Abbott, TEA launch voucher program for students with disabilities

On Oct. 21, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a new funding program for students with disabilities that is strikingly similar to previous voucher-like privatization proposals, including “education savings accounts” or ESAs, that have been consistently rejected by Texas lawmakers. The program will enable parents of students with special needs to apply for $1,500 grants for supplemental educational services.

  • The Supplemental Special Education Services program will be funded with $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funding appropriated by Congress through the CARES Act earlier this year.
  • The funds are part of a $307 million federal grant via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, over which Gov. Greg Abbott has authority with little to no state legislative oversight required.
  • ATPE is criticizing the voucher plan, arguing the COVID-19 relief funds should instead flow more equitably to school districts that already have an obligation under federal law to provide for educational needs, including paying for supplemental services, of students with disabilities.

The new Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program is funded by a $30 million allocation from Abbott’s $307 million GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) fund, which was authorized by Congress through the CARES Act, is administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and is funded with taxpayer dollars. GEER funds can be used on emergency support for K-12 and higher education, as well as support for any other education-related entity in the state the governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.

As we reported here on Teach the Vote in April, the federal GEER funds were designed to be “highly flexible,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been a vocal proponent of federally funded vouchers. The streamlined, 15-page application for the GEER funds was essentially an “agree-sign-submit” format with a short questionnaire on how the state intended to use the funds. No public comment period or state legislative oversight was required. In the certification and agreement that Abbott’s office sent to the Education Department earlier this year, there is no mention of using the GEER funds for vouchers. The state plan instead refers to the most notable GEER fund K-12 expenditures, the Texas Home Learning and Operation Connectivity initiatives.

According to a TEA FAQ document on the new program, the SSES will offer $1,500 in an online account for each eligible student through which “goods and services” can be ordered using the money. Eligible students must have been enrolled in public school since the COVID-19 school closures and have a low-incidence disability. The allowable goods and services include private tutoring, educationally related services and therapies from a licensed or accredited provider, textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials, and computer hardware, software, or other technological devices that are used for educational needs. TEA will approve vendors for the online voucher account. Approximately 20,000 students could be served through the $30 million allocation at $1,500 each, though the agency says 59,000 students in Texas are eligible. On its website today, TEA noted that details on how the accounts will work are “coming soon.”

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) already provides school districts with federal funds to fulfill students’ educational needs under the requirement of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). There is no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted education, especially for students with disabilities. However, it is essential that districts receive adequate resources, such as money for extra staffing and personal protective equipment, to fulfill their responsibility under IDEA for all students with disabilities to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

Historically, Texas does not have the best track record for meeting its obligation to adequately fund the state’s special education needs; state officials were forced to implement a corrective action plan after 2016 investigations revealed an arbitrary cap on special education program enrollment had resulted in many students being denied the help they needed and were entitled to by law. However, lawmakers, education stakeholders, and the voting public have expressed little appetite for privatization initiatives, even when ostensibly aimed at helping students with special needs.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature, and principally the House of Representatives, rejected Senate Bill 3 (85R), a bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that would have funded an extremely similar voucher proposal aimed at students with disabilities. The bill would have sent public taxpayer dollars to private entities that provide services to students with disabilities, which are not subject to the protections and accountability required by federal education law. In fact, it would have required participating students to surrender their federal protections under the IDEA.

ATPE members have long opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers, including ESA programs in which there is little oversight of how the money is ultimately spent. ATPE is extremely disappointed the governor has made the unilateral decision to spend our state’s GEER funds in such a manner, not only circumventing the Legislature’s clear opposition to vouchers but also denying the use of this $30 million allocation by public schools that need additional COVID-19 relief and are in a better position to equitably and efficiently provide for the needs of all students with disabilities.

In addition to opposing further efforts to funnel public education dollars to private individuals or entities with little oversight, ATPE urges lawmakers to continue their efforts to improve the state’s school finance system in a manner that will ensure districts have access to the resources they need for serving all students in an equitable and responsible manner. Funding for school districts on behalf of their students should match the actual student needs rather than being based on arbitrary and rigid formulas that can be limiting and frustrating for families.

Read ATPE’s press statement about the SSES announcement here.

Share Button

From The Texas Tribune: Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks to return to classrooms

Several school districts are trying to accommodate teachers with health conditions who want to work from home, but many are being called back in as more students return to classrooms.

Joy Tucker outside her home in Deer Park. Credit: The Texas Tribune

Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks they must return to classrooms during the pandemic

After several miscarriages over the last few years, Joy Tucker is finally pregnant with her third child at the age of 37.

A school counselor at the Houston-based Windmill Lakes campus at the International Leadership of Texas charter school, Tucker talked to her doctor about the risks she and her child would face if she were to contract COVID-19 from students or other employees. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that pregnant people may be at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, or even preterm birth. At her doctor’s recommendation, Tucker turned in a note asking her school if she could work remotely.

School leaders denied that request, saying she would have to return to work in person in September. If not, Tucker would have to use the rest of her paid leave to remain home, leaving her no time to recover after the baby’s birth. Her options quickly dwindling and her baby due in January, Tucker lawyered up and filed a grievance with the school district.

“I want nothing more than to go back to work and be with my kids,” said Tucker, who chose to use paid leave instead of returning in September. “If I have to choose between mine and my baby’s life, or going to work in a situation where we could get sick or we could die, there’s no choice to make — I have to stay home.”

Caitlin Madison, a spokesperson for the charter school, declined to comment on Tucker’s case but said, “since this school year started, the ILTexas policy has been that if we have students on campus, then we need to have our employees on campus as well.” About 28% of students in the district have chosen to return to campus.

“The only work-from-home exception for campus staff has been if they are sick with COVID or were potentially exposed to COVID and require a 14-day quarantine,” she added.

International Leadership of Texas is one of a number of Texas schools denying some teachers’ requests to work from home, as they balance staffing against often-fluctuating student enrollment. Federal disability law allows employees to ask their bosses for reasonable accommodations, such as temporary schedule changes, shift changes or working remotely, if an illness puts them at higher risk for COVID-19.

School districts must grant those requests unless they would pose an “undue hardship,” including costing too much or impeding their ability to run the school. With Texas largely requiring school districts to bring back all students who want to return, administrators like those at International Leadership of Texas argue they cannot run their school campuses properly if too many teachers stay at home. More than 2 million of 5.5 million Texas students were attending school in person as of late September, according to a state estimate, an increase from 1 million earlier this fall.

Experts say that school districts should layer safety requirements such as masks, social distancing and sanitizing to keep COVID-19 from spreading. In other countries, transmission in schools has been extremely low. But few of those countries had the same level of uncontrolled community spread as Texas, which has failed to contain the virus in many regions and is seeing regional surges in cases. State data on transmission in public schools shows almost 6,500 teachers reported positive COVID-19 cases, but the data is limited and full of gaps.

Given the unclear picture of COVID-19’s spread in Texas schools, teachers say school administrators are unfairly expecting them to put their lives in danger, in some cases requiring all staff to return to campuses even when most students have chosen virtual learning. Texas teachers have little leverage, given the state’s strict labor laws: Any teachers who strike could be stripped of their jobs, teaching certificates and pension benefits.

“You don’t need to be in an office to do your job,” said Tony Conners, who is representing Tucker and has exclusively represented teachers for more than 30 years. “Since spring break, when COVID-19 hit, everyone was working from home and [school districts] were taking the money from the government and they were telling the communities and parents that they were being well served.”

Conners said he’s heard from more teachers than ever before wanting counsel on how to get accommodations to stay home. The toughest cases, he said, are in charter schools and suburban districts. By law the process is individualized, requiring school leaders to talk with employees about how to meet their needs.

But districts do not have to hire new staff or create new positions to accommodate someone under the law, said Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards. “If more than half of students are coming back, you have to create social distancing in the physical environment, which may mean you need smaller class sizes and therefore you need all hands on deck,” she said. “A lot of districts responded to that by saying, ‘We don’t have remote-only positions.’”

Even districts currently providing teachers with accommodations cannot guarantee them for the entire year, since many are allowing parents to decide each marking period whether to enroll their students in virtual or in-person education.

“If we can provide some of those accommodations without creating a hardship on a campus where they wouldn’t be able to serve their students safely, then I wanted to be able to proudly say that we had valued both students and staff,” said Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde.

About 700 of 5,000 total Austin ISD teachers have received permission to work virtually at least through December. But as more students return in person, “we will be challenged to keep all of those accommodations for a long time …… There is of course fine print that says, if it becomes necessary to rescind the approval for school student needs, then we would have to do so,” she said.

Some teachers have already had that rug pulled out from under them. In August, Gina Morreale, an Eanes ISD middle school history teacher, was approved to work remotely after turning in a note from her doctor explaining her chronic bronchitis and susceptibility to pneumonia. She even got an email from administrators asking her not to come on campus to do her work sponsoring the cheerleading team. Lean on the cheer moms, she was told.

A month later, Eanes administrators decided to bring back all students who wanted to come in person, instead of phasing them in slowly. Unfortunately for Morreale, that meant also bringing all staff back to campus.

“This can’t apply to me,” she remembers thinking. “Maybe this applies to someone who is in a walking boot — someone that wasn’t high risk.” She started to think through her options — Could she quit and move in with her parents? Did she need to look for a new job?

She asked her doctor for another letter with more detail, and said she is still working with district leaders, hoping they can agree on an accommodation.

Eanes ISD was forced to call its staff back to ensure there were enough personnel, said spokesperson Claudia McWhorter. The human resources department is working with concerned educators on a case-by-case basis. “Even when we were at 25% capacity, our campuses were short-staffed; some campuses have been forced to have an all-hands approach and even have principals serving as teachers in classrooms,” McWhorter said in an email. “Simply put: with more students returning, we need staff in the buildings.”

For now, Morreale has been able to work remotely, but she’s not sure how long the district will allow it.

“I hope I can until it is safe for me,” she said.

Administrators that deny teachers’ requests to stay at home are offering other options. Baskin said the school board association is training human resources directors to get creative in thinking about accommodations that could help teachers with health risks safely work from school buildings. That might mean offering a more remote office away from students and teachers or extra safety equipment.

Six years after finishing multiple rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer, Pasadena ISD high school English teacher Elizabeth Alanis asked if she could work from home. Her white blood cell count, which determines the health of her immune system, still yo-yos every several months.

To her horror, after a conversation with school leaders, she received a letter denying her request to stay home long term. The district instead offered to minimize her direct contact with students, provide her with plexiglass dividers and protective equipment, set up student desk shields or move her classroom to an external portable building so she didn’t have to pass many people in the halls.

“Your job duties and responsibilities require your physical presence on campus as of September 8, 2020,” they wrote in a letter Alanis provided to The Texas Tribune. “Consequently, the District does not believe allowing you to telework after the short-term program has ended and after students have returned to campus, is a reasonable accommodation based on your job duties and responsibilities as a classroom teacher.”

According to the district, she is one of 59 teachers who have formally requested to work from home through the federal disability accommodations process, of about 3,700 teachers total. None of them were allowed to work from home past Sept. 8, when students returned to campus. “Pasadena ISD must provide students attending in-person instruction with a safe, supervised school/campus environment, and that effort is supported by all of our staff being physically present,” said Arturo Del Barrio, spokesperson for Pasadena ISD. The percentage of students on campus is gradually increasing, from about 40% in September to almost half by mid-October.

Alanis used her personal leave days to remain at home until mid-October, but decided to return Tuesday, unable to afford unpaid leave for months. “I’ve spoken to my oncologist on this matter and he knows it’s a tough place to be in. My white blood cell count is still low, so that just means I’ll have to take extra precautions,” she said. “I am going to invest in a medical grade mask and I am going to also invest in an air purifier with a UV light.”

Sitting out of classes for even part of a semester is heartbreaking for Alanis, who has been a teacher for 16 years, most of them in Pasadena ISD. “There’s not much they can take from me at this point. They’ve already kind of taken who I am,” she said, her voice over the phone showing she was close to tears. “I’ve had such huge ties to my students, to my community. And oh my God, I love those kids.”


Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks they must return to classrooms during the pandemic” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/20/texas-schools-teachers-coronavirus-pandemic/.

 

Share Button

Happy Educator Voting Day!

It’s been a wild election season—and a wild year in general. Today, October 19, marks Educator Voting Day in Texas. Whether you will vote today, on another day during early voting, or on Election Day, make sure you have a plan to vote!

Voting is the single most important way to ensure Texas will have pro-public education officeholders working in the best interest of you and your students. We at ATPE like to recognize Educator Voting Day along with our partners at Texas Educators Vote.

To mark the importance of today, we’re reupping important election information and our voter resources list. It’s never been more vital to make a voting plan and stick to it!

  • Early voting for the general election continues through Friday, October 30; dates and hours may vary based on your location.
  • Find important dates, your voter registration status, polling locations, and more on the Texas Secretary of State’s My Voter Page, or contact your county clerk.
  • For more information about the election, including sample ballots and what you need to bring with you to the polls, visit votetexas.gov.
  • Learn more about each candidate on ATPE’s Teach the Vote, which includes candidates’ answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (when available) and legislators’ voting records.
  • Need help finding information about the candidates on Teach the Vote? Watch our instructional video narrated by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.
  • Find out what health protocols are in place to protect voters at polling locations here.
  • Do you have questions about voting by mail? Check out the “So, You’re Thinking about Voting by Mail” article on Teach the Vote.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Use vote411.org to build a personalized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You’re not permitted to use your cell phone while voting.)
  • Read one ATPE lobbyist’s experience with early voting in the general election.

Be safe, and go vote!

This content was originally posted on the ATPE blog here.

Share Button

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that eight school systems would be included in a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot. Participating schools will receive rapid antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes. The tests will be administered to students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate. The state hopes eventually to expand rapid testing in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus as more students return for in-person learning. Read more about the program in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.

This week’s updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that, compared to last week’s reported numbers, positive cases rose by 2.6% among students and 6.8% among staff. As districts are notified of positive test results, they may update their numbers, and the dashboard’s values for the prior week (ending Oct. 4) have increased beyond what was previously reported. The updated data show last week’s positive cases rose by 11.8% among students and 15.5% among staff. (The increases reported last week were significantly less than this, at 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.) As a reminder, positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page includes newly updated information about educators returning to school. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.
  • ATPE members can send messages to their government officials through Advocacy Central.

ELECTION UPDATE: The first week of early voting is almost over, and record numbers of Texans have already cast their votes. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30! If you haven’t voted yet, check out ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on her early voting experience, which includes tips for a smooth trip to the polls.

ATPE Exec. Dir. Shannon Holmes sports his “I voted early” sticker

Court decisions continue to impact ballot drop off locations and the use of drive-thru and curbside voting. The Senate District 30 special election runoff between Shelley Luther and Rep. Drew Springer has been set for Dec. 19. For more election-related news, see this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

You may have noticed on ATPE’s Twitter and Facebook that ATPE members and staff are posting videos on why they vote. Share your own video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote! Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


As mentioned in this article by the Dallas Morning News, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was invited to testify on teacher workforce issues during a Senate Education Committee interim hearing this week. Exter advocated for streamlined professional development and reduced paperwork burdens on districts and educators. The committee also heard invited testimony from adult education providers and education preparation programs. Read more about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and see ATPE’s written testimony here.


The 2020 Census count ended this week after an October 13 Supreme Court order shortened the deadline from October 31 to October 15. The deadline has fluctuated multiple times as the Trump administration played tug-of-war with the courts. Some argue the administration wanted to cut the deadline to ensure time to manipulate the census data to exclude unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Read more about the development in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


TEA sent out a notice this week to Education Service Centers and district testing coordinators describing a new method for calculating the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-2021 school year. The modified measure would reach back in to 2018-19 student testing data, skipping over 2019-20 since no tests were given due to the pandemic. Questions remain as to whether the STAAR testing is appropriate at this time and how a modified progress measure might be used in the accountability system for 2020-21. Read more in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Share Button

TEA announces modified STAAR progress measure

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent a notification to Education Service Centers and school district testing coordinators this week that outlines how the agency intends to approach the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-21 school year.

Typically, the STAAR progress measure is based on the change in a student’s scores between the current year and the prior year. Because the STAAR tests were cancelled in Spring and Summer 2020 due to COVID-19, calculations using results for the 2019-20 school year are not feasible.

As a workaround, TEA will temporarily modify the calculation of the progress measure to be based off student scores from the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. Due to this change, students currently in 4th grade will be excluded, as they were in an untested grade (2nd grade) in 2018-19.

According to the notice, STAAR progress measures will be calculated for STAAR and STAAR Alternate 2 for the following grade levels and subject areas:

  • Grade 5 Reading English, Reading Spanish (STAAR only), Mathematics English, and Mathematics Spanish (STAAR only)
  • Grade 6 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 7 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics
  • Algebra I
  • English I (STAAR Alternate 2 only)
  • English II

The agency has not determined whether these modified progress measures will be used in the Texas public school accountability system’s “School Progress” and “Closing the Gaps” domains, which are two of three domains used to determine academic accountability “A-F” ratings and interventions for public schools. The third domain used to calculate a composite score for districts and campuses is the “Student Achievement” domain.

TEA warns in the notice that the modified progress measure for 2020-21 is different from previous years both in context (massive educational disruptions) and in methodology. The agency also advises against using the measures for the new optional Teacher Incentive Allotment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA announced that STAAR scores would not be required factors in determining fifth and eighth grade promotion this year. However, state officials have not shown a willingness to waive testing requirements for a second year. At a Sept. 18 event in Dallas, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.”

The admitted difficulty in relying on modified measures during a pandemic points to the inappropriateness of using STAAR scores for any high-stakes purposes at this time. While standardized testing may provide some insight into learning, any interpretation of STAAR data will be highly suspect and unreliable due to the myriad other factors that have arisen during the pandemic. As urged by our House of Delegates earlier this year, ATPE will continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for relief from testing and accountability requirements during this challenging and unusual academic year.

Share Button

Texas election roundup: Early voting breaking records

Early voting is now underway in Texas, and over one million Texans have already cast their ballots! If you haven’t voted yet, you have until October 30 for early voting and Election Day is November 3!

Voters in Harris County cast nearly 170,000 ballots on the first day of early voting, up from 130,000 in 2016. The total includes both in-person and mail-in ballots received on the first day of early voting. According to the Texas Tribune, first day early voting in the state’s ten largest counties was 6.71% in 2020, compared to 5.82% in 2016 — roughly a 15% increase in turnout.

High turnout is always a good sign, but it’s too soon to draw many conclusions after just two days of early voting. The first day of early voting was also not without incident. Issues in Fort Bend, Tarrant, and Travis Counties led to some voters waiting five hours or more. The counties moved quickly to resolve those problems and if the increased voter participation numbers are sustained, Texas could be on the path to record turnout.

Even as Texans headed to the polls, the courts continued to hand down decisions this week affecting their ability to vote. Harris County, which is home to 4.7 million people and spans nearly 1,800 square miles, had set up 12 locations for voters to drop off mail-in ballots. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Gov. Greg Abbott could limit counties to a single drop-off location for mail-in ballots, forcing Harris County to close all but one of its drop-off locations. On Wednesday, a state appeals court allowed drive-through and curbside voting to continue in Harris County by rejecting a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of Texas to block the service.

A new poll by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found that 62% of registered Texas voters believe the U.S. is on the wrong track. The same poll showed 41% believe the state of Texas is headed in the right direction, compared to 44% who believe it’s on the wrong track. Respondents listed the coronavirus/COVID-19 (18%), political corruption/leadership (14%), and the economy (10%) as the most important issues facing the country right now. The poll showed Republican Donald Trump leading Democrat Joe Biden 50% to 45% in the presidential race here in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a special runoff election for Saturday, December 19, to fill the seat in Senate District (SD) 30 being vacated by state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper). The runoff will be between state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Dallas-area salon owner and Republican Shelley Luther, who led Springer in the special election by just 164 votes. Early voting for the special runoff election will begin Wednesday, December 9.

Before you head to the polls, make sure you arm yourself with resources that will enable you to maximize the impact of your vote. It’s always smart to check your county website first in order to find out the nearest polling location and hours. Many county websites also list current wait times at polling locations! If you need help finding your county’s website, check here. You can also check out this handy checklist for in-person voting by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. And as always, make sure to visit the candidates tab here at Teach the Vote in order to do your research on the education views of those running for office in your area. Now get out there and vote!

Share Button

From The Texas Tribune: Eight Texas school systems will get rapid tests with new pilot program

Partitions made from clear shower curtains and PVC pipe separate desks in a fourth grade classroom at Abilene’s Texas Leadership Charter Academy. The barriers are to prevent children from potentially spreading the coronavirus to classmates. Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/Abilene Reporter-News

Coronavirus tests with results in 15 minutes or less are coming to a few Texas schools as part of a new pilot program announced Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“As more students return to campus for in-person instruction, the State of Texas is working alongside school officials to provide resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff,” Abbott said in a news release.

The program is meant to help schools conduct rapid tests of employees and students who have written permission from parents. Health experts have said accessible, rapid testing could help the state achieve substantive widespread COVID-19 testing, an elusive public health goal for Texas and much the country.

John Wittman, a spokesperson for the governor, said the tests are part of the millions being provided to Texas by the federal government. The medical company producing the tests said the antigen tests require a nasal swab, cost $5 and are about the size of a credit card.

Through the program, the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide the tests to school systems, which will receive personal protective equipment to administer them to willing participants, according to the release. The Texas Education Agency said in an email that it will provide a monthly allotment of tests to each school system. The agency said school systems will determine how the tests will be conducted because they know “what works best for their school and community,” and each school system will provide test administrators to give the tests.

“Thank you to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for providing these advanced antigen tests to the State of Texas,” Abbott said. “This rapid testing pilot program will be an effective strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff while helping to further ensure that Texas students have access to a quality education throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

Eight school systems are participating in the launch of the program: Bob Hope School in Port Arthur, Fabens Independent School District, Grace Community School in Tyler, Granger Independent School District, Lampasas Independent School District, Longview Independent School District, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District. Other public and private schools interested in the program can apply through the TEA no later than Wednesday, Oct. 28, the release said.

Wittman said implementation and testing will be “ramped up significantly,” he said, but first any issues need to be worked out in the pilot program.

Rapid antigen tests, which can detect proteins on the outside of the virus, are more prone to giving false negative results than other coronavirus tests that use genetic material.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that a positive test result on an antigen test is “highly accurate,” but “antigen tests are more likely to miss an active coronavirus infection compared to molecular tests.”

But Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a previous interview that the tests are most useful in settings such as schools because the same people can be tested every three to four days, eliminating the chances of having a false negative result.


Eight Texas school systems will get rapid coronavirus tests with new pilot program” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Share Button

ATPE discusses teacher workforce issues with Senate committee

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, in Austin to discuss teacher workforce and adult education topics. Members of the committee met in person and heard testimony from invited witnesses who spoke to the committee virtually. The committee did not hear public testimony.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said each committee member was tested for COVID-19 prior to the meeting. Members on the dais were separated by clear plastic dividers and some wore face coverings. Chairman Taylor said the committee plans to hold one more meeting before the 87th Texas Legislature meets in January.

The committee first discussed the Goodwill Excel Center, which is a public charter school system serving adults between the ages of 18 and 50. There are six Excel Center campuses across the state that provide non-traditional adult students with a flexible school setting so that they can earn high school diplomas or their equivalent, as well as industry certifications. During the 2019 legislative session, ATPE supported House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which made permanent the Goodwill Excel Center and codified its best practices. Because of issues regarding how the current public school accountability system “fits” the Excel Center model, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff said the agency is developing an alternative evaluation regime that addresses differences in educating adults.

In addition to the Excel Center, there are several independent school districts across the state that serve adults up to age 25, in addition to the state-run Windham School District, which also offers adult education to incarcerated persons up to age 25. Windham staff testified their district serves 27,000 students per year, offering courses that lead to a high school diploma or career and technical certification. Unfortunately, Windham is subject to proposed TEA budget cuts that ATPE advocated against, citing potential harm to at-risk and disadvantaged student populations. The committee additionally heard from the San Antonio College Empowerment Center, which also offers adult education services.

The committee then discussed the recommendations of a working group on teacher workforce issues convened by the lieutenant governor. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was one of three representatives of the group invited to provide testimony today. The work group pointed out the gradual accumulation of confusing and often duplicative training requirements placed on educators. The requirements found in both Texas statutes and rules have become excessive and repetitive, preventing educators from pursuing training opportunities that best support their individual needs.

Monty Exter testified virtually before the Senate Education committee, Oct. 14, 2020.

The group recommended the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) create a statewide clearinghouse of training requirements that includes recommendations for best practices and frequency of training. The group said the state should empower local school boards to take information from that clearinghouse and adopt those requirements on a an annual basis. ATPE’s  Exter testified that the state should streamline professional development to eliminate duplication and confusion. Exter also pointed out there is a wide variety of requirements for recordkeeping and reporting, and suggested records should be retained locally, with districts allowed to provide them to TEA upon request in order to reduce paperwork.

The work group is preparing to release a 70-page document containing consensus recommendations approved by a large number of education stakeholders, including ATPE. The committee lastly heard from a number of educator preparation providers (EPPs) regarding the importance of preparing teachers for online learning.

ATPE submitted written testimony to the committee that offered a number of recommendations on the broader topic of teacher workforce issues. ATPE recommended the legislature ensure funding is in place to maintain any raises educators received as a result of House Bill (HB) 3 last session and fully fund mentoring and induction programs. ATPE recommended lawmakers also fund continuing professional education initiatives and maintain the freedom of educators to choose the professional development programs best for them. ATPE also recommended the state provide tuition assistance to increase diversity in the teacher workforce and lower the financial burden of attending high-quality undergraduate EPP programs.

Share Button

Census deadline is now Oct. 15 following Supreme Court ruling

At the request of the Trump administration, the United States Supreme Court yesterday issued an order to cut the 2020 Census count short — bumping up the deadline for individuals to submit their online census responses to October 15 at 11:59 P.M. Hawaii time. For residents here in Texas, that deadline for online submissions translates to Friday, October 16, at 4:59 A.M. Central Daylight Time or 3:59 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time. Paper responses to the census must be postmarked by Thursday, October 15, 2020.

If you have not filled out your census, you can do so online HERE.

The deadline for the census count has fluctuated ever since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted census operations. Before the Supreme Court ruled, the most recent deadline as ordered by lower courts was to be October 31. That came after lawsuits were filed in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s August 3 announcement that it would end census collection on September 30.

Under federal law, the census data must be delivered to the states in the form of apportionment counts (to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives) by December 31, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives has already filed and passed bipartisan legislation that would extend the census deadlines required by federal law to give the U.S. Census Bureau more time to process and tabulate census data before sending it to the states. The U.S. Senate, however, has not taken similar action.

The U.S. Supreme Court order was made at the request of the Trump administration, who argues that there will not be enough data processing time in order to meet the December 31 deadline to send apportionment data to the states. Others argue the push to shorten the timeline advances a Trump administration policy that aims to exclude unauthorized immigrants from census counts, which could decrease the number of U.S. House members representing Texas in Congress. This exclusionary proposal was blocked by a lower court in September but has since been appealed by the Trump administration and now sits pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Due to the extensive field work of census enumerators, Texas is at a response rate of 99.9% while other states such as Louisiana and Mississippi are at lower rates and need more time. What is really at stake is if the Trump administration follows through with its plan to exclude individuals from the count, as the long-standing interpretation of the census has been to count all persons living in the United States. Any exclusion would not only impact representation, but also essential funding for public education, transportation, and health care.

Share Button

Early voting in the 2020 general election, pandemic-style

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas for the 2020 general election. Plenty of time to make a plan and choose a time when the lines may be shorter. Here is what my voting experience was like and a five-step checklist for those who want to vote in-person. Remember, early voting lasts until October 30. Be sure to check the days and times the polls will be open in your county.

Checklist for in-person voting:

Step 1: Research candidates and propositions that will be on your ballot (see step 2 for finding your ballot). Here on Teach the Vote, you can review candidate profiles for those seeking state legislative or State Board of Education seats to learn more about their views on public education issues. The profiles include responses to ATPE’s candidate survey and voting records for incumbent legislators. Other nonpartisan resources such as the League of Women Voters of Texas Voters Guide, sponsored in part by ATPE, can provide information on other races.

Step 2: Create a sample ballot that is customized for the races in your area.

With the Vote411.org voter guide, you can make your ballot selections and have them emailed to you for easy printing. Alternately, you can visit your county website to find your FULL ballot, which will include local and municipal candidates and propositions that Vote411 may not cover. Print out or write down on paper your selections to take with you to your polling place. Remember, state law prohibits the use of cell phones within 100 feet of a polling place.

Step 3: Find your early voting and/or election day polling locations and hours here.

There are many places to case your vote, especially during early voting. Check the list of polling places in your area, and verify that your preferred polling place is open during early voting. Plan ahead with your partner on child care arrangements, picking up dinner, or whatever you need to do to ensure you have enough time to vote on the date you choose. I recommend getting to the polls earlier in the day and giving yourself plenty of time, just in case there is a line and because Texas is hot! Some counties use online tools that post live wait times at each polling location. Check your county election clerk’s website to find out if yours does.

Step 4: Get your materials ready.

Pack up your paper copy of your sample ballot with candidate selections, voter ID, stylus or pencil with eraser (optional), and a mask. If you have the appropriate voter ID, bringing your voter registration card is not necessary, as all you need to check in is your photo ID.

Step 5: VOTE!

 

Optional Pro Tips

Pro tip 1: Bring a friend to the polls. This will help both of you remember to cast your vote.

Pro tip 2: After you vote, post a selfie with your I Voted sticker. Tag @TeachTheVote and use the hashtag #TxEdVotes2020.

Share Button