Tag Archives: U.S. House of Representatives

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

Federal Update: New Congress kicks off, preps for DeVos confirmation hearing

 

UPDATE: After this story was published, the leaders of the Senate HELP committee announced that the DeVos confirmation hearing had been postponed to Jan. 17 at 4:00 PM CST. Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray stated that the change was made “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.”

 

Congress kicked off a new session last week with two new members from Texas and new members in top ranking positions on committees important to education and educators. This week, Congress is set to proceed with the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education.

The first education-related item up on the new Congress’s agenda is the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will meet Wednesday at 9:00 AM CST to begin the billionaire voucher-advocate’s confirmation process. DeVos remains a provocative pick for public education supporters as she has fought for decades on behalf of voucher proposals in several states, led advocacy organizations that pushed alt-school-choice options, and has no meaningful experience in the classroom or our public schools. Still, most Senate Republicans have praised her nomination and only Democrats are expected to show any opposition on Wednesday.

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The Senate HELP committee will have the choice to vote to move the nomination to the full Senate or take no action. Since DeVos’s nomination is expected to make it out of committee, the committee will likely report her nomination to the full Senate where she will need a simple majority vote for final confirmation. Watch DeVos’s confirmation hearing live or archived here.

While Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) remain the leaders of the Senate HELP committee in the new Congress, education committees in the U.S. House are experiencing changes in leadership. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will now be led by Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), replacing the previous chair, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who retired at the end of the year. The committee’s Democratic leader remains Ranking Member Bobby Scott of Virginia.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which in previous sessions has seen bills to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO), will also have new leadership, but, in this case, only on the Democratic side of the aisle with new Ranking Member Richard Neal of Massachusetts. The House Ways and Means committee continues to be led by Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), who has worked for years with ATPE and other groups to pass legislation that more fairly distributes Social Security benefits to teachers and other affected employees. ATPE is optimistic that the new ranking member, who co-authored Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA) will fight alongside Chair Brady as they work towards repeal of the WEP this year.

Two new members of Congress from Texas also began work after being sworn in last week. Republican Representative Jodey Arrington of Lubbock and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen both replace retiring members Randy Neugebauer and Ruben Hinojosa, respectively. ATPE sent letters welcoming Reps. Arrington and Gonzalez to Congress and welcomes all of the new members and leaders to their new roles. Stay tuned for updates from Washington as the new administration and Congress get underway.

Social Security Update: Hearing tomorrow in D.C. on H.R. 711

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee announced that its members will be hearing and voting on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA), on Wednesday, July 13, at 1 pm. As we have reported in the past, the bill was filed by Congressman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Texas, who now chairs the committee.

The ETPSA would repeal the existing arbitrary and punitive Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and replace it with a new, fairer formula to calculate Social Security benefits for retirees who receive a separate government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. The new formula would acknowledge the portion of a person’s career that they paid into Social Security, and as such ensure that benefits reflect one’s actual contributions, instead of simply having an arbitrary penalty applied to benefits as exists with the current formula.

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Brady discussed the ETPSA with ATPE state officers and lobbyists last month in Washington.

If H.R. 711 passes the committee, it will be sent to the full House of Representatives to be deliberated. This is the most promising Social Security reform we have seen since the WEP was initially put into law in 1983.

ATPE has long advocated for increasing public education employees’ benefits and for using a more equitable system of calculating Social Security benefits. A coalition of employee and retiree associations from across the country, including ATPE, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, and AARP, have worked alongside Chairman Brady to increase benefits and eliminate the WEP; H.R. 711 is a step in the right direction.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on tomorrow’s markup of the bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 24, 2016

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:


image2A group of ATPE state officers and employees were in the nation’s capital this week for business on Capitol Hill. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended numerous meetings, along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists at the firm of Arnold & Porter.

The ATPE representatives’ busy agenda this week included meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation and their staffs, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Education. Topics of discussion included the ongoing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and legislation to improve Social Security benefits for educators. ATPE’s team also attended a hearing of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce yesterday. Read more in today’s blog post from Kate Kuhlmann.


The Commissioner of Education this week recognized a group of eight school districts that are among the first to adopt and submit their plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to become Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law, passed in 2015, allows certain acceptably-rated school districts to adopt innovation plans and exempt themselves from various education laws. ATPE has created a DOI resource page to assist educators and parents in districts that may be considering these new regulatory exemptions. TEA also announced its creation of a website to track which districts have become DOIs with links to their innovation plans. Learn more in our DOI blog post from yesterday.


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

With the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability approaching its last meeting, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) want to hear from stakeholders before recommendations are made to the 85th Legislature on student testing and accountability systems. SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich recently announced the availability of a public survey on testing and related issues. The SBOE survey remains open through Thursday, June 30, and we encourage you to share your valuable input. Click here to learn more and access the SBOE survey.


Here’s a look at ATPE’s week in Washington in pictures. (Click each photo to view a larger version.)

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Cory Colby, Kate Kuhlmann, Gary Godsey, and Julleen Bottoms on Capitol Hill

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ATPE meets with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ESSA hearing

Attending a House committee on ESSA implementation featuring U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

 

Julleen and Gary at hearing

Julleen Bottoms and Gary Godsey at the meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Cory and Julleen at Cornyn office

Cory Colby and Julleen Bottoms at the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

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Kuhlmann, Bottoms, Colby, and Godsey at the U.S. Department of Education

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ATPE meets with Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX)

Recap of Tuesday’s Social Security hearing in Washington, D.C.

This week I had an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for congressional meetings accompanied by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team. Along with visiting several members of our delegation and their staffs, we attended the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Tuesday, March 22, to hear discussion on H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act (ETPSA).

Filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R–TX), the ETPSA proposes to eliminate the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a federal law that reduces the Social Security benefits of anyone who is also eligible for a government pension, such as through the Teacher Retirement System. In place of the WEP, the ETPSA would substitute a new formula to calculate benefits that actually reflects the amount of a person’s career that was spent working in position covered by Social Security. We believe that the ETPSA formula would be considerably better than the arbitrary, punitive WEP formula that currently applies the same maximum reduction to every employee who has between 0 and 20 years of substantial earnings and contributions.

Congressman Brady gave an opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing noting that he has been working since 2004 to replace the WEP with a more equitable formula. He recognized the many organizations that have contributed to this effort, specifically thanking ATPE during the hearing. Click here to watch video of Brady’s opening statement.

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ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson with U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) following Tuesday’s hearing

Brady’s ETPSA legislation is bipartisan, with more than 64 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle including 24 members of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE has been joined by the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), AARP, and numerous education, law enforcement, and public service associations across the country in supporting this legislation. As was noted during the hearing by Congressman Sam Johnson (R–TX), who chairs the Subcommittee on Social Security, it is past time that these millions of employees received fair treatment in the calculation of the benefits they paid for during their careers. Congressman John Larson (D–CT), a former public education teacher whose daughter is also an educator who will be affected by the WEP , chimed in by stating, “I have long been a proponent of eliminating the WEP… and this bill works toward that goal.”

Brady with Wiggins and Colby

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) pictured last year with ATPE State Past-President Richard Wiggins and ATPE State President Cory Colby

ATPE has long called for fully repealing both the WEP and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), and we have supported federal legislation in the past to accomplish this goal. However, the massive costs to the Social Security Trust Fund have prevented any full repeal legislation from ever having a chance to be enacted into law. Pretending that these long-shot goals are reality and refusing incremental progress in place of a complete repeal are doing a disservice to the thousands of education and public safety employees affected by these laws. If Brady’s ETPSA passes, we will be one giant step closer to a system that is fair and actually allows employees to receive the benefits they paid for and deserve.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this legislation as they occur.

Reminder: Watch today’s Social Security hearing starting at 9 a.m. CDT

Today, March 22, the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security is meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss Social Security and how it affects educators and other public employees. The discussion will include consideration H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is in Washington to attend today’s hearing and will provide a summary after the meeting.committee-seal

To watch the hearing live, tune in here starting at 9 a.m. Central (10 a.m. Eastern). We’ll have a full wrap-up later this week on our Teach the Vote blog. Check out last week’s blog post for additional information about the hearing and H.R. 711, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the very latest developments.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 18, 2016

Are you ready for the weekend? Here’s what made the news this week on Teach the Vote:


One of the most closely watched races during the March 1 Republican primary election in Texas was the contest to succeed retiring Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) in Senate District 1. In the four-man primary race, current state representative Bryan Hughes (R) earned the most votes with 48 percent (63,844 votes), but he fell short of winning the primary outright. Next came an effort to determine which candidate would secure the second place spot and a berth in the May 24 runoff election.

On election night, current state representative David Simpson (R) appeared to have edged out James K. “Red” Brown (R) by only 13 votes, which prompted nearly two weeks’ worth of analysis to ensure that all provisional and military ballots were properly counted. As the process played out, Simpson and Brown exchanged positions several times with single digit margins separating the two. Ultimately, it was announced earlier this week that the counts were complete and that Simpson would keep his spot in the runoff, again by a margin of only 13 votes. In the end, Simpson carried 28,288 votes, while Brown had 28,275. Brown, who had earned several major endorsements including one from Texas Parent PAC, declined an opportunity to request a full recount, which clears the way for Simpson and Hughes to face off in May.

Another Republican primary runoff continues to capture media attention in Texas and beyond. This week, the Texas Observer published an article with more information about Mary Lou Bruner (R), who nearly won the primary election outright for SBOE District 9 but instead is facing a runoff against Keven Ellis (R). Bruner has made headlines nationally for her extremist views on education and controversial remarks often delivered via social media. In yesterday’s article, Patrick Michels writes about the support that Don McLeroy, another controversial and polarizing political figure who once held the same seat on the SBOE and even chaired the board before being ousted by incumbent Thomas Ratliff (R), has expressed toward Bruner. McLeroy is quoted in the article as comparing Bruner to himself and saying, “I think she’ll be a great asset,” if elected to serve on the SBOE.

Visit our 2016 Races pages to view profiles of all candidates in races that have resulted in primary election runoffs, as well as candidates who will be on the ballot in November for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177533853We’ve been reporting extensively this week on the major news of a hearing in Washington, D.C. next week to discuss Social Security. The U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security will meet Tuesday, March 22, to discuss Social Security laws and their impact on public employees.

Part of the discussion Tuesday will be about legislation filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) to get rid of a harmful offset provision that causes many public sector employees, including educators, to have their Social Security benefits reduced when they reach retirement age. Read ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson’s blog post this week about H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act and how it would help educators upon retirement.

Sanderson will be attending the Tuesday morning hearing along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team. They’ll also be meeting with members of the Texas congressional delegation to ask for their support of H.R. 711. Thirteen members of our state’s congressional delegation have not yet pledged their support for H.R. 711, and we encourage you to contact them. Read yesterday’s blog post for more detail, along with the phone numbers where you can reach those 13 members of Congress. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from Washington next week.

In other national education news, the U.S. Senate voted this week to confirm the nomination of Dr. John B. King as the new U.S. Secretary of Education. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week to learn more about King.

 


A number of hearings are the calendar in the next few weeks that relate to public education, including interim legislative hearings and another meeting of the state commission that is examining student testing and accountability.

As always, stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and follow us on Twitter for the very latest news from our ATPE lobby team.

More on next week’s Social Security hearing in Washington, how you can help

committee-sealOn Tuesday, March 22, the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security will be discussing Social Security provisions that affect certain educators and other public sector employees. As we reported yesterday, the meeting will include consideration of H.R. 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, filed by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) to try to help public employees who are affected by current Social Security offsets. This is a very positive development for educators and others.

What’s the hearing about?

Some educators have been employed in positions in which they paid into Social Security, making them eligible for a Social Security benefit upon requirement, but they also qualify for pension benefits through the state’s Teacher Retirement System. These individuals are subject to what’s known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and it reduces the amount of Social Security benefits they may receive. Congressman Brady’s H.R. 711 would get rid of the WEP and replace it with a formula that factors in a person’s actual earnings and contributions to Social Security. It is the latest development in ongoing efforts to help Texas educators get relief from the unfair consequences of the WEP. ATPE has long supported these efforts and we’re thankful that Congressman Brady, who now chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is making progress to secure passage of H.R. 711. Tuesday’s hearing is a major step forward, and ATPE is looking forward to attending it and visiting with members of our delegation in Washington.

How can you help?

ThinkstockPhotos-135648941_phoneThirteen members of Texas’s congressional delegation listed below have not yet pledged their support for H.R. 711. We encourage you to contact them and ask them to support this legislation that will help educators avoid being unfairly penalized and having their Social Security benefits reduced. Politely educate them on how the WEP affects you and let them know how much you would appreciate seeing your benefits increase through the passage of the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act.

  • Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX-5) – call 202-225-3484
  • Rep. Joe Barton (TX-6) – call 202-225-2002
  • Rep. Al Green (TX-9) – call 202-225-7508
  • Rep. Mac Thornberry (TX-13) – call 202-225-3706
  • Rep. Ruben Hinojosa Jr. (TX-15) – call 202-225-2531
  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20) – call 202-225-1915
  • Rep. Roger Williams (TX-25) – call 202-225-9896
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – call 202-225-2640
  • Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) – call 202-225-8885
  • Rep. John Carter (TX-31) – call 202-225-3864
  • Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32) – call 202-225-2231
  • Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) – call 202-225-9897
  • Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) – call 202-225-4865

Where can you learn more about the WEP and other Social Security laws that might affect your retirement as an educator?

Please visit our Social Security FAQs page on ATPE.org to learn more about the laws that affect your eligibility for retirement and Social Security benefits. Read, for instance, answers to questions such as “Will my eligibility for a TRS pension prevent me from collecting Social Security benefits?” and “How does the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) work?”

Where can you learn more about the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act?

Click here to read an overview of H.R. 711, the actual text of the legislation, and letters of support from ATPE and other prominent organizations around the country.

Will Tuesday’s hearing be live-streamed?

Yes! The subcommittee hearing will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern (9 a.m. Central) on Tuesday, March 22. Click here to watch the live broadcast on Tuesday morning. Also, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter next week for updates from Washington.

Related content: Read ATPE’s press release about the upcoming hearing and what it means to Texas educators.

Major development announced in the fight to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

Social Security is something that will one day affect us all. Millions of Americans depend on it to ensure a basic standard of living in old age, and many more of us count on it being around for years to come. In order to sustain this benefit, and in order for the benefit to be substantial enough to achieve its purpose, Social Security must be properly managed and fair to those who have paid into the program. A provision of Social Security that many public school employees know all too well to be unfair is the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). In short, the WEP affects employees who are eligible for a government pension (such as through the Teacher Retirement System), who qualify for Social Security based on their own contributions, and who have less than thirty years of substantial earnings during which time contributions to Social Security were made. That’s why ATPE has been working hard with members of the Texas congressional delegation and our Washington, D.C.-based lobby team to address the WEP, and now we’re seeing real progress.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingHR 711, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, introduced by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) makes great strides in improving the arbitrary and punitive method of calculating Social Security benefits for hundreds of thousands of Texas public school employees subject to the WEP. If passed, this legislation would eliminate the WEP and replace it with a formula that factors in a person’s actual earnings and contributions to Social Security. The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security will hold a hearing on Tuesday, March 22 to discuss Social Security and public servants, at which time HR 711 will be discussed. ATPE will be attending the hearing to provide information to committee members.

Because the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act proposes eliminating the WEP and instituting a formula that calculates a person’s actual contributions, benefits will increase for numerous educators. For currently retired public servants subject to the WEP who turn age 62 before December 31, 2016, HR 711 is projected to increase their benefits by 32% ($1,034 per year) according to the Social Security Actuary’s Office. For public servants who turn age 62 on or after January 1, 2017, they will experience an average estimated benefit increase of over $1,620 per year — $32,400 over the average lifetime of a retiree.

ATPE is working alongside a coalition of organizations in support of HR 711, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), AARP, and a variety of educator associations from different states who are affected by the WEP. We thank Congressman Brady for his work on making improving educator benefits a priority.

You can watch Tuesday’s hearing live beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time here: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/live/. Stay tuned to updates from ATPE and Teach the Vote on this major development, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for even more information.

Legislative hearings on education took place this week in Texas and D.C.

Education-related hearings took place this week both in Texas cities and in the nation’s capital. Here’s a recap of the topics that were covered.

Congress holds first ESSA oversight hearing

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education met on Wednesday for a hearing entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control.” Four individuals were invited to testify at the hearing; the panel of witnesses included a statewide education official, a school superintendent, and two legal representatives.

United States Capitol BuildingThe hearing is the first Congressional oversight hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Congress passed ESSA in December and President Obama signed the bill into law quickly after. Congress has since turned its focus to ensuring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) implements the law in the way lawmakers intended. Today’s hearing was an initial step.

ATPE’s federal lobby team covered the hearing and reported that the primary takeaway was a familiar theme to ESSA: While lawmakers and witnesses praised the transfer of power to state and local authorities, some still cautioned that the flexibility associated with that transfer raises the potential for neglect of at-risk students. Members continue to disagree over the role the federal government should play in ensuring every student receives an adequate and equal education. Democratic Members tended to continue to stress that the federal government does have a responsibility to ensure that there is equitable treatment and evenhanded disbursement of funds; while two of the witnesses and some Republican members felt that the responsibility was now solely in the hands of the states.

Another line of disagreement when addressing the federal government’s role dealt with ED’s rulemaking and regulation-writing authority. Some stressed that the federal government is not prohibited from acting when states fail to meet federal requirements, but others felt that student success is higher when state and local authorities maintain the power.

Later this month, members of Congress will have the chance to express these disagreements with ED directly. Acting Secretary of Education John King will visit the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to testify on ESSA implementation. That hearing is scheduled to take place on Feb. 25, the day after King visits the committee to discuss the President’s budget proposal. Teach the Vote will continue to provide relevant updates on these and other actions pertaining to ESSA implementation.

 

Texas Senate and House Public Education Committees

The House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday in Austin to discuss two interim charges pertaining to best practices in middle school grades and high performing students. The first invited panel addressed the interim charge pertaining to initiatives in middle school grades and consisted of individuals focused on researching, developing, and implementing research-based best practices for middle school classrooms.

Anne Wick, the Senior Advisor for Middle School Matters at the Bush Institute, explained what her organization is doing to with regard to middle school grades. She highlighted that students at risk of failing to graduate high school can be identified in their middle school years. The Institute is working with the University of Texas to focus best practices on research-based methodologies. Dr. Sharon Vaughn, who leads the research project, testified on the university’s work to develop a field guide, saying that the idea was to focus on best practices grounded in high quality research. The final panelist, Farrah Gomez, represented San Angelo ISD where the best practices are being implemented in classrooms.

Several members of the committee asked questions regarding the staff’s commitment to the partnership. Ms. Gomez stressed that educator buy-in was a significant piece of implementation and that involving teachers in the identification of the methods ultimately used in the classroom allowed teachers to have ownership in the process. Another key piece that Ms. Gomez highlighted is the district’s focus on support. She said that supporting teachers central to leading the project is important to its success. Gomez added that while the district has seen gains in test scores, the focus is not on evaluations based on assessments.

In addition to staff development and support, the committee members and public testifiers addressed the need for balancing autonomy and consistency, the role of counselors, education for administrators, mental illness and wrap-around services, and the success of the community schools in middle schools, among other issues.

The second panel of witnesses was invited to address high performing students. Representatives from the Texas Education Agency, the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium, and the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented made up the panel.

The TEA representatives spoke about what the agency is doing with respect to high performing students. Robert Bayard of the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium spoke as a district program director for high performing students. Mr. Bayard shared his first-hand insight on the importance of students demonstrating the information they learn without the pressures of high stakes tests being attached. He said high performing students need to be liberated from “meaningless assessments” but also described how this could benefit other students. Priscilla Lurz of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented focused her testimony on the array of services offered, but also suggested that disaggregating the data of high performing students would allow school districts to focus on their needs and address any issues raised. She also recommended a variety of non-test-based measures. The committee members discussed with TEA how the accountability system could accommodate these recommendations.

The Senate Education Committee also held an interim hearing this week in McAllen, Texas. The committee met Wednesday to discuss legislation concerning the placement of cameras in special education classrooms and legislation involving support for counselors and middle school students. The committee’s vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville, authored last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms and has also filed several bills over the years relating to school counselors. Senators also received a briefing on English Language Learners at the meeting.

 

The Texas Legislature’s interim is busy and you can expect more updates from Teach the Vote as developments unfold.