Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 11, 2019

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been tracking the latest election-related announcements and news for Teach the Vote. This week, read about recent news of planned departures from the State Board of Education next year, plus a look at the election coming up on Nov. 5. Check out our latest election roundup here. Also, be sure to follow our Teach the Vote blog next week when we’ll posting everything you need to know about voting in the constitutional amendment election.


We have been reporting on the special committees formed this year to examine issues related to school safety and preventing mass violence. A series of meetings are planned around the state during the interim to hear testimony from experts and the public and generate recommendations for the Texas Legislature to address in 2021. One such committee, the Texas House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met Thursday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Farmer’s Branch.

The 13-member committee was formed earlier this year after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa. The committee levied criticism at several major tech companies Thursday for failing to work with law enforcement in a timely and efficient manner in order to stop potential threats of mass violence. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft were invited to testify, but only Facebook sent a representative. Lawmakers pressed Facebook over how quickly it is able to respond to requests for information from law enforcement, and were frustrated by the company’s inability to give a specific response. You can read a full report on Thursday’s meeting courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. The House committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday in Odessa.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is continuing its work in Washington, DC, spearheaded by our longtime federal lobbyist, David Pore, to advocate for Social Security reform that will help Texas educators earn fair and predictable retirement benefits. In this Congress, two bills have been filed to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefits earned by many ATPE members and other public employees. Pore spoke about the bills earlier this week during a panel presentation on advocacy moderated by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell as part of the annual meeting of the national Coalition of Independent Educator Associations.

As we first reported on Teach the Vote back in July, Rep. Kevin Brady (R–The Woodlands, Texas) has filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act” (ETPSA), which is an updated version of similar legislation he previously filed in an attempt to fix the WEP. Rep. Richard Neal (D–Springfield, Mass.) followed suit at the end of September, filing H.R. 4540, the “Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act” (PSPFA). Both bills would replace the WEP with a more predictable, proportional formula for calculating Social Security benefit payments of future retirees, and provide a monthly stipend for those workers over the age of 60 who are already retired and eligible for Social Security.

This week, ATPE issued a press release in support of both bills and urged Congress to take action on the issue. It is unclear if or when the WEP legislation might be heard this year, particularly in light of the congressional focus having shifted recently and almost exclusively toward the prospect of impeachment proceedings. Still, ATPE is thankful for the bipartisan effort being made to address the WEP. We especially appreciate the longtime work of both Congressmen Neal and Brady on this front, and their willingness to involve stakeholders like ATPE in the development of the bills. Congressman Neal chairs the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means in which the bills would be heard, while Congressman Brady is the ranking member on the committee and its former chair.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on our federal lobbying efforts. As a reminder, ATPE members can also use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to call or write to their representatives in Washington asking for their support of the ETPSA and PSPFA. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)


This week, the ATPE lobby team continued its “New School Year, New Laws” blog series with a report on how the laws enacted during the 86th Texas legislative session will impact educators’ pension and benefits. Chief among the changes enacted this year was Senate Bill 12, which will make the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) actuarially sound and allowed for the issuance of a 13th check to retirees last month. Check out the latest blog post in the series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and watch for another installment on Monday.

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new “HB 3 in 30” video on the Blended Learning Grant Program. TEA’s ongoing video series is intended to make this year’s omnibus school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, more digestible by breaking out key provisions and explaining them in 30 minutes or less. Visit TEA’s HB 3 in 30 video website to watch the newest video and access others in the series.

Also related to HB 3, the commissioner of education has proposed new administrative rules to implement the new “Do Not Hire Registry” required by the bill. Public comments on the proposed rule are being accepted now through Oct. 21. Learn more about the rule and how to submit your comments here.


In case you missed it earlier this week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided a comprehensive summary of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting held Oct. 4, 2019. One of the most interesting discussions at the meeting was about what should constitute “good cause” for educators to abandon their contracts. The board opted to defer taking any action last week to change the criteria for SBEC sanctions in those instances, but you can expect the board members to have continuing discussions on this topic in the coming months. Read more about this and all the other matters discussed by SBEC last week in this blog post.


 

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Texas election roundup: Big shakeup at SBOE

Last week, outgoing State Board of Education (SBOE) chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) announced her plans to retire from the board. Following her announcement, a number of her Republican colleagues have also indicated plans to retire.

Donna Bahorich and Marty Rowley were photographed at a recent SBOE meeting. Both SBOE members have recently announced plans to retire from the board.

Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) announced his plan to retire at the end of his current term, which expires in Jan. 2021. Rowley’s district is reliably Republican and covers much of West Texas. Past board chair Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) and Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) have also announced plans to retire. Mercer’s district has shifted from a majority Republican district to one that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Mercer’s district in 2018 with more than ten percent of the vote.

Candidates in this fall’s three special elections filed their 30-day-out campaign finance reports this week. As we expected, the House District (HD) 28 special election in Fort Bend County has drawn a significant amount of attention, where seven candidates are vying to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. John Zerwas. The lone Democrat in the race, educator Dr. Eliz Markowitz, reported raising $62,000, spending $16,000, and entering the final stretch with $38,000 cash on hand. Markowitz also received the endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC this week. Republican neurosurgeon Dr. Anna Allred reported raising $159,000 during the reporting period, which is more than the other five Republicans in the HD 28 race combined. Allred has also retained Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, whose top client is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Allred has spent $142,000 and heads into the final stretch with $86,000 on hand.

In addition to the HD 28 special election, the Nov. 5 election will give all Texas voters the chance to vote on 10 proposed constitutional amendments. The Texas League of Women Voters has put out a comprehensive guide to the proposals, which you can view here. You can also find additional election resources at the website for the Texas Educators Vote coalition. We’ll be posting additional resources to help you prepare for the constitutional election here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog next week, so be sure to check it out before you head to the polls. Early voting begins Oct. 21.

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Recap of the October 2019 SBEC meeting

Certification board discusses repeal of master teacher certificates, educator misconduct, and more at its October 2019 meeting.

On Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met to discuss several agenda items, including the repeal of Master Teacher certificates, implementation of recent educator misconduct legislation, and an update on the EdTPA pilot program.

The meeting began with recognition of the unfortunate passing of board member Dr. Rex Peebles on Sept. 23, 2019. Dr. Peebles was a long-time, trusted voice of expertise and reason in the P-20 public education system. He will be greatly missed and ATPE sends their thoughts and love to the family, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Peebles.

At Friday’s meeting, ATPE weighed in on two discussion and action items: the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate and proposed rule revisions that would expand the criteria for considering “good cause” as a mitigating factor in disciplinary cases stemming from an educator’s abandonment of their contract.

First, SBEC adopted language to implement the repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, as required by this year’s House Bill (HB) 3. Master Teacher certificate holders will be able to continue teaching under their certificate until it is no longer valid and will be considered “Legacy Master Teachers” pursuant to HB 3. ATPE submitted written testimony on this item, urging Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff and SBEC members to use their rule-making ability to ensure that affected teachers can maintain their current teaching assignments after the expiration of their Master Teacher certificates. We believe that the rigor of the Master Teacher certification process should not be ignored and are pleased that TEA has indicated they will explore options to amend rule language to alleviate the unintended consequences of this legislation.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifying before SBEC, Oct. 4, 2019

Additionally, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided oral testimony in support of the board’s efforts to expand the criteria for good cause when addressing contract abandonment cases. At the board’s July 2019 work-group meeting, members discussed the need for increased flexibility in determining what constitutes good cause. This would allow the board to avoid or lessen sanctions for educators who found it necessary to abandon their contracts under unique and acceptable circumstances that are not currently covered by the existing SBEC rules. To make these changes, new language was proposed at Friday’s meeting as part of a larger agenda item that implements several educator misconduct and reporting bills from the 86th legislative session. (The 2019 bills related to this agenda item are Senate Bill (SB) 1230, SB 1476, SB 37, and HB 3.) Due to testimony on the item, the board voted to split off the contract abandonment language from the rule proposal that was before them this month in order to allow for discussion on the issue at a later time. The board expressed that they would like to try to get more certainty into the rule language and requested another work-group on broader disciplinary issues. The proposed language for this rule will be open for public comment in the Texas Register from Oct. 25 to Nov. 25, 2019.

Discussion and action items:

In order to implement three bills from the 85th legislative session (SB 1839, HB 2039, and HB 3349), the board added language for admission requirements for the Early Childhood-Grade 3 and Trade and Industrial Workforce Training: Grades 6-12 certificates. The board also amended the rule language to allow for subject-matter-only assessments to be used in lieu of current Pre-Admission Content Tests (PACTs), which test both content and pedagogy. The rationale for this change was that an individual entering an educator preparation program (EPP) would not have pedagogical expertise and therefore should not be assessed in that area.

To implement SB 1200 passed by the 86th Legislature, the board adopted revisions to their rule that would allow military spouses who are licensed in other states (and in good standing) to teach in Texas.

SBEC also took action on several items relating to EPPs. Language to improve the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP) was approved, including changes that would allow EPPs to be commended for their performance. The board also adopted the new accountability manual into rule and voted to allow SBEC to require action plans for low-performing EPPs, among other items. SBEC board members also approved several EPPs to continue operating for five years. As a consequence of ASEP ratings, one program was closed on Friday. After a five-year review, the Texas Alternative Certification Program Brownsville (TACPB) was required to submit a compliance plan to TEA. The program opted to cease its operations instead, and SBEC voted to formally close The board also voted to approve Ana G. Mendez University as a new alternative certification EPP. The program will be unique in Texas, as it plans to instruct students on become educators using a dual language model.

As noted during Friday’s meeting, the board will soon begin its required four-year rule review for two sets of SBEC rules. The first review is for 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 232, General Certification Provisions, which regulates certificate renewal, continuing professional development, and national criminal history record information. The second review is for 19 TAC Chapter 230, Professional Educator Preparation and Certification, which deals with procedures for issuance of certificates and permits, testing requirements and fees, and the types and classes of certificates issued by the board. Both of these chapters will be open for public comment in the Texas Register from Oct. 25 to Nov. 25, 2019.

Mark your calendars! The board also approved its meeting dates for 2020:

  • Feb. 21, 2020
  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020

Discussion-only items (no rule action required at this time):

The board discussed several possible future revisions to SBEC rules for professional educator preparation and certification found in 19 TAC Chapter 230. One of these changes would allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued as an industry-based certification. Graduating high school students who take education and training courses would be able to get the Educational Aide I certification and begin a career in education, helping to improve the teacher pipeline. Another change would reduce the number of days for computer and paper-based certification examination retakes from 45 down to 30 days. In order to comply with SB 1839 and HB 2039 passed in 2017 by the 85th Legislature, future rule revisions are expected to include prohibiting educators from gaining certification for Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 through the certification by exam (CBE) route. Stakeholders from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community testified at Friday’s meeting to request that the board also include the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing EC-12 certification on the list of exams excluded from CBE. To implement HB 3, 86th Legislature, this chapter of SBEC rules will also include revisions mandating that educators who teach any grade from pre-K to 6th grade be required to pass the Science of Teaching Reading certification exam beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

Also up for discussion only was 19 TAC Chapter 228, which pertains to requirements for EPPs. The revisions being contemplated would implement this year’s HB 18, allowing educator certification candidates to obtain instruction in mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide as part of their educational degree plan. The revisions would also prohibit an EPP that is consolidating or closing from admitting candidates if those candidates would not be able to finish the program. Additionally, new rules would require that candidates complete their internship, clinical teaching, or practicum within one program. The rule changes discussed would prohibit practicums from occurring exclusively in the summer. Revisions in this chapter would also allow for candidate placement into a program for cases in which educators must complete their clinical teaching or practicum out-of-state or out-of-country due to particular reasons (military assignment, illness, spouse transfer, etc.).

TEA staff also presented the board with data and information on formal complaints against EPPs and on deactivations of certificates being pursued through alternative and post-baccalaureate certification routes. Formal complaints that involve violations of the SBEC administrative rules require TEA staff to make sanction recommendations to the board. Certification deactivations are similar to contract abandonment cases in that they occur when an educator on an intern or probationary certificate leaves their teaching assignment before it has concluded. There are no educator or EPP sanctions for such deactivations. The board asked for more data regarding deactivations and will take this item up again at its next meeting.

TEA staff gave an update on the progress of the EdTPA pilot. EdTPA is a performance assessment that has been proposed as a replacement for the PPR exam, should the pilot program provide adequate evidence that EdTPA is a viable option. As of Sept. 1, 2019, the 27 programs participating in the pilot have completed 42 trainings, with 27 more scheduled. TEA staff indicated that most pilot programs will have their candidates submit their EdTPA portfolios in the spring of 2020. As for updated demographic data, the pilot participants are represented in 17 out of the 20 education service center regions in Texas. The actual number of participants is lower than what was originally projected (1700-1750) with about 600 reported candidates and an anticipated additional 250 candidates expected to join in the spring. TEA staff reported that there is “room to improve” with regard to African American representation among candidates. In an attempt to gain a more diverse candidate pool, TEA will open the application for Year 2 pilot participants this month. Board member Tommy Coleman requested that the board discuss at its next meeting how the EdTPA pilot and parallel T-TESS pilot (being run by university faculty) can use the same data points and collection methods.

The next SBEC meeting will be held on Dec. 9, 2019. Check back on our Teach the Vote blog after the December meeting for a summary.

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New School Year, New Laws: Retirement Benefits

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to the ethical and professional responsibilities of Texas public school educators. These included big changes to reporting requirements for non-certified employees and the creation of a “do-not-hire” registry. This week, we will shift gears to talk about educator pensions and retirement benefits, which also saw major changes as a result of the 2019 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston): Increasing funds for TRS

SB 12 was the most important bill for improving the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that was passed during the 86th legislative session. ATPE supported SB 12 because it infused enough additional funding into the TRS pension fund in order to make it “actuarially sound.” This also made possible the issuance of a 13th check of up to $2,000 to retirees last month. SB 12’s changes also make it more likely that the TRS will be able to offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the next two to four years, which could provide a much-needed permanent increase in benefits to current and future retirees.

Actuarial soundness was achieved by gradually increasing the state, educator, and school district contributions to the fund over the next six years. Through these increased contributions, SB 12 lowered the time frame needed to pay off the unfunded liability of the TRS pension fund to reach an acceptable standard under state law. For those not familiar with pension lingo, unfunded liability refers to the amount by which the cost of future benefits that a fund is obligated to pay exceed the cash on hand in the fund, similar to carrying credit card debt. While SB 12 made great strides in supporting educators who rely on TRS, Texas remains 50th in the nation when it comes to the state’s contribution rate for educator retirement benefits. Moving forward, ATPE will continue to press the legislature to improve the retirement benefits that educators so greatly deserve.

House Bill (HB) 2820 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van): Deregulating 403(b) investment options

Under previous law, TRS kept a list of approved investment vendors that could offer educators 403(b) investment products. These 403(b) investment plans are similar to 401(k) plans in that they offer a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement, but 403(b) plans are designed for public employees and tax-exempt organizations, like churches and charities. HB 2820 deregulates 403(b) investment offerings by eliminating the TRS list of approved vendors, as well as the requirement that vendors abide by TRS’s caps on fees. These caps limited the amount that a vendor could charge for each transaction. Under this new law, educators who choose to invest in a 403(b) will have to more closely monitor the administrative fees they are being charged. Additionally, without the fee cap, vendors might offer investment products that are very expensive now.


Join us next week on our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote as we will discuss legislative changes impacting charter school laws.

For more information on new laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 4, 2019

It’s been a busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at our lobbyists’ latest reporting for Teach the Vote:


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin to discuss several items that would implement legislation passed by the 86th legislature earlier this year. These include the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate as required by House Bill 3, regulations pertaining to educator misconduct and reporting requirements, and new rules to allow military spouses licensed in other states to teach in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony to encourage the board to explore options for Master Teacher certificate holders, so that they can maintain their current teaching assignments once their certificates expire. ATPE also testified in support of expanded criteria for considering “good cause” in determining potential sanctions against educators who abandon their contracts. Additionally, ATPE joined the board in mourning the loss of board member Dr. Rex Peebles, who passed away last week. Watch our blog here on Teach the Vote early next week for a full recap of the meeting.


ELECTION UPDATE: In this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, read the latest announcements on the “who, what, and where” of various contested races on the 2020 ballot, including a retirement announcement from a member of the State Board of Education. Check out the full post here. Also, don’t forget to register by Monday, Oct. 7, if you want to vote in the Nov. 5 election. Voters statewide will be considering proposed constitutional amendments that day, and a few districts have an opportunity to elect new state representatives.

On our Teach the Vote blog this week, we’re also taking a closer look at the special election for House District 28 in the western suburbs of Houston. ATPE’s Wiggins shares information about the education stances of the candidates and why the race is drawing widespread attention. Check it out here.


ATPE continues its Teach the Vote blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” with a post this week on professional responsibilities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlights bills passed in 2019 that relate to educator misconduct and new records retention requirements that could affect educators who store school-related information on their personal cell phones or other devices. Read the latest post in the series here.


This week’s latest video from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in its “HB 3 in 30” series offers an explanation of the state’s new teacher incentive allotment. The incentive pay plan was one of the most hotly debated aspects of the school finance bill when it moved through the legislative process earlier this year. After ATPE and other stakeholders urged the legislature to reject earlier versions of the bill that relied too heavily on student test score data in setting the criteria for merit pay, legislators struck a deal late in the session that would offer school districts more flexibility.

Parameters of the new incentive program are spelled out in Texas Education Code (TEC), Sec. 48.112, offering school districts additional funding based upon their employment of educators designated as “recognized,” “exemplary,” or “master” teachers. Lawmakers prescribed some requirements for educators to become eligible for those merit designations in TEC Sec. 21.3521. HB 3 calls for school districts that participate in the incentive program to create a “Local Optional Teacher Designation System” containing specific criteria that each district will use to award the merit designations, but the bill also authorizes the commissioner of education to establish performance standards for those local systems.

This week, TEA issued correspondence to school administrators outlining the agency’s plans for implementation of the new teacher incentive program, sharing timelines, and providing additional resources. TEA also sent school districts and open-enrollment charter schools a survey this week, which solicits information on what type of student growth measures and other criteria are being used locally for teacher appraisals. The survey results will help guide the agency’s implementation of the Local Optional Teacher Designation System, including the commissioner’s adoption of those performance standards required by HB 3.

It is important to note that the Local Optional Teacher Designation System associated with the  allotment is only “optional” in the sense that a school district does not have to choose to seek the teacher incentive funds made available under HB 3. However, any district that does pursue funding through the teacher incentive allotment in the spring of 2020 is required to develop a Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The locally-developed designation systems “must include teacher observation and the performance of a teacher’s students,” along with any additional measures that are adopted locally,” such as evidence of teacher leadership or student surveys,” as noted in the TEA correspondence this week. HB 3 specifies that the criteria for awarding a designation must allow for the mathematical possibility that all eligible teachers may earn the designation (in other words, not limiting eligibility to a fixed percentage of the district’s teachers) and that the commissioner may not require districts to use STAAR tests to evaluate their teachers’ performance for purposes of the merit pay program.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will face a sunset review in the next legislative session. Under state law, the sunset review process gives the legislature an opportunity to routinely examine the work of various state agencies and determine whether they should continue to exist. TRS is a constitutionally-mandated agency, which means it is not subject to potential closure through the sunset review process, but the review allows an opportunity for the legislature to consider recommended changes to various TRS-related laws. Before the legislature weighs in on TRS next session, the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission will gather data, take testimony at public hearings, and compile a detailed written report about TRS including recommendations for possible legislative changes affecting the agency. Between now and Dec. 6, 2019, members of the public may share their feedback about TRS with the Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff as they prepare their report. Read more about the TRS sunset review here.


In case you missed it, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter took to our Teach the Vote blog this week to share highlights from the Texas Tribune Festival. The festival that took place last weekend in Austin featured a number of high-profile speakers and panelists. Read more about some of the sessions relating to public education in this blog post.


 

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In Fort Bend County’s HD 28, a potential bellwether special election

On Nov. 5, 2019, voters statewide will weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, but there are also a few special elections taking place that same day. A special election to fill the unexpired term of former state Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) will have plenty of eyeballs focused on House District (HD) 28 in Fort Bend County.

Six Republicans and one Democrat will face off to replace Rep. Zerwas, who resigned in order to work as a vice-chancellor for the University of Texas System. The Republicans in the race are Dr. Anna Allred, Gary Gates, Gary Hale, Tricia Krenek, Sarah Laningham, and Clinton Purnell. Dr. Eliz Markowitz is the lone Democrat in the race. Broken down by party, their background and positions relative to public education are outlined below.

Democrat:

  • Markowitz is a Katy educator who ran for the State Board of Education (SBOE) in 2018. Her website focuses on public education issues, including a detailed education policy platform. Markowitz supports reducing STAAR testing, improving school funding, and better teacher pay, while explicitly opposing private school vouchers. Markowitz has been endorsed by the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC.

Republican:

  • Allred is a Houston anesthesiologist who lists technical training among her education priorities on her campaign website.
  • Gates is a Rosenberg real estate investor who lost a runoff for the Texas Railroad Commission in 2016. Gates also ran unsuccessfully for the HD 28 seat back in 2002 and 2004. On his campaign website, he lists his positions as “protect tax payers,” “support our schools,” “defend 2nd amendment,” and “enhance school safety,” but does not offer additional information as to his views on those issues.
  • Hale is a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence officer from Katy. On his website, Hale expresses support for arming teachers with firearms and returning to corporal punishment as a potential solution to school shootings.
  • Krenek is a Katy attorney who lost a 2018 race for Fort Bend County commissioner. Her website includes some education policy positions, such as increasing the state’s share of education funding, changing school finance “to reduce Robin Hood recapture payments,” and funding “additional across-the-board teacher pay raises.”
  • Laningham lives in Richmond and is a small business owner. Her campaign website makes no mention of education issues. She also ran for state representative last year in House District 14, but had no campaign website that ATPE could locate at that time.
  • A campaign website could not be found for Purnell, but his LinkedIn profile lists his occupation as “global logistics manager and corporate trade compliance” in Houston.

The HD 28 race is one of three special elections scheduled this fall, along with HD 148 in Houston and HD 100 in Dallas. The latter are not competitive districts from the standpoint of potential partisan shifts, but the math in HD 28 makes it a swing district, where a candidate from either party has a legitimate chance at winning the seat. Zerwas, a popular long time incumbent, won his reelection in 2018 by only eight percentage points. In doing so, he outperformed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the district by just three points. Cruz’s margin represents a steady decline in Republican support in HD 28, which handed a ten percent margin to Donald Trump in 2016 and a 35-point margin to Greg Abbott in 2014.

Republicans hold a nine-seat majority in the Texas House. The winner of the HD 28 special election will serve out the rest of the term and will have to run for reelection again in 2020.

Voting is the single most important thing an educator can do to ensure the Texas Legislature prioritizes public schools and students. The deadline to register to vote in this special election and other November elections is Oct. 7, 2019. To see if you are registered and to check out a variety of election-related information, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com. As a reminder, early voting begins Oct. 21, and election day is Nov. 5.

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Texas election roundup: Change of address and no take-backs

This week’s election news included a couple of eyebrow-raising developments. After announcing plans to leave the legislature to run for a local county commissioner position, state Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) changed his mind and said he now plans to run for reelection after all.

In late-breaking news Friday, former State Board of Education (SBOE) Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) announced she will not seek reelection. Bahorich chaired the board for the past two terms and was succeeded by Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), who was sworn in as new board chair last week. While Bahorich won reelection by nearly 12 percentage points in 2016, her SBOE District 6 voted for Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by a four point margin.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX 32) announced he will move from Dallas, where he lost his reelection bid to Democrat Colin Allred, to Waco, where he will run to fill the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX 17). U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13) became the sixth Texas Republican to announce his retirement ahead of the 2020 elections, leaving an opening in this solidly Republican, Amarillo-based district. In other federal races, Julian Castro told the audience at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival that he will not challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) should the former San Antonio mayor’s Democratic presidential campaign conclude unsuccessfully.

A poll commissioned by Democrats surveying six Texas congressional races indicated close races for several Republican incumbents, including U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX 10), Chip Roy (R-TX 21), and John Carter (R-TX 31). The poll pitted a generic Republican against a generic Democrat in six Republican-held districts targeted by Democrats. A generic Democrat lead in two of those races: Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, where Rep. Will Hurd is retiring, and the 24th, where Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring. From Public Policy Polling:

“Republicans have small advantages in the 10th District (49-46), 22nd District (49-45), 21st District (49-44), and 31st District (51-44) but across the board it looks like new opportunities are opening up for Democrats in places in Texas that never would have been imaginable even just 4 years ago.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton), who sits on the committee that oversees educators’ pensions, was among several Texas House members who announced this week they plan to run for reelection. Amid the steady flow of similar announcements, at least one member – state Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) – alternatively suggested it’s safe to assume he’s running for reelection until he states otherwise.

Former state Rep. Mike Schofield, who worked as a staffer for state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) during the 86th Texas Legislature, announced plans to run against state Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Katy). Calanni defeated Schofield in 2018 by just over a hundred votes.

Finally, the deadline is Monday to register to vote in time for this November’s elections. This is critically important if you live in one of the districts where special elections are taking place on Nov. 5 to replace state representatives who have stepped down prior to the expiration of their terms. One race in particular, the special election in northwest Ford Bend County’s House District (HD) 28 to replace former state Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), is expected to be close. Learn more about how to register to vote from our coalition partners at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Remember, exercising your voice at the ballot box is the most powerful thing you can do to support public education!

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ATPE attends Texas Tribune Festival

The Texas Tribune held its annual TribFest event in Austin this past Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, 2019. The festival brought together state and national candidates, officeholders, policymakers, and thought leaders to discuss a range of topics, including public education, in a series of panels and one-on-one interviews over the course of the event. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter were on hand to engage with policy makers and other key advocates while taking in the panel discussions regarding Texas public education

At the Texas Tribune Festival, Evan Smith discussed “The Future of Education” with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas 2036 co-founder Margaret Spellings, 2018 Texas Superintendent of the Year Dr. LaTonya Goffney, and former President of UT Brownsville Juliet Garcia.

This year’s education line-up for the festival included panels discussing how states can more effectively work with the U.S. Department of Education, reforms coming out of Dallas ISD, challenges for rural schools and the importance of solving them, school finance considerations following the passage of House Bill 3, the “Future of Education,” and four Texas teachers giving their take on Texas public education, school choice partnerships, and standardized testing.

Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel made up of four Texas teachers.

Click here to access archived live-streams of the festival’s keynote addresses and many of the one-on-one interviews, including those with Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

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New School Year, New Laws: Professional Responsibilities

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed new professional opportunities and educator support programs like mentoring that resulted from the 86th legislative session. For the latest installment in our ongoing series for ATPE, we will talk this week about other legislative changes made this year that will impact the ethical and professional responsibilities of those who work in Texas public schools.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Do not hire registry

School superintendents and principals have long had certain obligations to report to the state certain allegations of misconduct against certified educators who work in their schools. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is authorized to issue sanctions, up to and including revocation of an educator’s certificate, against individuals who hold educator certificates and are found to have committed misconduct. Similarly, SBEC may refuse to grant a certificate to an individual who does not meet state standards. However, SBEC has not had the authority or logistical means to take punitive actions against non-certified school employees in an attempt to deter similar misconduct by those individuals.

Under HB 3, school districts will now be required to report to the state misconduct allegations that arise against their non-certified employees, too. This includes allegations regarding abuse of, unlawful acts with, involvement in a romantic relationship with, or solicitation/engagement in sexual contact with a student or minor. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) now has the authority under HB 3 to investigate such reports against non-certified employees, since there previously was no body to look into cases involving these individuals who are not regulated by SBEC.

HB 3 also requires that TEA create a publicly accessible “do not hire registry” no later than Jan. 1, 2020. The registry will contain the names of individuals, both certified and non-certified, who have been deemed ineligible for hire in a public school based on their criminal history records or misconduct. Since there was no mechanism under previous law to sanction non-certified employees for misconduct, this issue became of increasing concern with growth in the number of charter schools and “Districts of Innovation” in Texas; both of those types of schools can exempt themselves from teacher certification requirements that apply to traditional public schools and may hire non-certified staff for positions that require regular interaction with students. With the update to the law under HB 3, schools throughout Texas will be required to discharge or refuse to hire anyone on the new do not hire registry.

HB 3 also expanded the criteria for designating those who are ineligible to be employed in a public school. Under previous law, a school district could not hire or was forced to discharge any employees who were required by law to register as a sex offender. Now, school districts must also do the same for those who may not be required to register as sex offenders but have committed offenses involving minors such as sexual assault, abandonment, endangerment, leaving a child in a vehicle, and indecency (as described by Title 5 of the Texas Penal Code). Additionally, the expansion of these criteria now encompasses not only those individuals who are convicted, but also those placed on deferred adjudication community service due to the offense committed.

TEA staff and SBEC are currently in the process of developing and discussing new administrative rule language to implement these provisions of HB 3. We expect these items to be discussed at the next SBEC meeting on Oct. 4, 2019, and we will be posting an update here on our Teach the Vote blog at that time.

Additionally, the Commissioner’s rules for the do-not-hire registry are open for public comment. Please see below, as posted on the TEA website:

These educator misconduct provisions of HB 3 became effective immediately with the enactment of the school finance bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 1476 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston): Educator misconduct investigations

SB 1476 allows public school administrators to skip out on misconduct reporting requirements for certified employees by meeting a few criteria. First, the superintendent must carry out an investigation and determine that the allegations are false. Second, this investigation and determination must occur before the educator resigns or is terminated from employment.

This bill was effective immediately upon being signed by the governor on June 14, 2019.

SB 944 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin): Public information law

SB 944 is an “open government” bill that requires that public information maintained on a privately owned device must be preserved in its original form on the device unless it is transferred to the district’s public information officer for backup. Because educators are public employees, this law will apply to any official business/school-related texts, emails, etc. stored on the educators’ personal devices, such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops. The law applies to former and current public employees, but only for information created or received on or after Sept. 1, 2019. If you keep such public information on any of your personal devices, ATPE recommends that you check with your school district for guidance on this law, including its local policies regarding how long you should archive or backup the information stored on your device.

This law took effect Sept. 1, 2019.


We encourage you to revisit Teach the Vote next week when we’ll be publishing the next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series post about pension and benefits changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 27, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ELECTION UPDATE: Continuing his series of posts about news pertaining to Texas elections, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided an update this week on campaign announcements that continue to trickle out each week. Read the latest election-related news from ATPE here. We also recognized National Voter Registration Day this past Tuesday by encouraging educators and others to register to vote. The next big election here in Texas occurs on Nov. 5, when voters statewide will be considering a number of proposed constitutional amendments, and those in some parts of the state will be voting in special elections to fill legislative vacancies.  The deadline to register to vote in that election is Oct. 7. Early voting begins Oct. 21.


On Thursday, Sept. 26, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that 362 schools around the country have been recognized as 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools. The list of 2019 honorees includes 27 schools in Texas. According to an ED press release, the Blue Ribbon schools are recognized for their overall academic performance or for their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The recipients of the Blue Ribbon designation include public and private elementary, middle, and high schools. The public schools are nominated by each state’s top education official, while private schools are nominated by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). An awards ceremony for the winners will take place in the nation’s capital in mid-November.


ATPE’s lobbyists have been featuring a series of blog posts here on Teach the Vote about new education laws passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019. For this week’s edition of the blog series, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlighted a handful of bills that pertain to mentoring, training, and other professional opportunities for educators. Next week, our focus shifts to new statutory requirements related to educators’ professional responsibilities. Watch for the new post here on Monday, and also check out the ATPE legal department’s publication, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is also continuing its video series to help educators learn more about the landmark school finance and reform bill passed this year, House Bill (HB) 3. Check out the most recent videos from the agency in its HB 3 in 30 series dealing with school board and district goal-setting and the bilingual education allotment.


On Wednesday, the Trump administration released a new school safety district guide to schools develop emergency operations plans (EOPs). According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Education, the guide entitled “The Role of Districts in Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans” follows up on recommendations in the final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety. The district guide recommends responsibilities of school district administrators and their staffs, including coordinating with communicate partners and developing EOPs that address a variety of potential threats. The guide also includes checklists that can be used by school districts to track their progress.

Meanwhile, back here in Texas, Thursday marked the first organizational meeting for the new Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The nine senators heard only invited testimony, which included senior leadership from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Much of the conversation revolved around background checks and “red flag” laws aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of those with mental illness or facing criminal complaints. Republicans on the committee questioned the need for additional legislation, while Democrats argued for strengthening the law and improving enforcement. You can watch a recap of the meeting on KVUE.


On Friday, U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, in Congress. This bill is aimed at fixing the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for future retirees and providing relief for current retirees. Under the bill, Social Security benefits would be paid in proportion to the share of a worker’s earnings that were covered for Social Security purposes. The bill includes a hold harmless provision to ensure no one loses benefits relative to current law, and would provide $150 per month in relief payments to current WEP retirees.

“Members on both sides of the aisle can get behind this legislation and the solutions it puts forward,” Chairman Neal said in a press release announcing the bill’s filing. “I want to commend Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady for his work to address the WEP issue for many years. He is a tireless advocate for affected workers, and I appreciate his commitment to fixing this problem. I look forward to working with him to move a solution through Congress expediently.”

An overview of the bill can be found here, and the full bill text can be read here. Check back with Teach the Vote next week for a detailed analysis of the bill.


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