Tag Archives: Texas Virtual School Network

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 6, 2018

Here’s a wrap-up of your education news from ATPE:


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made several announcements this week regarding the draft plan to address special education in Texas. In addition to accepting public comments on the latest version of the draft plan, TEA has scheduled two hearings where members of the public are invited to express their input. Information on the two meetings is as follows:

  • Thursday, April 12, at ESC Region 1 – 1900 West Schunior, Edinburg, Tx.
  • Monday, April 16, at ESC Region 10 – 400 East Spring Valley Road, Richardson, TX.

Both meetings will begin at 1 pm, and those wishing to share feedback are asked to register onsite beginning at 12:30 pm (registration will end when the meeting begins). Registered participants will be called in the order they are registered and will be limited to three minutes. The hearing will end when all have testified or at 3 pm, whichever comes first. Those unable to attend either hearing can submit their written comments by email at TexasSPED@TEA.texas.gov by April 18 at noon.

To learn more about the two public hearings and the chance to submit written testimony, view TEA’s full press release, visit TEA’s special education webpage, and read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s post from earlier this week.

 


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath sent a letter to school administrators today regarding three recent changes to how the spring 2018 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams will be administered. The three changes involve offering medical exemptions for qualifying students, allowing for the transcribing of student responses that are recorded in the test booklet onto a blank answer document, and relaxing the rules around classroom displays. His letter indicates these moves are being made in response to district feedback and in an effort to “do all I can to help make this a positive experience and reduce stress for students and school district and charter school personnel.” Read Commissioner Morath’s full letter to learn more.

 


It was a busy Wednesday at the Capitol this week, and your ATPE Governmental Relations team was there to cover all the action. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, where pension and healthcare issues were the topic of discussion. That meeting included conversations about the factors affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas pension fund and the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program. For more information on how the hearing unfolded, read Exter’s recap of the meeting or watch an archived webcast. You can find ATPE’s testimony, and other public testimony, at the end of the recording.

 


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week in Austin for a discussion on property taxes and their role in the school finance system. A smaller working group of commission members met Wednesday to discuss outcomes. The highlight of Wednesday’s meeting was former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Tom Luce, who suggested it’s time to do “more with more, not more with less” when it comes to funding public schools in Texas. This was particularly compelling advice from Luce, considering he was a key player in the state’s last major school finance reform – all the way back in 1984.

All 13 members of the commission met Thursday to hear several panels discuss property taxes. While there was general agreement on the burden imposed by property taxes, the debate between some members over how to calculate the state’s share of public education spending continued anew. Importantly, state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) requested the state prepare a list of school revenue sources that have been cut over the last 10 years. You can read a full recap of Wednesday’s working group meeting by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here, and a rundown of Thursday’s full commission meeting here.

 


The Senate Education Committee rounded out a busy Wednesday in Austin with a hearing to discuss interim charges related to virtual schools, “high quality education opportunities,” and the federal E-rate program. ATPE offered written testimony to the committee concerning the virtual education charge, cautioning against moves to further expand the Texas Virtual School Network without carefully considering the status of virtual schools’ performance. Recent research highlights concerns regarding these schools nationwide and a look at Texas accountability measures fail to paint a drastically different picture in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was at the hearing and offers more on the discussion here.

 


 

Senate Education holds interim hearing on virtual education

The Senate Education Committee met today in an interim hearing covering “high quality education opportunities,” virtual education, and Texas’s matching of the federal E-rate program.

The day kicked off with a conversation aimed at understanding the roll out of the federal E-rate program, which Texas pursued through state matching funds in order to support high-speed broadband access across Texas public schools. The committee ended the day with a discussion on expanding access to “high quality education opportunities.” While a broad interim charge, the focus seemed to be on choice models within public schools. Invited panelists included traditional ISDs, charters, higher education, and TEA, all of which focused on sharing innovative programs within their institutions.

The middle of the day was dedicated to virtual education. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) began by offering an update to the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) and explaining the routes available to students – supplemental classes through school districts and the full time program. Several members of the Senate Education Committee have sought, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to expand the scope of the program in recent sessions. At the same time, the TxVSN saw a significant hit to funding last session, dropping from $4 million to $400,000. As was noted during the committee hearing, expansion models proposed in the past have come with very high price tags to the state.

ATPE shared written testimony expressing support for both “offering virtual and distance learning opportunities as a supplement to campus-based courses for Texas students” and ensuring “strong quality controls exist for Texas virtual schools.” We also noted studies that challenge the success of virtual education and cautioned against expanding the scope of the network in light of these issues, which are consistent with Texas where full-time virtual programs have been plagued with low accountability scores. “It is irresponsible to expand access to the virtual school network without very careful consideration of whether we can ensure current students utilizing the network are receiving the quality education they deserve,” ATPE summarized.

The committee is not currently scheduled to meet again on interim charges, but there are a few left to cover before the legislature reconvenes in January. Of the interim charges assigned to the committee by Lt. Gov. Patrick, the committee still needs to study dual credit and mandate relief. Under the charge aimed at monitoring recent legislation, the committee must still review SB7 on educator misconduct related to inappropriate relationships, SB 22 concerning workforce pathways, and SB 1882 related to district and charter partnerships (although San Antonio ISD, which pushed to pass this bill, discussed it significantly today under the “high quality education opportunity” charge, along with several other panelists).

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 27, 2017

Here’s this week’s round-up of education news from the ATPE lobby team:


ATPE state officers met with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017.

ATPE state officers with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017

Texas political circles were shaken up this week by a pair of election announcements from top leaders in the Texas House of Representatives.

First came a surprise announcement on Wednesday that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) will not seek reelection in 2018. The news of the departure of the popular house speaker was a disappointment to many in the public education community who appreciated his rational approach to leading the Texas House and willingness to prioritize school needs over divisive ideological battles.

ATPE state officers met with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017.

ATPE state officers with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017

Straus’s announcement was followed by a similar one from Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) on the same day. Cook, who has chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee and the newly created House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, similarly announced that he will step down at the end of his current term.

For more on Wednesday’s big announcements, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was in Dallas yesterday for a stakeholder meeting regarding data collection for educator preparation in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) partnered with Educate Texas and other entities to solicit input and recommendations on data the agency collects to assess and improve educator preparation programs (EPPS) across Texas. A bill passed earlier this year during the 85th regular legislative session, Senate Bill (SB) 1839, added new requirements to data collection for EPPs. The work to solicit input will help guide the agency and the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) as they work to implement the new law.

As Kuhlmann reports, teachers, school districts, EPP representatives, and other engaged stakeholders convened in Dallas this week to consider and identify data that would would offer transparency for candidates considering future programs, provide diagnostic value to programs, and improve upon current data used to hold programs accountable. All agreed that a focus should be placed on presenting the data in a more easily accessible manner, such as a user-friendly online dashboard. Participants also agreed that the presentation of such data should include differentiated interfacing specific to consumers (future EPP candidates and the general public), school districts, and EPPs.

Yesterday’s meeting was the second of four scheduled stakeholder meetings. Two more will be held next week in Lubbock and Austin. The TEA, under the direction of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), will also convene a formal stakeholder committee to make recommendations on the matter and is reaching out to various standing committees for input. The agency expects to begin discussion on next steps for implementing recommendations at SBEC’s March 2018 meeting, once the initial stakeholder input has been collected. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


TRS logoToday, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees is meeting in Austin, where ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending and has contributed the following report on the meeting:

The TRS Board of Directors convened today for a short meeting. After taking brief public testimony, they received an update from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie, which focused primarily on administrative housekeeping with regard to the agendas of future meetings. Guthrie did drop one bomb during his update, informing the board that there has been some discussion in Washington of reclassifying the contributions to retirement systems like TRS such that they would no longer be tax-deferred. Such a move would be a monumental policy shift dramatically impacting both educators and the pension fund itself.

After Guthrie’s comments, the board received its first update on the TRS Enterprise Application Modernization or (TEAM) program since the go live date on which we’ve previously reported. The transition has not been without the “hiccups” that accompany any such major technology transition, but the new system is stable and operational and the transition has been mostly smooth.

Next, the board worked its way through a series of administrative items before taking up proposed rules on 403(b) vendor rates. There has been significant back and forth between the board and a large segment of the 403(b) vendor community with regard to these rule changes. Many vendors acknowledge that the rules have been significantly improved, from their perspective, throughout the process. That said, most vendors still do not favor the new rules. Despite the board’s adoption of the rules, many expect this issue to remain a topic of discussion for the 86th legislature in 2019.

Finally, the board received its first overview presentation on the TRS experience study the board will undertake early next year. The experience study will help the board set many of the assumptions that are used to determine the actuarial health of the pension fund. The actuarial picture of a fund can help lawmakers makers determine contribution rates and is often used by anti-pension advocates to push for abandonment of defined-benefit pension plans based on their unfunded liabilities. Additionally, in the case of TRS, the actuarial soundness as defined by a funding horizon of less than 31 years is what allows TRS to give a COLA to retirees.

The last TRS board meeting of 2017 will be in December, and the first board meeting of 2018 will be a board retreat scheduled to commence on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

 


Interim charges have now been released for both House and Senate committees to study in preparation for the 2019 legislative session. The charges issued by House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick direct standing committees in the House and Senate, respectively, to convene hearings and gather feedback from stakeholders on hot topics expected to be debated by the 86th legislature.

Rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey are among the numerous charges for multiple committees, but there are also several directives that focus specifically on public education. The Senate Education Committee, for instance, will study such issues as teacher compensation, virtual learning, student discipline, dual credit, and school choice. The House Public Education  Committee is tasked with studying teacher retention, educating students with disabilities, charter school laws, and ways to assess student performance other than using standardized test scores. Other committees will examine public pension systems and the TRS healthcare programs for educators.

Read more about the House interim charges here and Senate interim charges here. ATPE’s lobbyists will be covering all of the education-related interim hearings and providing updates here on our Teach the Vote blog and on Twitter.

 


DNA_4w2U8AARK-pOne week of early voting remains for the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election. As part of our work with the Texas Educators Vote coalition to create a culture of voting in the education community, ATPE urges our members and all other registered voters to participate in this and all elections. Early voting runs through Friday, Nov. 3. The Texas Secretary of State also declared today, Oct. 27, as #StudentVotingDay, encouraging eligible high school students who registered to vote to get out and cast their ballots today. Learn more about what’s on the Nov. 7 ballot and how to be an engaged voter in this ATPE Blog post.

 


 

Senate Education Committee discusses virtual education, teacher work days

On the same day the full Senate was debating and ultimately passing its voucher bill, Senate Bill 3, the Senate Education Committee met to hear a handful of bills. Bills pertaining to expansion of the Texas Virtual School Network and the days teachers are required to report to school topped the agenda.

Sen Ed Teacher MisconductTwo positive bills for teachers got the seal of approval from ATPE. Senate Bill (SB) 1317 by Sen. Carlos Uresti and SB 1634 by Chairman Larry Taylor would add clarity to the days teachers are required to work in specific situations. Sen. Uresti’s bill would prevent a district from requiring a teacher to report to work more than seven days before the first day of school, with an exemption for new teachers who couldn’t be called in more than ten days prior. Districts are inconsistent with regard to the number of days teachers are required to prepare for the school year, often exceeding the number of days a teacher is paid to work.

Chairman Taylor’s bill, SB 1634, would also address work days, this time with regard to aligning them with school calendars. When the legislature moved the amount of required instruction from a specified number of days to a specified number of minutes last legislative session, they failed to align educators contracts. In some cases, school calendars were amounting to less than the number of days the law requires educators to work. Chairman Taylor’s bill would address this by giving districts the ability to align their calendars with the educator contracts.

SB 610 by Sen. Donald Huffines seeks to expand eligibility for students participating in full-time virtual school in Texas. Currently, students in Texas can utilize the Texas Virtual School Network beginning in 3rd grade and continuing through high school; Sen. Huffine’s bill would expand that eligibility to students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. ATPE opposed the bill based on several concerns addressed in our written testimony to the committee. Those concerns include the pedagogical inappropriateness of full-time virtual education for our state’s youngest students, the research calling into question the success of full-time virtual education for a student of any age, and the fact that our accountability system would not be set up to determine the success of the experimental system on our youngest students until the 3rd grade.

ATPE also supported a bill that aims to address the arbitrary 8.5% cap on the percentage of students in a district that can receive special education services. This issue first grabbed the attention of Texans and their policy makers last year when it was reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal. The Texas Education Agency held a hearing with the U.S. Department of Education late last year on the issue. Several bills this session seek to address the problem.