It’s been a gigantic week for education news. Here are this week’s developments:
- ESSA has been signed into law, replacing ESEA/NCLB and opening door for changes to testing, evaluation, and more
- ATPE testifies before Senate committee regarding charter school funding and inappropriate teacher-student relationships
Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has written about on our blog throughout the process, the compromise ESSA bill passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 85 to 12. It similarly sailed through the House last week by a vote of 359 to 64. While the ESSA is far from perfect, the passage of the bill is viewed as a victory by ATPE and most education groups, who have waited years for reauthorization, a repeal of unworkable NCLB provisions, and a move away from federal policies and waivers that overemphasized standardized testing and one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching.
Now, the hard work of implementation will begin, and there are many unanswered questions about how the enactment of ESSA will affect Texas education laws and policies. Pre-existing ESEA waivers will become null and void by mid-2016, but what exactly does that mean for Texas? One of the more immediate concerns is what may become of T-TESS, the Texas Education Agency’s new teacher evaluation system that was crafted in large measure to satisfy the requirements of the state’s ESEA waiver. Draft commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS as early as next month were just released this week; a public comment period will begin today and run through Jan. 11, 2016. We encourage ATPE members to view the draft rules and share feedback with TEA.
Read more about the ESSA and what it means for Texas in yesterday’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as implementation begins.
Related content: ATPE has been featured in several media stories about the passage of the ESSA. Here are just a couple of recent samples:
- ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was quoted in this article in the Houston Chronicle.
- Exter will also be featured on a live call-in radio show with 710am KURV News Talk Radio this afternoon starting at 4:10 p.m. in the Rio Grande Valley.
- Click here to watch Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who were interviewed for a story by Austin’s KEYE-TV on Dec. 10.
The Senate Education Committee held its first interim committee hearing on Monday. The agenda included two interim charges related to charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships.
The committee first heard from the Texas Education Agency on changes to charter school accountability laws after the passage of Senate Bill 2 (2013). That legislation authored by then-Senator Dan Patrick made it easier for charters to expand with agency approval, but also gave TEA the authority to close poor-performing charters more rapidly. The committee also discussed at length the disposition of charter school property after a charter has been revoked. For many years, charter school proponents have lobbied the legislature for facilities funding, complaining that charter holders do not have the ability that school districts have to win voter approval for bonds. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified to the committee that it is difficult to make “apples-to-apples” comparisons between charter schools and traditional school districts. He suggested that the legislature and TEA should take a closer look at per-pupil funding from all available sources, including private foundations that heavily support charter schools.
The Senate Education Committee has also been charged with looking at inappropriate teacher-student relationships, related disciplinary measures, and ways to prevent them “through training and education of school employees.” The committee heard again from TEA staff, as well as from a criminal prosecutor and others whose testimony focused primarily on efforts to collect evidence in investigations of inappropriate relationships. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified that the education community has been working collectively to address the problem, and she urged the legislatures and policymakers to focus on prevention strategies.
To view archived video of the Dec. 7 hearing, click here.
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met Monday in Richardson, Texas to address an issue that has occurred with the administration of TRS-ActiveCare. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson, who attended the meeting, reports that Aetna and its contracted third-party administrator, WellSystems, have experienced serious issues with enrollment and billing with ActiveCare. Many school districts have contacted TRS and Aetna regarding billing discrepancies and employees who were not properly enrolled. TRS staff and Aetna have worked to remedy these issues since they came to light in September, however some districts continue to experience problems. According to Sanderson, the TRS board agreed to allow Aetna and TRS staff to continue to work toward a resolution until December 18. If after that time TRS is not satisfied with Aetna’s response to the issue, TRS has the option to issue a new request for proposal to allow other providers the opportunity to administer ActiveCare. ATPE will be providing updates on ActiveCare as they develop.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today, Dec. 11. SBEC’s Committee on Educator Discipline also met yesterday afternoon. The full board’s agenda for today included revisiting a controversial proposal to change the requirements for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The revised rule, which ATPE opposed, was struck down by the State Board of Education last month after SBOE members heard testimony from ATPE and other education groups concerned about watering down the certification standards. The SBOE’s veto sent the superintendent certification rule back to SBEC for reconsideration of the issue.
SBEC’s original rule proposal that SBOE rejected contained two pathways to becoming a superintendent. Part (a) was the least controversial aspect of the two parts of the proposal; it related to a recent statutory change calling for the board to allow superintendent candidates to substitute certain managerial experience for academic requirements in the rule. Part (b) of the rule was more objectionable and apparently requested by business stakeholders consulted by SBEC board members; it provided a pathway for individuals with no education-related experience whatsoever to become fully certified superintendents. Today, SBEC responded to the SBOE veto and testimony by removing part (b) from the proposed rule and adopting part (a) only. While neither section retains the requirement for superintendent candidates to hold a principal’s certificate and have prior teaching experience, as ATPE members prefer, the rule as adopted today is an improvement over the original proposal.
ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified against the rule again today, urging the board to consider the importance of teaching experience for district leaders. She also pointed out that at least one SBOE member, Pat Hardy, had voiced her opinion that the teaching experience requirement ought to be increased, not eliminated. SBEC members and classroom teachers Suzanne McCall and Brad Allard (who is also an ATPE member) voted no on the proposal and spoke out against the rule today; they shared their strong opinions that classroom experience is essential for success in leading a school district. Allard told his fellow board members, “Until you’ve gone through the grind, you’re not going to understand what’s going on at ground level.” However, other board members disagreed with the need for teaching experience. SBEC member Kathryn Everest, a school counselor, argued that schools are businesses and need leaders with business acumen rather than teaching experience. SBEC member Leon Leal, a business owner who supported both parts (a) and (b) of the proposed rule, explained that he viewed the proposal as a way to help school districts that are struggling financially by giving their school boards more flexibility in hiring superintendents. Leal stated, “The education system is broke in a lot of our districts,” and he urged the board to “allow those districts to have options.”
The amended version of the superintendent certification rule as adopted today by SBEC will now head back to the SBOE in January for another review. Other items discussed at today’s SBEC meeting included changes to the rules for admission to an educator preparation program and disciplinary rules for certified educators. ATPE’s Kuhlmann will provide a detailed update on those matters for Teach the Vote next week.