Tag Archives: TRS

Senate committee approves budget proposal

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashThe committee substitute to Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Senate’s budget bill, was voted favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee on a vote of 15 to 0 this morning. The SB 1 committee substitute, which appropriates $106.3 billion in general revenue, reflects all of the recommended modifications to individual articles of the budget made by the work groups and adopted by the full Finance Committee.

In her comments, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) stated that SB 1 fully funds the Foundation School Program (FSP), including $2.6 billion for enrollment growth. Nelson also touted $25 million in spending for broadband expansion through the e-Rate program; $65 million to a new public / private partnership for pre-K (the committee substitute cuts $180 million in pre-K grants from SB 1 as it was originally filed); and $316 million to fund SB 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would reform TRS-Care.

Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) probed staff from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) on how to reconcile claims that SB1 fully funds the FSP while spending nearly $1.4 billion less in general revenue on the program. In response, LBB staff confirmed that SB 1 does fund the amount that current law calls for in FSP entitlements, but the funding level is $1.4 billion lower this session because increases in local property values mean that less funding is required through state general revenue. Due to this continued supplanting of state funding with local property taxes, the proportion of the state’s share of FSP funding is projected to decline to 38% or less by the end of the biennium.

SB 1 as substituted is expected to be brought up for a vote on the floor of the full Senate on Tuesday, March 28.

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersOn Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, a voucher bill by the committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is among the lieutenant governor’s highest priorities to pass this legislative session, and educators are being urged to contact their senators to oppose this bill. ATPE members can use our communication tools at Advocacy Central to quickly message their senators about this bill.

NO VOUCHERSAs reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in a blog post earlier this week, SB 3 has been called a “school voucher on steroids,” because it authorizes both Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for parents to spend on their children’s home or private schooling and tax credit scholarships to pay for private schools. To learn more about the dangers of these two programs, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent analysis of the bill here.

The Senate Education Committee had originally planned to hear SB 3 this week, but the voucher bill was postponed to next Tuesday. During yesterday’s hearing, the committee instead heard testimony on three bills pertaining to reporting on counselors, the use of epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) in private schools, and the sequencing of high school math and English courses. ATPE supported SB 490 that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus, which is aimed at collecting data on counseling in order to better understand the role counselors play on a campus.

 


HPE_03-14-17On Tuesday, March 14, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins in a blog post this week. ATPE weighed in on a number of the bills that included such subjects as curriculum standards, pre-kindergarten programs, and the school start date.

Next week, the committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, March 20, to consider bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the importance of high-quality mentoring for new teachers. The full committee’s hearing on Tuesday, March 21, will cover two dozen bills, including a number of measures aimed at changing the state’s accountability system. The highest profile bill on that list is House Bill (HB) 22 by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) to modify the controversial “A through F” accountability grading system. The committee also plans to resume its discussion of the chairman’s school finance reform bill, HB 21.

 


cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundAlso this week, Congress got its first formal look at President Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget. As expected, the 2018 budget proposal includes significant cuts to education funding as a whole and significant increases to initiatives preferred by the president. Trump’s plan includes an overall $9 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education while a total of $1.4 billion would be added to fund charter school expansion, Title I funding portability, and likely vouchers. Read more about President Trump’s budget proposal as well as the latest developments involving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s most recent federal update blog post.

 


As the both chambers of the 85th Legislature continue to work on their respective budget proposals, the full Senate Finance committee met this week to adopt the suggestions of its subject area work groups, including the Article III work group on public and higher education.

The full Senate Finance Committee cut an additional 276 million net dollars in programmatic and grant funding out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) budget. Those cuts are in addition to programmatic cuts not related to the Foundation School Program (FSP) already found in the Senate’s base budget bill as filed. The largest cuts were a net cut of $140 million from non-formula pre-K funding, $104.6 million out of the Instructional Materials Allotment, and $47.5 million from the New Instructional Facilities Allotment. The cuts to all other programs in TEA’s budget totaled approximately $37 million and included things like substantial cuts to the Math and Reading Academies.

The Senate did add dollars to some TEA programs above its introduced budget. The additions totaled approximately $50 million and included items like $25.2 million for the E-rate program that will draw down a $250 million federal match to provide broadband to school districts currently lacking it; $391,000 on two additional investigators and one support staff member to address cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students investigated by TEA; and $10 million restored to the Student Success Initiative, which had been zeroed out in the introduced budget.

While TEA program and grant funding took the largest cuts ($276 million) this week, TRS got the biggest boost, a net increase of $290 million over the Senate’s introduced bill after additions and cuts. The Senate added $316 million in funding for TRS-Care contingent on the passage of legislation that makes significant structural changes to the retiree healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, the House adopted very few changes to its version of the proposed public education budget this week, but did adopt one very important contingency rider. That rider would allow an additional $1.47 billion of General Revenue to be appropriated to the FSP; for the Basic Allotment to be increased from $5,140 to $5,350; and for implementation of a statutory FSP payment deferral in fiscal year 2019 which reduces the cost of the budget by $1.87 billion. The rider is contingent on the passage of school finance legislation such as Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB 21 plus a bill that would enact the FSP deferral. ATPE has advocated for such a deferral to help address budget deficits this session.

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

Related: Read a recently published op-ed by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, in which he urges lawmakers to consider using the state’s rainy day fund to address imminent education funding needs.

Also check out this Spectrum News story in which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is interviewed about the Senate’s proposed pre-K cuts.

 


In other news this week:

The Texas Senate passed another of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through Senate Bill (SB) 6. The controversial bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts and other governmental entities was approved by a vote of 21-10, despite considerable public opposition to the measure.

Among the flurry of new bills filed just before last Friday’s deadline for lawmakers to submit new legislation were two TRS-related bills that have caused a minor stir on social media. Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) SB 1750 and SB 1751 revive the concept of converting the TRS defined-benefit pension plan in the future to a defined contribution program, more like a 401(k) plan, or a hybrid of the two. The first bill calls only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would authorize TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. At this point, there are no indications that SB 1751 will gain traction this session when lawmakers are much more focused on the funding challenges associated with the TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about the bill this week by Spectrum News.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

The Senate also voted unanimously this week to confirm Donna Bahorich’s continuation as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Bahorich was first elected to the SBOE in 2012, and she has held the role of board chair, a gubernatorial appointment, since 2015. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was also confirmed.

 


Are you following ATPE’s Governmental Relations team on Twitter?

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 10, 2017

Today is the deadline for filing bills this legislative session, making it an exceptionally busy week at the Texas State Capitol. Here are stories you may have missed:


Gallery_03-06-17More than 400 educators visited the Texas State Capitol Monday for ATPE at the Capitol. Resolutions honoring ATPE were read in the Texas House and Senate by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) respectively as legislators greeted ATPE at the Capitol attendees dressed in red attire who were seated throughout the galleries above the two chambers. House_03-06-17ATPE members spent the day visiting with legislators and their staffs to discuss legislative priorities such as reducing standardized testing, funding educators’ healthcare needs, preventing private school vouchers, and opposing bills that would needlessly take away educators’ rights to deduct association dues from their paychecks.

On Sunday, ATPE at the Capitol attendees prepared for their meetings with lawmakers by learning more about pending bills and major education issues being debated by the 85th Legislature. John Kuhn, Superintendent of Mineral Wells ISD, delivered an opening keynote address highlighting the need for educators to keep their focus on what’s best for students, even while many lawmakers and wealthy business interests are pursuing reforms aimed at dismantling the public education system. Kuhn_03-05-17A key topic of Kuhn’s speech was the ongoing push for vouchers, which despite being called by many different names such as “education savings accounts” and “opportunity scholarships” are a way to convert a public trust into a private enterprise. Countering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s oft-cited claim that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time,” Kuhn called vouchers a “civil wrongs movement” and akin to “fool’s gold.”

Panel_03-04-17ATPE at the Capitol attendees also heard a presentation by ATPE lobbyists on our organization’s legislative priorities with tips on communicating with lawmakers both in person and using tools such as ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Another highlight of the event was the closing general session, which featured a question-and-answer session with a panel of legislators moderated by TWC/Spectrum News television host Karina Kling. The panel featured Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) who sits on the Article III Subcommittee for the House Committee on Appropriations. Their lively discussion covered topics ranging from the payroll deduction bills to the Teacher Retirement System and the state’s controversial new “A through F” accountability labeling system.

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ATPE state officers met with Speaker Straus Monday


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met last Friday, March 3, 2017. The board asked the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to step back on its interest in developing a new Pre-kindergarten through Grade 3 certificate for teachers. Learn more about the discussion and other SBEC items in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


The House Public Education Committee has begun hearing a number of bills that could change the state’s belabored school finance system. The legislation includes House Bill (HB) 21, a new bill filed Monday by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who chairs the committee. HB 21 aimes to infuse an extra $1.6 billion into public education over the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill and a few others during a hearing on Tuesday. In a show of support for the House members’ effort to address the complicated issue of school finance, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) stopped by the committee hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was also there and provided a complete report on our blog earlier this week.

Also this week, Chairman Huberty filed HB 22, a bill to modify the state’s controversial “A through F” accountability ratings for schools. In addition to delaying implementation of A-F, the bill would compress the number of domains from five to three and prevent schools from receiving a single overall grade. No hearing has been set yet for the bill.

With the passage of today’s 60-day mark for the legislative session, more bills will be eligible for floor consideration now, which includes Sen. Joan Huffman’s anti-educator SB 13 that has already made it out of a Senate committee and could be placed on the Senate’s floor calendar at any time. ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central and send messages to their lawmakers about this legislation and several other bad bills being considered this session.

 


The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill designed to curb inappropriate educator relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that among other things, Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, a practice sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” (ATPE testified in support of SB 7 in committee and offered more on the contents of the bill here.)

SB 7 was amended on the Senate floor this week to add a requirement that educator preparation programs offer training on the topic of misconduct. ATPE supported the addition of the training provision because we hear from educators that too often the topic of appropriate student boundaries and relationships goes unaddressed with students training to enter the education profession.

The Senate also added two amendments by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which clarify reporting language for principals and ensure educators know how to respond when inappropriately approached by a student. Another floor amendment by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) revokes the pensions of those educators convicted of certain felonies involving a student.

SB 7 passed the Senate unanimously, and all 31 senators signed on as co-authors of the legislation. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 


Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a marathon overnight hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), one of the session’s most controversial proposals to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts, municipal governments, and other entities. The committee heard 13 hours of public testimony mostly from witnesses opposed to the bill, before voting 8-1 to send the measure to the full Senate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was the only no vote. Those opposing the bill included all four of the state’s major teacher groups, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the Texas Association of School Administrators. Many education stakeholders believe the bill unnecessarily dictates policies that must be adopted by local school boards rather than providing for local control. SB 6 is another of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

 


Congress voted this week to freeze two ESSA regulations that had been finalized only recently by the Obama administration. The rules pertain to teacher preparation and accountability and are headed to President Trump’s desk for final repeal approval. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the anticipated repeal here.

 


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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 24, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from ATPE:


Sen Ed Teacher MisconductThe Senate Education Committee met yesterday to look at two educator misconduct bills involving inappropriate relationships with students and “passing the trash.” ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified in support of the bills.

Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) and SB 653 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) would prohibit educators who are dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district, an act sometimes referred to as “passing the trash.” The bills would also require more ongoing education for educators on the subject, add reporting requirements for principals, require that schools develop an electronic communication policy, and further penalize associated misconduct.

In her testimony, Kuhlmann highlighted the importance of ongoing education, beginning in educator preparation programs and continuing throughout educators’ careers, and the work ATPE does to educate both future and active educators about maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships with students. While she reminded Senators that an extremely small percentage of educators in Texas account for such misconduct, she stated that ATPE knows one incident is too many and is committed to being a part of the solution.

Discussion during the hearing did raise the need for some additional clarity with regard to certain language in the bill. For more, watch an archived recording of the hearing here.

 


HPE02-21-17The House Public Education Committee held its first hearing of the session on Tuesday, taking invited testimony only. The committee announced plans for upcoming hearings on school finance, to be followed by an examination of accountability, including the controversial “A through F” labeling system that was adopted last session for campuses. Read more about Tuesday’s hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Girl showing bank notesATPE weighed in this week on discussions for education-related items in the state budget. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Article III Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Monday. In addition to school finance and the need to fund pre-Kindergarten programs, Exter also discuss the looming problem of healthcare affordability for education employees. The Teacher Retirement System board of trustees is also gathering this week to discuss similar issues. Read more in Exter’s most recent blog post for Teach the Vote.

 


FU5A8792_SB13hearing-crop1The fight to protect educators’ voices continues at the Texas Capitol, where ATPE continues to monitor two anti-teacher bills that would restrict educators’ control over their own paychecks while protecting other groups of public employees.

After forceful testimony in opposition by ATPE members, the Senate State Affairs Committee nonetheless advanced Senate Bill 13 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) last week by a vote that split along party lines. Sens. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined Huffman voting in favor of the bill. Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who expressed concern earlier in the week over the bill’s unequal treatment of educators, was absent for health reasons and unable to vote. Due to Senate rules, the earliest SB 13 is likely to be heard on the Senate floor is March 10.

On the other side of the Capitol, the companion House Bill 510 by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) was referred to the House State Affairs Committee, where the payroll deduction bill was unable to gain the traction needed to advance last session. No hearings have been scheduled so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1It is critical that ATPE members continue to contact your legislators through Advocacy Central and voice your opposition to both SB 13 and HB 510. The best way to fight these teacher-bashing bills is to join us March 5 and 6 for ATPE at the Capitol Day and visit your legislators in person!

 


Today is the last day to submit input to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the potential addition of a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 Educator Certificate, which would be offered in addition to the Early Childhood-Grade 6 Core Subjects Certificate currently administered by the agency. For more information and historical context on the topic, revisit ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here. The survey can be accessed here.

 


Next week, stay tuned to Teach the Vote for the latest updates from the 85th legislative session, as well as the upcoming March 3 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will also have an article about new efforts at the federal level to fund private school vouchers. We’re also gearing up for our lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on March 5-6, 2017. ATPE members can find the complete schedule and updates on the event here.

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House committee hears from ATPE, others on education funding challenges

Dollar fanThe House Appropriations committee began meetings this week for its subcommittees assigned to work on various parts of the Texas state budget. This includes the Article III Subcommittee, which covers education funding and began taking testimony on Monday, Feb. 20. The subcommittee’s first day agenda involved looking at funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), including the Foundation School Program; the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including both pension and health insurance funds; the state schools for the visually impaired and the deaf, the Windham School District; and community and junior colleges.

After the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the budget documents on TEA and the Foundation School Program, the committee heard from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Commissioner Morath began by thanking the committee and restating his dedication to the goal of improving student outcomes for all students. The commissioner then laid out his agency’s priorities beginning with ensuring and improving teacher quality as the “most important in-school factor” in a student’s education outcomes. Next, Morath addressed the agency’s second key priority to promote a strong foundation in reading and math, and spoke about the affect of achieving this goal on closing the achievement grant. To facilitate this goal, the commissioner talked about continuing to push for expanding high quality pre-K. He also promoted TEA’s goal to scale the math innovation zones program statewide. The agency’s third priority is to connect K-12 education to higher education and career opportunities. The next priority is to improve struggling schools, Morath explained. He reported that TEA is working to do this through systemic system-wide improvements. In addition to budget items tied to the agency’s larger priorities, Morath also addressed specific targeted budget requests like funding the E-rate match to complete the build-out of statewide broadband access.

Early Childhood EducationThe Commissioner was well received by the subcommittee. The majority of questions to the commissioner from committee members tended to focus on supporting pre-K. In responding to an offshoot of this questioning, the commissioner indicated that the State Board for Educator Certification will likely institute a new certificate for grades EC-3 that would be more focused on early childhood education.

Later in the hearing, the committee heard from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Guthrie gave brief remarks about the overall performance of the TRS trust fund before turning to the more pressing issue of the billion dollar shortfall in the TRS-Care fund. He impressed upon the committee that TRS has done everything it can do internally to control costs without legislative action. On TRS-Care the plan laid out to the House budget committee would include a “shared pain” approach where the state would cover half of the cost of the shortfall, retirees would cover 25 percent of the costs, and districts and active teachers would each cover 12.5 percent of the cost. While this plan is more generous than what has already been laid out in the Senate, it still puts additional pressure on active teachers, many of whom are drowning in the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Additionally, the strategy laid out did not contemplate changing the state paid formula for TRS-Care, which is currently set at 1 percent of payroll for all school districts statewide. The TRS board of directors is also meeting this week.

After hearing from LBB and invited witnesses, the Article III subcommittee took public testimony, including testimony from ATPE. Our testimony focused on the need to address active teacher health care costs through additional state funding, not just a denigration of benefits; the benefits of closing the education gap early in a student’s career thorough pre-K; and finally the need to address equity through more appropriately funding students based on their needs, individually and at the campus level.

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:

 


FU5A8721_SB13hearing

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.

TRS healthcare bill offers fewer options, no savings

Drugs and MoneyLast fall, ATPE reported on an interim legislative study of healthcare programs administered through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Now that the 85th legislative session is in full swing, we’ve had a chance to see actual legislation pursuing some of the dramatic proposals outlined in that interim report. The primary vehicle for these changes would be Senate Bill (SB) 789  by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which seeks to reorganize TRS-ActiveCare, the current health insurance program for many of our state’s actively employed educators.

Under current law, all school districts that did not previously opt out of TRS-ActiveCare offer their employees access to two health insurance options through ActiveCare: one high-deductible plan and one traditional plan featuring co-insurance and co-payments. The state contributes $75 per employee toward the monthly premiums associated with either plan and requires school districts to cover an additional $150 per employee towards premiums; many districts cover more than the minimum $150 contribution that is required, however.

If passed, SB 789 would limit districts that may participate in TRS-ActiveCare to those with 1,000 or fewer employees or fewer. The bill would also eliminate the traditional co-payment insurance plan option, leaving only the high-deductible option for employees who remain covered through ActiveCare. The bill also would give those districts with fewer than 1,000 employees another one-time opportunity to voluntarily opt out of TRS-ActiveCare.

SB 789 does not increase the amount of money the state will be spending toward employee health care premiums, nor does it increase the requirement for the amount that districts must spend toward those premiums. This is significant because compared to the private sector, our state’s employer contribution (the combination of state and district payments) toward public education employees’ health care premium cost is dramatically underfunded. When the TRS healthcare program was started years ago, the ISD/state contribution was in line with average private sector employer contributions. However, as private business has worked to keep pace with healthcare inflation, the state has never increased its contribution on behalf of school employees.

Falling US MoneyIt is also worth noting that SB 789 does not save the state any money. TRS-ActiveCare is considered a pass-through program. That means the state puts in a fixed amount of money and any increases in premiums get passed directly down to educators for them to cover. Restructuring ActiveCare as proposed in Sen. Huffman’s bill will not change this dynamic. The state pays the same amount and any changes in overall premium costs will only impact educators.

Thus, SB 786 takes away choices without saving educators money. The cost for the new high-deductible plan is estimated to be more expensive than the cost of the high-deductible plan offered under the current system. While premiums for this new high-deductible plan may be slightly less than the cost for the traditional co-pay plan under the current system, the premium combined with out-of-pocket costs for educators could very likely be more. Additionally, educators who have currently selected the traditional co-pay plan have voluntarily chosen to pay a higher premium at no additional cost to the state and no required additional cost to the district. Taking away this option without any resulting savings to either the school district or the state makes little sense.

For the 82 school districts that will be required to exit ActiveCare if this bill passes, their administrative costs will increase. Those districts will now have to hire additional personnel to administer an employee healthcare plan at the district level. That additional cost will in turn reduce the amount of money these districts will have to spend in the classroom on other needs. The same will be true of any districts that voluntarily opt out of ActiveCare because they prefer to offer their employees the option of more than one health insurance plan.

SB 789 decreases benefit options for educators while increasing district expenses, and it does so without increasing state support to educators, lowering the healthcare cost for educators, or decreasing the cost to state taxpayers. Therefore, we can find no reason for ATPE to support this bill.

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

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

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s been a busy education news week. Here are highlights:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Groups looking to ban educators from using payroll deduction have a newly filed bill, and school employees concerned about this need to speak up now! The move is part of a national effort to try to weaken unions and professional associations like ATPE that advocate for public employees. Here in Texas, efforts to ban payroll deduction are taking direct aim at the education community, apparently in response to our outspoken opposition to private school vouchers and other reforms favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and others.

Patrick has identified prohibiting payroll deduction for “collection of union dues” as one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session, reserving a low bill number (Senate Bill 13) for the yet-to-be-filed legislation in the Senate. On the House side, Houston-area Rep. Sarah Davis (R) pre-filed House Bill 510 this week to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for educators’ voluntary association dues. The bill exempts police, firefighters, and EMS workers, allowing them to continue to take advantage of the safety and convenience of payroll deduction, but punishes educators who choose to join professional associations by denying them the same rights.

ATPE is urging members to contact their legislators right away and ask them to oppose these politically charged bills that would serve no purpose other than to further devalue the education profession and attempt to silence the voices of teachers. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and use our new communication tools for members at ATPE’s Advocacy Central to take action today.

17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenRelated content:  While you’re visiting Advocacy Central, check out the details on ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day and political involvement training event in March. Registration is open now, and there is no registration fee for ATPE members to attend the event. This is a great opportunity to learn more about grassroots advocacy and meet with your lawmakers to discuss saving payroll deduction and other ATPE legislative priorities for 2017.


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today for its last meeting of 2016. After more than a year of meetings dedicated to revising rule chapters that pertain to educator preparation and certification, among other issues, the board’s agenda was notably shorter and involved very few action items.

On today’s agenda was a presentation from former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson on the work of the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative; a discussion on developing a certification specific to early childhood education; and an update on the principal and teacher satisfaction surveys that are used to hold educator preparation programs (EPPs) accountable. The only actions taken by the board, aside from rulings on individual disciplinary cases, was adoption of the board’s legislative priorities and approval of EPP monitors. Board members also adopted three legislative priorities: expand reporting requirements on educator misconduct to principals, expand outcome-based accountability to EPPs, and consider other options for demonstrating proficiency with regard to educator certification reciprocity for educators coming from other states and countries.

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Kate Kuhlmann testifying at SBEC, Dec. 9, 2016

On the second priority, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at this morning’s meeting and successfully argued to remove some original language that would have specifically encouraged the use of teacher evaluation results to hold EPPs accountable. Board members understood our concerns that such a move would affect the confidentiality of appraisals, which are meant to serve as an informative and developmental tool for educators. Kuhlmann testified that, among other concerns, the formative nature of appraisals at the local level could be undermined if confidentiality of those results were compromised by legislative changes. To hear the full discussion on any of these topics or others discussed today, access an archived webcast of the meeting here.

The board welcomed two new members recently appointed by Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX). Dr. Scott Ridley, the Dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University, and Tommy Coleman, a citizen member of the board who works as an assistant district attorney for the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, were sworn in before today’s meeting. Gov. Abbott also recently appointed Carlos Villagrana to serve in the non-voting role dedicated to a representative of an alternative certification program. Mr. Villagrana is the Director of the Alternative Educator Preparation Program at YES Prep Public Schools. He was not present for today’s meeting.

Related content:  The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released the latest version of its Teacher Prep Review this week. This go around, NCTQ decided to analyze programs based on their program type (as opposed to grouping them all together like in previous reports) in an effort to offer a more apples-to-apples comparison of data. The report released this week focuses only on 875 undergraduate elementary programs throughout the country. Two of the top rated undergraduate elementary programs, which all scored in the top 99 percentile, hail from Texas: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston. Learn more about the report here, and watch for future reports on the various program types beginning in Spring 2017.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) invited legislative staff and stakeholders to a briefing this week on its actuarial valuation reports for the period ending Aug. 31, 2016. The presentation also included data on the healthcare plans administered by TRS for active and retired educators. TRS officials reported that the pension fund earned a return of 7.3 percent in 2015-16 and ended the 2016 fiscal year at a market value of $134 billion compared to a market value of $128.5 billion in the previous fiscal year.

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While the pension fund investment returns are in good shape, there are more serious concerns about funding for TRS-Care and ActiveCare. This week’s briefing highlighted the fact that TRS-Care is not pre-funded and is facing a shortfall of between $1,088 million and $1,294 million by the end of the 2018-19 biennium. As we have previously reported on our blog, lawmakers are recommending dramatic changes to the design of the health benefit plans.

Learn more about the current status of the funds in these new reports supplied by TRS:

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) finalized its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) rules pertaining to assessments this week. The assessment rules were much less contentious than some of the other rules released by the department, with stakeholders who served as negotiators coming to agreement on the contents of the rule. ATPE submitted comments on the rules during the comment period, supporting the innovative assessment pilot and encouraging the use of sample testing. Our comments were taken and included, in part, in the final innovative assessment pilot rules. You can read ATPE’s comments and learn more about the rulemaking process for assessments here.

As we have previously discussed, the future of ESSA rulemaking remains very unpredictable at this point. When President-elect Trump and his administration take office in January, they will have the ability to carry on with the policies of the Obama administration, forgo them altogether, or pursue some combination of these options.

 


The 12th annual Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) gala took place Wednesday evening, Dec. 7, in Waco, TX. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz contributed this report on the event.

ATPE leaders, volunteers, and staff members were honored to be a part of the FOTPS annual celebration where education allies were honored for their outstanding work supporting the Texas public education system. Three major awards were handed out at the event, which was held at Baylor University’s Baylor Club, located inside McLane Stadium. Those attending the event as part of the ATPE delegation were State President Julleen Bottoms, Region 12 Director Jason Forbis, Region 12 President Patty Reneau, Corsicana ATPE member Suzanne Waldrip, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, Regional Representative Ginger Franks, Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Exter.

The Friend of the Year Award is FOTPS’s highest award and is bestowed to individuals and organizations who step up as champions for those who work and learn in our Texas public schools. The award went to Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) for their continued activism to reduce the state’s overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing. Their work has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the amount of time our students spend on standardized tests and the limited time that is actually left for instruction. During the last two legislative sessions, TAMSA has been a leader in advocating for a reduction in tests, helping to bring the number of required state tests from 15 down to five.

Also recognized that evening were Pamela & Rep. Gary VanDeaver who received the Ambassador of the Year Award. This award was established to highlight the efforts of an educator stepping up as a champion for the Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver and his wife are no strangers to the public education system having both worked as career educators and been an instrumental voice for the 5.3 million children who currently attend Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver’s work on behalf of public education during the last legislative session was relentless, and we look forward to working with him again during the 85th session. Their passion to serve our schoolchildren is inspiring!

Last but not least, the Founder’s Distinguished Service Award went to the Texas Education Service Centers for their outstanding work and support for the continued success of Texas public schools. The 20 Education Service Centers have tirelessly served public schools for the past 50 years by providing vital services that enable each district to educate students in an effective and efficient manner.

Congratulations to all of the honorees for their outstanding work!

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ATPE’s representatives at the FOTPS gala on Dec. 7, 2016, in Waco


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 2, 2016

With the 85th legislative session just around the corner, things are busy in Austin. Catch up on this week’s education news:


capitol building, austin, texas, usaAs the Texas Legislature prepares to convene for the 85th legislative session in January, the Capitol is bustling with final preparations. Among the excitement, new members of the House of Representatives were in Austin this week for orientation, offices are being shuffled, and final meetings are underway. Adding to the preparations, the Texas Tribune Symposium Previewing the 85th Legislative Session took place on Tuesday. The event featured many high-profile legislators, including Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), and offered discussions on plenty of public education issues that are expected to be addressed in the first half of next year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides more in his post on the symposium and other public education issues facing the upcoming session.

Mark highlights in the same post that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expanded his list of legislative priorities. Particularly, he added a priority that aims to selectively prohibit certain employees from deducting their professional association dues through payroll deduction. Texas teachers were among the employees targeted by this bill during the most recent legislative session, although this session’s version of the bill has yet to be filed.

Two budget-related meetings also took place this week. The Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) met Thursday to set the spending limit for the 2018-19 biennium, for which legislators will establish appropriations during the upcoming legislative session. The board is a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature made up of five Texas House members and five senators, and develops recommended legislative appropriations for all agencies of state government, among other budget-related tasks. In its brief meeting, the board voted to unanimously adopt the constitutional spending limit at just over $99 billion dollars for the upcoming biennium. Earlier in the week, the Joint Select Committee on Economic Stabilization Fund, a fund more commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” set the fund’s floor at $7.5 billion. The floor establishes the amount of money that must be in the fund before automatic transfers to transportation funding are made. It does not affect the legislature’s ability to tap the fund to cover emergencies, short falls, or legislative priories.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin yesterday and today for the board’s final meeting of the calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meeting and provided the following report:

The board received a presentation on an external review of the TRS pension trust fund’s actuarial valuation as of Aug. 31, 2016. The review covered a range of economic and membership scenarios and how those scenarios would affect the overall health of the fund on a future-looking basis. Two big takeaways from that presentation: 1) the decision by past legislatures to dial down state and employee contributions to the constitutional minimum during the boom of the mid-nineties needlessly and irresponsibly left the fund vulnerable to becoming underfunded during periods of economic recession, and 2) the very vulnerability created by that legislative decision has created a scenario where TRS has to overcome a persistent lag created by the economic downturns in 2000 and 2007-08. Despite a period of average returns in excess of eight percent over the last five years, that lag continues to weigh down the fund.

The board also received an update on the report from the Joint Select Committee on TRS Health Benefit Plans from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. Read more about that report here and view the full board meeting here.

 


Election resultsIn the race for House District (HD) 105, the results of a recount concluded this week that incumbent Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) won reelection. His Democratic opponent, Terry Meza, requested the recount following Election Day, where results showed she trailed by only 64 votes. HD 105 was among a handful of districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area considered to be swing districts leading up to the election. Two other incumbents lost reelection in the area. Rep. Anderson has held the seat since 2010.

 


News broke last week that President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen billionaire education reformer Betsy DeVos as his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education. The pick is a controversial one as DeVos has been heavily involved in efforts to pass vouchers and related alt-school-choice options in states throughout the country. Days after the announcement, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its final accountability rule, which needed a rewrite following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Notably, Trump’s pick for education secretary will have the power to do as he or she wishes when it comes to ESSA rules and regulations written by ED. Read more about DeVos and the final accountability rule in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s post here.

 


Janna_TCASE_Nov16_croppedLast week, we published a guest post from Jana Lilly, the Director of Governmental Relations for the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE). She shared a preview of some of the special education issues likely to be addressed during the 85th Legislature. In her post, she highlights three major issues: the particularly harmful nature of vouchers for students with disabilities, cameras in special education classrooms, and the much discussed topic of capping the number of students districts identify as in need of special education. If you missed this guest post over the Thanksgiving break, you can read more here.