Tag Archives: teachers

Your chance to talk to the school finance commission!

If you’re a regular Teach the Vote reader (as you should be!), you’ve probably been following our updates from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Now’s your chance to participate!

The commission was created as part of HB 21, which passed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill was a consolation prize to public education supporters disappointed with the Texas Senate’s decision to kill a school finance reform bill containing $1.5 billion in additional public school funding for the 2018-2019 budget biennium.

The commission’s titular purpose is to discuss and make recommendations for how to improve the state’s “lawful but awful” school finance system. The first few meetings have focused on broad issues such as demographics, funding, educator retention, and charter schools. While some of the invited witnesses – including ATPE executive director Gary Godsey – have provided important perspectives, the commission has also served as a forum for outside actors with a financial interest in promoting vouchers and other schemes that would weaken the public school system.

Members of the public will now get the chance to address the 13-member commission at the upcoming March 19 meeting. This will likely be the only time educators, parents, students, and other community members will be allowed to speak their minds in front of this group.

The commission will present its recommendations to the governor and legislature at the end of the year. These recommendations may include everything from how much to pay teachers to how many students can be assigned to a single classroom, or whether taxpayer dollars should be transferred from the public school system to subsidize private school tuition. Details of the meeting are as follows:

Texas Commission on Public School Finance

Monday, March 19, 2018 – 9:00 a.m.

William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104

1701 N. Congress Avenue, Austin TX

The commission will hear from invited witnesses before opening testimony to members of the public. Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. A sign-up sheet will be posted on the commission’s webpage two days prior to the meeting. Sign-up sheets will also be available at the meeting. Those who are unable to attend the meeting can e-mail their comments to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide a livestream of the meeting that can be viewed here on Monday.

This meeting is expected to last well into the evening, but it is important that educators provide input. Consider that the state currently contributes just 38 percent of the cost for educating our students, down from a roughly 50-50 split a decade ago. As state lawmakers have gradually decreased the share the state chips in, school districts have been forced to increasingly rely on local property taxes to make up the difference. At the same time, some lawmakers are openly discussing ways to remove even more money from the system through vouchers and other forms of privatization. Here are some questions to think about when crafting your message if you plan to testify before the commission:

  1. What resources do you need to meet your students’ needs?
  2. What sorts of programs, benefits, or incentives would help attract and retain quality teachers?
  3. How would you explain the importance of making sure education dollars are spent on our public schools and not funneled out to private entities or used for other non-education purposes?
  4. Are you also a homeowner who pays property taxes? Increasing the state’s share of education funding to at least 50 percent would place less burden on school districts to raise local property taxes in order to keep their schools operating. How might this change help you as a taxpayer while also meeting the needs of our public schools?

There are plenty of resources available if you’d like to do your own research. You can search numerous articles here at Teach the Vote covering the entire universe of public education issues. You can also check out good primers such as this one by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. ATPE members who are considering testifying are also invited to contact our lobby team for any additional guidance.

We hope you take the time to stop by the meeting to testify or e-mail comments if you’re unable to make it. Let’s make sure our teacher voice is heard loud and clear!


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 9, 2018

Here is this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:

Tuesday was primary Election Day in Texas, and there is a lot to unpack. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has an inital analysis of the primary results here, and he highlights two major takeaways after Tuesday night: voter turnout increased and incumbents did well.

Voter turnout hit record highs in both parties. Like Exter points out in his post, a Texas Educators Vote Coalition statement praising  voter turnout in the primary election also notes that turnout increased across Texas by almost 700,000 voters compared to the most recent midterm primary election in 2014. The number of Democratic voters getting to the polls exceeded 1 million, while Republican voter totals topped off at more than 1.5 million. Both parties saw an increase in their voter turnout, with Democrats nearly doubling the total number of voters since 2014 (a number that represented a midterm primary record high for the party not hit since 1994). Republicans experienced a more modest increase in the largely red state, but the party’s turnout still represented record numbers.

As a proud member of the Texas Educators Vote Coalition, ATPE is thrilled to see the uptick in civic engagement and encourages educators and other voters to maintain that energy through November and future elections. ATPE was also excited to see a large percentage of ATPE-supported candidates prevail in their elections; Exter’s recap of the election has more on those results. While many are focused on the bigger races at the top of the ticket, it is important to consider all of the great candidates elected further down ballot. One thing is clear based on voter turnout, the energy built among educators, and the impact already felt: this movement is only beginning!


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final state plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), this week. The final plan has been in the making for quite some time. Here is a quick recap:

The final plan submitted this week reflects a number of revisions required by ED in their initial feedback. TEA’s press release announcing this week’s submission can be read here. To read the final plan or learn more about the Texas ESSA plan and related content, visit TEA’s ESSA web page. The plan must now receive a final review by Secretary Betsy DeVos, but she is not tied to a certain time period for revisions. On Monday, DeVos addressed members of the Council of Chief State School Officers at their annual conference, offering them “tough love” over what she considered state ESSA plans that lacked creativity and innovation.


ATPE submitted comments this week on new proposed Commissioner’s rules regarding certain out-of-state educators. These rules would exempt educators that are certified out of state and who meet certain qualifications from Texas required certification assessments as they work to obtain certification in Texas. The rule proposal stemmed from legislation passed last session. ATPE encouraged the commissioner to raise the standard from one to at least two years of experience in order for an out-of-state educator to benefit from the exemption. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann writes more about ATPE’s comments, the proposed rules, and context for the legislation here.


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin this week, this time to discuss “efficiency” at the classroom, campus, and district levels. A panel of invited witnesses was dedicated to each category. The classroom efficiency panel focused on blended learning, while the campus efficiency panel featured partnerships with charters and higher education. The district efficiency panel largely entailed discussions regarding charter schools. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and has a full report here.



ATPE weighs in on proposed rules addressing out-of-state educators

ATPE submitted comments this week on new proposed commissioner’s rules regarding exempting certain out-of-state educators looking to teach in Texas from state certification assessments. Our comments acknowledge that “certain exceptions to certification testing may have a place in helping to get high-quality, experienced teachers in Texas classrooms,” but stress that “the focus must remain on high standards that help ensure we are limiting exceptions to only those educators with a proven track record of success in educating students.”

The new proposed rules stem from legislation passed during the 85th Legislative Session that gave the commissioner of education the ability to create this specific certification flexibility. In lieu of the current process overseen by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), which currently compares other state certification requirements to Texas’s standards before exempting out-of-state educators from certification assessments, the new proposed commissioner’s rules would instead outline a number of requirements an out-of-state educator must prove in order to receive the exemption. The requirements primarily entail obtaining certification in another state or country, but also include a one year experience requirement for all classroom teacher candidates.

ATPE argued in its comments that the experience requirement should be raised to at least two years of teaching experience. This is because the proposed rules don’t only exempt these out-of-state educators from certification assessments, they also exempt them from preparation and certification standards Texas policymakers and stakeholders have deemed necessary. For instance, some preparation standards these educators would be exempted from include the minimum GPA requirement placed on candidates entering a certification program; the number of curriculum hours educators in training must complete; the amount of clinical training a candidate must possess before obtaining full certification; the amount of time new teachers must spend working with mentors and coaches to develop their craft; and training specific to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the Texas educator standards, and the Texas Educator Code of Ethics.

“If we are going to exempt certain educators prepared out of state from these standards of preparation and certification, we should at a minimum be ensuring they bring valuable experience to Texas classrooms,” ATPE argued in its comments.

For more regarding ATPE’s position on the proposed rules, read ATPE’s full comments here. Commissioner Morath will now consider the public comments submitted before issuing the final rule.

Guest Post: Learn about Republican party precinct conventions

Party Precinct Conventions:
How educators can influence Texas politics from the grassroots up – it’s easier than you think!

By Mark Terry
March 2018

As an educator, you’ve done your civic duty; you have voted in the primary election and made your voice heard. And, you are to be applauded for exercising your right to vote, as a citizen and an educator! We are all hoping that our ‘teacher voices’ will be heard. If all 700,000 teachers across Texas vote…in a primary that usually has less than 2 million voters, we will definitely be heard. But, would you like to change the course of politics in a way that is lasting and takes far fewer dedicated educators? It can happen!

Yes! You can dramatically change the way both political parties view public education. Imagine: You can set the party platforms, you can help select public education friendly candidates, and you can play an active role in the leadership of your precinct-county-state party leadership! And, it only takes the amount of time you want to commit.

Let’s talk grassroots influence starting with the basics.

Mark Terry | TEPSA Deputy Executive Director

Click here to see Mark’s video about precinct conventions.

When you vote, you vote in your precinct; it’s kind of like your neighborhood. Each legislator’s district is made up of many smaller precincts, and House member districts are smaller than Senate member districts. For example, my precinct is 3035 within my Texas House District 98 and Senate District 12. Each precinct has a precinct chair. The chair is responsible for helping candidates of their choice to win election (more on that later) and for the Republican party, holding a “precinct convention” immediately after the primary election. Wait…I know you just rolled your eyes, keep reading.

When I was first ‘elected’ to be the chair of Precinct 3035, I thought, “No way! I put in enough time as an educator and I do not want hundreds of people yelling at me.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. Your precinct convention is held 30 minutes after the polls close at your primary polling place. You, gather a dozen or so seats together in corner, and you hold your convention. My first convention had 11 people, and four of them had my last name. Four more were neighbors who were public school educators. And, the election judge has all the directions and forms you require for your convention! Your lesson plans are ready!

What did we do at the precinct convention? Well, first we elected delegates to the senate district convention. (Check out my video where I show maps for precincts, house districts, and senate districts.) We also reviewed the party platform (Republican in my case) and adopted it with any resolutions brought forth. Here’s where it gets fun! No one had any resolutions except one person…me! One resolution stated, “We resolve that the State of Texas shall NOT use any public funds for private education.” The second resolution I proposed said, “We resolve that the Republican Party shall support and adequately fund Texas’s system of public education.” Both were unanimously passed! Those resolutions and the names of the senate district convention delegates we elected that night next went to the Tarrant County Republican Party for review.

I bet you never knew there were resolutions of this sort presented to the Republican Party. Why didn’t anyone see these resolutions after our precinct approved them? It’s simple. When the resolutions went to our senate district convention, the party’s Resolution Committee didn’t give them a hearing. Remember, you are fighting those who run the party. So, I made a combined resolution from the floor during our senate district convention. Even though I was told I wouldn’t get a second, I did…and the measure failed 57% – 43%. If there had been a few more delegates, the resolution would have gone to the Texas Republican Party’s state convention that summer.

This is where the conversation on education can change. Sounds like a bunch of rhetorical mish-mash to me, but elected officials look to the party platform for guidance. Delegates set the platform at the precinct level, at the county or senate district level, at the Texas political party level…and, at the national level. Those 11 propositions that you’ve seen on the Republican primary ballot this year…same thing. They are not binding, but your legislator looks to the results to justify his or her votes!

Do you see where this is going? How many educators do you think are in your precinct? I can tell you…there are plenty. More than 11? You bet! (And, you have access to the voter rolls, which you can compare to the school districts in your voter district.) What would happen if 25, 50, or even 75 educators showed up at each precinct convention and each passed the same resolutions? What if those same educators elected themselves as senate district convention delegates and then state convention delegates? You’d change the course of party politics in our state!

Is that all precinct chairs do? For many it is, but your sphere of influence just grew. For one, you’ll receive requests for donations from everyone running in your senate district. You’ll also be the first to see the nasty little rumors and comments about ‘the other candidates’ as folks from county commissioners, to family court judges and up, try to curry your favor. Most importantly, folks in your precinct look to you for who should receive their vote. Again, do you see where this is going? You can campaign for your chosen candidate, in my case a conservative Republican who supports public education. The candidate will give you all the information you need to make “block walks” around your neighborhood with friends to introduce your candidate (he or she will often go with you) and you can put together four or five educators to man an “educator phone bank” (remember the voter lists). The point is, you and a small group of your educator buddies have an inordinate impact on who is elected in your voting district.

One last thing, how do you think the Tea Party took over the Republican Party? Protests? Voting? Nope, it started at the precinct conventions. Who told me that? A Tea Party-elected legislator.

You can do this! We can do this! We must do this for the sake of children, teachers, and the soul of our state. If you want more information, or to be reassured you can actually make it happen, give me a shout at mark@tepsa.org or @tepsamark on Twitter.

Mary Terry with Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry with his legislator, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry is a former school principal and the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA). He serves as a Republican party precinct chair within House District 98 and Senate District 12.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 2, 2018

Happy Texas Independence Day! It’s also the last day of early voting in the Texas primaries. Read the latest election news and more in this week’s wrap-up from ATPE:

ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the last day for early voting in the 2018 Texas primary elections. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting is the most convenient way to cast your ballot, since you can visit any polling place in your county. On Tuesday, you’ll need to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location unless your county is participating in the Countywide Polling Place Program.

As a starting point, check out these tips on voting from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. You’ll find answers to common questions such as what forms of ID are required and whether you can bring notes into the voting booth with you.

Learn about the nonbinding propositions that will appear at the end of your primary ballot as a way for the state Republican and Democratic parties to develop their official platform positions on certain issues. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has the scoop on those propositions here.

Most importantly, if you’ve not voted yet, it’s not too late to explore our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, which are based on official records maintained in the House and Senate journals. Learn more about ATPE’s process for compiling and verifying voting records here. The candidates’ profiles also include their responses to our ATPE candidate survey, where available, links to the candidates’ websites and social media profiles, and more. We even share information about upcoming campaign-related events when requested by the candidates.

Remember that many candidates are looking for volunteers this weekend and especially for election day on Tuesday. Learn more about volunteering to help out a pro-public education campaign in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday.

If you are voting in the Republican primary, don’t forget about precinct conventions that will be happening Tuesday evening after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate to the party’s conventions and help further shape the party’s platform on education and other issues. On the Democratic side, there are no precinct conventions but you can sign up to participate in the party’s county-level conventions in April. Learn more in this blog post we republished last month from the Texas Tribune.

For additional election resources for educators, check out the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition. Kudos to everyone who has helped us create a culture of voting throughout the education community, despite a barrage of attacks from those who feel threatened by the prospect of more educators being actively engaged in the election process and voting for candidates who will stand up for public education.

If you’ve not voted yet, get out there today or make plans to vote on Tuesday! Remind your friends, too!


Over the past week, we’ve featured a series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters. We’ve been highlighting just a few of the specific reasons why educators’ votes in this primary election are going to shape the outcome of numerous debates when the Texas legislature meets again in 2019. If you’re still wondering what’s at stake on Tuesday, check out these posts by ATPE’s lobbyists on some of the hottest topics that the people you elect this year will be tackling during the next legislative session in 2019:


ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann testifying at a recent SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at the meeting and provided a report on the outcome of the board’s discussions. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more developments from SBEC in 2018.



Carl Garner

ATPE is asking Congress to protect teacher training and retention programs as it works on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on our blog this week about our efforts to ensure that Congress doesn’t strip out Title II program dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention. Read more about our effort being coordinated by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team and the letter sent earlier this week to Texas’s congressional delegation from ATPE State President Carl Garner.



Why March 6 Matters: Healthcare

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at healthcare for active and retired educators.

In our first post of this series we examined teacher pay, which lags behind the national average. While paychecks are a major concern, Texas also spends less than any other state on employee benefits, funding them only at about $967 per pupil, which includes the cost of health insurance. In fact, Texas spends less than our neighboring states Oklahoma and New Mexico, which are both under the national average as well but are spending $1,505 and $1,905 per pupil respectively, despite having significantly less wealth per capita than Texas (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: 2014, G14-ASPEF, released May 2016).

The ever-increasing amount of money being taken out of educators’ paychecks for healthcare is primarily due to the fact that state funding and state-mandated district funding for health insurance, including the TRS-ActiveCare plan used by many districts for their employees, has remained unchanged since the program first began some 17 years ago.

When the Legislature first decided to subsidize teacher health insurance premiums back in 2001, the $225 contribution for each employee (made up of $75 from the state and $150 from the school district) was in line with what private employers were paying toward healthcare for their employees. Since that time, health insurance inflation generally has been between eight and ten percent per year, and educator premiums have increased more than 250 percent. Also during that time frame, many private employers have increased what they pay toward employee health insurance premiums, but Texas’s funding of the healthcare program for public school employees has fallen way behind.

Legislative inaction has now led to an insurance program for school district employees that is more burdensome than beneficial, and for many educators, it amounts to a pay cut year after year. Back In November 2014, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) released its TRS-Care Sustainability and TRS-ActiveCare Affordability Study that was commissioned by the 83rd legislature. It outlined numerous options for lawmakers to consider in dealing with the looming healthcare crisis for educators. Despite those recommendations, the legislature has failed to address exploding healthcare costs for active employees.

One reason the legislature has neglected to address healthcare costs for active employees, including during the most recent 2017 legislative sessions, is the sad fact that the state’s health insurance program for retired educators, TRS-Care, is in even worse shape. After years of inadequately funding retirees’ health insurance, the legislature has now faced back-to-back sessions in which the program was at risk of running out of money and collapsing in on itself —a prospect that would leave hundreds of thousands of retired educators with no health insurance, dramatically limiting their access to healthcare when they most need it.

Back in 2015, the 84th Texas legislature opted not to address the funding formulas that determine how our state pays for TRS-Care. Instead, they made a $700 million supplemental appropriation to keep TRS-Care afloat for one more budget cycle.

By the time the 85th legislature arrived in Austin in January 2017, the TRS-Care shortfall had ballooned to $1.2 billion. Again, lawmakers were unwilling to address the underlying funding formulas, and they similarly declined to make even a one-time appropriation to cover the full cost. Instead, the Senate under the guidance of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Joan Huffman, who chaired the Senate Committee on State Affairs that oversees TRS, pushed forward a plan that cut the cost of TRS-Care to the state by shifting more costs to retirees.

It’s worth nothing that retired educators have not seen a cost of living adjustment to increase their pensions for over a decade, during which time they’ve also had to endure dramatic reductions in their healthcare benefits as a result of restructuring of the health insurance plan. That combination of dwindling purchasing power due to the effects of inflation on stagnant pension payments and crushing new healthcare costs caused such an outcry from retired educators that by the time legislators came back to Austin in the summer of 2017 for a special session, they felt compelled to put a modest amount of one-time extra dollars into the system to temporarily soften the blow of the impending changes to TRS-Care. However, those additional one-time funds were only a short-term band-aid on a much larger problem that remains.

Even with the draconian measures taken by the 85th legislature, resulting in significant rate hikes for many plan participants, TRS-Care is projected still to have a funding shortfall that will have to be addressed by the 86th legislature. In other words, lawmakers must act in 2019 if TRS-Care is to continue to exist for retired educators

Finding real solutions to the crisis of access to affordable healthcare for the state’s active and retired educators is a complex and expensive task. It cannot and will not be achieved by legislators whose singular priority is creating the appearance of cutting state spending without solving the problems faced by our state’s more than 1 million active and retired school employees. The elections that will determine who occupies those critical legislative seats and will have the power to decide the future of healthcare funding for educators are happening right now. Active and retired public school employees who have dedicated their lives to serving and educating our 5.4 million young Texans have the power to shape the outcome of this battle simply by voting in the 2018 primaries.

Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on school finance and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

ATPE asks Congress to support teacher training, retention programs

The Higher Education Act (HEA), the federal law outlining higher education policies, was last renewed 10 years ago. As the U.S. Congress works to rewrite the law, ATPE is working with key members to weigh in on Title II of the HEA, where several federal programs pertaining to educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed.

Last week, ATPE submitted comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) as education leaders in that chamber develop their bill to reauthorize the HEA. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce has already advanced its version of the bill: HR4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. That bill still awaits a vote by the full U.S. House, but without change, it would omit Title II of the HEA altogether. ATPE expressed concern over that move this week in a letter to Texas members of the U.S. House and asked them to support the inclusion of Title II as the bill advances.

Carl Garner

“Initiatives like the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, TEACH grants, and loan forgiveness programs specific to educators are important HEA Title II programs that help attract strongly qualified candidates into the profession, prepare our educators in programs that are held to high standards of training, and retain our well-qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms with students who need them most,” ATPE State President Carl Garner wrote to the Texas delegation.

As we state in our letter, educator training and preparation is a primary advocacy focus for ATPE, because we recognize that we cannot place ill-prepared educators in the 21st century classroom and expect them to achieve excellence. We base this on our strong, evidence-backed belief that quality training and support prior to full certification for all educators supports improved student learning and better rates of educator retention.

“Research consistently shows that access to a high-quality teacher is the most important in-school factor leading to a student’s success,” Garner wrote to the Texas congressional delegation. “Programs like these are a vital piece of the overall landscape that supports student success in the classroom, and the federal government should maintain its valuable role, especially when challenges continue with regard to recruiting and retaining classroom educators.”

ATPE asked members of Texas’s U.S. House delegation to support future and current Texas teachers and students and their peers throughout the country by backing amendments to reinstate HEA Title II under the PROSPER Act. The bill is not currently set to be heard by the full U.S. House. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. Senate is expected to release its version of the bill soon. ATPE state officers will make their annual visit to Washington, D.C. in June, where this bill is likely to be among the topics of discussion on our agenda.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 23, 2018

Happy Student Voting Day! Here’s your update from the ATPE lobby team on what’s been happening in Texas this week:

ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2018 Texas primary elections began this week and continues through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6.

Today, Feb. 23, 2018, is Student Voting Day in Texas, as designated by Secretary of State Rolando Pablos. Pablos issued a proclamation for Student Voting Day and has encouraged Texans to urge eligible students to vote today. We applaud all of the educators and parents who have worked hard to help students learn about and exercise their right to vote.

If you know a student voter or if you are new to voting in Texas, we’ve got some helpful basic tips on voting in this primary election. Check out this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, newly updated with some additional guidance about the prohibition on using cell phones in the voting booth. Looking for background information about those Republican and Democratic party ballot propositions? We’ve got a list of all the non-binding party platform propositions here, along with some analysis from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter here.

Have you checked at our new series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters? ATPE’s lobbyists are writing about some of the top legislative issues at stake in the primary elections happening now, explaining why the choices made by voters at the polls over the next week and a half will have a gigantic impact on the future success or failure of bills dealing with teacher pay, retirement benefits, private school vouchers, and more. Check out the posts we’re published so far and watch for more analysis of “Why March 6 Matters” on the Teach the Vote blog next week.

ICYMI: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was quoted in today’s brand new PolitiFact article about a claim made in one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s re-election campaign ads. Patrick raised eyebrows with the radio and television ads in heavy rotation right now when he claimed to have proposed a $10,000 pay raise for teachers last session. The journalists of PolitiFact investigated and rated the claim as “mostly false” on its Truth-o-Meter, concluding that “Patrick made no proposal to direct more of the state’s education budget to teacher salaries,” instead touting a preference for an unfunded mandate on school districts that did not pass. Read the full analysis here.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the school finance commission on Feb. 22, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin on Thursday, Feb. 22, and ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey was one of the witnesses invited to testify at the hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided a report on the day’s discussions, which focused on the importance of the teacher pipeline and early childhood education. Godsey, joined by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, urged the commission to consider recommendations for strengthening educator preparation, support, compensation, and retention in order to avoid the high cost of teacher turnover. Read more in Mark’s blog post here.

By now readers of our blog are probably familiar with the antics of Empower Texans, the dark money group that in addition to trying to influence elections through massive campaign spending has been at the center of efforts to intimidate educators and shut down get out the vote (GOTV) efforts within the education community. We’ve written recently on our blog about how Texas educators responded to the group’s threatening “whistleblower” letters with their own #blowingthewhistle social media campaign. Today, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus also took to social media and penned a newsletter urging educators to vote this weekend and expressing his support for our coalition efforts to create a culture of voting in school districts across the state.

This week we learned that Empower Texans is under criminal investigation for highly questionable tactics it has employed in an effort to convince Ft. Worth residents to vote against one of their state legislators, Rep. Charlie Geren. Geren is presently facing a challenge in the primary election by an Empower Texans-funded candidate, and the group has attacked the incumbent for being married to a lobbyist. As reported by the Texas Tribune, prosecutors are looking into a postcard mailed to voters in Rep. Geren’s House District 99 that was designed to look like an official state document and sent by an entity called the “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board.” The mail piece was paid for and sent by Empower Texans, which recently filed documents with the Secretary of State to use the name “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board” as an alias, giving unsuspecting voters the impression that the postcard was sent by an official government agency, which does not exist.

With Empower Texans spending so much money to try to unseat legislators that it deems to be too friendly toward public education, it’s no surprise that there has been growing interest in learning more about the sources of money being used by the group. Empower Texans is not required to disclose all of those who contribute money to the organization, but campaign finance reports for the Empower Texans PAC are publicly available, as is the case with all political action committees. One person who has spent considerable time reviewing those campaign finance reports and chasing the trail of money connected to Empower Texans is Chris Tackett, a former Granbury ISD trustee and parent who has written extensively about his findings. This week, we republished Tackett’s article entitled “Following the money in Texas politics: A citizen’s look at the influence of mega-donors in contested elections.” The piece illustrates how a small group of wealthy families have used the Empower Texans PAC and a few other PACs to steer millions of dollars in campaign contributions to certain candidates, giving the impression that they have broader support. Learn more in Tackett’s guest blog post here.

The Dallas Morning News also published an extensive article this week describing how west Texas’s Wilks family, the largest funding source for Empower Texans, has been using its wealth to influence contested races around the state in 2018. That includes nearly half a million dollars spent to help Sen. Bob Hall try to win re-election despite a serious primary challenge and targeted efforts to shape the election of a new Texas House Speaker when the 86th Legislature convenes in January 2019. The same family is profiled in a brand new website sponsored by an unidentified citizens’ group that also appeared this week called WhoOwnsTexas.com.

Voters can learn about candidates vying for their support in the primary elections happening now by checking out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, responses provided to our ATPE candidate survey on education issues, links to the candidates’ own websites and social media accounts, and additional information such as endorsements from well-known groups or major newspapers. ATPE does not endorse candidates, so you won’t find endorsements from us, but we’ll tell you which candidates have received the endorsement of Empower Texans and other groups to help you make informed decisions at the polls.


The State Board of Education’s steering committee for the Long-Range Plan for Public Education also met this week. The meeting focused largely on the issue of educator preparation with a goal of improving recruitment and retention. Read more about the conversations in Wednesday’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Today is the final day to submit comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). As we previously shared, the committee is working to rewrite the federal law that pertains to higher education, and several programs dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed under the law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that while the Senate committee works to write its bill, its U.S. House counterpart has already advanced legislation to the full House that omits these programs. ATPE submitted comments to the Senate committee expressing our concern over the House omission and stressing the importance of programs like these. “Educator training that is held to high expectations and standards plays a vital role in ensuring every student has access to a well-prepared, productive educator. It also has a lasting impact on retaining those strong educators in the classroom.”

ATPE’s full comments encouraging the committee to maintain federal support of these programs can be read here.



From the Texas Tribune: One Texas Board of Education primary result could spell a return to culture wars

Left to right: State Board of Education District 11 incumbent Pat Hardy and her two Republican primary challengers, Feyi Obamehinti and Cheryl Surber. Photos from Facebook campaign pages

Over her 16 years on the State Board of Education, Pat Hardy has rallied for her share of socially conservative measures. She’s endorsed keeping “pro-American” values in history textbooks. She’s backed emphasizing “states’ rights” instead of slavery as the cause of the Civil War. And she’s supported teaching “both sides” of arguments around climate change.

But her Republican challengers in the March 6 primaries — Feyi Obamehinti and Cheryl Surber— are telling voters that they’re even further to the right. (Surber’s campaign Facebook page even refers to her as the “Donald Trump of the Texas State Board of Education” candidate.)

“It’s probably true!” Hardy said. “Which is funny because I’m very conservative. But they are to the right of me.”

The Fort Worth representative, a retired public school social studies teacher, is fighting to keep her seat in one of the most anticipated State Board of Education contests this year. Hardy’s District 11 seat is one of seven up in the 2018 midterms, including three other seats where incumbents are also fending off challengers. Three other incumbents are stepping down, prompting open races.

But experts say Hardy’s race in particular could help determine whether the board will retain its recent political equilibrium or return to a more polarized iteration characterized by frequent head-butting among the board’s liberal, moderate Republican and social conservative factions, which has earned it national notoriety for decades.

“With three open seats, this is a really important election for the state board, because the board has moved closer to the center over the last several election cycles,” said Dan Quinn, spokesperson for left-leaning state board watchdog Texas Freedom Network. “The question is whether it will continue to do that or if we’ll see a swing back to the fringe politics that have dominated the board for the last 20 years, or longer than 20 years.”

Whoever wins will be responsible for setting curriculum standards and making textbook recommendations for schools across the state, deciding what 5.4 million Texas students learn.

Over the next couple of years, the new board’s responsibilities will include the politically fraught duty of tackling a full revision of health standards, including how schools teach sex education, informing the content for textbooks Texas teachers will use for years.

“What students learn about contraception in a state with one of the highest rates of teen birth rates in the nation will be up for debate,” Quinn said.

Challenging a swing vote

The State Board of Education has 15 members, each representing nearly 2 million Texans. Though the board is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, its debates often divide the board three ways — between Democrats, moderate conservatives and social conservatives.

Hardy describes herself as a Republican who doesn’t always fit the mold, often a swing vote on the board.

“You have a balance on the board, which means that each of those three groups are compelled to work with one of the others to accomplish their goals,” said David Anderson, a longtime education lobbyist at Hillco Partners. “If you lose Pat to one of the other two candidates, you lose a critical part of that balance.”

Hardy’s district covers Parker County and parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties.

Hardy does not believe Texas should subsidize private school tuition for parents. “I’ve always felt the public school was a unique thing that historically set us apart from other countries because we had free education,” she said.

Her opponents argue parents should be able to use state money to go to any type of school they want. Obamehinti, a former public school teacher and current education consultant from Keller, also homeschooled her daughter for 11 years and wants to make it easier for other parents to have the same option.

The board has no jurisdiction over whether to approve vouchers or similar programs, but candidates’ views on this issue may indicate whether they want to improve the current public education system or overhaul it in favor of a more free-market approach.

Obamehinti also supports teaching creationism in science classrooms and is skeptical of the idea that the state should approve a Mexican-American studies course, a current consideration on the board. She argues she can do a better job of reaching out to constituents than Hardy has done. “I live in District 11, and I have never had any outreach in 16 years,” she said.

Surber said she would never be a swing vote on the board. “I’m like the Donald Trump of this race. I want to hear various sides, even sides that might disagree with me,” she said. She said she is not in favor of a Mexican-American studies course for Texas because students are “in the United States of America. We’re not in Mexico. We’re not in Canada. We need to learn American history.”

She holds extreme views on many subjects and often affirms various conspiracy theories on her personal Facebook page. This week, she put up a few posts suggesting survivors of the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting who have publicly advocated for gun control measures are “crisis actors,” not students, a notion that has been widely debunked.

Two Democrats are also running for Hardy’s seat: Carla Morton, a pediatric neuropsychologist and special education advocate in Fort Worth, and Celeste Light, who has no campaign website set up and has not responded to media requests for comment.

Decisive primaries

Three State Board members — Beaumont Republican David Bradley, Dallas Republican Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and Fort Worth Democrat Erika Beltran — are stepping down this year. In all three seats, a candidate from the incumbent’s party is running unopposed in the primary: Matt Robinson in Bradley’s District 7, Pam Little in Miller’s District 12, and Aicha Davis in Beltran’s District 13.

Given their voting history, those districts are unlikely to change party hands, meaning those three candidates will win, said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “We often talk about how the primaries are decisive. In the State Board of Education, they’re 100 percent decisive,” he said. “There’s no doubt whatsoever about who’s going to win in November because of the way the districts have been drawn.”

Bradley, one of those incumbents, is widely considered one of the most socially conservative and most divisive members on the board, supporting abstinence-only education and creationism in science classes.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” he said, before the board voted to adopt more right-leaning social studies curriculum standards in 2010. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

In 2016, he sent an email proposing board members walk out of a discussion about a Mexican-American studies textbook that advocates and academics considered racist, in order to “deny the Hispanics a record vote.”

Bradley’s likely replacement is Robinson, a Friendswood ISD board member and physician, the only Republican running for the District 7 seat. Bradley endorsed Robinson a few months after he filed paperwork to run.

“Generally speaking, if you voted for David Bradley in the past, you’d feel good about voting for me,” Robinson said. “If you didn’t, you might still be happy with me.”

Robinson said schools should teach abstinence-only sexual education: “I think that should be the limit of what they do.”

He supports state subsidy programs that would help parents pay for private schools, such as vouchers or education savings accounts — generally opposed by public education advocates, who see the subsidies as a potential financial drain on public schools.

But, unlike many conservatives who support these subsidies, Robinson argues a child who takes state money to a private school should have to take the state standardized test or participate in some other form of state accountability. “It would not really be fair to have no restrictions or oversight whatsoever for private schools where state dollars are going,” he said.

Miller, also leaving her seat at the end of the year, is generally considered more moderate than Bradley and is best known for pushing the state’s first law mandating schools serve kids with dyslexia. Miller has endorsed her likely replacement, Pam Little, who is a retired regional vice president at publishing company Houghton Mifflin. Little said she supports abstinence as the first approach to sex education, and has not yet made up her mind on whether health standards should include education on contraception.

When Little ran for Miller’s seat in 2012, she said that local communities should be able to decide whether to offer any additional sex education, given the state’s high teen pregnancy rate.

Beltran endorsed Davis, her likely replacement, upon retiring from the board. A 2011 transplant to Texas, Davis has been a middle and high school science and engineering teacher for the past decade.

Disclosure: Hillco Partners and Rice University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/02/23/texas-board-education-primary-could-spell-return-culture-wars/.


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ATPE testifies before school finance commission

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this morning, Feb. 22, in Austin to consider another round of testimony, this time largely focused on teacher quality. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by announcing subcommittee assignments.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting, Feb. 22, 2018.

The Revenue Committee will be led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and include state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), Nicole Conley Johnson, Elvira Reyna, and Justice Brister. The Expenditures Committee will be led by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) and include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), state Sen. Larry Taylor, State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and Justice Brister. The Outcomes Committee will be led by Todd Williams and include state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Dr. Doug Killian, Melissa Martin, and Sen. Taylor.

The first to testify was Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who presented information that $28.8 billion of combined state, local, and federal funding was spent on instruction in 2016, which comprised 47.7 percent of total education spending. Rep. Huberty, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, pointed out that when factoring in instructional materials and other classroom supports, the 47.7 percent figure does not accurately capture the percentage of funding spent directly on students in the classroom.

Rep. Bernal, who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked about the cost to the state that can be attributed to teacher turnover. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson answered that each teacher who leaves her district costs between $7,000 and $12,000, which doesn’t even address the negative impact on students. Teacher turnover has been estimated to cost the nation $2.2 billion per year.

The commission heard next from Dr. Eric Hanushek, a professional paid witness who has made a living for decades testifying in court against efforts to increase and equalize school funding, as well as advocating for private school vouchers. Hanushek laid most of the blame for poor student performance at the feet of teachers, but argued against increasing teacher pay. Member Ellis contended that there is a strong statistical relationship between total school spending and results, and that how much is being spent is at least of equal importance as the manner in which the money is spent. Several other commission members, including Conley Johnson and Rep. Bernal, pushed back on Hanushek’s attempts to minimize the importance of adequate school funding.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojisa testified regarding his district’s efforts to implement a robust performance-based pay system. The Dallas system provides teachers significant tiered pay increases based on performance. Rep. Huberty lauded the concept, but raised questions about cost and affordability. Hinojosa conceded that the program is unsustainable going forward, and as such is being “recalibrated” in order to bring costs under control. Hinojosa also pointed out that public school districts offer many “school choice” options, which include magnet schools and district transfers. According to data presented by Todd Williams, who advises Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on education policy, implementing Dallas ISD’s ACE program costs $1,295 per student, or roughly $800,000 per campus. The commission heard from several more witnesses describing various performance pay programs.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testify before the school finance commission.

ATPE executive director Gary Godsey testified before the commission, and began by stating the obvious: Texas schools need more money. Godsey informed the commission that teachers often experience low morale, difficult working conditions, and the feeling they are underappreciated. Teacher turnover costs Texas an estimated $500 million per year. Some initiatives, such as mentorship programs, could reduce turnover with a minimal impact on school budgets. Regarding pay, Godsey testified that teachers are very concerned about efforts to repeal the minimum salary schedule (MSS), which guarantees a minimum level of pay for educators that increases over time. In addition to other low-cost initiatives to reduce turnover, Godsey suggested modifying funding weights and tracking the distribution of teacher quality. Regarding performance pay programs, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that incentive pay must be complemented by adequate base pay and should not be tied solely to student test scores. Exter added that any incentive pay program must be financially viable in the long term in order to achieve buy-in from educators and administrators.

The final panel addressed prekindergarten programs, and witnesses emphasized the importance of pre-K in getting children prepared to learn and excel in elementary school. Witnesses testified that dollars invested in early education are dollars saved in remediation later on in a student’s educational career.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on March 7, followed by a March 19 meeting that will be open to comments from members of the public. Another meeting is scheduled for April 5.