer with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s sudden objections to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the same person who, as a senator in 2013, had sponsored the bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 and even wrote a letter to state board members encouraging them to raise the educator preparation program admission standards in rule). With Lt. Gov. Patrick’s change of heart, HB 2205 as approved by the Senate last night now represents a watering down of the criteria for entering the education profession. One positive change in the new Senate version, however, deals with training provided by alternative certification providers. HB 2205 now requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before a candidate may be hired as a teacher of record. A floor amendment by Sen. Seliger stripped out Rep. Ina Minjarez’s (D) House floor amendment creating a school turnaround specialist endorsement for principals and also gives the commissioner of education, rather than the State Board for Educator Certification, the ability set passing standards or cut scores for certification exams. The Senate also added two floor amendments by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) that resurrected a pair of his dead bills. One amendment added his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers. The other amendment latches Bettencourt’s SB 1222 onto the bill, giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct.

Next, the Senate took up HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) right at midnight and loaded it up with floor amendments, many representing otherwise dead bills this session. Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who sponsored the school sanctions bill in the Senate, first added to it language from his own SB 1241 calling for the creation of deregulated “innovation zone” schools. Next, Sen. Royce West (R) added his “Opportunity School District” language to the bill. Opportunity School Districts are largely deregulated statewide school districts comprised of certain low-performing schools and typically managed by an appointed superintendent. They’ve been previously called “Achievement School Districts” and are now being referred to, somewhat regrettably, as “School Turnaround Districts” (STDs). Sen. Bettencourt also successfully moved to add to HB 1842 the language from Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 1897, which provides for the expansion of charter and virtual schools. ATPE has opposed all the bills that gave rise to these three amendments now incorporated into HB 1842 – all of which were also being pushed by the well-funded Texans for Education Reform this session. Chairman Taylor did accept a few favorable floor amendments to HB 1842 filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D). The House, of course, will still have an opportunity to decide whether to accept the Senate’s dramatic changes to the bill.

Earlier in the evening, the Senate unanimously passed HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). The supplemental appropriations bill includes much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care insurance for retirees over the next two years.

For all three of these bills passed by the Senate yesterday, they will return to the House next for either motions to concur in the Senate amendments to the bills or decisions to send HB 2205, HB 1842, and HB 2 to conference committees of senators and representatives who will attempt to work out a compromise.

Update on ATPE’s suicide prevention legislation

HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) is a step closer to becoming law after being approved by the full Senate today. It was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar this afternoon. As we’ve reported previously, the ATPE-requested bill aims to help educators become trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of ATPE member Kevin Childers. Read more about the Childers family in the latest issue of ATPE News.

Stay tuned for updates as the legislative battles continue.

Legislative Update: With midnight deadline, ethics bill fight could impact educators

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, as many Texans were dealing with devastating rain, flooding, and tornado threats, legislators were at the capitol deciding the fate of numerous bills. We’re only six days away from sine die, and another major session deadline looms large in the Texas House. There is a midnight deadline tonight for the House to pass most remaining Senate bills on second reading. That includes a high-profile ethics reform bill, deemed an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Rumors abound that some state representatives may try to attach harmful anti-educator language to the bill during today’s anticipated floor debate.

Here’s where things currently stand on education bills of interest:


Funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill. Under a compromise reached by a conference committee of senators and representatives, HB 1 funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new money for public education. The bill awaits final approval by the House and Senate. As we’ve previously reported, the budget deal hinged on the House and Senate reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Pieces of that tax cut compromise remain in motion at this point. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) is the bill that would raise the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, if voters approve the measure in November. SB 1 is being referred to a conference committee after the House added an amendment requested by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) that deals with optional local homestead exemptions and is meant to protect some school districts from losing revenue. The House passed the bill with that amendment by a unanimous vote yesterday. The Senate opted today to appoint a conference committee rather than merely accepting the House’s new version of SB 1. The other part of the tax cut compromise deals with business taxes. The full Senate passed a version of HB 32 on Sunday by a vote of 24 to 6. That bill by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version of HB 32 or appoint a conference committee for it. In addition to tax cuts, the 84th Legislature has also been considering bills to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which would limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation, is on today’s House calendar.

TRS-Care funding in the amount of about $768 million is provided for in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). That bill is on today’s Senate calendar for debate. With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) calling for an interim study of TRS-ActiveCare options did not make it out of a Senate committee.

Finally, as we’ve previously reported, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) attempt at a school finance solution through HB 1759 is procedurally dead.

Payroll deduction

There is good news and bad news on an effort by some conservative legislators to restrict educators and other public employees from using payroll deductions to pay their association dues.

The good news is that Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill, SB 1968, is procedurally dead after it did not make it out of the House State Affairs Committee by this past Saturday’s deadline. As reported this weekend by our friends at The Texas Tribune, Rep. Byron Cook (R), who chairs that committee, said there was not enough time to fix problems with the bill and that “he was concerned that teachers in his rural district would be hurt by the legislation.” ATPE has nearly 1,000 members in Cook’s legislative district, and we appreciate those who reached out to the chairman to express opposition to SB 1968.

The troubling news is that there will reportedly be an attempt to add language from SB 1968 onto a highly controversial ethics reform bill that the House is slated to consider today. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) is an emergency bill relating to “the ethics of public officers and employees, the disclosure of certain political contributions, and related requirements and procedures; creating criminal offenses.” The bill covers myriad issues, from a Senate proposal to drug-test all candidates for public office to a House proposal to require disclosure of “dark money” – contributions funneled through non-profit associations for political purposes. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ significantly. A lengthy and contentious floor debate is already anticipated today as the bill must pass the House by midnight tonight in order to remain alive. An amendment to add the payroll deduction prohibition to SB 19 could force a House vote on the issue today; if adopted, the amendment would undoubtedly spur points of order (challenging the bill based on technical violations, such as the addition of amendments not germane to the underlying bill) that could kill the bill if sustained by the House Speaker.

Read more about the payroll deduction bill and our opposition to it here.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is an accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). It includes a controversial provision, which ATPE has opposed, calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved its version of the bill. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send the bill to a conference committee.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. HB 1842 is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It is on today’s House calendar for final passage, if time allows.

ATPE-supported bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization appear to be dead. These included HB 1891 and HB 1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), and SB 1483 and SB 1484 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D).

Educator preparation and certification

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) has been sent to the governor. The ATPE-backed bill requires educator certification candidates who are exempted from the state’s minimum GPA requirement to pass a content exam prior to admission to an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate. The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). In its current form, HB 2205 would also decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, which ATPE opposes.

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is likely dead. The bill was filed with the intent to increase the rigor of educator preparation, but the Senate amended the bill with language requested by some alternative certification programs to water down standards for becoming a teacher. SB 892 passed the full Senate and the House Public Education Committee, but did not get placed on a House calendar in time for tonight’s deadline.

Student testing and curriculum

The legislature enacted and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which allows individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE supported the bill.

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) covered by those tests. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. The Senate passed an amended version of both bills yesterday; they will head back to the House now for a vote to concur in (accept) the Senate amendments or send the bills to a conference committee.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) also relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill already passed the House unanimously. It’s been amended and placed on the Senate’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills for an expected vote tomorrow, May 27. The Senate Education Committee also approved HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, recommending it for the local and uncontested calendar. HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes; it’s been placed on the Senate’s regular calendar.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was considered by the full House yesterday and today. It is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. Yesterday, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The bill was finally passed this afternoon, as amended, by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate will have an opportunity next to decide whether to accept the House’s changes to the bill.

HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test, but that bill already died on the House calendar.

Suicide prevention

An ATPE-backed bill to improve the training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide is sitting on the Senate’s calendar today. If not approved by the Senate today, the bill has also been placed on tomorrow’s local and uncontested bill calendar in the Senate. Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. Read more about the Childers family in our latest issue of ATPE News.

Other health and safety bills

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen, and notify parents of the policy. The bill is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R) calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. It passed the House but was left pending by the Senate Education Committee and appears unlikely to move.

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, has been recommended for the House’s local and consent calendar.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

On Sunday, the Senate amended and finally passed HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D), which requires schools and other public employers to provide accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibits workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE supports the bill. The Senate’s vote on third reading this weekend was unofficially reported to be 21 to 9, with Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Craig Estes (R), Bob Hall (R), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) voting against the bill. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send HB 786 o a conference committee. (SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a similar measure that applies specifically to school employees, has not made it through.)

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) would give the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. The bill did not get placed on a House calendar by today’s deadline, which makes the measure unlikely to pass this session unless it’s amended onto another bill.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706, a paperwork reduction bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), has been approved by the House and is awaiting a vote by the Senate. The ATPE-supported bill has been recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. It’s been passed and sent to Gov. Abbott for approval. Abbott has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), another ATPE-supported bill that creates literacy achievement academies for reading teachers.

Private school vouchers

Despite highly publicized efforts by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and other conservative legislators to push through a voucher bill this session, none of the proposals have made it through the legislative process. SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) called for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. As we reported previously, the Senate approved SB 4 by a vote of 18 to 12, but the House never gave the bill a committee hearing. The House also denied a committee hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R), calling for an interim study on the possible use of another type of private school vouchers known as an education savings account. A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), never made it past the Senate.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) called for eliminating the state minimum salary schedule for teachers and imposing new requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. Both of those bills aggressively promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and Texans for Education Reform (TER) are now procedurally dead.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

Multiple bills pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) with help from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), to deregulate and privatize the management of certain low-performing schools have failed to make it through the legislative process. SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would subject low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” It did not get placed on a House calendar, making it impossible for it to pass by tonight’s deadline. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) parent trigger expansion bill, SB 14, also died after the House Public Education Committee left it pending. Several bills calling for creation of a statewide, deregulated “Opportunity School District” for low-performing schools also died for lack of action; those included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). Lastly, SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts, to be called “local control school districts” instead. SB 1012 did not make it out of the Senate Education Committee, while HB 1798 died on the House floor by a vote of 59 to 76. ATPE opposed all these bills.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R) so-called “Tim Tebow bill,” which would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposed the bill, which the Senate passed but the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear.

Charter schools

Quite a few charter-related bills have faltered this session. SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to allow for the expansion of charter schools and virtual charters did not get granted a hearing by the House Public Education Committee. Other charter-related bills that appear to be dead for lack of action are HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to modify procedures for revoking a charter and SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities. Additionally, HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) was an ATPE-requested bill to ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It narrowly missed the deadline for passing the House a couple weeks ago.

Some bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) would accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. All three bills passed the House and remain alive in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar.


Tune it tomorrow for another blog update about today’s action, especially in the House where much of the attention will be focused on tonight’s deadline and consideration of the ethics reform bill as a possible vehicle for an amendment to prohibit payroll deduction for educators. For breaking news, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: The rundown on education bills at week’s end

With 10 days remaining until the legislature adjourns sine die, it’s time to look at where major education bills stand in the 84th legislative session.


Budget, TRS, and school finance

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee for representatives and senators to work out a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations was how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version of the budget contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system; the proposal assumed that the legislature would pass a school finance reform bill, which is discussed below. The Senate’s version provided for an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their property tax cuts were factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth would be covered by increases in property tax revenue. Under the HB 1 compromise announced this week and voted out by the conference committee last night, the budget funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. The bill will go next to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Differences in opinion about whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax held up a compromise not only on the main budget bill, but also on supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. Yesterday, May 21, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election. On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The compromise means the House get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate gets some of the property tax relief it sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal (less than $200 saved per year), while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also been considering multiple measures to curtail state spending. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee today passed a version of SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation. It is believed that most of these bills restricting future appropriations would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The House passed HB 2 back on April 1.The Senate Finance Committee kept the bill on hold pending negotiations on the main budget bill, HB 1, until today. The committee voted this morning to approve HB 2 and send it to the Senate floor. The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care.

With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created. Currently, districts cannot opt out of the plan, and the TRS Board only adopts statewide premium rates, instead of differentiated, regional rates. The House passed HB 3453 as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but not yet scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), was never heard by a Senate committee.

As for bills affecting the TRS pension fund itself, few serious legislative proposals have been offered this session after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee heard some bills a few weeks ago that would increase benefits for current retirees – either through a one-time 13th check or a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). However, all of those bills were left pending in the committee.

Finally, it appears that another session will go by without a serious school finance fix. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, but failed to gain enough traction to make it all the way through this session. On May 14, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has been heavily promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as the Senate’s signature voucher bill, but as we were hoping, the bill has received a chilly reception in the House. SB 4 calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters pushed hard for House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward in the House. Despite the intense lobbying and paid advertising efforts, the bill has not been heard by the House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose this harmful bill. Click here to read more about ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.

Likewise, the House Public Education Committee has not allowed a hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R). That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap into in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses. Facing strong opposition, SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Even as a study proposal, the bill appears stalled.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), also appears doomed. It is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network and part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). ATPE opposed the bill in committee. SB 894 has bounced on an off the Senate Intent Calendar and struggled to to gain enough support for a floor hearing. Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and was approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Read more below in our section on charters.

Student testing and curriculum

There is one major student testing-related bill that has already made it through the legislative process and become law. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill took effect immediately.

This week the Senate Education Committee heard and passed a trio of other testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session: HB 743, HB 1164, and HB 2349. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 with Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House by a vote of 142 to 6 on April 30. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards; it already received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11.

The Senate Education Committee also approved a couple of House bills this week that relate to curriculum. Yesterday, the committee heard and voted out HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, along with HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes

A bill that did not make it through this session is HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), which would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. As filed, the bill called for eliminating state tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history that are not required by federal law. The House Public Education Committee amended the bill so that it would only eliminate the eighth-grade social studies test. ATPE supported the measure, but it died on the House calendar last week for lack of a floor debate and vote.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The original bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was a major component of a reform package being pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE opposed SB 6, which the Senate passed but the House left pending in committee, opting instead to add “A-F” language to HB 2804. (Two identical companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard.)

HB 2804 is a comprehensive accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A-F” accountability grades. The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. The House passed the ATPE-opposed bill late last week by a vote of 102 to 26. It’s a bill that barely survived the House’s strict calendar rules, having passed the House on second reading with only 25 minutes remaining before the midnight deadline on the last day for it to be considered.  As we reported last week, the House floor debate was robust; several amendments were considered, including bipartisan efforts to try to strip out the A-F language from the bill, resulting in very close, but ultimately unsuccessful votes. Some amendments that were added to the House version of the bill included ATPE-requested language requiring the commissioner to consult with ATPE and other education groups in developing the new campus accountability grades, and an amendment requiring school ratings to factor in the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Unfortunately, both of those amendments have been stripped out of the Senate’s proposed new language for HB 2804. The Senate Education Committee heard and voted out its substitute version of HB 2804 yesterday. ATPE similarly testified against the bill during yesterday’s hearing. The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 last week by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill this week and proposed a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842. The committee voted its version of the bill out unanimously today, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R) calling it “still a work in progress.” It will head next to the Senate floor for consideration, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate unanimously on April 30, and the House Public Education Committee approved it yesterday. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, was never heard.)

ATPE has also supported a set of bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. Unfortunately, those bills appear to be hopelessly stalled. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill. HB 1891 was only yesterday referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage. The community schools language had been added at one point to Chairman Aycock’s HB 1842 through a floor amendment in the House, but that amendment was later stripped out. A correlating bill also by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, was voted down in the House 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, was not heard in a committee.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and his friends in the group Texans for Education Reform (TER) have aggressively pursued a pair of bills this session to try to get rid of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. In addition to promoting performance-based compensation for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) would impose new state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. With any luck, these bills are dead. HB 2543 was heard but never voted out of the House Public Education Committee before its deadline. SB 893 has not been voted out of the House Public Education Committee either, which has a Saturday deadline to act on Senate bills. We appreciate all the ATPE members who helped us lobby against these bills with persistent calls and emails to their legislators. Learn more about the bills here.

By contrast, another salary-related bill was considered this session that ATPE supported. SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) called for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 30, but the bill was left pending and is not expected to move. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees a payroll deduction option for paying their voluntary association dues. Its co-authors are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R). The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure, along with state employees working in a variety of professions. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill.

SB 1968 passed the Senate on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. On May 15, SB 1968 was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, which left little time for it to be considered. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill this week failed, as we reported Tuesday. A motion was offered that day to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill on Wednesday. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed, but it did not defeat the bill since the committee could still bring up SB 1968 and vote it out in a formal meeting without testimony. Accordingly, the House agreed on Wednesday to hear the motion to suspend once again, approve the motion, and allow the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing on Thursday of this week.

The House State Affairs Committee’s public hearing that followed yesterday on SB 1968 was a limited one. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for testimony, which meant that many witnesses who signed up to speak against the bill – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. Read more about the contentious hearing in our Thursday blog post. As of now, the bill remains pending and has not been voted out by the committee. The committee only has until tomorrow, May 23, to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. We will be watching this one closely and will report on any developments here on Teach the Vote. Read more about the bill and our opposition to it here.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

With the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Texans for Education Reform (TER) has once again pursued a bevy of bills this session that call for certain low-performing schools to be deregulated in similar manner as charter schools and even subjected to alternative management by outside entities. The legislation includes variations on parent trigger actions, converting school districts to home rule charter districts, and creating a special statewide school district with an appointed superintendent. ATPE has opposed the bills, which we consider to be ineffective strategies for turning around schools that are struggling under our standardized test-based state and federal accountability mandates. Fortunately, most of these TER-backed efforts this session have failed, although there is always the risk that school deregulation and privatization language could be added as eleventh-hour amendments to other bills.

One of the only deregulation bills still in play at this point is SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which the House Public Education Committee approved last night. SB 1241 subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE has opposed the bill. Previously, the Senate approved SB 1241 on May 11 by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 must now be placed on a House calendar for floor consideration before time runs out.

A bill that appears not to have made it through this session is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill, but Texas PTA did support it, interestingly. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April after adding several favorable amendments to it. The Senate’s floor vote was 25 to 6, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. The House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday, May 19, but left it pending. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was never heard.)

Legislators also filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide, largely deregulated “Opportunity School District.” Similar bills were attempted last session, when the idea was called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The bills filed this session included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 made it out of the House Public Education Committee but did not survive the House’s stringent calendar deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author and committee chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, agreed to support SB 669 instead. West’s SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure. Ultimately, the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear SB 669.

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. Dallas ISD is the only school district that has attempted to convert to a home rule charter under the existing state law. The two bills filed this session would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills were also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. SB 1012 and HB 1798 were among bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but left that bill pending. On Wednesday, May 13, the House spent three hours debating Rep. Deshotel’s HB 1798 and considering floor amendments, including some relating to class-size limits and teachers’ contract rights, before putting the bill to a vote. HB 1798 failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our May 13 blog post to learn more about amendments that were considered and find out how your representative voted on the “local control school district” bill.

Despite a well-funded lobbying and advertising effort, TER has had little success pushing through its controversial agenda this session. The very public defeat of HB 1798, in particular, was a significant blow to reformers who have tried 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. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expertly delivered most of our testimony against these deregulation bills in hearings that were frequently contentious with backers of the bill bringing in parents from out of state to testify for the measures. Exter noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favored, such as making elementary class sizes larger. He also cautioned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated and the need for both transparency and accountability to voters.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The House Public Education Committee opted not to hear the bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage on the last night for consideration of House bills on second reading. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee on April 23, and it was only three bills away from being debated by the House when the clock ran out on May 14. ATPE sincerely appreciates Rep. Allen’s work to try to pass the bill.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. Language was added to the bill relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, May 11, by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. As we discussed above in our section on private school vouchers, the House Public Education Committee has opted not to hear this particular bill.

Several bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth has made it through the House and been recommended for the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and are pending in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) carried companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.)

HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter. HB 3347 didn’t survive the House’s calendar deadlines, and SB 1898 is stalled in the Senate. SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities was approved by the Senate Education Committee but hasn’t seen a floor vote either and is likely dead.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, the bill was amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now has the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, SB 892 would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. SB 892 passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. It was approved by the House Public Education Committee last night. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) was the only committee member to vote against the bill, and she did so because of its lowering of the GPA standard. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee.) SB 892 must now be placed on the House calendar for debate before time runs out this session.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R), which the Senate unanimously passed today. The ATPE-backed bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 last week by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it.

Yet another educator preparation bill filed this session was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). The bill called for a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including requiring consideration of the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 also would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). A version of HB 2566 was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, but the bill was unable to survive the House’s calendar deadlines. In order to keep the measure alive in some manner, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive HB 2566 onto another bill, Rep. Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. ATPE supported HB 2205 when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on April 28. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 126 to 5, after several floor amendments were added to HB 2205. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, VanDeaver’s HB 2566, which is discussed above.

When HB 2205 was sent to the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee proposed a substitute version of the bill, which ATPE testified against on May 20. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including Rep. VanDeaver’s language that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes lowering the standards for entrance into the education profession. HB 2205 would decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve its committee substitute for HB 2205 on Wednesday, May 20. It must now be approved by the full Senate.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill. The House voted yesterday, May 21, to concur in amendments made by the Senate. That unanimous vote to accept the Senate’s language sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The ATPE-supported bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has been pursuing legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2186 yesterday and recommended that it be placed on the House’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills.  A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate last week by a vote of 29 to 1, with only Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools, and ATPE has been supporting the measures.

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. It passed the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee this week and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor consideration as early as today.

SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate earlier this week, but was removed from the calendar and is facing some opposition.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens.

The Senate passed SB 66 on April 15 by a vote of 24 to 7. Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voted against the bill. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously last Wednesday, May 13. The Senate voted Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill, which means SB 66 is now headed to the governor’s desk. The vote on the motion to concur was 24 to 7, again with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against it.

Cardiac assessments for student athletes

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The House passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62.

Cameras in the classroom

The House Public Education Committee voted last night to approve SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222 to the House Public Education Committee, which considered the bill yesterday. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. The committee approved the bill today and it will head next to the full House for consideration where amendments are possible. SB 1222 previously passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, with Sens. Kirk Watson (D) and Rodney Ellis (D) voting against it.

Paperwork reduction

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements. The bill was voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making it more likely to pass. ATPE supports the measure, which the House passed unanimously on May 4.


As a reminder, tomorrow (May 23) is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills. With the House still in session, impromptu meetings could still be scheduled anytime tonight or tomorrow to vote out additional bills. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.