There has been much activity on the education front this week. Here’s a summary of the latest developments from your ATPE lobby team:
Earlier this week, ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson gave invited testimony before the Joint Interim Committee on TRS Health Benefit Plans regarding rising costs of TRS ActiveCare, the health insurance program for active education employees. It was one of three legislative committees that held meetings on Wednesday to discuss various aspects of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Check out the latest blog post from Josh for more details on the committees’ discussions.
The State Board for Education Certification (SBEC) is meeting today, April 15. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will provide a full report for Teach the Vote after the meeting, but meanwhile you can check out the board’s lengthy agenda here. Hot topics for discussion today include planned future changes to the rules pertaining to educator preparation programs (EPPs), final adoption of new standards for obtaining a principal certificate, finalizing a new rule limiting certification candidates to five attempts to pass a certification exam and considering requests for waivers of that limit, approval of accreditation statuses for all of the state’s EPPs, and an update on possible future changes to the design of certain “Core Subjects” certification exams. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and follow @ATPE_KateK on Twitter for more.
Commissioner of Education Mike Morath made news this week with announcement of several new hires at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to comprise his senior staff. Read TEA’s press release about the new employees here. Media outlets were quick to report that Morath’s new executive team hails largely from the charter school environment, and the changes in the organizational structure are marked by the departure of several long-time TEA staffers known for their considerable expertise in complex areas of education policy, such as school finance and student testing. For more, check out a related story from our friend Lauren McGaughy over at the Dallas Morning News.
In other news pertaining to TEA, we posted an update on Monday to our earlier blog post about STAAR testing and concerns about test administrators being forced to time students’ bathroom breaks. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported, TEA’s newest communication to school districts explains that breaks will not have to be timed for the May administration of the exams. Read more here.
We got our first look this week at the commissioner’s final adopted rules for implementation of T-TESS, the state’s new recommended appraisal system for teachers. The adopted rules are being published in the Texas Register this month and will take effect on July 1, 2016. We’ll be posting comprehensive information about T-TESS on our website in the next few days, but you may click here to view the adopted appraisal rules in the meantime.
As we reported recently, the commissioner has also proposed rules for “Innovation Districts” allowed now under House Bill 1842 that passed last year. A public comment period on the commissioner’s proposed rules ends May 2. ATPE has requested and TEA has agreed to hold a public hearing on the proposed rules on April 25.
The new law on innovation districts allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and receive exemptions from numerous state laws. Several school districts are already in the process of considering and developing innovation plans and seeking authority to waive various statutes in the Texas Education Code (TEC) that protect educators, students, and parents. If approved by a school district, waiver authority outlined in a district’s innovation plan could result in teachers losing many of the statutory rights they currently enjoy and parents also losing access to information about their children’s education.
For example, a proposed strategic/innovation plan recently shared by Spring Branch ISD indicates that the district seeks authority to be exempted from most of Chapter 21 of the TEC, which provides for teacher contract rights, the minimum salary schedule, the right to a duty-free lunch, and much more. (The plan states, “SBISD seeks exemption from all permissible provisions of the TEC as allowed in the statute.”) ATPE has encouraged educators in the district to speak out about the district’s proposed plan this month and urge the school board to reject it or rewrite the plan in such a way that educators’ and parents’ rights would be better protected. We’ll be providing additional information about innovation districts in the coming days.
ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported this week on the continuations of negotiated rulemaking for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Washington, D.C. U.S. Secretary of Education John King also appeared again before a Senate committee to talk about the new federal law. Read Kate’s post from yesterday to learn more.
Here are some upcoming meetings and events of interest:
- On Tuesday, April 19, the Senate Education Committee will hold an interim hearing to discuss digital learning opportunities and barriers. NOTE: This meeting has been postponed. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates when it’s rescheduled.
- Also on Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will meet to talk about what’s often called the state’s rainy day fund, as well as factors that could impact the Texas economy and state budget, such as declining oil prices.
- On April 20, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability holds another meeting in Austin. A discussion of new “A through F” rating systems for schools is on the agenda, along with looking at measurement of college and career readiness.
- April 25 is the deadline to register to vote in the primary runoff elections taking place in May. Check out our recent blog post on runoff voting to learn more about voter eligibility, or visit VoteTexas.gov to find out how to register to vote. Also on April 25, early voting begins for the May 7 local elections, which are different from the primary runoffs.
- As noted previously, the Texas Education Agency will hold a public hearing on April 25 to hear public testimony on proposed commissioner’s rules for Innovation Districts.
- Pastors for Texas Children is hosting three community meetings in west Texas to discuss the value and future of public education. The first is taking place in Abilene on April 25, followed by Amarillo on April 26, and Lubbock on April 27. Note that the location of the Abilene event has moved from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church to First Baptist Church. Click here to register to attend.