Tag Archives: waivers

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 15, 2017

As you’re preparing for a holiday break, here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


As ATPE and other associations are working to encourage the education community to get out the vote in the 2018 elections, our GOTV efforts are rankling some officeholders and the special interests that have supported them financially. Seemingly frightened by the prospect of high voter turnout among educators, at least one lawmaker is complaining about school districts fostering a culture of voting among their staffs and students. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported yesterday on our blog, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion to try to stifle the nonpartisan voter education efforts being spearheaded by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member.

ATPE and other groups involved in the movement were quick to defend the nonpartisan work of the coalition, which is comprised of several groups that do not endorse candidates at all. The League of Women Voters, for example, tweeted, “The League’s mission is Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy! We are proud to partner with Texas Educators Votes and support their mission to create a culture of voting in Texas.”

Some educators naturally questioned why a sitting state senator would want to dissuade educators from voting and teaching students about the importance of voting. “Why would a leader not want school boards to adopt a resolution that encourages students, faculty, and staff to #vote?” asked former ATPE State President Cory Colby (@EffectualEdu) on Twitter. Another educator (@drdrbrockman) tweeted, “Looks like @TeamBettencourt doesn’t want educators to turn out to vote. Nothing in the Texas Educators Vote resolution pushes particular candidates or electoral outcomes.” ATPE member Rita Long commented on our blog, “I will vote in every election and encourage every citizen to vote. It is my right and privilege to have a voice in our elections. Educators must use their votes to have a voice in what is happening in public education. Our students are our future. Education issues should be a top priority with every American.”

Responding to the growing criticism on social media, Sen. Bettencourt doubled down on his unfounded claim that the coalition was using public school resources to promote particular candidates or ballot measures. The senator has not yet identified any examples of particular candidates allegedly being promoted by way of the coalition’s GOTV efforts.

By law the Attorney General’s office has six months to respond to Bettencourt’s request for an opinion, but AG Paxton is likely to issue a ruling ahead of the 2018 primaries. Several education groups involved in the coalition efforts will be submitting briefs to the AG’s office in the coming weeks. Stay to tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Related content: As part of our ongoing effort to encourage educators to participate in the 2018 primary and general elections as informed voters, be sure to check out our candidate profiles right here on our nonpartisan Teach the Vote website. This election cycle, we’re featuring profiles of every candidate running for a Texas legislative seat, State Board of Education, governor, and lieutenant governor. Profiles includes incumbents’ voting records on education-related bills, responses to our candidate survey, contact information for the campaigns, and additional information compiled by ATPE’s lobby team. New information is being added daily as we learn more about the candidates. If candidates in your area have not yet answered our candidate survey, please encourage them to do so. Inquiries about Teach the Vote and our candidate survey may be sent to government@atpe.org.

 

 


The U.S. Congress conference committee established to hash out disagreements between the U.S. House and U.S. Senate Republican tax plans has come to an agreement on a final plan. The committee met Wednesday to review the plan in a public hearing. Much of the high-profile provisions of the final plan have been discussed in public and reported by the media. For example, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35 to 21 percent, the top tax rate for individuals would go from almost 40 to 37 percent, the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance would be removed, and the state and local taxes (SALT) deduction would be kept but capped at $10,000. Still, many smaller details of the negotiated plan remain unknown. Those include two issues raised in an ATPE letter to members of the Texas delegation: (1) a deduction for educators who use personal money to buy classroom supplies, and (2) a potential new tax for public pension investments, such as those in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) trust fund.

The details of the bill are expected to be released later today. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and watch for more updates as information becomes available. The tax bill must still receive a final vote of support in both chambers and receive the signature of the president before it becomes law, which Republican leadership hopes to have completed by Christmas.

 


Students in some school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey will see relief from certain standardized testing requirements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Thursday that Commissioner Mike Morath would waive some STAAR requirements for certain students affected by the massive storm. The commissioner has remained reluctant to provide relief in the form of STAAR testing schedules or accountability requirements, but he changed his tune slightly after Gov. Greg Abbott joined the chorus of those in favor of loosening accountability and testing requirements for Harvey-affected students and schools. Morath sent a letter to impacted school districts on Thursday explaining that fifth and eighth grade students who fail to pass the required state standardized tests twice can advance to the next grade level if district educators agree they are ready. Learn more about Morath’s decision to waive some testing requirements in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and State Board of Education (SBOE) will host a free conference on teacher preparation and retention in January. The one-day event will feature roundtable and panel discussions on how Texas can better prepare its future teachers, support those in the classroom, and retain teachers tempted to the leave the field. It will also feature keynote speeches from Doug Lemov, who authored Teach Like a Champion, and Peter Dewitt, the author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most.

The conference, titled Learning Roundtable: Recruiting, Preparing and Retaining Top Teachers, will be held at the Austin Convention Center from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 25, and will offer up to 5.5 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) to participating educators. To view the full-day agenda, learn more about the event, or register to attend, visit the Texas Education Agency’s conference web page.

Related content: SBEC met last week for its final meeting of the year to discuss a broad agenda that included rulemaking resulting from bills passed during the 85th legislative session. The board also rejected revisiting a controversial and unnecessary pathway for superintendent candidates to seek certification without prior experience in a classroom, school, or managerial role. Read a recap of the meeting from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann who attended the meeting and testified on behalf of ATPE.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board met yesterday and today, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was in attendance. As reported in Exter’s blog post, the meeting included a discussion of the annual reports on the actuarial valuation of the TRS pension and healthcare funds.

 


 

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

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The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.

 

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

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights:

 


The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to become Secretary of Education. DeVos arguably has been President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick. As proof of just how much disagreement exists over DeVos, Monday’s vote is predicted to come down to a 50-50 split, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a rare tie-breaking vote to confirm the nominee. Read more in this most recent blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central if you’d like to send a message this weekend to U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos. (Member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover all the action. Check out Mark’s latest blog post about new committee assignments for the board members, changes that are in the works to some curriculum standards, charter school finances, and more.

 


For months, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been touting his major private school voucher legislation that will be pushed hard this legislative session. This week we finally got the first look at his signature voucher bill for 2017, which is Senate Bill 3 being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill filed on Monday calls for both corporate tax credit “scholarships” for private schools, as well as education savings accounts (ESAs). The latter would offer a debit card for parents, pre-funded with taxpayer dollars to be used for private school tuition, home school costs, or even college savings.

On more positive note, Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) this week filed a new bill aimed at reducing standardized testing. House Bill 1333 calls for delinking teacher evaluations from student test scores, but the measure would also require Texas to seek a waiver of federal laws that require several tests currently administered to students starting in grade three and moving through the high school grades.

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Stay tuned next week as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will offer an in-depth look at SB 3 and the voucher debate for our blog. We’ll also have more on the newly filed testing bill, HB 1333. ATPE members can read more about these bills and all our legislative priorities over on Advocacy Central.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Governor Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the 85th Legislature on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for the governor to share his declared “emergency items” earmarked for earliest consideration this session, but no education issues made that list. The governor did still talk about some legislative priorities of his that relate to education.

Gov. Abbott urged lawmakers to work on an overhaul of the beleaguered school finance system and reiterated his strong support for pre-K programs, as long as they are done the “right” way. He also encouraged lawmakers to do something about the small number of teachers who’ve engaged in inappropriate relationships with students and strengthen reporting laws to address school administrations that have allowed some of those individuals to move on to jobs in other districts rather than being excised from the profession permanently.

Unfortunately, the governor also expressed support for private school voucher legislation and praised two lawmakers who have filed bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. Adding his voice to those spreading misinformation about the payroll deduction issue, Gov. Abbott stated, “Taxpayer resources should not be used for that.” ATPE and other groups have pointed out that payroll deduction for association dues produces no cost to taxpayers. State law even specifically authorizes school districts to charge associations like ATPE a fee if any such costs ever did arise.

The governor’s reference to taxpayer burdens that don’t exist is yet another example of the misleading information being spread about these two so-called “union dues” bills. The bills are being pushed mainly by business groups that have complained vociferously about anti-business activities by certain organized labor unions. But the bills filed, Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), have no impact on private businesses whatsoever.

This week, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) signed on as a co-author of Senate Bill 13, joining a handful of other senators backing the bill. The House version includes two co-authors: Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) and Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound).

Both of these bills unfairly target educators for retaliation against their decisions to join professional associations like ATPE. While being touted as “union dues” bills, the measures actually affect groups that aren’t unionized, including ATPE, and they specifically exempt certain other public employees who would continue to benefit from payroll deduction for their union dues. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees highlights the political and discriminatory nature of these bills, which are clearly meant to silence the voices of educators on hot-button issues like private school vouchers, public pension reform, testing and accountability, and labeling public schools as failures.

Educators are urged to send messages to their lawmakers about these harmful payroll deduction bills that are tied directly to other legislative efforts to destroy public education. It’s easy for ATPE members to send a message, call, tweet, or communicate with lawmakers via Facebook using our communication tools at Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE members, today is your last day to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event scheduled for March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Be sure to sign up for our political involvement training and lobby day activities here, and don’t forget to book your hotel rooms and submit any requests for travel incentives by today, too. (ATPE member login is required to register for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Our training event on Sunday, March 5, features an opening keynote address by John Kuhn, presentations by the ATPE lobbyists, and a panel discussion with legislative leaders sharing their perspectives on the issues. Our website includes a schedule for Senate meetings and more details. Check it all out here. We look forward to seeing hundreds of ATPE members next month in Austin!

Updates from the Texas Education Agency

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

SPECIAL EDUCATION

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

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

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

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

SUPERINTENDENTS ORDERED TO SCHOOL

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

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

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

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

TITLE I REWARD SCHOOLS

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

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

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

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE REPORTS

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

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

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

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

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 14, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are education news stories you might have missed this week:


Road sign toward election 2016We’re only 10 days away from the start of early voting for the 2016 general election. Many thanks to all of you who helped get pro-public education voters registered. Read more about Texas’s record-setting voter registration statistics in this recent article from The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. The early voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4. Early voting enables you to visit any polling place within your county or political subdivision. In most counties, if you wait until Election Day to vote, you’ll be required to vote in the assigned polling location for your precinct. Voters over the age of 65 or those unable to make it to the polls due to certain circumstances such as illness may apply for a ballot by mail. Learn more about the requirements for voting here. Also, click here to find out about ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, which includes ATPE, is encouraging school leaders to help get their employees to the polls during the early voting period.

I votedNow is a great time to find out where legislative and State Board of Education candidates stand on public education issues. Use our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that unlike the primary elections held earlier this year where voters had to choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election regardless of party affiliation, including independent candidates.


The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, where the main topic of discussion will be private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote next week. In the meantime, check out this video press release where Monty explains why ATPE remains committed to fighting efforts to implement a publicly funded voucher or private school scholarship program in Texas.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education has released new federal rules for teacher preparation, which include requirements for states to hold educator preparation programs accountable for a number of factors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been following the development of the rules over the last couple of years and provided a full report for Teach the Vote earlier this week.


Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants teachers to help students learn how to interact with law enforcement officers in the hope of decreasing violent incidents. Whitmire has announced plans to file a bill that would make lessons on police interaction part of the required curriculum for students in the ninth grade. The topic was discussed at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Whitmire chairs. Read more about the idea in a recent story from KVUE News here, and check out a related interview with ATPE member Cristal Misplay, who worked as a law enforcement officer before becoming a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD. We want to hear your thoughts on requiring the ninth grade curriculum to include lessons on interacting with police. Post your comments below.


Rent on red business binderAustin ISD is considering ways to foster teacher retention by partnering with the City of Austin to explore future affordable housing options for educators and other public employees. Austin ATPE President Heidi Langan spoke to KXAN News this week about the local cost of teacher turnover. Her district has struggled to keep teachers who often leave for neighboring districts that offer higher salaries and where houses are more affordable. Check out the full interview here.


Are you a teacher or parent in a school district that is considering a District of Innovation (DOI) designation? ATPE has a resource page dedicated to helping stakeholders navigate the DOI process and learn about the types of laws that can be waived in districts that avail themselves of the new DOI law. Our resource page includes examples of some Texas school districts that have become DOIs and provides tips on how to share input with your district through the DOI process. Check out the DOI resource page here.


 

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

Monty at DOI hearing

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

NO VOUCHERS

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

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

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

 


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

 


 

Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 1, 2016

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


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced details this week on summer training academies for certain teachers. The programs include Literacy Achievement Academies for kindergarten and grade one teachers and Mathematics Achievement Academies for teachers of students in grades two and three. Teachers who complete an academy this summer will receive a $350 stipend through their school district or charter school. In selecting eligible teachers, TEA will give priority to teachers working in schools that enroll at least 50% educationally disadvantaged students (those eligible for free/reduced lunch). For additional information on the academies, click here or contact Chelaine Marion, TEA’s Director of Foundation Education, at (512) 463-9581.


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundLongtime Texas Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) is seeking a new role as a County Commissioner for Harris County. He recently won the Democratic party nomination for that post in Houston’s Precinct 1. The Houston Chronicle reported on the move saying, “Although Ellis will be giving up 26 years of seniority in Austin, he will wield significant clout as Precinct 1 commissioner, where he will represent some 1.2 million people, control a budget of more than $200 million and help govern the nation’s third-largest county.”

Ellis has held his Senate seat since 1990, but will be removing his name from the November general election ballot for re-election. That has resulted in a flurry of activity among state representatives interested in the opportunity and a chance for local Democratic precinct chairs to decide which candidate is best suited to replace Ellis on the ballot.

Today, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) announced that she intends to seek Ellis’s seat in the upper chamber. Thompson is one of the most senior members of the Texas House of Representatives, currently serving her 22nd term; she is also considered the longest-serving female elected official in Texas history. Also vying for the seat is another state representative from Houston, Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston), who has served in the Texas House since 2006. Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who had been rumored to be another possible candidate, announced this week that he intends to remain in the Texas House. Former Houston City Controller Ron Green is also eyeing the nomination. The outcome has the potential to cause another reshuffling of offices around the Capitol and yet another special election heading into the 2017 legislative session.


The Texas Senate Education Committee has scheduled a series of upcoming interim hearings that include reform issues of high priority to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

First, on August 3, 2016, the committee will discuss “a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes.” The hearing will  include looking at “performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance” and “any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.” Performance-based funding and “mandate relief” have long been favored concepts in the Senate. During the same meeting, senators will take a closer look at the state’s only remaining county-based school systems, the Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools to determine whether their services are overlapping with regional education service centers. Finally, the committee will be following up on the implementation of a new law last year (HB 2610) that changed the requirement for a minimum number of school days to a minimum number of school minutes.

Next, the Senate Education Committee will meet August 16, 2016, to study school board governance policies and practices and how they can help improve student outcomes, especially for low-performing schools. Expect the Districts of Innovation (DOI) law and how schools are using it to be a topic of discussion. The committee will also talk about pre-Kindergarten grants and legislation to raise the standards for educator preparation programs.

Teacher teaching schoolboy computer in the library

On September 13, the committee will take up the issue of digital learning. Discussions will include access to broadband in school districts around the state and how to build “the necessary infrastructure to provide a competitive, free-market environment in broadband service.” The committee will also evaluate the implementation of the law that allows graduation committees to determine if certain students who failed STAAR tests may be allowed to graduate. That ATPE-supported law is set to expire in September 2017 unless the legislature reauthorizes or extends it.

Finally, on September 14, the Senate Education Committee is holding an interim hearing on vouchers. The agenda includes looking at education savings accounts and tax credit scholarship programs that have been adopted in other states. NO VOUCHERS Lt. Gov. Patrick has said that vouchers and other privatization plans will continue to be one of his top legislative priorities for the Senate in 2017. The Sept. 14 hearing will also focus on interventions for schools that have had unsuccessful academic ratings under the accountability system and the implementation of the DOI law, which allows acceptably rated schools to exempt themselves from various state laws.

All of the aforementioned meetings will begin at 9 a.m. and public testimony will be limited to two minutes. Most hearings can be viewed live or in an archived format through the state legislature’s website. Watch for additional interim hearings of the House Public Education Committee to be announced later this summer for early fall. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates after all of these hearings.


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyIn related legislative interim news, the heads of state agencies are being asked to “engage in a thorough review of each program and budget strategy and determine the value of each dollar spent” as they prepare their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) for the 2017 session. That’s the message in a June 30 joint letter from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Lt. Gov. Patrick (R), and Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R) to agency directors, appellate court judges, and university leaders. In what has become a sort of tradition in interim years, despite our state’s often-touted economic successes, the directive calls for state agencies to cut four percent from their base appropriation levels, but notes that exceptions will be made for “amounts necessary to maintain funding for the Foundation School Program under current law” and a few other priorities.

At the same time, a group of conservative political organizations are warning lawmakers that they will not be viewed as conservative if the 85th Legislature does not limit appropriations for the next biennium to $218.5 billion or less, including federal funds. The coalition includes groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and National Federation of Independent Business-Texas, which have often taken decidedly anti-public education stances on issues such as school funding, class-size limits, payroll deduction for public employees, and more.


Many thanks to those of you who participated in the SBOE survey on student testing and accountability. The survey ended yesterday, and the board will review the results of the feedback received at its next meeting, scheduled for July 19-22, 2016. The SBOE survey was conducted in concert with the effort by the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability to make testing and accountability recommendations to the 85th Legislature. The commission is expected to hold its last meeting on July 27 to adopt final recommendations. A set of draft recommendations with rationales and timelines can be viewed here. The commission has struggled to find consensus on many difficult questions relating to student testing, the original meeting schedule for the commission has been extended, and now at least one member of the commission has voiced concerns about the process. In a recent letter to Dr. Andrew Kim, the commission’s chairman, commissioner Theresa Trevino, who also serves as president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), shared her belief that some recommendations were being given short shrift. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on both upcoming meetings of the SBOE and the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability.


Happy Independence Day!

Boys Holding Sparklers

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

IMG_2714_BRADY

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)

DOE

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

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ATPE meets with Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX)