Tag Archives: textbooks

Graduation committees advance in House hearing

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning to consider a large agenda of Senate bills as the session winds down. The committee also approved the following bills Tuesday evening:

  • CSSB 463, which was heard earlier in the day. The bill would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) through 2019.
  • SB 436, the Senate companion to HB 4226, which would require meetings of the Special Education Continuing Advisory Committee to be conducted in compliance with open meetings laws.
  • CSSB 529, the Senate companion to HB 2209, which would incorporate “universal design for learning” into the required training for all classroom teachers.
  • SB 585, the Senate companion to HB 545, which would require principals to allow “patriotic societies” such as Boy Scouts to speak to students about membership at the beginning of the school year.
  • SB 748, the Senate companion to HB 4027, which would add additional guidelines to the transition plan for special education students preparing to leave the public school system.
  • CSSB 1481, the Senate companion to HB 4140, which would rename the instructional materials allotment (IMA) the “instructional materials and technology allotment” and require districts to consider “open education resources” before purchasing instructional materials.
  • SB 1942, the Senate companion to HB 1692, which would allow a licensed handgun owner to store a firearm in a vehicle parked in the parking lot of a public school, open-enrollment charter school or private school. State Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) voted against the bill.
  • SB 2080, the Senate companion to HB 69, which would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

The meeting began with SB 1566 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would hand broad powers to local school boards to compel the testimony of district officials and obtain district documents. It would also require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) develop a website for boards to review campus and district academic achievement data.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 16, 2017.

SB 2131 by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add requirements to counseling regarding postsecondary education, encouraging a focus on dual credit programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1294 by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would prohibit “exclusive consultation,” ensuring that educators on campus-level advisory committees do not all belong to a single professional association. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1660 by Sen. Taylor would allow districts to choose between using either minutes or days to calculate operation. According to the fiscal note, SB 1660 could cost the state $1.7 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2019.

SB 195 by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) would allow additional transportation allotment funding to districts with children living within the two mile zone who are at a high risk of violence if they walk to school. In the fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board indicated that there is insufficient data regarding the number of students who are at risk of violence to be able to calculate a fiscal impact. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1854 by state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) would require district-level committees to review paperwork requirements annually and recommend to the board of trustees instructional tasks that can be transferred to non-instructional staff. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 384 by state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) would give the State Board of Education (SBOE) flexibility in scheduling end-of-course exams to avoid conflicts with AP/IB national tests.

SB 1883 by Sen. Campbell would modify the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE opposes the bill because the removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible. Adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

SB 1005 by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow the use of the SAT or the ACT as a secondary exit-level assessment instrument to allow certain public school students to receive a high school diploma. The fiscal note estimates an annual cost of $2 million per year.

SB 1839 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would create a certification for early childhood through grade three, and would grant the commissioner authority to set reciprocity rules regarding the ability of teachers from outside the state to obtain a certificate in Texas. ATPE believes that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), as the official state body charged with the oversight of educator standards, is the more appropriate authority to set these rules.

SB 2270 by Sen. Lucio would create a pilot program in ESC Region 1 to provide additional pre-K funding for low-income students.

SB 1784 by Sen. Taylor would encourage the use of “open-source instructional materials.”

SB 2188 by Sen. Taylor would specify that a student who is 18 or older in an off home campus instructional arrangement is a full-time student if they receive 20 hours of contact a week. Part-time would be defined as between 10 and 20 contact hours per week. According to the fiscal note, SB 2188 would cost roughly $7 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 463 by state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would extend individual graduation committees (IGCs) to 2019 and order the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to compile a report tracking the progress of IGC graduates. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2039 by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would develop instructional modules and training for public schools on the prevention of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1483 by Sen. Taylor would establish a grant program to implement a technology lending program to provide students with electronic instructional materials. The program would be funded through instructional materials fund. The fiscal note anticipates no additional cost, but indicated the commissioner could use up to $25 million of existing funds from the instructional materials fund each biennium.

SB 1398 by Sen. Lucio makes lots of clarifying and limiting changes to the classroom video camera law. Among them, the bill would require requests in writing and only require equipment in classrooms or settings in which the child is in regular attendance or to which the staff member is assigned.

SB 1122 by state Sen. Donald Huffines (R-Dallas) would create a mechanism to abolish Dallas County Schools, one of two remaining county school districts in the state, which primarily provides transportation services to multiple independent school districts in the Dallas area.

SB 1886 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would create an office of the inspector general at TEA appointed by the commissioner to prevent and detect criminal activity in districts, charter schools, and education service centers (ESCs). The bill would allow the new TEA inspector general to issue subpoenas in order to secure evidence.

SB 490 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would require a report on the number of school counselors at each campus. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1484 by Sen. Taylor would create a web portal and instructional materials repository to assist schools in selecting open education resources. The bill provides for a third party to provide independent analysis regarding TEKS alignment. According to the fiscal note, SB 1484 would not require additional state funding, but would result in an additional cost of $1.85 million in fiscal year 2018 and $450,000 in subsequent years that would be paid from existing instructional materials funding.

SB 1658 by Sen. Taylor would make changes to laws regarding the ownership, sale, lease, and disposition of property and management of assets of an open-enrollment charter school.

SB 2078 by Sen. Taylor would require TEA develop a model multi-hazard emergency operations plan and create a cycle of review. The fiscal note anticipates a fiscal impact of roughly $215,000 per year.

SB 2144 by Sen. Taylor would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. ATPE supports this bill.

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.


Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Monty_TWC_vouchers_Sept16

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.

Duron_CPS_press_Sept16

Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.

CPS_press_conf_Sept_16

Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.


SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.


By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.

 


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.

 


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.

NO VOUCHERS

At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 20, 2015

It’s been a busy week for education ThinkstockPhotos-144283240policy watchers in Texas and around the country. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and members of our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the very latest. Here are updates on the week’s big news stories that you might have missed:

 


 

The outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which should have been reauthorized back in 2007, is finally a step closer to being updated. Yesterday, a bipartisan conference committee in the U.S. House and Senate voted 39 to 1 to move forward a negotiated reauthorization bill.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a recap of the conference committee action for our blog both Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The full text of the negotiated bill has not yet been released, but we will provide updates on our blog as soon as that occurs.

The full House will take up the bill on Dec. 2 or 3; there is no scheduled date for Senate floor debate, but leaders expect the discussions to proceed quickly with a goal of getting a bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.


 

The State Board of Education met this week in Austin. Its agenda included review of a recent SBEC decision to change the qualifications for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE opposed the SBEC rule change, which would allow individuals with no education experience to become certified. Texas law provides for all SBEC rules to be reviewed by the elected SBOE, which may veto a rule by a two-thirds vote. Today was one of those rare occurrences in which the SBOE voted to reject the SBEC rule and send it back to the certification board for further revision.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, the Texas Association of School Administrators, other education group representatives, and education experts testified against the SBEC proposal, arguing that an existing waiver process, tweaked by the legislature just this year, already provides a mechanism for non-traditional superintendents to be hired in exceptional circumstances. The SBOE board agreed, voting 10 to 5 in favor of rejecting the rule and sending it back to SBEC. The motion was made today by board member Thomas Ratliff (R).

SBOE has the statutory power to reject SBEC rules but cannot modify them. The last time an SBEC rule was vetoed was in September 2014, when ATPE also successfully lobbied the SBOE to reject a proposal to water down entrance requirements for educator preparation programs. The SBOE veto today means that SBEC must now choose whether to stick with current rules on superintendent certification or rewrite the rule revision and send it back to SBOE for another review.

This week, the SBOE also considered adopting a new definition to try to qualify those who may sit on panels to review textbooks and instructional materials. As with the review of curriculum standards, the board’s procedures for reviewing and adopting textbooks have faced immense scrutiny over the years, often plagued by disputes over political ideologies. Recent news stories about inaccuracies in adopted texts have also spurred renewed discussion of the SBOE’s review processes. Board member Erika Beltran (D) attempted to craft a definition to ensure that textbook reviewers would meet certain minimum academic qualifications. Unfortunately, SBOE members in favor of specifying a standard for who meets the term “qualified individuals” were short by two votes. This item will come back to the SBOE for second reading and final adoption at the next board meeting. ATPE’s Exter reports that there may be further efforts to put in place some standard for textbook reviewers at that time.


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The Board of Trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas also met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided information about the Nov. 19 and 20 meetings, which he described as “fairly uneventful.”

The board heard updates on the status of the pension trust fund and both active and retiree healthcare programs that were discussed in depth last week at a briefing provided to stakeholder groups, legislative members, and staff. The board adopted an incentive pay plan for the TRS executive director, which includes member satisfaction measures, as well as several other metrics that are used to evaluate the director’s performance. A slate of rule changes, including an improvement to the rule that is used to calculate compensation during the final year before retirement, were also adopted by the board.

Sanderson added that there have been problems reported concerning active employee enrollment with Aetna’s health insurance plan. At this week’s board meeting, Aetna representatives presented information on how they are addressing these issues and what their plans are to remedy the problem. The TRS board met in an executive session at length to discuss how they plan to deal with Aetna, but no final decision was delivered. Sanderson says that a more detailed update is expected during the next TRS board meeting in Dallas on Dec. 7.

In related news, the coalition known as Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) also met earlier this week. The group advocates for the security of pension programs for public employees in Texas, including preventing them from being converted to defined-contribution plans. ATPE’s Sanderson has served as a member of the board for TSR and was selected this week to continue in that role for another year.


 

Announced today was an upcoming hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee, the first interim hearing to be scheduled this year by one of the state’s education committees. The meeting is slated for Dec. 7 and will be focused on charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Here are the two specific interim charges that are to be addressed by the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland):

  • Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
  • Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.

 

TEA is soliciting input on rules to implement grants for pre-Kindergarten under Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 4 that passed earlier this year. Under the program, school districts and charter schools that implement certain quality standards for curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement may apply for grant funding starting in 2016. The commissioner will adopt rules to determine parameters for the grant program.

TEA will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the new rules on Dec. 1, starting at 11 a.m. Click here for more details on the hearing and how you may sign up to testify. Through the same link, you may find TEA’s Family Engagement Survey, which is open until Nov. 25. The survey allows you to share input on proposed definitions and strategies for the family engagement component of the pre-K grants. Finally, you may also submit feedback to TEA on draft pre-K guidelines that are posted on the same website. The guidelines address curriculum and are broken into ten domains. Again, the deadline for submitting feedback via email to TEA is Nov. 25.


 

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThree senators and three state representatives have been appointed to serve on a new Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. The committee is tasked with reviewing the healthcare plans administered by TRS and proposing reforms to address their financial solvency, costs, and affordability. The legislatively mandated committee will also look at whether access to physicians and other healthcare providers is sufficient under those plans. Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R) has appointed Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) to co-chair the committee, along with Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio). Senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) for the special committee are Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who will co-chair it, joined by Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls). The committee will report its findings back to the legislature by January 15, 2017.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 13, 2015

On this Friday the 13th, here’s a look at stories that made education news in Texas this week:


There is talk in the nation’s capital of a compromise that could make it possible for Congress to finally reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has reported extensively on our blog, the U.S. House and Senate have passed respective bills that would replace the outdated federal accountability act with a new law. Late this week came news that congressional leaders have reached a tentative agreement on legislation to move to the House and Senate floors shortly after Thanksgiving, with conference committee meetings expected to take place next week. A joint statement about the negotiation was dispatched late today.

It’s unclear what will make it into an agreed-upon bill; most of the reauthorization debates have focused on differing expectations over how to measure accountability, particularly for subgroups of students, while at the same time minimizing the federal government’s role in state policy decisions. “Portability,” a House-favored concept that would enable Title I funding to follow each child, has also been a sticking point and something ATPE has urged Congress to avoid. ATPE State President Cory Colby emphasized that in a recent letter to Texas’s congressional delegation encouraging them to take steps to get a reauthorization bill passed this year.

The outdated and onerous accountability and funding provisions of ESEA have prompted most states, including Texas, to seek waivers from the U.S. Department of Education. Our state’s waiver is in jeopardy going forward, however, since the federal government has placed Texas on “high-risk” status for failing to meet certain prescriptive teacher evaluation criteria favored by the Obama administration. Of course, reauthorization of the federal law by Congress, coupled with next year’s presidential election, could render such waivers obsolete.

ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists will be providing additional information as developments unfold. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week for updates.

 


 

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended a NoJS Tweet 11-12-15v. 12 actuarial briefing by staff of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Read his new blog post to learn more about the current state of the pension fund as well as the healthcare programs for active and retired education employees and what the legislature must do to keep them solvent into the future.

 


 

On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released final school accountability ratings for 2015. The ratings are meant to provide analysis on more than 1,200 school districts and charter schools with more than 8,500 campuses represented. TEA reported in a press release that “more than 90 percent of school districts and charters across Texas achieved the rating of Met Standard.”

However, one school district that has not fared so well under the state’s academic and financial accountability systems is La Marque Independent School District, which TEA officials announced this week is facing closure next summer on account of poor performance. The district had already been informed earlier this fall that its school board and superintendent would be replaced under a decision by Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. La Marque ISD was essentially on probation pending the release of new accountability ratings. Now, according to news reports, the district will be annexed by another district that has not yet been named. The district in Galveston County is home to approximately 2,500 students.

 


 

Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he has tapped Mike Morath to lead the brand new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. Morath, a business executive with a background in finance, has been a member of the Dallas ISD board of trustees since 2011 and sparked controversy with his support for a recent failed effort to convert DISD to a home rule charter district.

The new state commission is being created pursuant to House Bill (HB) 2804 that the Texas legislature passed earlier this year and is supposed to make recommendations for new statewide student testing and accountability systems. Enabling the commission to comprehensively study accountability concerns over the next year was part of an effort to postpone the implementation of controversial “A through F” ratings of school campuses that were also mandated as a component of HB 2804.

Under HB 2804, the governor appoints four members to the commission, while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus get three appointments each. The commission will also include the chairs of the Senate and House committees on education and higher education or their designees, along with a member appointed by the State Board of Education. Here are the other individuals who’ve been named to join the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability:

Additional appointments by Gov. Abbott:

  • Andrew Kim, superintendent of Comal ISD
  • Theresa Trevino, an Austin psychiatrist
  • Quinton Vance, superintendent of KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth Public Charter Schools

Appointments by Lt. Gov. Patrick:

  • Kim Alexander, superintendent of Roscoe Collegiate ISD
  • Paul Castro, superintendent of A+UP Charter School in Houston
  • Michael K. McLendon, dean of the School of Education at Baylor University

Appointments by Speaker Straus:

  • Pauline Dow, chief instructional officer for North East ISD in San Antonio
  • Maria Hernandez Ferrier, director of Texas A&M System’s Office of Mexico and Latin American Relations
  • Catherine Susser, a community volunteer and member of the Corpus Christi ISD board of trustees

SBOE designee: Erica Beltran

 


 

The State Board of Education (SBOE) and the TRS Board of Trustees are both slated to meet next week in Austin. The SBOE agenda includes an opportunity to review a recent ATPE-opposed decision by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to change requirements for becoming a school superintendent in Texas. In advance of the regular SBOE meetings Wednesday through Friday, the board is also conducting a full-day work session at the state capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 17; the roundtable discussion will focus on digital instructional materials and the use of technology in the classroom. View the complete SBOE meeting agendas here. The TRS board meets Nov. 19-20; view its agenda here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for reports from the ATPE lobby team on both boards after next week’s meetings, and be sure to follow us on Twitter for even more news.

TTV

TEA and SBOE member Pat Hardy tout performance of state school fund

In a press release issued today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that the state’s Permanent School Fund (PSF) achieved record investment performance last year.

The fund was created by the legislature more than 150 years ago to help fund Texas public schools and is administered by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Revenue, such as oil and gas royalties derived from public lands managed by the Texas General Land Office, is deposited into the PSF. Major functions of the PSF include paying for textbooks and providing highly rated guarantees for school bonds, which save money for school districts.

With a year-end value of more than $29 billion, the PSF yielded “the highest return of any major state of Texas investment fund for the fiscal year,” according to TEA officials.

SBOE District 11 member Patricia “Pat” Hardy is chairwoman of the the SBOE Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund. She attributed the PSF’s recent success to the “careful and prudent investment of the fund’s increasingly diverse portfolio.”