Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 21, 2020

It’s the first week of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already voted or are making your plan to vote by March 3, stay up-to-date on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election started this week on February 18, which was also Educator Voting Day. Many counties saw record numbers of voters at the polls on Tuesday. The early voting period ends February 28 and Texas’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. If you haven’t made it out to the polls yet, be sure to get the scoop on voting procedures and reminders! (Doesn’t that make you want ice-cream?) Also, check out the latest “Texas election roundup” blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

Why vote in the primaries? ATPE’s lobbyists explained why it’s so important in this “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. In many cases, the winning candidate is chosen in the primary rather than in the November general election, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell described in Part I of the series (with a list of affected races). In  Part II of “Primary Colors,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains that for educators who face imminent attacks, it is imperative to show up at the polls and make informed choices so that the next legislative session is as positive as our last.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project for Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know it’s not too late! Encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details.

 

  • Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.
  • Learn about the non-binding ballot propositions proposed by the state Democratic and Republican parties that will appear on the primary ballot. These measures don’t affect the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues. Check out this Teach the Vote blog post for more information.
  • Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020.
  • Use Vote411.org to build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to find additional election-related resources created for educators.
  • Find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org.

This week, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced his plans to resign from the Texas Senate in order to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. Watson has served in the state legislature since being elected to office in 2006, and he was a key member of the Senate Education Committee during the 2019 legislative session. Senator Watson served as mayor of Austin before setting his sights on the legislature. The race to succeed Watson could draw a number of high-profile contenders from the Austin area. State Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Celia Israel (D-Austin) each indicated this week they are not interested in running for the seat, which is in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Gov. Greg Abbott will be required to call a special election in order to fill the Senate District 14 vacancy, which could be held on the uniform election dates in May or November of this year.


Two polls of note were released this week that show voter support for public education. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that Texas voters want increased spending for public education, and lower property taxes, and they believe the quality of Texas public education is excellent or good. Another statewide poll, commissioned by the education-focused non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation showed that 77% of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers. Those polled also believe that teacher quality is extremely or very important in overall school quality, teachers are undervalued, teacher pay is too low, standardized tests may not be the best measure of student learning, and public schools have too little money.

These two new Texas polls are consistent with another recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center, (NSBAC) which we reported on last week. In the NSBAC poll, 64% of the respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, 73% were opposed to public spending on private, religious, and home schools, and 80% expressed favorable opinions of the teachers in their community.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the Feb. 21, 2020, SBEC meeting.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin for its first meeting of the year. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified to urge the board to use its authority to remedy an unforeseen impact of House Bill (HB) 3 on former Master Teacher certificate holders. Under the bill’s repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, Master Teachers will no longer be able to renew their certificates and may face tricky situations trying to keep their current teaching assignments as a result. HB 3 author Rep. Dan Huberty also sent a letter to the board asking for their help in preserving the classroom expertise of Master Teachers.

Read complete details of the meeting in this comprehensive blog post from Chevalier.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Board of Trustees also met this week in Austin, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meetings. Hot topics of discussion at the meetings on Thursday and Friday, February 20-21, 2020, included healthcare for active and retired educators and plans for relocating the TRS agency staff.

Read Exter’s latest blog post for Teach the Vote here for highlights of the meeting.


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Healthcare and office space discussions dominate February 2020 TRS meeting

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees held its first meeting of 2020 in Austin this week. In addition to receiving typical reports on market trends and internal processes, such as the agency’s new diversity program, the board took action on two major issues regarding TRS space planning and healthcare for both the active and retired educator population.

TRS office space plans

The first day of the board’s two-day meeting was dominated by a discussion of TRS’s space planning needs, including issues surrounding the immediate future location of the TRS Investment Division, which has been in the news as of late. After a lengthy discussion of the history of the agency’s housing over the last two-plus decades, TRS staff recommended the Investment Management Division renew its current lease at 816 Congress Avenue in Austin (an option that was not previously available due to insufficiency of available space in the building). This would be a seven-year lease with a one-time right to terminate the lease if a new headquarters is found to house all of TRS. The recommendation also calls for TRS to sublet space it recently contracted to lease at the new Indeed Tower in downtown Austin. After the board’s vote to accept the recommendation, TRS Board Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth released the following statement:

“Today, the board considered additional options that recently became available and approved a solution that meets the space needs of our growing investment division, while also demonstrating sensitivity to member concerns.”

The agency will also move forward with consideration of building a new main campus outside of downtown Austin to house at least the staff currently located at the current main campus on Red River Street, potentially bringing all TRS staff back under the same roof.

Healthcare

During Friday’s meeting, TRS staff presented a recommendation, which the board approved, on the network providers for all of the major heath insurance funds managed by the board. TRS released the following press release about the changes, which they say could save the combined health insurance programs of TRS as much as $754 million  over the next three to five years.

Staff also updated the board on the TRS-ActiveCare listening tour that is designed to get feedback from the field on the healthcare program for active educators. TRS will use the information it receives to focus their efforts on what are determined to be priority improvements to the system. These discussions include consideration of creating more regional options in addition to the statewide plan.

ATPE will continue to monitor TRS developments and actively engage with the TRS staff and board on the policies impacting active and retired teachers in Texas.

 

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Highlights of the Feb. 2020 SBEC meeting

At their first meeting of the year, the certification board discussed rule changes to implement recently passed legislation, enact numerous technical updates, and approve new supplemental certifications in special education and bilingual education.

On Friday, February 21, 2020, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met for the first time this year and for the first time under the leadership of new Chairperson Dr. Arturo Cavazos (Superintendent of Harlingen CISD). The board discussed several agenda items, including allowing high school students to obtain the educational aide certificate, changes to contract abandonment rules, and educator preparation program (EPP) commendations.

Master Teachers

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified before SBEC on Feb. 21, 2020.

On Friday, SBEC adopted the standard, four-year rule review of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates, voting to continue the existence of the chapter without changes. Chapter 239 specifies rules pertaining to the school counselor, school librarian, educational diagnostician, and reading specialist certificates. This chapter formerly housed the rules for the Master Teacher certificates, which were repealed by House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature (2019). Master Teacher certificate holders will now find a “legacy” designation on their certificates and an expiration date five years from their last renewal. Unfortunately, these “legacy” certificates are non-renewable, which will leave some teachers unable to maintain their current teaching assignments.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided written and oral testimony today urging SBEC to exercise its authority to remedy this situation, specifically through the creation of new certificates that Master Teachers can transition into without having to pay additional fees. (See Andrea’s testimony here at 1:07:00 into the video.) ATPE previously submitted written testimony to the board on this topic at the October 2019 SBEC meeting, written and oral testimony at the December 2019 SBEC meeting, and submitted public comment to SBEC on the rule review earlier this month.

Rep. Dan Huberty addressed the Texas House during final passage of his House Bill 3 in May 2019.

Ahead of today’s meeting, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee and authored HB 3, also sent a letter to SBEC members at ATPE’s request to clarify legislative intent behind the bill’s elimination of the Master Teacher certification statutes. Chairman Huberty wrote, “Our intent was never to abandon the expertise of these highly trained educators…. Holders of legacy master teacher certificates should be entitled to maintain their existing assignments without interruption, additional cost, or the need to seek additional certifications.”

Ultimately, the board agreed to allow TEA to present them with options to address the Master Teacher issue at the next SBEC meeting in May.

Other action items on the agenda:

The SBEC board adopted several changes to professional educator preparation and certification rules in 19 TAC Chapter 230. The rules will implement several bills by making changes such as removing master teacher certificates from the list of active certifications, reducing the time for certification test retakes from 45 to 30 days, and specifying that the Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 certificate cannot be obtained via certification by exam. Other changes will require candidates taking the intensive pre-service route to take the English as a Second Language Supplemental assessment before being issued an intern certificate and require requests for certificate corrections to be submitted within six weeks of the original date of issuance.

ATPE is pleased with a change in this chapter to allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued to high school students who have completed certain courses within the Education and Training career and technical education cluster. See the public comment ATPE previously submitted in support of this change here. TEA staff made some last minute changes to this item, including a delay on the implementation of testing changes to comply with HB 3 regarding the requirement to take the science of teaching reading exam. Staff said they will propose entirely new certificate names, such as “EC-3 Core Subjects with Science of Teaching Reading”.

SBEC also adopted revisions to general certification provisions and professional development rules in 19 TAC Chapter 232 to implement several bills passed by the 86th Legislature in 2019. These include continuing professional education instruction regarding mental health and substance abuse training (HB 18 and SB 11); training requirements for superintendents regarding sexual abuse and human trafficking (HB 403); and the removal of student loan default as grounds to deny the renewal of a certificate (SB 37). Edits will also be made to the National Criminal History Record process to update the rule with current technology and TEA practice. The chapter will also be simplified and reorganized as suggested by ATPE and other stakeholders.

The board took several actions relating to educator preparation programs (EPPs), including the approval of accreditation statuses under the 2018-19 Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP). Sixty percent of EPPs have an accredited status, 20% are accredited-warned, and 20% are on an accredited-probation status. SBEC also approved proposed 2018–19 commendations for EPPs, which complement the ASEP system by highlighting high-performing EPPs in three categories with indicators such as teacher retention and percentage of prepared teachers in shortage areas. Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M International University, Baylor University, Austin Community College, and McClennan Community College all appear in the commendations multiple times, among others. The board voted to create a committee to review and evaluate EPP applications for a fourth category relating to innovative educator preparation, to be chaired by SBEC member Jose Rodriguez and include members Laurie Bricker, Shareefah Mason, and John Kelly. Lastly, the board approved an agreed order to close Intern Teacher ACP Alternative Certification Program, which decided to voluntarily close after lack of compliance with administrative rules.

SBEC also voted to formalize an already informal policy that non-voting members of the board may not make or second motions and may not serve as officers. The non-voting members of the board are an employee of TEA, and employee of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a dean of a college of education, and a person representing an alternative certification program.

Discussion only agenda items (no action taken):

At the July, October, and December 2019 SBEC meetings, the board discussed potential changes to contract abandonment rules for educators. After disagreements surfaced between stakeholders and board members, the board voted to split contract abandonment off from other rules being revised, saving it for future discussion after stakeholder meetings (in which ATPE was involved). Today, the board discussed proposed revisions that would add “change to a position that requires a new class of educator certification” (such as moving from teacher to counselor) to the definition of good cause for contract abandonment. Additionally, the changes would cross-reference the mitigating factors that the SBEC considers when evaluating a contract abandonment case. After several witnesses from both the teacher and administrator perspective shared their feedback on the proposed language, the board seemed to reach a near-consensus that the contract abandonment rules did not need to be altered.

The board also discussed proposed revisions to requirements for EPPs (19 TAC Chapter 228). The changes would simplify a table of requirements in the chapter; implement portions of HB 18 passed by the Legislature in 2019; authorize teaching sites outside of Texas under certain situations such as military assignment; provide admittance policy guidance to EPPs that are closing or consolidating; restrict a summer-only practicum unless it is part of a year-round school or extended year program; add language for a dismissal policy for candidates who violate the code of ethics; provide concise reasons that an EPP would no longer support a candidate in an internship; and clarify the number (three) and spacing of formal observations conducted during a practicum.

SBEC also discussed changes to certificate standards (19 TAC Chapter 235), including a TEA-recommended split certification for special education, with separate certificates for grades EC-6 and 6-12. TEA staff also presented information on two sets of supplemental certificate standards: one for bilingual Spanish, grades EC-12, that focuses on bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism; and another for “DeafBlind” grades EC-12. The proposals reflect input from stakeholders in the bilingual and special education communities and from an April 2019 SBEC work group meeting.

TEA also updated the board on the EdTPA performance assessment pilot. Thirty-five applications have been submitted for Year Two of the pilot, including 16 from alternative certification programs. Two programs participating in Year One have submitted portfolios already and the rest of programs will submit theirs in the spring. Dr. Christina Ellis of Sam Houston State University gave an update on the T-TESS-based alternative pilot to the EdTPA pilot, stating that 13 EPPs are participating. Additionally, TEA staff updated SBEC on certification test development, stating that development of new health and physical education tests is delayed due to the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) work on revamping the standards.

In a final item, the board discussed proposed amendments to the criteria for personnel assignments (19 TAC Chapter 231) to add the word “legacy” to all master teacher certificate references and include new courses approved by the SBOE such as African-American studies.

Future meetings:

The upcoming SBEC meeting dates for 2020 are:

  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020
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Texas election roundup: Week 1 of early voting

We’re more than halfway through the first week of early voting in the Texas primary elections, and preliminary information is trickling in that gives us an idea of who is showing up to the polls in these first few days.

According to TXElects.com, Bexar, Travis, Collin, and Montgomery Counties saw record turnout on the first day of early voting in the Democratic primary, while Harris, Denton, Fort Bend, Hidalgo and Galveston Counties saw record turnout in both parties’ primaries.

A new report by election data researcher Derek Ryan found 85% of people who have voted so far in the Republican primary were voters who vote regularly in Republican primaries, while 9% had voted in a general election but had not voted in a primary election since at least 2012. In the Democratic primary, 70% were the usual Democratic primary voters, while 18% were general election voters casting a primary ballot for the first time since at least 2012. About 2% of 2020 Republican primary voters and 4% of Democratic primary voters were voting for the first time in either a primary or general election.

The same report shows that the voting history of people who have shown up to the polls so far in the 2020 Democratic primary tracks pretty closely to those who showed up in the 2018 and 2016 primary elections. While Republican primary voters in 2020 look pretty much like Republican primary voters in 2018, Republican primary voters in 2016 included a much higher proportion of general election voters participating in their first primary since at least 2012 and crossover primary voters who most recently voted in the Republican primary.

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll out this week shows Bernie Sanders leading among Texas Democratic primary voters in the presidential race. Support for Sanders has grown to 24%, followed by Joe Biden at 22%, Elizabeth Warren at 15% and Michael Bloomberg at 10%. Among Republicans, 80 percent said they would “definitely” vote to reelect President Donald Trump, and 10% said they “probably” would. The numbers are flipped among Democrats, with 88 percent saying they would “definitely not” and 4% saying they would “probably not” vote to re-elect Trump in November. When it comes to “independents,” 38% said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote to reelect, while 62% said they would “definitely not” or “probably not” vote for Trump.

Finally, state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced this week he is retiring from the Texas Legislature and will become the first dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. This will trigger a special election to fill Watson’s Senate seat, most likely to be held on either the May 2 or November 3 uniform election dates. The Austin area has no shortage of potential contenders to succeed Watson, including a half dozen state representatives with deep ties to the community and extensive political networks.

As always, it’s critical that you head out to the polls this week and vote in the primary elections, as we wrote about in ATPE’s recent “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. Because of the way Texas voting districts are gerrymandered, the primary elections are often what determines who will be elected to that seat. The earlier you vote during primary season, the less likely you are to run into the long lines we see as we get closer to election day. School funding, educator compensation, and your political voice are just a few of the issues that are at stake in the elections being held right now. So head out there and vote!

 

 

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Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

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The Voting Scoop: What you need to know

With early voting underway now across Texas, it’s a good time to review what you need to know about the voting process itself before heading out to the polls. You may find some things have changed since the last time you voted, while other things have stayed the same.

Election administrators all over the country are paying increased attention to election security as a result of widely publicized attempts to hack the 2016 elections. As part of this push, legislators in 2019 attempted to require Texas counties to use voting machines that create a paper record of each individual’s ballot. While a statewide law requiring a paper ballot never passed, all but 69 of the state’s 254 counties now use paper ballots or hybrid voting machines that include both an electronic and a paper record of your vote.

Chances are, your county may have recently switched over to a new ballot-casting process. In some cases, this has caused confusion. In Austin, for example, “fleeing voters” caused delays in the November 2019 election when they misunderstood the process and walked off with the paper ballot records printed off by the new machines. Those paper records are supposed to be placed into the ballot box at the polling location.

Since the voting systems used by Texas counties are varied, make sure you understand the process before casting your vote, and ask the election workers at your polling place for guidance, if needed. Here is some additional information from the Texas Secretary of State’s “How to Vote” section of the VoteTexas.gov website:

Depending on the type of election – local, statewide, national, or combination – you will be handed:

  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices and which will be counted by hand;
  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices by darkening an oval, completing an arrow, or “marking” with the aid of a voting machine; or
  • A slip of paper with a numerical access code or, in some counties, a ballot activator card. In the next available voting booth, enter your code or card and let the on-screen instructions guide you through the process of electronic voting.”

If your county uses a machine that creates a paper record, here are some generic directions provided by the Texas Secretary of State:

  • When you walk into the polling place, you will be asked to present one of the seven forms of acceptable photo identification. If you possess one of these approved forms of photo identification, you need to hand it to the poll worker in order to vote. If you are a voter with a permanent exemption on your voter registration certificate, you only need to hand the poll worker your voter registration certificate. If you do not possess a form of acceptable photo identification and cannot reasonably obtain one, you may present one of the supporting forms of identification and execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration. After you’ve been qualified to vote and signed the combination form, pick up a ballot from the table and proceed to the next available voting booth.
  • Read the directions carefully at the top of the ballot, and then mark your selections using the indelible marker or pen (a marker or pen that cannot be erased) provided to you.
  • When you’re finished, place the voted ballot in the ballot box.

Source: Texas Secretary of State

No matter what kind of ballot machine your county uses, what you’re required to bring with you in order to cast your vote remains the same. The Texas Secretary of State explains the rules on its website, which include a requirement to show an approved form of identification to the poll worker before you may vote (unless you have been given a “permanent exemption on your voter registration certificate.” The seven approved forms of photo identification include:

  • Texas Driver License issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS),
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS,
  • Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS,
  • Texas Handgun License issued by DPS,
  • U.S. Military Identification Card containing the person’s photograph,
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate containing the person’s photograph, or
  • U.S. Passport (book or card).

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can still vote. You will just need to mark a “reasonable impediment declaration” and show a supporting document, which can be one of these:

  • Copy or original of a government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, including the voter’s voter registration certificate;
  • copy of or original current utility bill;
  • copy of or original bank statement;
  • copy of or original government check;
  • copy of or original paycheck; or
  • copy of or original of (a) a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate or (b) a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes the voter’s identity (which may include a foreign birth document).

Here’s one more important reminder about voting: You cannot use your cell phone while casting your vote. So if you’re hoping to refer to a sample ballot to help remember your preferences, be sure to print it out before heading to the polls.

Early voting in the Texas primaries runs through February 28, 2020. Hours and locations will vary based on your county, but you can typically find a list of polling locations and times at your county’s website. Remember that voting early is the best way to avoid getting stuck in long lines. You can also speed things up if you research your candidates here on TeachTheVote.org before heading to the polls.

Now get out there and vote!

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From The Texas Tribune: Most Texans want lower property taxes and more school spending, UT/TT Poll finds

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
Feb. 17, 2020

Illustration by Emily Albracht/The Texas Tribune

Texas voters still think that property taxes are too high and that the state spends too little on public education, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Local property taxes are a key source of funding for public education, and last year’s Texas legislative session was focused on those two issues. Lawmakers sought to increase the state’s share of public education spending and to increase incentives for local school districts to hold down property tax increases.

A majority of Texas voters said they pay too much in property taxes. Only 5% said they pay too little, and 26% said Texans pay about the right amount. Among Democrats, 45% said the property tax tab is too high; 63% of independents and 59% of Republicans said so. The “too much” number among all voters has dropped to 54%, compared with 60% in the June 2019 UT/TT Poll, but remains a majority view.

Overall, 50% of Texas voters said the state spends too little on public education, while 12% said spending is too high and 21% said it’s about right. Democrats, at 69%, were most likely to say spending is too low. Among Republicans, 32% agreed, but another 32% said spending is about right. Only 19% of Republicans said public education spending is too high.

“The results are slightly more positive on property taxes, stagnant on public education,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The overall on property taxes hasn’t changed dramatically, however. “It’s an article of faith that taxes are too high,” Blank said. “It would take a pretty drastic change for that attitude to move.”

A plurality of Texans gave good grades to the quality of public education in the state. A total of 46% rated it “excellent” or “good,” while 42% rated it “not very good” or “terrible.” Praise was stronger in Republican quarters, where grades for the schools were 55% good and 34% bad. Among Democrats, the good-to-bad split was 41-47.

Most Texans, 54%, said the state government here is a good model for other states to follow, and they gave relatively positive ratings to two of the state’s top three leaders. Almost half of the voters said Gov. Greg Abbott is doing a good job in office, while 34% disapprove of the work he’s been doing. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won approval from 39% and disapproval from 35%, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was given good marks by 19% and bad ones by 27%. Bonnen, caught on tape last year plotting against some of his fellow Republicans in the House, isn’t seeking another term in the Legislature.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of +/- 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Day 2 summary
(199.2 KB) DOWNLOAD

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Methodology
(61.9 KB) DOWNLOAD

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/02/17/most-texans-want-lower-property-taxes-and-more-school-spending-poll-fi/.

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Primary Colors: Why March 3 Matters (Part II)

In 2020, being a primary election voter is critical. ATPE explains why in Part II of our “Primary Colors” blog feature.

After what many folks have hailed as one of the most productive legislative sessions for public education in recent memory, it may be easy for educators to think, “Great! We fixed it!” After all, legislators increased state spending on public education and ordered districts to use some of that money to increase educator compensation. All good things, right?

But a new fight is imminent.

In statistics, there is a phenomenon called “reversion to the mean.” In broad terms, it states that an extreme event in a sequence will generally be followed by a less extreme event. If we look in the context of the past several legislative sessions in which legislators attacked teachers and tried to defund public schools by passing school vouchers, then the 2019 session was an an extreme outlier. Statistically, we should expect that the 2021 legislative session will revert back to the mean — which until recently has often ranged from indifference to open hostility towards public education. That’s especially relevant regarding politicians who actively fought against public schools and educators before the 2019 session.

If you’re still skeptical, just look at the last couple of weeks. In last Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump renewed the push to pass private school vouchers that would defund public schools. The federal voucher legislation the president promoted was filed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas. Consider that and the fact that the chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign in Texas is none other than Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who also attempted to push a voucher bill through the Texas Legislature many times, as recently as 2017. Looking ahead to the next legislative session, the prospect of a renewed fight over vouchers in 2021 appears all but certain.

There’s also new evidence that legislators fully intend next session to attack educators’ right to use payroll deduction to voluntarily support associations that advocate for public schools at the Texas Capitol. This type of legislation, such as the bills pushed by lawmakers in 2017, threatens educators’ ability to have a voice in crafting public education policy in state as large as Texas. This fight will likely be compounded by a major push to restrict the ability of local communities — through their school districts, towns, counties, and first responders — to advocate for local issues at the Texas Capitol. Many capitol watchers point to these moves as part of a plot by certain special interests to ensure their own exclusive access to lawmakers by closing the doors of state government to the viewpoints of working people and communities.

And then there’s House Bill (HB) 3. The school finance bill passed last year added just enough money to the public education system to get the overall level of state funding close to where it was back before the legislature’s drastic budget cuts of 2011. Much more is needed in order to drag Texas out of the bottom of the barrel of U.S. states in terms of per-pupil spending. But before that happens, legislators have to make sure the funding they added through HB 3 in 2019 doesn’t go away. For all its merits, the school finance bill did not include a long-term funding source to ensure that HB 3 funding would be available into the future, and legislators in 2021 will have to decide whether to find permanent funding or cut back school spending, jeopardizing any increases to educator compensation in the process.

Speaking of compensation, did you see a raise in your paycheck this year? School districts were required to pass on some of that additional HB 3 funding to certain educators in the form of increased compensation. However, the rules guiding how that additional money was to be doled out were vague enough to result in educators in different districts experiencing very different results. Cleaning up compensation questions and other unanticipated complications from HB 3 will be an important part of the next legislature’s job.

The successes of the 2019 legislative session came only as a result of the resounding message educators sent by showing up to vote in record numbers in 2018. Because of our state’s extensive political gerrymandering, the majority of the races in 2018 were decided in the March primaries. That means educators who voted in the March 2018 primaries made a pro-public education legislative session possible in 2019.

The only way we will prevent the 2021 legislative session from reverting to the mean is if educators return to the polls this year in the same massive numbers as in 2018, and that begins with making sure everyone is a 2018 primary voter. There are plenty of resources out there to find out how and where to vote, including those provided by ATPE and our other partners in the nonpartisan Texas Educators Vote coalition. You can begin by researching candidates right here at TeachtheVote.org and then sharing the information you find with your friends and family. We made history in 2018, but we will lose all the progress we made if we take our foot off the gas in 2020. This is especially true in races where a single political party dominates the district, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell pointed out in Part I of this blog series for Teach the Vote.

It is more important than ever to be a Texas primary voter in 2020. Texas public school students depend on it!

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Primary Colors: Why March 3 Matters (Part I)

In Texas, primary election results – not the November general election – often determine who will represent you in Austin. ATPE explains why in Part I of this “Primary Colors” blog feature for Teach the Vote.

We’ve written on our blog about how Texas legislative districts are often gerrymandered. The district map boundaries are drawn in such a way to favor a particular political party, making it easier for a candidate from that party to win election or re-election in that district. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for certain contested races to feature candidates who are all affiliated with the same political party. If the district is so heavily weighted toward one party, candidates from the other major party (not to mention independent and third-party candidates) may not even file for a place on the ballot. When this happens, the primary election becomes the final determinant of who will win that seat, making the November general election irrelevant for that particular race.

We’re certainly not suggesting that voting in the November general election is a waste of your time. (On the contrary, there are still scores of other races you should vote on in November!) ATPE is reminding our readers about this to illustrate just how important it is to be a primary election voter.

In 2020, there are several races in which all the candidates hail from the same political party. In these districts, the winner of the March 3 primary election wins the whole kit and caboodle, facing no opposition in November. If you happen to live in one of these Texas House districts, make sure you learn about the candidates who are running in either the Republican or Democratic primary election, because one of these individuals will quickly become your new state representative in 2021:

  • House District 9:
    Incumbent Rep. Chris Paddie is seeking a fifth term in the House and being challenged by Mark Williams in the Republican primary. No other candidates filed to run for this East Texas seat, so the Republican primary election will determine the final outcome.
  • House District 30:
    In Victoria, Rep. Geanie Morrison faces a challenge from Army veteran Vanessa Hicks-Callaway in the Republican primary. Morrison has held the seat since 1998.
  • House District 36:
    Incumbent Rep. Sergio Munoz is being challenged by Abraham Padron in the Democratic primary for this Edinburg seat. It’s a familiar match-up between these two; Padron unsuccessfully challenged Munoz in the 2016 and 2018 primaries.
  • House District 37:
    In 2018, Alex Dominguez prevailed in a winner-take-all primary election runoff in which he ousted longtime state representative René Oliveira for this Brownsville seat. Now the first-term incumbent Dominguez is preparing for yet another winner-take-all primary, facing a challenge from attorney Amber Medina in the Democratic primary.
  • House District 38:
    In yet another contested primary in the Brownsville area, incumbent Rep. Eddie Lucio, III is being challenged by fellow Democrat Erin Gamez.
  • House District 59:
    Incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville faces two challengers from within his own party: Republican candidates Shelby Slawson and Cody Johnson, both from Stephenville. There is no one else running in November, but with three candidates on the ballot in this closely watched primary battle, a runoff might become necessary to determine the final winner.
  • House District 72:
    San Angelo incumbent Rep. Drew Darby is being challenged by Lynette Lucas in this Republican primary race. Lucas sought to take the seat away from Darby back in 2018 but did not make it onto the ballot.
  • House District 76:
    This is an open seat that will be decided by the Democratic primary. Rep. Cesar Blanco (D) is not running for re-election, opting to run for a Texas Senate seat instead. The only two candidates who filed to run in this House race are Democrats Claudia Ordaz Perez and Elisa Tamayo. Ordaz Perez is a member of the El Paso City Council, while Tamayo learned the legislative ropes working for both Blanco and El Paso Sen. José Rodriguez.
  • House District 80:
    Incumbent Rep. Tracy King is being challenged by Danny Valdez. They’re both Democrats, and they’ve faced each before. In 2018, Valdez was unsuccessful in a similar challenge against King in this West Texas district.
  • House District 100:
    This is a crowded race, but all the candidates in this Dallas district hail from the Democratic party. The newly minted incumbent is Rep. Lorraine Birabil, sworn in just this month following a special election in January. To hold on to the seat in 2021, she’ll have to overcome opposition from James Armstrong, III (runner-up in the special election), Daniel Clayton, Sandra Crenshaw, Jasmine Crockett, and Paul Stafford.
  • House District 131:
    In Houston, incumbent Rep. Alma Allen faces two challengers from the Democratic Party: Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton. Allen has held the seat since 2004, serving on the State Board of Education before that.
  • House District 141:
    The longest serving woman and longest serving African-American member of the Texas Legislature, Rep. Senfronia Thompson faces Willie Roaches Franklyn in the Democratic primary this year. Roaches Franklyn is a school counselor and administrator hoping to unseat the inimitable “Ms. T” in this Houston battle.
  • House District 147:
    Rep. Garnet Coleman, the incumbent for this Houston district since 1990, is facing two opponents in the primary. His Democratic Party challengers are Aurelia Wagner, a teacher, and Colin Ross, who runs a grease recycling business.

Additionally, there are several state legislative races in which no other candidate filed to run in 2020 against the incumbent. Thus, the current officeholder will retain the seat next year. These are the legislators who are already presumptive winners of another term starting in 2021:

  • Sen. Charles Perry, SD 28
  • Rep. Gary VanDeaver, HD 1
  • Rep. Jay Dean, HD 7
  • Rep. Kyle Kacal, HD 12
  • Rep. Ben Leman, HD 13
  • Rep. Will Metcalf, HD 16
  • Rep. Ernest Bailes, HD 18
  • Rep. James White, HD 19
  • Rep. Dade Phelan, HD 21
  • Rep. Oscar Longoria, HD 35
  • Rep. Mando Martinez, HD 39
  • Rep. Terry Canales, HD 40
  • Rep. Richard Raymond, HD 42
  • Rep. J.M. Lozano, HD 43
  • Rep. Sheryl Cole, HD 46
  • Rep. Mary Gonzalez, HD 75
  • Rep. Lina Ortega, HD 77
  • Rep. Art Fierro, HD 79
  • Rep. Brooks Landgraf, HD 81
  • Rep. Tom Craddick, HD 82
  • Rep. John Smithee, HD 86
  • Rep. Four Price, HD 87
  • Rep. Ken King, HD 88
  • Rep. Nicole Collier, HD 95
  • Rep. Charlie Geren, HD 99
  • Rep. Chris Turner, HD 101
  • Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, HD 104
  • Rep. Toni Rose, HD 110
  • Rep. Yvonne Davis, HD 111
  • Rep. Diego Bernal, HD 123
  • Rep. Ina Minjarez, HD 124
  • Rep. Armando Walle, HD 140
  • Rep. Ana Hernandez-Luna, HD 143

There are a handful of other races in which a single Republican or Democratic candidate faces opposition only from an independent or third-party candidate in November. In most of these cases, the major party candidate is the incumbent officeholder; Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston),  Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), and Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) are just a few examples. One notable exception is in SBOE District 8, where incumbent Barbara Cargill is not seeking re-election. The only candidates to file in the race to fill this open seat were Audrey Young, a Republican educator from Lufkin, and Libertarian candidate Bryan Leonard, for whom little campaign information can be found.

Now that we’ve shown you just how competitive and meaningful the Texas primary elections can be, we hope you’re ready to cast a vote in the Democratic or Republican primary election. In Part II of this blog series for Teach the Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins will share more insight on why it’s so critical to be a primary voter in Texas, especially in 2020.

Early voting in the Texas primaries runs February 18-28. Primary election day, known as “Super Tuesday,” is March 3, 2020.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 14, 2020

While you’re enjoying conversation hearts and sweet notes on this Valentine’s Day, enjoy this week’s Texas education news.

XOXO, from your ATPE Governmental Relations team!


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary begins in just FOUR days!

Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

Races all over the state are heating up and drawing endorsements. Texas Parent PAC this week released a list of 10 endorsements of pro-public education candidates in contested primaries. Read the entire list and other election news in this week’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Educators face an incredibly important decision in this primary election cycle. The additional funding for schools and educator compensation provided by last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 could easily be taken away in 2021 if educators don’t show up to the polls and vote for pro-public education candidates like they did in 2018. We’re already seeing a renewal of attacks on public schools and educators. It’s important to know your rights when it comes to being an educator and a voter, and this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell offers helpful reminders about rules educators should follow during elections.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and more. Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know that it’s not too late! Contact ATPE’s GR team for additional details.

There are still some upcoming “For the Future” candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here to find out if there’s an event in your area where you can meet the candidates and hear more about their views on public education. For other resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Finally, be sure to check out the latest issue of ATPE News, our quarterly magazine. The brand new Spring 2020 issue features additional election-related coverage to help you navigate the 2020 primaries.


FEDERAL UPDATE: Earlier this week, President Trump released his budget proposal for 2021. The education portion of the proposal includes plans to consolidate 29 federal education programs, including funding for charter schools and Title I, into a single block grant. While reducing overall funding for the U.S. Department of Education, the plan would increase funding by nearly the same amount in order to pour billions of dollars into a private school voucher program. Read more about the budget proposal in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

In other news this week, the federal government introduced SchoolSafety.gov, which is a new clearinghouse for school safety resources. This bank of resources, meant to aid in all stages of emergency situations, was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The website houses a variety of resources relating to bullying, mental health, school security personnel, school climate, action planning, and recovery, among others.


On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott charged the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative with building upon the reforms in House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature to work towards long-term workforce development in Texas. Gov. Abbott created the initiative in 2016 to help develop links between education and the workforce, with the goal of “helping Texas grow in economic prosperity.” The commissioners of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission who make up the tri-agency initiative submitted a February 2020 report on their progress, which you can read here. According to the governor’s press release issued February 13, 2020, the three agencies will collaborate on a report showcasing strategies to achieve multiple educational and workforce goals. The report will be due to the governor by September 1, 2020. Check out a short summary of the initiative here.


Gary Gates, Lorraine Birabil, and Anna Eastman were sworn in Tuesday as new state representatives for Texas House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. The swearing-in ceremony for Gates and Birabil took place at the Texas State Capitol, while Eastman was sworn in at Waltrip High School in Houston. Elected to replace state representatives who resigned in late 2019, these newly minted legislators will serve up to the start of the 2021 legislative session. All three are on the ballot in 2020, vying for the same House seat to begin a full term in 2021.


A recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center reflects that likely voters “love” their public schools and oppose public funding of for-profit charters and private schools. Sixty-four percent of the poll respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, with eight in 10 supporting an increase even if it meant an increase in taxes. Seventy-three percent do not want to send public dollars to private, religious, and home schools. Sixty-five percent agree that charter schools need oversight by local school boards and 80% are favorable to teachers in their community. Find the full poll results and a press release here.


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