Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers have mixed opinions on bid to reduce state tests

April 25, 2017

 

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State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, on the floor of the House on May 15, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/25/house-panel-hears-teachers-proposal-decrease-testing/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it.

Top House education official Dan Huberty has said private school choice is dead in the House. Representatives showed they overwhelmingly support that sentiment, in a 103-44 budget amendment vote.
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has challenged the House to at least take a vote on the Senate’s “private school choice” bill, one of his priorities for the Texas legislative session.

Early on during Thursday’s marathon budget discussion, House representatives showed him that vote would probably emerge as an overwhelming “no.”

They voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition, in an amendment to the Senate budget. In offering the amendment, with support from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

The amendment is not the last word. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. And separate legislation that would create a public subsidy for private education has yet to be heard in the House. Patrick’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday’s vote.

The House’s vote came a week after the Senate, led by Patrick, voted out Sen. Larry Taylor‘s Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition.

In a statement, Taylor said it was unfortunate that House members didn’t hear the details of SB 3 before Thursday’s vote.

“Our bill saved money, gave more students opportunities to get an education better suited for their specific needs, and left more money in public education as a whole and even in individual schools,” Taylor said in a statement. “I would hope that we would still have an opportunity to have those discussions.”

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said no changes to the bill would persuade him to vote for it.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” he said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The floor substitute the Senate approved was dramatically different than the original, intended in part to appease skeptical rural legislators by carving out rural counties from participating in the programs. Rural constituents consistently oppose using public money to subsidize private education because they do not have access to many private schools.

That tactic worked to get the bill through the Senate. But House members demonstrated Thursday that it wouldn’t be as straightforward in the lower chamber.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a “private school choice” supporter, tried to change Herrero’s amendment Thursday to allow subsidies for students with household incomes below a given baseline. He took language from SB 3 indicating that a family of three with an income below $75,078 would be able to use the tuition subsidy programs.

“A lot of opponents of school choice say, ‘This is only for the rich.’ This amendment allows poor families to have a choice,” Cain said. His proposal failed 117-27.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said a private school choice bill would not make it through his committee, drawing criticism from SB 3 supporters. Asked if it was dead to him as an issue, Huberty said, “I believe so, yes.” He voted for the amendment blocking money to the tuition subsidy programs.

“Quote unquote absolutely not,” said Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, when asked whether the changes to SB 3 carving out his counties from participating would change his vote on the bill. “Just because they sweetened the deal to pull in some people doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • The Senate voted 18-13 Thursday to pass a major private school choice bill, creating two public programs that would subsidize private school tuition.
  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-asked-house-vote-school-choice-he-got-it/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate passes private school choice bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Texas senators spent hours on Thursday questioning how a “private school choice” bill would hold private schools accountable or help students with disabilities before voting to give it final passage, 18-13.

They voted out a floor substitute of Senate Bill 3 that limits the scope of the two public programs proposed to subsidize private school tuition. The version passed by the upper chamber would limit eligibility for the programs to students who have attended a public school for at least a year, prevent incoming kindergarteners from participating and would exclude counties with populations under 285,000 from participating unless 5 percent of registered voters petition the county for access.

The changes seemed directed to appeal to rural legislators with constituents who have fewer options for public schools and to those with concerns about the state costs of a major subsidy program.

“Basically, what we’ve done with this floor substitute is narrow it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, author of the bill. “We didn’t add things. We took things away.”

Republican Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Joan Huffman of Houston and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill along with almost every Democrat. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the lone Democratic vote in favor.

SB 3 would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The first program, education savings accounts, would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The current version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, so that a family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate. (The previous version of the bill would have allowed families of any income to participate in the education savings account program.)

The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations. The current version of the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year, instead of $100 million in the previous version.

The current version would also require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services.

Taylor said the bill in its current form would save $55.3 million by 2022 because under the program, the state would be paying just 75 percent of the cost to educate each public school student who decides to take a tuition subsidy for a private school. Only students already enrolled in public schools would be able to access the program, meaning the state would be paying less for each student who moved from public to private school, he said.

Left-leaning policy organization Center for Public Policy Priorities released its own fiscal analysis on Thursday showing the bill would cost the Texas public school system more than $500 million per year.

“As many senators mentioned today by citing CPPP’s analysis, Senate Bill 3 is still undeniably the wrong solution for Texas kids because it would drain state dollars from already under-funded public schools,” executive director Ann Beeson said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system.”

In calculations for previous versions of the bill, the Legislative Budget Board estimated a cost to the state of between $90 million and $330 million; Taylor did not release the new fiscal note to the Senate before taking up the bill.

Most of the almost four-hour debate revolved around whether private schools would be held to state standards and whether the bill would actually help students with disabilities.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, offered up an amendment to require private schools to be held accountable to the state’s A-F rating system, which will soon be in place for public schools. Taylor argued parents would leave any private school that was not working for them, representing a strong accountability system outside of the state.

“I understand Sen. Taylor saying accountability is with the parents,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re not getting to the core of what people would like to see when it comes to these types of programs.” Taylor rejected his amendment, and it failed 13-18 in a subsequent vote.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully amended the bill to require letters be sent to parents who take the subsidies for private schools, letting them know private schools are not required to serve their students with disabilities under federal law. Taylor agreed to that change.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die.

Read more Tribune coverage here:

  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.
  • In a 7-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.
  • Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee debate on private school subsidies lasted more than seven hours and saw experts on both sides arguing they knew best how to educate black and Latino Texas students.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/30/senate-school-choice-bill/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 3, 2017

ATPE members are heading to Austin this weekend to advocate for their profession. Here’s a look at the current climate for education policy and politics in Texas:


With voucher interest on the rise in Washington, DC, all signs point to public opinion in Texas being mixed, at best, about the idea of privatizing education. More Texans seems to have insurmountable concerns about using public tax dollars to fund private or home schools, whether the objection is the lack of accountability on the part of those entities, the belief that public schools will suffer from a reduction in their funding, or the fear that vouchers will lead to government intrusion into private institutions that have not historically had to worry about being regulated.

This week on our blog, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared information about two voucher bills filed at the federal level. Both the proposed “Choices in Education Act of 2017” (H.R. 610) and the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or CHOICE Act (S. 235) have members of the Texas congressional delegation as cosponsors. Also, President Trump has voiced clear support for funding vouchers at the federal level.

Kuhlmann and Sampley at Tribune 02-28-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann and Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley attended Tuesday’s Texas Tribune interview with Rep. Dan Huberty.

In Texas, however, the outlook for vouchers is darker. On Tuesday, ATPE helped sponsor the Texas Tribune‘s interview with Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Asked about the likelihood of voucher bills being considered this session, Huberty expressed his belief that vouchers are a dead issue on the House side, as noted in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. (Click here for video of the exchange between Huberty and the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.)

Huberty’s remark drew ire from supporters of the so-called “school choice” legislation that both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have prioritized this session. Pro-voucher groups like Texans for Education Opportunity have been using robo-calls and letters to try to urge House members to take a vote this session on vouchers, and now they are hoping to convince the state’s Republican Party to discipline Chairman Huberty over his anti-voucher sentiments.

Also this week, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) held a press conference with a gaggle of other state representatives to tout his House Bill 1335 that would fund vouchers for at-risk students or those with special needs through an Education Savings Account (ESA). That bill has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which Huberty chairs.

The voucher debate is one of several high-profile education issues being discussed today during another event hosted by the Texas Tribune. In Houston, both Chairman Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) are participating in “A Symposium on Public Education,” where their differing views on vouchers are being showcased. Huberty and Taylor will have a chance to debate the issue again on Sunday when the two of them will sit on a panel of legislative leaders speaking during ATPE at the Capitol.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for an update.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The agenda includes a discussion of the possibility of adding a new certificate for teachers of early childhood education. As we reported on our blog recently, the Texas Education Agency solicited input from stakeholders about the idea and will share the results of those surveys at today’s meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there and will have a detailed report for our blog after today’s SBEC meeting.

 


On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee conducted an initial hearing on school finance. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote a summary of the hearing, which featured invited testimony from panelists representing several school districts. The committee will be meeting again next Tuesday, March 7, to hear a handful of bills pertaining to school funding mechanisms. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has also announced that he will introduce a new school finance bill on Monday. Huberty and Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee report that they are working together to craft some ideas for improving the state’s school finance system, but they also concede that it will likely take multiple legislative sessions to solve the current problems.

 


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

This week, the Texas Senate Committee on Nominations had an opportunity to review the performance of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and State Board of Education (SBOE) chairwoman Donna Bahorich. Bachorich is an elected member of the SBOE but has been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the board’s chair. The commissioner is an appointed position.

Chairwoman Bahorich and Commissioner Morath both gave testimony before the Senate Nominations Committee yesterday in support of their respective confirmations. Both were fairly well received by the committee members.

Chairwoman Bahorich in particular, who has chaired the board through one of its least contentious periods in recent memory, received a warm reception with only short positive interactions from the senators and no opposition from public testifiers.

While receiving plenty of support from the committee members, Commissioner Morath drew tougher questions from multiple senators on the new A-F accountability system. Additionally, the commissioner drew much more criticism from the public on issues as diverse as special education, hiring decisions at the Texas Education Agency that he oversees, and his own qualifications and appointment process.

While both nominations were left pending in the committee, there is no indication that either appointee will face any serious opposition in the Senate to getting confirmed this session.

 


ATPE at the Capitol squreSunday and Monday, hundreds of ATPE members are traveling to Austin for ATPE at the Capitol, our biennial political involvement training and lobby day event. Sunday’s agenda includes networking opportunities and training sessions for ATPE members on legislative issues; an opening keynote presentation by Superintendent John Kuhn; and a panel discussion with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) to be moderated by TWC/Spectrum News host Karina Kling. On Monday, ATPE members will visit the Texas State Capitol for meetings with their legislators to discuss issues such as education funding, testing and accountability, privatization, healthcare, and anti-educator bills prohibiting payroll deduction for association dues.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 17, 2017

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

 


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ATPE members were at the State Capitol Monday morning to express opposition to Senate Bill 13, an anti-educator bill aimed at weakening educator associations by doing away with payroll deduction options for certain public employees who join associations or unions.

This week, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who is also that committee’s chairwoman. The bill aims to prevent educators and a handful of other public employees from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues, a longstanding practice that costs taxpayers nothing.

Huffman’s bill carves out a special exemption for fire, police, and EMS employees, allowing them to continuing using payroll deduction for their dues. That decision to favor some public employees over others is not sitting well with many public servants both in and out of the bill, as well as several of the legislators being asked to act upon the issue this session.

FU5A8751_SB13hearingDozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin on Monday, Feb. 13, to attend and testify at the SB 13 hearing. Read more about their testimony in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday from earlier this week. The pleas by educators and others were not enough to stop the committee from moving the bill forward, which happened yesterday on a party line vote. For more on this high-profile battle over public employee associations and unions, check out today’s column by Ross Ramsey, Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune, which is also republished here on Teach the Vote.

As Ramsey notes, the debate over SB 13 “isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.” ATPE agrees, and points out that political motives driving this bill aren’t even necessarily union-focused, especially since the bill creates exceptions for some union members. Backers of SB 13 say they are targeting the groups they perceive to be opponents of Republican candidates and supporters of state and federal legislation that would hurt businesses. In reality though, the largest group affected by the bill is ATPE – a non-union entity that exists only in Texas and gets no money from national or out-of-state affiliates. Furthermore, as ATPE members and lobbyists have pointed out in testimony and one-on-one discussions with lawmakers, our organization has not involved itself in business-related legislation and has always made bipartisan contributions to candidates and officeholders through our political action committee, which is not in any way funded with dues dollars.

If, as Ramsey describes it, the SB 13 debate boils down to picking “good eggs and bad eggs,” it is becoming abundantly clear that in the minds of many lawmakers and business groups, educators are the bad eggs.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThe 85th Legislature is considering some dramatic changes to healthcare options for educators. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has written an analysis of a bill that would result in a major restructuring of TRS-ActiveCare, the primary healthcare program for actively employed educators in Texas. Read more about Senate Bill 789 and the changes being considered in this blog post.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) wants to hear from educators about potential changes to educator certification, particularly for teachers of early childhood students. We invite educators to take TEA’s survey between now and Feb. 24, especially if you teach in an elementary grade and might be affected by these changes under consideration. Learn more about the background of the issue and find a survey link in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post.

 


tea-logo-header-2School districts and charter schools around Texas received notice of their 2016-17 accreditation status from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Factors that count toward a determination of accreditation status include academic and financial accountability ratings, program effectiveness, and compliance with education laws and rules. Nearly all (98%) of the state’s school districts received a fully “Accredited” status. Nine districts or charters were “Accredited-Warned,” seven received an “Accredited-Probation” status, two were marked as “Not Accredited-Revoked,” and one district is still “Pending.” Learn more from TEA here.

 


Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates on legislative developments next week. ATPE members are also urged to visit Advocacy Central to learn more about specific bills and send messages to their lawmakers about priority issues like payroll deduction, private school vouchers, testing, healthcare, and more.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
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Education investment: The key to real tax relief

Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document.If there’s one thing most Texans can agree on, it’s that property taxes are too dang high.

What gets dicey is trying to sort through the myriad schemes put forth in the last few years by state lawmakers trying to cut local taxes over which they have little direct control. They’ve proposed tweaks to the rollback rate, increased the homestead exemption, and filed bills targeting local appraisal districts. That’s a lot of work by a lot of smart people you’ve sent to Austin with your tax dollars.

So.

Does your tax bill look any better?

In 2013, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ranked Texas as having the 15th highest per capita property tax in the country. Despite our high property taxes, Texas ranks 45th in overall K-12 education spending and 49th in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, according to our performance on the “Quality Counts” state report card from Education Week.

Why is that?

Speaking to a joint hearing of the House Public Education and Appropriations Committees in September 2016, outgoing Appropriations Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton), put it simply. “The burden is shifting to the locals,” he said.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, local school spending, as approved by local voters and their elected school boards, increased 34 percent from 2008 to 2015. During the same period, the amount the state spent on local schools increased by just 4.8 percent.

The school finance relationship is like a see-saw, with state funds on one side and local tax dollars on the other. When state spending goes down, local school districts have to raise taxes in order to fund services at the same level. This year, the state will pay 38 percent of the cost to fund schools, while the burden that falls to local property owners will be 52 percent.

Under the state’s recapture rules for maintaining equity in our school finance system, those local taxes you pay are also tied to school districts all over the state. That means in cities with high property values such as Austin and now Houston, a significant chunk of local property tax revenue must be shipped out of town to help fulfill the state’s obligation to maintain funding equity in other districts.

The total amount of transfers under recapture – commonly referred to by some as “Robin Hood” – has grown to $2 billion, with Austin ISD accounting for $583 million of recaptured funds in 2016. The math works out to 28 percent of statewide recapture falling on the shoulders of local taxpayers in Austin alone.

This week, the House and Senate each submitted their proposals for the 2018-19 state budget, and financial wonks are still crunching the numbers to determine whether either plan would effectively fund school services at current levels. Both claim to do so.

What we do know is that in the House plan, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has proposed an additional $1.5 billion boost in education funding “contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system.”

If legislators are serious about reducing local property taxes, this is where it starts. It’s simple math.

Back to the see-saw: The only way to achieve meaningful property tax relief is for the state to assume more responsibility for the share of school funding it has passed on to you through local property taxes. Any other proposals you hear – and you will hear plenty – are empty measures meant to delay your outrage over your property tax bill for another two years.

In a December 2016 column, The Texas Tribune’s executive editor Ross Ramsey concluded, “Had the state kept its share of school funding constant for the past 10 years, voters might not be griping about rising property taxes.”

Tired of griping? Then let’s get serious. By boosting state investment along with taking a real shot at reforming the school finance system, the House is on the right track. We’ll find out if the rest of the legislature is serious as well.

Updates from the Texas Education Agency

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

SPECIAL EDUCATION

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

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

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

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

SUPERINTENDENTS ORDERED TO SCHOOL

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

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

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

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

TITLE I REWARD SCHOOLS

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

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

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

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE REPORTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read related Tribune coverage here:

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

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